A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
An exploration of humanity’s relationship with ice since the dawn of civilization, Of Ice and Men reminds us that only by understanding this unique substance can we save the ice on our planet—and perhaps ourselves.
Ice tells a story. It writes it in rock. It lays it down, snowfall by snowfall at the ends of the earth where we may read it like the rings on a tree. It tells our planet’s geological and climatological tale.
Ice tells another story too: a story about us. It is a tale packed with swash-buckling adventure and improbable invention, peopled with driven, eccentric, often brilliant characters. It tells how our species has used ice to reshape the world according to our needs and our desires: how we have survived it, harvested it, traded it, bent science to our will to make it—and how in doing so we have created globe-spanning infrastructures that are entirely dependent upon it.
And even after we have done all that, we take ice so much for granted that we barely notice it.
Ice has supercharged the modern world. It has allowed us to feed ourselves and cure ourselves in ways unimaginable two hundred years ago. It has enabled the global population to rise from less than 1 billion to nearly 7½ billion—which just happens to cover the same period of time as humanity has harvested, manufactured, and distributed ice on an industrial scale.
And yet the roots of our fascination with ice and its properties run much deeper than the recent past.
Ghostwriter Hogge makes his solo debut with an illuminating and wide-ranging look at one of humanity's most overlooked natural resources: ice. Arguing that ice and refrigeration helped shape modern society, Hogge begins with an account of the 1845 Franklin Expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, highlighting how the European explorers' unwillingness to learn from Inuit practices likely doomed them. From there, Hogge explains how harvested ice, a luxury commodity in the ancient world, developed into a commercial success by the 17th century, as well as detailing Bostonian Frederic Tudor's use of new insulation and transport methods to ship ice around the world in the early 1800s. Technological innovations enabled manufactured ice to replace harvested ice, giving rise to "an infrastructure based on ice, air cooling, and refrigeration" that affected nearly every facet of modern life, including medicine (chilling the body is crucial to open heart surgery and other procedures) and recreation. Hogge also delves into the recent shrinking of the ice caps and glaciers due to global warming, warning that the northeastern seaboard of the U.S. is at risk of being submerged. Though lengthy digressions occasionally obscure the book's main theme, Hogge gathers an impressive collection of arcana. This sparkling history informs and entertains.