The author hangs a fascinating, troubling story—several, actually—on the history of Freon ... Wilson describes this phenomenon in detail, so that we see how much our obsession with cooling comfort has affected our home and office lives ... The author’s comprehensive account manages to cover everything from race and climate to controversies over air quality in schools to how A/C made the South 'less southern' ... Well-written, unexpectedly engaging, and perhaps a bit overlong, After Cooling is a knockout debut by a gifted writer.
After his deftly persuasive opening argument that cutting back on machine-made cooling is the most pressing environmental task of our generation, Wilson walks us through the science of chemical coolants in detail, both the chemistry and physics of these miracle molecules, and the horrifying discovery of the havoc they wreak within the thin protective layers of the Earth’s atmosphere ... Woven into Wilson’s history of the first modern coolant — Freon, a compound in the chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, family, was developed in the 1930s — is an interesting fable about how our best efforts toward environmental regulation can bring out the worst in us ... One issue that Wilson does not address, and that I wish he had: how changes in the Western diet have (or have not) influenced our perceived need for air-conditioning, as well as its use. Admittedly, the measurable increase in average personal insulation over the last 50 years is a prickly subject, but surely it’s relevant to any discussion of the ways we modify our personal space ... has its greatest impact when it asks us to think deeply about the reasons humans wish to change the temperature of their surroundings ... My main quibble with After Cooling is that the book seems at times to apologize for its very existence ... Wilson dares to state plainly that lasting climate solutions hinge on our capacity to redefine what makes our lives meaningful, not on new technologies or better products.
... genre-defying ... The sheer volume of ideas and narrative strands in this book can be overwhelming at times. But Wilson’s magnetic writing is undeniable and often entertaining despite the challenging subject. Readers of this book won’t be shamed for using air conditioning. Instead, Wilson reasonably but passionately calls for a new definition of comfort that prioritizes community interdependence and connection.
While it may not be a surprise to learn that Euro-American standards of comfort have been largely dictated by rich and sweaty white men, how exactly this standard was set makes for a fascinating narrative of technological innovation and environmental destruction ... The story of how scientists detected the danger of CFCs and how the transition away from the ubiquitous chemical has played out is one of After Cooling’s most complex and riveting narratives. It’s also where the book begins to closely connect with the present, revealing how we may have averted one crisis, but steered directly into another ... [Wilson's] writing is thoughtful and informed by an eclectic mix of research, including scientific articles, environmental reporting, American history, critical theory, television, and science fiction.
... unsettling ... Having absorbed this shocking information early on, readers may expect Wilson to sound the alarm and urge climate activists to pay attention. Although that’s an ongoing theme, the author has not written a polemic but rather a philosophical attack on the free market and capitalism, which drive our obsession with personal comfort ... Wilson occasionally overreaches but nonetheless provides ingenious food for thought.