Courtsey Bill Streever
Author Bill Streever in Death Valley.
HEAT: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places is a personal narrative in which author Bill Streever walks on hot coals, visits Death Valley, experiences an intense fever, teaches about the invention of matches, drinks crude oil and more.
Streever, a biologist, is also the author of COLD, a New York Times bestseller about the influence of cold on the planet. He chairs the North Slope Science Initiative's Science Technical Advisory Panel in Alaska and serves on many related committees, including a climate change advisory panel.
Steever – who lives in Anchorage, where he hikes, bikes, camps, scuba dives, and cross country skies, as often as the weather allows – shares some of his experiences in writing his new book:
What's the hottest thing you've done?
I think people usually expect me to say something like walking on freshly hardened lava, or firewalking, or hiking in Death Valley in the full sun in July, all of which I have done and enjoyed, and all of which are hot. But to me my visit to the Brookhaven National Laboratory's supercollider stands out. With physicist Barbara Jacak, I walked in the supercollider's tunnels, standing next to the pipes that threw gold nucleii smashing into one another at very close to the speed of light, generating temperatures of 7 trillion degrees Fahrenheit. Now that's hot.
The most dangerous or risky?
I'm actually a very careful person. Granted, I do things that appear dangerous to outsiders, but I take precautions that may not be apparent. On the other hand, I always understand that things can go badly wrong, and I suppose I have not always come away unscathed. Things that might make the short list: walking on freshly hardened lava, multi-day wilderness hikes, commercial diving, and cave diving. But I think I would reserve the top spot for a submersible dive that I made recently, to a depth of 1,500 feet, in a submersible that I did not trust with a pilot who I barely knew.
Why does that get the top spot? Because I knew the submersible was missing certain backup systems that I considered to be important, and, more importantly, because my safety was almost entirely in the hands of someone I barely knew. It was well worthwhile, as things turned out. But there is one other top contender: driving a rental car in rush hour traffic during a thunderstorm in Houston, Texas, an activity that goes beyond the realm of dangerous or risky and into the realm of just plain stupid.
Hot or cold weather. Which do you prefer and why?
I prefer variety – I like them both. I think most people would prefer the goldilocks zone between hot and cold, and there are times when I long for the comfort of southern California or southern Spain, but overall I like the extremes. If I were forced to choose, I would choose cold, with the age-old rationale that one can dress for the cold but not for the heat.
What would you like people to take away from your book?
By far, the most important thing I would like people to take from Heat is a feeling of exuberance and an appreciation of science not for the sake of science, but as a part of everyday life, of history, and of culture. I hope, too, that they will see that I am trying to develop a different way of writing about science and nature that will appeal to a different and broader audience than more conventional approaches.
In terms of weather and climate, I hope people reading Heat will begin to see climate change as something that can be part of our everyday thinking without being overwhelming. \I didn't write a book exclusively about climate change because it has been done before, because it is hard to get material into print before new information becomes available, and because I think most people are weary of the preachy tone that almost inevitably comes with books on the topic. But most readers of Heat will learn something new about climate change, and they will, I hope, see that it is a big part of everything we do in life and should be a big part of our daily conversations, thinking, and decision making.
What's next for you?
Lots of things. In terms of my writing, I am working on a book about gold right now. In terms of lifestyle, my wife and I recently bought a cruising sailboat, a beautiful 44-foot ketch, and we hope to move aboard late next year. And that will inevitably lead to a book called, tentatively, Wind.
Naples' Most Dangerous Neighbor
From our partners
Most famous for its eruption in 79 A.D., which buried the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic ash, Mount Vesuvius erupted roughly once a century until about 1037, when it went quiet for a dormant period that lasted nearly 600 years. It remains an active volcano today. (Joseph Wright/Huntington Library)