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“A look at our love affair with air-conditioning … breezily anecdotal”
— New York Times
“Some surprising things you probably don’t know about air conditioning”
— Los Angeles Times
“The all-encompassing guidebook to the history of air conditioning, chronicling the numerous gimmicks, failed attempts, con jobs, and eventual successes … a surprisingly interesting journey.”
— San Francisco Book Review
It’s a contraption that makes the lists of “Greatest Inventions Ever;” at the same time, it’s accused of causing global disaster. It has changed everything from architecture to people’s food habits to their voting patterns, to even the way big business washes its windows. It has saved countless lives . . . while causing countless deaths. Most of us are glad it’s there. But we don’t know how, or when, it got there. What is this modern miracle?
It’s air conditioning.
Author Salvatore Basile had been an air-conditioner connoisseur since the early 1960s when his Aunt Catherine purchased two air conditioners. From that moment onward, Basile became obsessed with air conditioning; keeping a mental list of all the places he could enjoy this modern miracle. And when he moved to New York City and purchased his first air conditioner, he was in bliss.
While Basile worked in air-conditioned comfort, he continually wondered what urban life had been like before there was mechanical cooling. What did people do when buildings became too hot to endure? How did they cope with the conservative clothing of the day? How did they deal with the perspiration? The odors?! Salvatore Basile decided to investigate what attempts people made in the past to deal with hot weather and how people reacted to the modern miracle of the air conditioner. In COOL: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything (Fordham University Press, Hardcover; September 9, 2014: $29.95), Salvatore Basile writes a wonderfully engaging and delightfully informative history of the development of the air conditioner.
For thousands of years, humankind attempted to do something about the slow torture of hot weather. Everything was tried: water power, slave power, electric power, ice made from steam engines and cold air made from deadly chemicals, “zephyrifers,” refrigerated beds, ventilation amateurs and professional air-sniffers. It wasn’t until 1902 when an engineer barely out of college developed the “Apparatus for Treating Air”—a machine that could actually cool the indoors—and everyone assumed it would instantly change the world.
That wasn’t the case. There was a time when people “ignored” hot weather while reading each day’s list of heat-related deaths, women wore furs in the summertime, heatstroke victims were treated with bloodletting . . . and the notion of a machine to cool the air was considered preposterous, even sinful.
The story of air conditioning is actually two stories: the struggle to perfect a cooling device, and the effort to convince people that they actually needed such a thing. With a cast of characters ranging from Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Nixon to Felix the Cat, COOL showcases the myriad reactions to air conditioning— some of them dramatic, many others comical and wonderfully inconsistent—as it was developed and presented to the world. Here is a unique perspective on air conditioning’s fascinating history: how we rely so completely on it today, and how it might change radically tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Salvatore Basile was educated at the Boston Conservatory and The Juilliard School and began his career as a professional musician. After penning various music-related articles, he entered the field of social commentary with his history, Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Fordham University Press, 2010). Find out more about Salvatore Basile on his website: http://salvatorebasile.com.