- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 15, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674013697
- ISBN-13: 978-0674013698
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 6.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,780,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Body Heat: Temperature and Life on Earth
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From Publishers Weekly
Some species like it hot and some like it cold, and biopsychologist Blumberg explains why in this somewhat jargon-laden exploration of how temperature defines the existence of everything on earth, from the Antarctica ice mass to deep ocean bacteria, from babies in the womb to plants that can melt snow. Despite clever chapter headings "Then Bake at 98.6F for 400,000 Minutes"; "Cold New World"; "Fever All Through the Night"; "Livin' off the Fat" the author's prose can sometimes be heavy going and even patronizing, particularly in early chapters when he attempts to explain the various laws of thermodynamics. But a reader's perseverance will pay off. By braiding together a spectrum of disciplines including anthropology, ecology, physics, geography, medicine and psychology Blumberg investigates how extremes of heat and cold dictate life's limits; by book's end, he has constructed an engrossing, fact-filled account of why all life is merely a matter of degrees. Among those facts: why hot peppers make us sweat, how fire walking works, the evolutionary roots of goose bumps and genital hair, and the function of fevers. He also notes connections between temperature and such human conditions as sleeplessness, jet lag, sex determination, anorexia and sudden infant death syndrome, information that makes the book more than just a collection of intriguing anecdotes. One hot topic not covered is global warming, though Blumberg alludes throughout his otherwise illuminating text to how fragile everything on earth is.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This book is a real treat. Mark Blumberg takes something we normally hardly think about, and makes it into a fascinating topic, with colorful examples from fields as disparate as etymology and entomology. You probably will be repeating many of the stories he tells to those around you, as you discover why a fever may be good for you, or how babies generate their own heat, or how eating disorders interact with body temperature problems. It's entertaining, interesting, and great fun. (Michael Leon, University of California, Irvine)
This is an engaging enchilada of a book, wrapping up cold feet, a warm heart, hot sex, and chili peppers, for easy digestion by the general science consumer. Delicious! (Bernd Heinrich, University of Vermont, and author of The Hot-Blooded Insects: Strategies and Mechanisms of Thermoregulation)
There's a little twinkle in Mark Blumberg's eye as he explains the role of temperature in life on Earth, that essential gleam that makes books about science successful and appealing...His writing is clear, a fine balance of explanation, example and ideas. (Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times Book Review 2002-04-14)
The need to maintain body temperature within a narrow range is the biggest single influence on physiology and behaviour, as Mark Blumberg explains in this little gem of a book, Body Heat...Blumberg describes the exquisite mechanisms developed by different species to generate, conserve or lose body heat. (John Bonner New Scientist 2002-05-11)
This is one of those books that leaves you for a few heady days in possession of a new key to all mysteries. Written entertainingly for a popular audience, the book argues that the evolved behaviour and physical characteristics of most creatures, from the tiniest nematode worm to the largest whale, is governed by the need to maintain a comfortable body temperature. (Emma Crichton-Miller The Telegraph 2002-04-21)
Blumberg...presents a thoroughly interesting book on body temperature and its many influences, loaded with a marvelously broad range of topics related to the biology of body temperature. From structural adaptations, such as ear size, circulatory patterns, and body shape that have evolved to help maintain body temperature, to psychological effects of temperature, the physiology of fevers, and even sexual-thermal metaphors used in everyday conversation. A host of fascinating aspects of how species respond to temperature changes are also discussed...Body Heat is great reading, certain to produce an enlightened appreciation for how body temperature control is critical for all organisms. (M. A. Palladino Choice 2002-11-01)
Mark S. Blumberg, in Body Heat, also takes the role of temperature in human affairs onto a global stage, but his metaphors, languages and conclusions are neither biblical nor prophetic. Instead he wants to remind us just how narrow our margins of tolerance are against that ultimate enemy: cold...Blumberg loves his subject, is convinced of its importance, and he wants to put across the intrinsic interest of temperature physiology to a larger audience. He retains a light touch--and because he is an active researcher in his own right, is able to bring new information and new insights to his pages. (Jonathan Kingdon Times Literary Supplement 2003-01-31)
This is a marvelous little book. In a volume no larger than a pocket field guide, Mark Blumberg explains how mammals and some other organisms maintain high, nearly constant body temperatures, and then explores many implications of such body heat...Along the way he expounds on a wide variety of fascinating topics, including behavioral thermoregulation and the design of Roman baths, temperature-dependent sex determination in turtles, 'warm-blooded' insects and flowers, how and why bird brains and mammalian testicles stay cool, the adaptive role of fever, the relation of energy balance to dieting and obesity, and even why chili peppers taste hot...Blumberg's writing is a work of art. He explains scientific facts and complicated concepts in clear, simple language. He conveys his own sense of wonder, excitement, and curiosity...If you are interested in mammals, biology, natural history, or psychology, you will enjoy reading this little book. (James H. Brown Journal of Mammalogy 2004-10-01)
In Body Heat, biophysicist Mark Blumberg's exploration of temperature in the world considers the many ways temperature rules the lives of animals, from how penguins survive Antarctic winters to why people survive drowning accidents in winter, but not in summer. Packed with important scientific insights and a lively style which lends to leisure browsing, Body Heat is a remarkable survey. (Bookwatch 2005-02-01)
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There are nine chapters. The first examines the basics of heat. While the examples are zoological, the substance is largely what one would study in an introductory physics class—sans the math. Chapter 2 dips more into the biology, considering the various ways in which organisms achieve an ideal temperature. The third chapter explores the role that temperature plays in impregnation, gestation, and genetic information transfer.
Chapter 4 explains how various creatures work internally to create a comfortable temperature. It’s related to chapter 2, but the second chapter deals more with external regulation, i.e. animals’ interaction with their environments. Besides explaining the human need to control the brain’s temperature, chapter 4 explores how birds who keep their feet in chilly water manage to keep from getting hypothermia. In the next chapter, Blumberg considers various ways in which animals fight the cold. There’s an extended discussion of Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT)--a fat that is particularly useful in generating heat--that was interesting.
Chapter 6 raises an intriguing question: should one take fever reducer when one develops a fever? Obviously, a fever can become so high that one needs to combat it, but here we’re talking about a fever of a level that won’t cause any long-term harm. Chapter 7 discusses a range of heat related topics including the connection between spiciness and the feeling of heat and the evolution of language related to heat, but the chapter is mostly about the thermal dimension of sex.
Chapter 8 is about how our body regulates fat so that it can be used both as an energy reserve and as insulation, and what can go wrong with the process. The final chapter addresses the thermal dimension of sleep. If you’ve ever woken up soaked in sweat or chilled, it may have occurred to you that our thermal regulation doesn’t work as usual through sleep.
There is a point in the Introduction that reads as though the author is calling Tibetan Buddhists monks charlatans, and that seems both harsh and offensive. However, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he used an example in unfortunate juxtaposition to his charlatan comment—which is well taken. He’s referring to monks who wrap themselves in wet sheets in subfreezing conditions. His point is that it’s not a suspension of the laws of physics that the monks don’t end up with hypothermia—true enough. The monks’ point is likely that it’s a tremendous challenge to be able to maintain a tranquil mind under such conditions, which I would argue is true as well.
There are only a few graphics, and they consist of tables, line drawings, and photos. There is an extensive bibliography that is organized by chapter.
The Kindle version of the book that I have has some formatting irregularities. However, they didn’t really detract from the reading experience, and will probably be corrected in newer editions. [But it wasn’t an ARC, so the formatting should have been finalized.]
I found this book to be interesting, and I learned a lot from reading it. It’s an important topic, but for many it won’t be a subject that one thinks of learning about in isolation. If you are interested in finding out more about the many ways in which animals (humans included) are influenced by temperature, I’d recommend you give this book a look.
Temperature regulation is intimately connected, for instance, with animal size. Small animals lose heat disproportionately faster than large ones, and so are more likely to have fur, active lives and metabolic rates, and shorter lives. Birds and mammals make their own heat, but in a way, reptiles do, too, as if they have the chance to wander to different temperature zones, they will keep themselves within narrow boundaries of temperature. Even lice and nematodes will do so. Temperature has plenty to do with sex. (Blumberg repeatedly demonstrates in this sphere and others that our language reflects a basic interest in matters Fahrenheit. English is not the only language to refer to such things as "the heat of passion" or "I've got the hots for you.") There is literal heating of different body parts during sexual stimulation. Not only during sex, but at all other times, different parts of the body take on different temperatures. This is often done with a remarkable mechanism called "countercurrent heat exchange" which shows up all over the animal kingdom. Basically it involves sending blood through a pool that can pre-warm or pre-cool it, as is needed by its final destination. There is an important chapter on fever. It took a surprisingly long time for people to realize that fever is a good thing, a response of the body that helps in healing, rather than a symptom that has to be cured. Such a finding was first reliably sparked by experiments on iguanas, of all things.
This is a wide-ranging and informative book. Blumberg explains the many different experiments that have brought us to our understanding of body heat, and draws from many examples in natural history. He has written a diverting and lucid book, which has good humor throughout. It is a perfect introduction for the general reader to a vital topic.