Engineering & Transportation

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Cool Comfort: America's Romance with Air-Conditioning [Hardcover]

Ackermann Me
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, April 17, 2002 --  
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Book Description

April 17, 2002 1588340406 978-1588340405 First Edition
The year 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of the first installation of air-conditioning. During the past century, it has become a staple of American life; 83% of US homes are now air-conditioned. In this engaging social history, Marsha Ackermann explores how the idea of “cooling” became firmly embedded in the social perceptions and expectations of Americans, transforming our definition of comfort and the way we live, work, and play.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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About the Author

Marsha E. Ackermann lectures in history at Eastern Michigan University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian; First Edition edition (April 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1588340406
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588340405
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,310,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
3.1 out of 5 stars
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's "Kool" in here! August 3, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Marsha Ackermann, the author of this wonderful book, is a historian. She leads us on a wonderful historical tour of air-conditioning in America. Ackermann starts in the early `20's with a geographer, Ellsworth Huntington, who strongly believed that "people of European races (because of milder, temperate weather) are able to accomplish the most work and have the best health". His racist views, tempered by the more moderate ones of C.E.A.Winslow, a prominent public health professional, laid the groundwork for a societal shift in the acceptance of air-conditioning.
The Carrier Corporation, a major manufacturer of air-conditioning units, started off by plugging the units to luxury establishments such as hotels and movie "palaces". These beckoned the public with posters that promised that it was "Kool inside".
It was only as recently as the 50's (after the second world war), that air-conditioning made inroads in the home market. Advertisement appeals were made to women and later to men to a point where now the air-conditioning unit is ubiquitous in American society.
I was fascinated and alarmed to see how architectural features that provide relief from heat, such as "sleeping porches, sun parlors, and large windows" have been, over the years, thrown entirely away from the home development equation. Instead what we have most often are uniform houses that are easy to build and that have no "interior partitions that block the flow of conditioned air".
Even though Ackermann herself acknowledges in the end that she dislikes air-conditioning, her book is not a strident case for or against it. At times the book reads annoyingly like her thesis dissertation (with too much visual clutter from footnotes), but the endlessly fascinating topic keeps you glued.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Interesting overview of the history (particularly the marketing) of air conditioning. How the invention was moved from an industrial setting to eventually being marketed as a device almost necessary to protect one's health was telling (especially curious is the bizzarre "igloo of tomorrow" concept pushed at world's fairs.) I would of liked to see a bit more of a technological description (I don't really know how air-conditioning works, and after reading this book I still don't) but I learnt a lot about this now ubiquitous entry into our lives.
The author may indeed not like air conditioning, but what can you say about an invention that has made people think that there is actually something unnatural about the climate of the place you have chosen to live.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enlightening not judgmental August 22, 2013
I can see the author does not care for a/c.. but I happen to like it a lot, so I bought the book anyway. I enjoyed the many facts and tales of the way HVAC got promoted and commercialized to the consumer. There are still houses with giant picture windows and 5 ton units to fight them, but most of those now have multi-pane glass to stop the heat. Down the street, one of my west-facing neighbors has put a huge shade porch on the front of his house. It extends about 15FT from the house into the front yard. I learned via the book that It's time to re-apply some of the old pre-a/c ways to improve the cooling. Not give up the a/c, no! but make improvements for efficiency. Half the bill is half the bill. Woe to those in fascist HOAs. I did not mind the very factual or report-like tone, I found it an easy and interesting read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a Repeated Reading March 11, 2007
After first reading this book, I was certainly tempted to agree with other reviewers who believed this to be merely a diatribe against Air Conditioning in any form. However, after I read more widely around this subject (including Gail Cooper's "Air Conditioning America"), I've changed my stance somewhat.

What the author is attempting to do is show the Air Conditioning industry in all its facets (technology, marketing, production, sales and politics - amongst others) and how it developed. This development, taking place during the early and middle parts of the last century as it did, by necessity used and reflected the economic, class, racial and engineering influences which the industry operated within. As such, it has much to offer in understanding commerce, manufacturing and the way the population is manipulated (sometimes with full knowledge and culpability, sometimes not) by the advent of new products and services which pervade our everyday lives. This pervasion is sometimes so subtle, so every-day and mundane that we don't grasp the finer nuances of its influence while unquestioning held in its thrall.

Marsha has in this reviewer's opinion succeeded in demonstrating the social and economic events which the technology of Air Conditioning created and was subject to. Granted, some of the racial places the narrative gets dragged to seem a little over-the-top, but never the less race WAS an issue in the development of the market for Air Conditioning and because the more emotive energy which usually clouds an attempt to make an objective assessment of what amounted to "racist marketing" is dissipated in this study, it is all the more illuminating.

My main criticism is that these (actually quite profound) areas of investigation aren't fully drawn out - as another reviewer said, this is a rather "thin" book.

But certainly one worth a deeper assessment than may at first meet the eye.
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