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Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold by…

Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold (1999)

by Tom Shachtman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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A pretty interesting look at the science behind heat, or, more notably the absence thereof. I found it very interesting how long it took for people to truly understand what heat is.

Bonus points for naming an alumni of my alma matter and name dropping RPI, although I found it funny that the author referred to it as "Rensselaer Polytech," which nobody in the universe calls the school.

At times the book dragged, but the last chapter was really interesting. I work with liquid nitrogen and liquid helium all the time so I understand how important liquid gases are. Would have enjoyed hearing more about how scientists are achieving extreme low temperatures, but that was completely missing. ( )
  lemontwist | Dec 8, 2013 |
As a history of the scientific pursuit of ultra low temperatures, "Absolute Zero" is a fairly decent narrative for the general reader. The author stays away from formulas, detailed technical descriptions or diagrams of any sort. The book is really more about the people involved and their relationships with each other; there's a lot of backstabbing in the scientific world! The book however doesn't go fair beyond that. The author does throw in a bit of history of the commercial aspects of cold, like the ice sellers of the nineteenth century and the rise of air conditioning and the flash freezing of food, but these seem to be added as some padding for the book and only whet the appetite. I would recommend this book only for those who wish to gain some insight on the history but aren't looking for much in the way of science. ( )
  jztemple | May 12, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Shachtmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
CorbisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Overholtzer, RobertDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, MichealaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warmuth, SusanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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King James I of England and Scotland chose a very warm day in the summer of 1620 for Cornelis Drebbel's newest demonstration and decreed that it be held in the Great Hall of Westminster Abbey.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618082395, Paperback)

Ancient minds imagined the benefits of technological advances that wouldn't be realized for hundreds of years: "heavier-than-air-flight, ultrarapid ground transportation, the prolongation of life through better medicines, even the construction of skyscrapers and the use of robots." But as Tom Shachtman points out in his Alfred P. Sloan-funded science history Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, no one could conceive of how or why humans would make use of intense cold. "Cold was a mystery without an obvious source, a chill associated with death, inexplicable, too fearsome too investigate."

But as we now know, the mastery of cold has yielded innumerable advances, from the ubiquitous presence of refrigeration and air-conditioning to phenomenal leaps in superconductivity and subatomic research--in 1999 alone, Shachtman cites, a Harvard team used laser cooling to create an environment 50-billionths of a degree above zero, slowing the speed of light to just 38 miles per hour! Absolute Zero guides us skillfully through the fitful, nascent growth of this misunderstood, bastard branch of science, from the early accomplishments of Boyle, Joule, William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), and other lesser-knowns like Anders Celsius and Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit to the 20th century, the integration of ultracold research with quantum theory, and the most recent accomplishments in the field. Shachtman's approachable voice proves equally facile with both the science of cold and the mundane history of its technical and commercial uses, including the global ice trade and the work of one of cold's greatest commercial pioneers, a chemist named Clarence Birdseye. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:50 -0400)

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"In a sweeping science adventure story, rich with historical characters, including Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, Tom Shachtman takes us on a journey in which the extraordinary secrets of cold are teased apart and mastered, bringing advances in civilization and comfort. Starting in the 1600s with an alchemist's attempt to air condition Westminster Abbey and the invention of thermometers and scales (where should zero be set?), the story unfolds as nineteenth-century merchants sell Walden Pond ice to tropical countries and competing scientists pursue absolute zero with as much fervor as the races toward the North and South Poles aroused."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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