Excerpt from Chilled by Tom Jackson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How Refrigeration Changed the World and Might Do So Again

by Tom Jackson

Chilled by Tom Jackson X
Chilled by Tom Jackson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 272 pages
    Oct 2016, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

It would take some nineteenth-century American getup- and-go to commercialise the use of ice on a global scale, first as slabs of natural ice and then through mechanical refrigeration. A social revolution had begun, slow for sure but unstoppable in its impact on food and society as a whole. Kelvinator, a leading brand in the early days, put it this way in For the Hostess, their 1920s recipe book for the first refrigeration generation: 'The housewife sees her labors lightened, sees more hours of leisure, and with it all, extraordinary economies.'

What's changed? Nothing really, although we wouldn't use the term 'housewife' any more, and that is surely no coincidence.

The refrigerator has changed the way we live. That was already obvious in 1931, judging by a magazine article titled 'The New Ice Age':

If the stupendous system of food preservation and transportation which supports us were interfered with, even for short time, our present daily existence would become unworkable, Cities with thousands of inhabitants would fade away. We would probably turn into beasts in our frantic struggles to reach the source of supply … It is not extravagant to say that our present form of civilisation is dependent upon refrigeration.

The refrigerator has been at the centre of civilisation ever since. Even the American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is reported to have obliged visitors to put their mobile phones in the fridge – at least in the early days of his still-ongoing story. One assumes Snowden wanted to shield the phones from the outside world and cut off any attempts by forces known and unknown to use them to eavesdrop on conversations. The thick insulation would certainly muffle voices, but it has been suggested that the fridge was being used as a Faraday cage, a space that is shielded from electromagnetic radiation, like radio waves used to control mobile phones. Standard fridges are not Faraday cages – your phone rings just the same inside (a cocktail shaker, on the other hand, is entirely effective in shielding the device. No doubt that is what James Bond would use).

As we shall see, the refrigerator and the use of cold is entwined in the everyday and the extraordinary. It lies behind a wealth of other modern technologies from artificial fabrics and antibiotics to test-tube babies. Low-temperature phenomena are also pointing the way to some way-out technology of the future. Science fiction seldom mentions the refrigerator, but in science fact quantum computers and teleportation machines are all going to need one.

The story of how we got to this point spans centuries and crosses the globe, but it all began, as is the case with many things, in a hole in the ground of ancient Mesopotamia.

Excerpted from Chilled by Tom Jackson. Copyright © 2015 by Tom Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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