For Gopnik's purposes the idea of winter was really invented in northern Europe, between the years 1550 and 1850, when a long cooling of the Earth eventually coincided with the abundance of coal. Brueghel was its first serious propagandist. In the early part of this period, as harsher winters became a reality, and native forests were savaged to provide fuel for a growing population, winter was a time of great expense for the rich, and great misery for the poor.
"Peak wood", as Gopnik nicely imagines it, occurred in Britain in the early part of the 18th century, when "the entire island was being deforested and fuel-wood prices rose 10 times in the span of 80 years". It was not until the advent of industrial-scale coal mining that prices fell and winter hardship, at least for the middle classes, eased.
While Dr Johnson routinely referred to winter days as "this bleak prospect", the poet William Cowper could write to a friend in 1785 that "there is hardly to be found upon the Earth so snug a creature as an Englishman by his fireside in winter". As Gopnik establishes, this sentiment was not only something that had rarely been expressed before, it had seldom been felt before.