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Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Story of Cool in the Kitchen

Published in association with the Science Museum, London

Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Story of Cool in the Kitchen

Published in association with the Science Museum, London
From a late-night snack to a cold beer, there’s nothing that whets the appetite quite like the suctioning sound of a refrigerator being opened. In the early 1930s fewer than ten percent of US households had a mechanical refrigerator, but today they are nearly universal, the primary means by which we keep our food and drink fresh. Yet, for as ubiquitous as refrigerators are, most of us take them for granted, letting them blend into the background of our kitchens, basements, garages, and all the other places where they seem so perfectly convenient. In this book, Helen Peavitt amplifies the hum of the refrigerator in technological history, showing us just how it became such an essential appliance.
Peavitt takes us to the early closets, cabinets, and boxes into which we first started packing ice and the various things we were trying to keep cool. From there she charts the development of mechanical and chemical technologies that have led to modern-day refrigeration on both industrial and domestic scales, showing how these technologies have created a completely new method of preserving and transporting perishable goods, having a profound impact on society from the nineteenth century and on. She explores the ways the marketing of refrigerators have expressed and influenced our notions of domestic life, and she looks at how refrigeration has altered the agriculture and food industries as well as our own appetites.
Strikingly illustrated, this book offers an informative and entertaining history of an object that has radically changed—in a little over one hundred years—one of the most important things we do: eat. 

208 pages | 50 color plates, 50 halftones | 6 x 9 1/2 | © 2017

History: History of Technology

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"Your domestic fridge is your autobiography. By its contents are ye known. People ostentatiously arrange green vegetables to signal virtue. I know I do. The ratio of yogurt to beer is always revealing. That withered and wretched celeriac root lurking at the back of the salad drawer always puts me in mind of a medieval theologian’s diatribes about the appearance of my soul. The evil-looking celeriac reveals a mixture of ambition and incompetence. . . . This is a book of hallucinatory wonder by a Science Museum keeper who writes with that rare combination of synoptic, grandiose academic majesty, and wry humor. Midnight kitchen wanderers know the strange light an open fridge casts into darkness. Peavitt’s Refrigerator illuminates not just our kitchens, but our entire value system."

Stephen Bayley | Spectator

"Peavitt’s intriguing nose-dive into the history of this pivotal but everyday invention exposes the role household technology and its increasingly rapid development plays in dictating socioeconomic identifiers. . . .  Whether you’re packing twenty bottles of Cristal or hoarding a four-day-old lasagne in the run up to payday, the brilliantly researched stories and nostalgic photographs in Peavitt’s ode to cool are bound to make you smile."


"Peavitt’s multifaceted exploration of domestic refrigeration is a worthy and entertaining read, enriched by an extensive collection of historical photographs, illustrations, and advertisements. Her discussions of the technology involved are elegant and illuminating, as are her descriptions of the myriad ways in which domestic refrigeration influenced (and still influences) culture, in the kitchen and well beyond."

Dianne Timblin | American Scientist

"Peavitt's book is distinctive for the illustrations that accompany nearly every page; many of these are drawn from the Museum collections. . . . The book is well edited and thoroughly documented; Peavitt's prose flows smoothly. This reviewer can see it selling well in the Museum bookshop and being used to accompany history of technology courses. Recommended."


"Peavitt’s primary interest is in the wide-ranging effects of refrigeration, and that is the great strength of the book. . . . An important contribution to the general history of refrigeration."

Technology and Culture

“An important book—a masterful study that is both fascinating and entertaining about the everyday appliance that shaped, more than any other, the way we live and eat.”

Claudia Roden, author of "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food"

Table of Contents

1 The Iceman Cometh
2 The Birth of Cool
3 Domesticating Cold
4 Refrigerator Dreams
5 Anatomy of the Refrigerator
6 A Culinary Revolution
7 ‘Is there Health in your Refrigerator?’
8 Refrigerated World
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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