Web edition: January 24, 2013
Print edition: February 9, 2013; Vol.183 #3 (p. 30)
On the heels of his previous book Cold, biologist Bill Streever takes the next logical step and sets out to understand what happens, scientifically speaking, when things get hot.
The result is part scientific narrative, part travelog. Streever visits nuclear blast sites and laboratories where supercollider experiments reach trillions of degrees Fahrenheit. He interviews physicists, geologists, firefighters and instructors who teach firewalking at corporate team-building seminars. He recounts the history of volcanoes that belch scorching pyroclastic flows, describes blistering fevers and explains what happens to the human body after a few days in the desert without water.
Heat is packed with anecdotes, and Streever’s boundless enthusiasm for high-temperature topics makes the book an engaging read. He is at his best when relating his own adventures, such as an attempt — and, to his dismay, failure — to start fires with materials that would have been available to hominids in the ancient world. “If the world were populated only by people like me,” he writes, “we would still be living in trees and eating raw fruit. Climate change would not be an issue.”
But it is an issue. Streever doesn’t linger on the subject, but he does keep track of the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere during his travels by plane and car, and the quantity is sobering. By burning fossil fuels, he points out, people now make daily contributions to a planet that is heating up.Little, Brown and Co., 2013, 349 p., $26.99