On the Spot: Bill Streever

The author of 'Heat' discusses extreme temperatures and his even more extreme research methods

February 21, 2013

Author Bill Streever visited some of the world’s hottest locales, including Death Valley, as part of his research for “Heat: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places.”

Bill Streever is intimately familiar with extreme temperatures. To write 2010’s “Cold,” the Alaskan biologist visited some of the world’s chilliest locales. Now he’s back with a book about the polar opposite. “Heat: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places” is required reading for anyone interested in hot topics such as climate change, thermonuclear weapons and the chemistry of cooking.

How has humans’ relationship with heat changed over time?
Until the 1930s, [scientists] pretty universally welcomed a warm planet. They were more worried about a returning Ice Age than too-rapid warming.

What was the craziest experience you had with heat while writing this book?
One was walking on recently hardened lava. It was so hot that my rubber-tipped walking stick caught fire.

You also consumed crude oil. Why?
The first time people intentionally drilled for crude oil [to use as fuel] was 1859. Before that, it was bottled and sold as a medicinal oil, marketed as a balm for your skin but also to be taken internally. You would swallow three spoonfuls a day. I was curious about what it would taste like.

How did you feel afterward?
The slickness of it stayed around my teeth and the roof of my mouth for a long time. I couldn’t get rid of it with mouthwash or toothpaste. These guys who were drinking it three times a day, they must not have had girlfriends or wives.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; free, Sat. 6 p.m.; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)

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