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Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance Paperback – June 1, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eskimos have more than a dozen words for sea ice; compared with Gosnell, they're downright thrifty. A self-professed "pagophile" ("lover of ice"), Gosnell exhausts the matter of frozen water in this needlessly long and maddeningly repetitive tome. A former Newsweek science reporter and author of Zero Three Bravo, she writes smoothly and wrings a measure of interest from her various subjects—sea ice, lake ice, river ice, space ice, ice games, frostbite, John Wayne Bobbitt (yes, that Mr. Bobbitt). But this book is an often mystifying precipitate of facts, curious words and anecdotes that could be slashed in half with no ill effect. The book also suffers from an overdose of distracting literary quotations on nearly every page. To be sure, ice is not a trivial substance. At the caps it locks up the vast majority of the world's fresh water; it confounds land and sea travel and commerce; it's a major hazard and a major source of winter fun. All this Gosnell argues convincingly. The trouble is, she's like a speed skater who can't stop going in circles. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Former Newsweek reporter Gosnell is an attentive and patient observer who traveled around the globe for this compendium of the human and natural history of ice. She opens with a description of the sound and sight of a small lake freezing, expanding from there to discuss the seasonal advance and retreat of ice, as on the Great Lakes or Lake Baikal. Taking the next natural step, the persistence of ice through the summer, brings Gosnell to the 1800s origin of glaciology in Louis Agassiz's study of Mont Blanc's Mer de Glace, and subsequently into the contemporary specialty of ice cores in ice-age research. En route through the science, which Gosnell condenses from the technical literature, the author imparts eclectic information through excerpts from poems, adventure and disaster stories, and discussions of ice sports and diversions. Gosnell conducts a bright, curious, and omnidirectional tour that will entrance nature readers. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226304965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226304960
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a friend of the author, I feel an appropriate corrective to the Publishers Weekly review would be either of the two very positive New York Times' reviews, one of which says...."this astonishingly boring-sounding book turns out instead to be an astonishment: an engaging, literate, mischievously written and only occasionally maddening voyage, far beyond everything most readers might possibly have wanted to know about hard water."

Neal Karlen , December 26, 2005, Books of The Times
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've recently developed an interest in Alpine glaciers and this book was recommended to me. It deals with ice in all its forms, from ice cubes to glaciers to ice sculptures and even ice in outer space (although, oddly, the book doesn't cover snow). For Gosnell, ice became somewhat of an obsession in the same way that Mark Kurlansky became obsessed with salt (in Salt: A World History) and cod (in Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World) in his own meticulously comprehensive works.

The writing ranges from lyrical and evocative to mundane, with the author analyzing the structure, formation and peculiar behavior of ice crystals, then recounting well-known anecdotes about Roger Bacon, the Titanic and Scott's attempt to reach the South Pole. I have to say it kept me interested but sometimes I felt as though she was just compiling facts and stories without tying them to a central theme. Her research is exhaustive, her writing skillful, but this could have been a shorter, more concise book.
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Format: Paperback
The two things I noticed right away about this book are

1) It is thick.

2) It doesn't have any diagrams to help explain any concepts. It has a few black and white photos clustered in the middle, though these seem disconnected from the text.

A science- and nature-related book such as this simply begs for helpful diagrams and photos to complement the text. They are not here. And at times the explanations the author gives for phenomenon such as ground freezing seem contradictory; and without a diagram, I wondered if the author understood the things she was trying to explain.

The book is quite extensive though, particularly on the history and the uses of ice. If you are interested in the uses of ice, this may be a helpful book.

However, I completely agree with the Publisher's Weekly review above when it wrote

"But this book is an often mystifying precipitate of facts, curious words and anecdotes that could be slashed in half with no ill effect. The book also suffers from an overdose of distracting literary quotations on nearly every page."

To this, I would add that the quotations she selected from scientists are terrible, seemingly picked out to impress the reader with unexpected words rather than to help illuminate.

You will find interesting things here about ice, but might find such aspects of the book frustrating.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whoa! Need details on a disappearing substance? This is the book for you. Details are, well, detailed! The author spent months staring at ice and learning all you can (or more to the point) can't imagine you wanted to know about ice in all its forms, down to its molecular structure. Be prepared to take your time with this book. Fantastic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"ICE" is of interest to a very few people. It gets into the nitty gritty of all things snowy and cold.

It is well-written but I can't imagine the average reader really getting into the esoterica of how frozen lakes form or the difference between a frozen lake and a frozen river. The book even gets into how a frozen lake breaks up.

The historical notes are interesting but again, not for everyone. In short, this is the kind of book only a nerd such as myself would love.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was astounded when I first rented this book from a library as a child. I only made it 200 pages in before I had to return it, and it drifted out of my mind for several years. When it came back into my mind, and I remember how well it was written, and how interesting it was, I had to have it.

I purchased it from the Amazon Kindle store, and have had a great time reading it so far.

I don't know if "scientific journal" is the right word for this book, but it illustrates and explains, over the course of several hundred pages, many different properties of ice, and different scenarios and forms that it occurs on the earth. Very interesting read for anyone who loves science.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is just plan amazing. One would think that no one could write a 560 page book on frozen water and make it not only interesting, but fascinating. I found myself turning the pages and reading despite myself. Mariana Gossnell has a style that leads one on from wonder to wonder. Indeed "Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance" is a masterpiece of science writing. From a pond freezing over in winter to the ice on Jupiter's moon Europa and the ice in comets (indeed at least half of the water currently on earth may have originated in these deep space travelers) here is everything everyone might have ever wanted to know about this amazing substance and a lot more beside. Gossnell introduces us to ice in human history, its associations with living things, its uses and its origins. With a lot of ice (the world's glaciers and Greenland's ice cap among others) now melting apparently due to global warming, this is a very timely book.

Water has always fascinated me and this book just confirms the wonder that is water in all of its forms. It is a truism that without water life simply would not exist on the planet. DNA may be the molecule that determines life, but water is the molecule that allows it, at least in a form that we know. If you think the subject boring, read "Ice" and be surprised! I recommend it highly.
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