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Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold
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Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  165 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In a sweeping yet marvelously concise history, Tom Shachtman ushers us into a world in which scientists tease apart the all-important secrets of cold. Readers take
an extraordinary trip, starting in the 1600s with an alchemist's air conditioning of
Westminster Abbey and scientists' creation of thermometers. Later, while entrepreneurs sold Walden Pond ice to tropical countr
...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published December 12th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1999)
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  165 ratings  ·  17 reviews


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Nathan Oldridge
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am a chemistry nerd, and this book had all of my favourite characters: The scientists who studied and experimented to get ultra-cold temperatures at the turn of the century. This book frames it is a competition between different labs at different institutions, adding a depth to what could have been a plain, here's-what-happened kind of story.

I didn't need a Bachelors in Chemistry to understand what was happening, but the names were more familiar to me because I'd seen them before.
Carl
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating presentation of the development of the concepts of heat and cold and the measurement of temperature.
Anne Paschke
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
What this book desperately needed was a few sidebars or an appendix to diagram out the science of cold. Schachtman does a great job building a narrative around a few centuries of scientific endeavors in Europe, but a lot of the tension and drama centers around (of course) the science of cold. I did OK following along in the beginning (and it was a great mental exercise to think through his explanation of expansion and contraction of gasses and so forth) but by the end, when the science is more c ...more
Aaron
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
This book had lots of wonderful information, and I learned a thing or two that I didn't know before about science and history. It wasn't a difficult read, but it had some slow parts, and I wish that it had been organized a little different. Instead of building towards one idea, this book bounces around a little. I think I got a little bored with all of the economic influences that the study of cold had/has... while I understand it's a big factor, and a driving motivation for some people, I just ...more
Barney Beins
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
We take for granted things like air conditioning, ice makers, and other products that are cold. But the quest to harness cold--even to recognize it as a useful construct--was long in coming. Schachtman's book gives a great history of the development of thoughts about cold and the quest to cool things to absolute zero. A lot of fascinating history, including the petty squabbles among scientists. One interesting question: How do you take the temperature of something that is so cold that our regula ...more
Thomas
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book a lot, though it was a lot of work to follow the science at times. As several reviewers stated, it is in the general spirit of Dava Sobel's classic Longitude. However, this one is MUCH more detailed as far as science goes. As a result, since I don't have that great a physics background, I had to work at it. It would be best enjoyed by someone who knows physics better than I do, but wants some casual and fascinating history-of-science reading.

It's also packed with amazing fodd
...more
Dinochunks01
Aug 18, 2009 rated it liked it
I read this book in the same spirit as I used to watch and rewatch the James Burke "Connections" series. Raising a family, including shepherding the education of my sons, has forced me to be on the lookout for books like this. We parents like to encourage, what are lamely referred to as success behaviors (I've hated that term ever since it appeared on my job reviews). A book like this combines the benefits of a historical analysis with the wonder of serendipitous discovery and the, all too human ...more
AJ
Nov 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013, stem
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 heli
...more
Lisa
While the writing could have been tightened up a bit (a few parts seemed repetitious), overall it's an interesting history of the science and application of cold. I particularly liked the insight into how refrigeration affected the standard of living in the US and beyond- I had not realized how early in the country's history refrigeration came into use for shipping produce and meat, or what an impact that had. For some reason I thought refrigeration was a twentieth century innovation.
Barbara
Sep 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book was a little like reading a meticulously researched, exhaustive, four-hundred page book on tractors. I mean, at the very least you have to respect the effort, and acknowledge that tractor people would really be into it. If I hadn't agreed to read the book so I could teach a honors college class on refrigeration, I'd have stopped after the first 50 pages. I just feel badly for the 160 students in the class, who likewise had to wade through the book.
Kirk
May 31, 2008 rated it liked it
This book makes the history of cold fun. A bit repetitious in tone, but otherwise entertaining discovery of when and how people discovered ways to put cold to use. The bickering between the Victorian scientists adds a gossipy touch that livens things up. The descriptions of harvesting Hudson River ice and of how you achieve temperatures close to absolute zero made this a worthwhile read for me.
Andy Kramer
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I thought this was a great short-ish history of cold. The author mostly does a good job progressing chronologically through history, but it's noticeable that he spends half the book in the late 1800s and almost no time in the last hundred years. I would have liked to hear more about the latest science, but overall I enjoyed the book and would read more by him.
Garrett Klein
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book combines two things I love: fascinating science and a riveting personal story. While I'd read about the history of "absolute zero" on Wikipedia, this book fills in a lot of the gaps, providing personal details and a sense of depth that a mere encyclopedia cannot.
emilio squillante
This topic drew some bizarre personalities so parts of the book were quite lively.
Adam
Sep 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
In 1995 a Bose-Einstein Condensate was created at 170-billionths of a degree above Absolute Zero...
Jeffrey
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
History of science and technology of low temperatures. Very readable, not dry
Pancha
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
A history of artificial cooling. The early chapters are more humanities-based, leading to chemistry and finally to physics and absolute zero.
Mazhar Salam
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Dec 22, 2017
Doog Reader
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Matt
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Emily Low
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Jon
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Chris Nunn
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I consider myself fortunate in that I always wanted to write, have been able to do so since my undergraduate days, and have had my work published and produced in many forms – histories, novels, children’s books, documentaries, fictional programs, poetry, plays, songs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, even a comic book.

My first book, THE DAY AMERICA CRASHED, was published in 1979, and since th
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