Sunday, September 30, 2007

Scott Barrett's "Why Cooperate?"

Scott Barrett is Professor of Environmental Economics and International Political Economy, Director of the International Policy program, and Director of the Global Health and Foreign Policy Initiative at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Why Cooperate?: The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods, and reported the following:
From page 99 of Why Cooperate?:

…There seems to be an inconsistency here.

There need not be. Consider the question I asked before: Is it better to cut emissions today so as to reduce climate change damages experienced by poor countries in the future, or is it better to make other investments that can benefit poor countries today — and, in the bargain, help to insulate them from future climate change? Again, we need to do both, but how should we balance these allocations? A problem with the economic analyses of climate change is that they allow different societies, both within and between generations, to interact only in their choice of emission levels. Investment in, say, R&D for a malaria vaccine should be taken into account as well (Chapter 7). Such investments should be co-determined with the emissions path.

…To sum up, the Stern Review makes it seem as if the choices before us are simple and obvious. They are neither. They depend on more than facts and science. They depend on value judgments. They also depend on the options for investment that are considered. Rather than choose particular values for the parameters noted here, it would be better to reveal the implications of choosing different values. The implications of making alternative investments should also be revealed. Both will have profound social as well as environmental consequences.

Why Cooperate? addresses a number of global challenges, from nuclear proliferation to HIV/AIDS, from oil spills to nuclear fusion experiments, from genocide to polio eradication, from asteroid defense to climate change. Page 99 refers only to this last challenge: climate change.

Page 99 is unlike the rest of the book. It contains a section I inserted after the book was written but before it was published. I hadn’t intended to write this section. I added it at the last moment because of the attention-grabbing Stern Review on the economics of climate change. The Stern Review suggested that the choice about what we should do about climate change was easy. It is not, and I needed to explain why.

Stern says that the present generation should reduce emissions by a lot, now, for the sake of the future even though, by his own calculations, the future is expected to be better off than the present. The ethics of this are questionable. More importantly, Stern’s real ethical concern is with the wellbeing of poor countries, and his analysis rules out the possibility that the rich countries could help the poor except by reducing emissions. Climate change is so fundamental a global problem, however, that it needs to be considered from a development and not only from an environmental perspective. That was the point I was trying to make on page 99.

Page 99 is typical of the other pages in one sense. Throughout the book I make connections that may seem surprising — not only between greenhouse gases and a malaria vaccine but also between drug resistance and over-fishing, between bans on nuclear testing and restrictions on reproductive cloning, between the need both to prevent pandemic flu outbreaks and to secure radioactive materials from terrorists. What links all these cases is the need for international cooperation. Why cooperate? Because our wellbeing, the wellbeing of future generations, and even the fate of the Earth depends on cooperation succeeding.
Read more about Why Cooperate? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2007

Giles MacDonogh's "After the Reich"

Giles MacDonogh is the author of several books on German history, including The Last Kaiser: A Life of Wilhelm II and Frederick the Great as well as histories of Berlin and Prussia. A graduate of Oxford University, MacDonogh has written for the Financial Times, the Times (London), the Guardian, and the Evening Standard.

His latest book, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, charts the chaos in Germany following the collapse of the Third Reich and the savagery that consumed well over 2 million civilian lives as the country struggled toward reconstruction.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to After the Reich and reported the following:
Page 99 is representative of the first part of the book, which is the part which has excited reviewers. I have tried to give a 'warts and all' picture. Later, when I deal with the trials and reconstruction of Germany before 1949, the text is rather more staid.

Page 99:
berlin


saying the Germans had raped his sister. While the Woman was raped later by two Russians, a female soldier interrupted her comrades. When she saw what they were doing she merely laughed. The Woman promptly complained to another officer, but he dismissed her. They had not done her any harm, and all his men were healthy, he said.

Ruth Friedrich was spared, largely because her lover, the conductor Leo Borchard, spoke fluent Russian. She visited a friend who had been raped by seven soldiers, ‘one after the other, like beasts’. ‘We need to commit suicide . . . we certainly can’t live like this,’ the friend said. Ruth’s friend Frank addressed the Russian need for women: the euphoria of victory manifested itself in the flesh of Berlin’s womenfolk; the Russians took bodily possession of German soil, bit by bit; and bodily they consumed German flesh, night by night.

The preferred form of suicide was poison, and there was much discussion of the best and most painless way to quit life. The discussions had started before the Russians arrived. It had been a favourite topic of conversation between Hitler and his secretaries at their nocturnal teas. Berlin women, it seems, were short of food, but well provided with poison. There were instances of mass-suicide by poison. The actor Paul Bildt and some twenty others despatched themselves thus, only he woke again and lived for another dozen years. His daughter was among the dead. Attesting once more to the incidence of suicide among the nobles, especially those who lived on isolated estates in the Mark Brandenburg, the writer cites a number of cases showing how far the old families would go to protect the dignity of their daughters: death was preferable to dishonour.

Elsewhere the rapes soon became routine and when it was not accompanied by violence it could eventually be laughed off. A kind of gallows humour grew up that was encapsulated in the expression ‘Besser ein Iwan auf dem Bauch als ein Ami auf dem Kopf!’ (Better a Russki on the belly than a Yank on the head!), meaning that rape was preferable to being blown up by a bomb. The Woman’s friend, a widow, was over fifty when she was raped by an unbearded boy. He later paid her a compliment, saying she was considerably tighter than the women of the Ukraine. She was proud of the remark and repeated it to other women. One journalist of Margret Boveri’s acquaintance, for example, was able to make light of her rape, even if she had cried at the time – ‘in retrospect the story sounded very funny: the hanging water bottle and all the other bits of equipment getting in the way, the inexperience of the young man and the speed at which it was consummated’. Margret commented: ‘Middle-class people have never spoken so frankly about sex before. Are they really sympathising with the victims,
Learn more about After the Reich at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

D. Michael Lindsay's "Faith in the Halls of Power"

D. Michael Lindsay is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University where he is also the Faculty Associate of Leadership Rice and Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, and reported the following:
My book tells the story of evangelicals’ 30-year effort to reach the heights of power. Page 99 deals with one of the key aspects of the evangelical ascendancy. The big point actually begins with the last few lines of page 98:

The Pew Younger Scholars Program was the most strategic initiative evangelicals undertook over the last thirty years. It enabled more evangelicals to attend select graduate programs and establish a foothold for evangelicals at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. Unlike politics where mobilized citizens can vote their representative into office, advancement in the world of ideas requires the approval of academic gatekeepers. Pew’s philanthropy secured academic respectability for evangelicals and produced a revolution in evangelical scholarship.

The opening of the evangelical mind has to be one of the most important but least appreciated ways evangelicals have risen in American society. It has not happened by accident. The Pew Younger Scholars Program is one of the most important parts of this strategy. It provided funds for evangelical college students to attend a special summer workshop with a renowned scholar in a specific academic field. The students and scholar not only shared an interest in particular disciplines, they also shared the same faith. The program became an important vehicle for students at lesser-known schools (most of them church-based) to secure a recommendation to a top graduate school from a leading authority in the field. It also gave them a chance to work on a paper that could become their writing sample for graduate school — which can make or break an application.

This program was spearheaded by a forward-thinking evangelical historian, Joel Carpenter, who directed Pew’s religious grantmaking efforts during the 1990s. He joined forces with another evangelical academic, Nathan Hatch, so the program could be housed at the University of Notre Dame where Hatch was Provost.

Page 99 has all of the vital elements that emerged in my analysis of the rise of American evangelicalism: strategic philanthropy from a faith-friendly source, a focus on long-term cultural change, support of a new generation of leaders, and unexpected twists and turns. After all, who would have thought the evangelical advance would come from happenings at the nation’s leading Catholic university? But an alliance with Catholics has been critical to evangelicals’ growing power, both political and intellectual.

Page 99 (starting at the bottom of 98):

The Pew Younger Scholars Program was the most strategic initiative evangelicals undertook over the last thirty years. It enabled more evangelicals to attend select graduate programs and establish a foothold for evangelicals at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. Unlike politics where mobilized citizens can vote their representative into office, advancement in the world of ideas requires the approval of academic gatekeepers. Pew’s philanthropy secured academic respectability for evangelicals and produced a revolution in evangelical scholarship.

The establishment of the Evangelical Scholars Initiative came at a key moment when other developments were bringing evangelical and Catholic academics together. For example, evangelicals were beginning to explore more deeply the idea of “cultural engagement” — first articulated for them by Carl Henry in 1947. According to Henry, the Bible taught that believers should be active in society, not retreat from it. Evangelical scholars were naturally drawn to the example of Roman Catholics who, unlike evangelicals, have never isolated themselves from the culture. Many of those I spoke to noted that in the 1980s, evangelical colleges and universities began hiring more Catholics, and many of those new professors had attended graduate school at Notre Dame. So when the Pew programs were established at Notre Dame, evangelical academics did not scoff as their forebears might have. Moreover, many saw new funding — over $2 million initially — become available to them, and, as one person told me, “we didn’t care where it was based.”

Evangelicals continue to look to Notre Dame as a model institution. While Baylor is trying to become a top-tier Christian research institution, one of its presidents told me that Notre Dame is the “industry leader.” The data support that assertion. Notre Dame has consistently been ranked among the top 20 research universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, it has received more research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities than any other university in the nation over the last five years. These institutional strengths, coupled with the number of Notre Dame departments that sponsor doctoral programs, create an environment where evangelical scholars can interact with colleagues who share their vision for first-rate scholarship conducted by practicing Christians. Notre Dame has raised the bar for evangelical scholarship substantially.
Read more about Faith in the Halls of Power at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2007

Richard L. Bushman's "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling"

Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University. His From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690—1765 won the Bancroft Prize in 1967. His other books include Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984), winner of the Evans Biography Award; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985); and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his acclaimed book, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (2005), and reported the following:
Who can believe such an absurd idea as the page 99 rule – until they try it. For lo and behold, what did I find on page 99 of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling but a set of ideas about the Book of Mormon that synthesized my overall thinking about Joseph Smith.

On that page, I come to the end of a segment on the Book of Mormon and Indians and launch into a discussion of the place of the Bible in the book. I had been arguing that the Book of Mormon appears at first to incorporate nineteenth-century American prejudices about the Native American population. They are fierce, savage, and cursed with a dark skin. If they turn to God, they are told, this curse can be removed, suggesting that goodness and virtue are white, and savagery and wickedness are dark. Yet underlying these racist notions is the book’s underlying message that Native Americans are also Israel, God’s chosen people. Moreover, the Book of Mormon teaches that the American continents belong to the Indians; the Europeans are interlopers who must join with this branch of Israel or be cast off. Strangely, the native peoples in the Book of Mormon are both cursed and blessed. At this juncture between Indians and the Bible, I write the following:

All the efforts to situate the Book of Mormon in the nineteenth century are frustrated by contradictions like these. The book elusively slides off the point on one crucial issue after another.... The Book of Mormon is equally perplexing on its comments about the Bible, the book from which Joseph’s translation primarily drew its strength. The Book of Mormon can be seen as an extension of the Bible, as a mammoth apocryphal work.... And yet for all the similarities and mutual confirmations, the Book of Mormon challenges the authority of the Bible by breaking the monopoly of the Bible on scriptural truth. Certain passages in the Book of Mormon even throw doubt on the Bible’s accuracy.

The Bible, in other words, receives the same treatment as the Indians. It is both honored and depreciated. I think of that passage as an expression of my overall view of Joseph Smith. He appears to be one thing, but at the same time is something else.

I voice this thought in a passage on revelation and authority. Revelation made Joseph the commanding presence at the head of the church. Since he spoke for God, he had the potential to exercise dictatorial power over his followers. But, incongruously, he also promised every church member revelation like his own.

In Kirtland, he had silenced the visionaries when they competed with his authority. And yet in a perplexing reversal, the revelations also said everyone was to receive inspiration and speak for God. Despite Joseph’s monopoly on Church-wide revelation, the Lord promised these untutored elders revelation of their own.... In an inexplicable contradiction, Joseph was designated as the Lord’s prophet, and yet every man was to voice scripture, everyone to see God. That conundrum lies at the heart of Joseph Smith’s Mormonism (p. 175).

Where this leads us I cannot say, save to conjecture that compelling systems of thought will frequently, perhaps inevitably, embody paradoxes, as Terryl Givens has argued in his new book People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture. The human mind confronting existence is incapable of reducing it to a logically consistent system. If we are true to reality, we will inevitably arrive at paradoxes. It may be a mark of Joseph Smith’s capaciousness that paradox lies at the center of his thought.
Read an excerpt from Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling and learn more about the book from the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ian Stewart's "Why Beauty Is Truth"

Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and Director of its Mathematics Awareness Centre. His many books include From Here to Infinity, Nature’s Numbers, Does God Play Dice?, The Problems of Mathematics, and Letters to a Young Mathematician. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his recent book, Why Beauty Is Truth: The History of Symmetry, and reported the following:
Page 102 would give you a better idea of the overall style of the book, because the central character’s father commits suicide — by suffocating himself — on that page. More precisely, the suffocation is reported on that page. Page 98 would clue you in on a key piece of technical content, the impossibility of solving equations of the fifth degree algebraically. Page 99, to be frank, is a bit boring, though unavoidable because it details the early life of √Čvariste Galois, a pivotal figure in the whole tale.

Galois was a would-be French revolutionary, with a huge but unrecognised talent for mathematics, who was killed in a duel over a woman. His life’s work, which very nearly died with him, was the invention of a new branch of mathematics, which opened the door to a mathematical formulation of one of the most powerful ideas ever discovered: symmetry. Before Galois, the story is about the development of algebra; after Galois, it heads rapidly towards the frontiers of modern physics — relativity, quantum, theory, superstrings.

I’m not sure that any page, taken at random, can be representative of a book that follows four millennia of mathematical discoveries, starting in ancient Babylon and working its way through to the 21st Century. However, page 99 does make it clear that this is a “people” book, centred on the often remarkable lives of the innovators, ancient and modern, who placed symmetry at the core of science and mathematics. There are duels and murders and betrayals, sex scandals, a beheading ... if you thought mathematicians led dull lives, you’ll find this book a revelation.

The mathematics itself emerges naturally from the lives and concerns of these historical characters. And as it happens, page 99 records a key moment in that four-thousand-year tale:

In October 1823 ... soon after √Čvariste arrived [at the College de Louis-le-Grand, a preparatory school] the students refused to chant in the school chapel, and the young Galois saw at first hand the fate of would-be revolutionaries: a hundred pupils were promptly expelled. Unfortunately for mathematics, the lesson did not deter him... he was awarded first prize in Latin, but then he started to get bored. In consequence, the school insisted that he should repeat his classes to improve his performance, but of course this made him even more bored, and things went from bad to worse. What saved Galois from the slippery slope to oblivion was mathematics, a subject with enough intellectual content to retain his interest. And not just any mathematics: Galois went straight to the classics, Legendre’s Elements of Geometry. It was a bit like a modern physics student starting out by reading the technical papers of Einstein.
Learn more about Why Beauty Is Truth at the author's website and in Stewart's brief essay about the book at Britannica Blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Paul Hoffman's "King's Gambit"

Paul Hoffman was president of Encyclopaedia Britannica and editor in chief of Discover magazine, and is the author of Wings of Madness and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his eleventh and most recent book, King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, and reported the following:
On page 99 of King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, I discuss the early termination of the 1984-85 match for the World Chess Championship. This was the most contentious and bitterest chess match in the history of the game. After five grueling months of play without a clear victor, the match was cut short on the ground that continuing it any longer might endanger the bodies and psyches of the two players. The failing physical and mental health of these cerebral gladiators captures the theme of King's Gambit. Chess may look like a gentleman's game, but at the championship level it is often a blood sport, with each player intent on totally destroying the other.

King's Gambit is part memoir (the story of my childhood weekends in Greenwich Village with a brilliant, bohemian, Ping-Pong-hustling dad and my escape into chess to avoid facing unpleasant truths about him) and part an insider's look at the obsessive subculture of tournament chess and the crazy behavior that the game brings out in professionals and amateurs alike.

Defeat in chess is always painful. The Spanish writer Fernando Arrabal once signaled his resignation by grabbing his king, climbing up on the chess table, extending his arm horizontally, and dropping the king so that it bombed the board.

When a defeated player gets violent, his wrath is often directed not at spectators or his opponent but at himself. One contemporary Russian grandmaster has been known to pick up the pointiest chess piece, usually the bishop or a knight with a particularly jagged mane, and stab his own head until it bleeds. Then he rushes out of the tournament hall only to return for the next round as if nothing untoward has happened. At one event, this grandmaster was among the tournament leaders who were playing on an elevated stage. When he lost a key game, he bloodied his face and then, in an extreme masochistic flourish, dove off the three-foot-high stage, belly-flopping onto the hard floor.
Read an excerpt from King's Gambit, and learn more about the book at Paul Hoffman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Michael Elliott's "Custerology"

Michael A. Elliott is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English at Emory University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Custerology concerns one of the most intriguing figures in the book. Steve Alexander is a living historian who portrays Custer in reenactments, lectures, and other events. With his wife, Sandy, he now lives in a house in Monroe, Michigan that George and Elizabeth Custer once occupied. I am fond of this section of the book because the Alexanders have been very generous to me, and getting to know them has been one of the pleasures of this project. Even better, this page shows how Steve's deep historical enthusiasm has helped me to understand why Custer is such a significant icon for the United States. What makes the page typical is the way it shuttles between the present and the past.

From Page 99:

It is not surprising that Alexander -- like so many other Custer aficionados -- dates his interest to a very young age. During Custer's lifetime, the young general played to the imagination of the members of the press who wrote about him and of the public for whom they wrote. After his death, Custer's apotheosis occurred because he so neatly fit a boyish notion of heroism that had a patina of antiquated romance but remained contemporary in calling attention to the costs of pushing the light of so-called civilization into the benighted darkness. Small wonder that Becker's Custer's Last Fight, probably the most widely circulated image of U.S.-Indian warfare, spread through American barrooms in the 1890s, just as the United States turned its imperial attentions from North America to other continents. Thanks to Anheuser Busch, Custer would breathe his last among men who need to be reminded what their countrymen were fighting for in Cuba or the Philippines -- a quest for martial glory as much as geopolitical goals.

Steve Alexander, meanwhile, has long ceased worrying that Custer's story might be troubling to Americans unsure about this imperial legacy. Yet he realizes that his relationship with Custer may have to change somehow in the not-so-distant future. More than one acquaintance of Alexander told me that he purposefully withheld his age from his friends because he feared that something fatal would befall him when he reached the thirty-six and one-half years that Custer had attained before his death at the Little Bighorn. Whether that is true or not, Steve often does sound cagey on the dates of his own biography, perhaps to obscure the fact that every day he lives further beyond Custer's own lifespan. He is acutely aware that there will come a time when he will no longer physically resemble Custer.
Read an excerpt from Custerology and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

James R. Benn's "The First Wave"

James R. Benn is the author of Billy Boyle and its recently-released sequel The First Wave.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
Page 99 finds military detective Billy Boyle studying a murder scene and trying to reconstruct the events that occurred there. A supply sergeant in an army hospital has been found in a supply room with his throat slit, and a valuable supply of penicillin is missing.

What does this reveal about the book and the character? Obviously, that it’s a mystery, and that Billy has his suspicions about exactly what happened. He has a way of seeing beyond the obvious, as he reconstructs the murder with another officer who attacks him with a pencil standing in for the knife. Comparing those moves with the defensive wounds found on the victim, he determines there were two assailants.

“Who else held Casselli’s right arm so Mathenet could make a clean cut? One on one, Casselli was holding him off.”

I try in my writing to bring out the sensations, tastes, smells and feelings Billy experiences, as well as the effect these events have on him. A good example is in the middle of this page.

Harding thought for a minute, then lit a cigarette, the blue smoke helping to cover up the coppery smell of dried blood and the fouler odors of the shit and piss Casselli had let go when his lights went out. I looked down at the supply sergeant and wondered at the struggle he had put up. The dead eyes looked up at me, pupils wide in amazement, as if the thought of death had never occurred to him.

Finally, Billy’s thoughts go to his British girlfriend, a British agent, who has been kidnapped by renegade Vichy French police, and at a niggling thought about those dead eyes, which contain a clue he can’t quite dredge up from the recesses of his mind – yet.

I don’t know if I could have packed more about character or plot onto page 99 if I had tried!
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2007

Brock Clarke's "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England"

Brock Clarke is the author of The Ordinary White Boy, What We Won’t Do, and Carrying the Torch. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award in Fiction.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, and reported the following:
Page 99 of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England:

Mr. Frazier didn’t respond. He bought his paper from the machine outside the store (who knows why? Maybe as long as he didn’t enter the building, he could in good conscience continue calling it a store), then turned and began walking back home. He was really setting a good pace, and I broke a sweat trying to catch up with him. Soon after I did, we passed by those boys again, still sitting on the steps, as if waiting for us. You don’t often get a second chance in this world to say what you wanted to say, or ask what you wanted to ask. So I stopped in front of them, and grabbed a fistful of Mr. Frazier’s jacket to get him to stop, too. Mr. Frazier didn’t turn to face the boys but. like a spooked horse, looked at them sideways. I turned to face them, though, and I could feel my face get fiery red and I hoped that it shone on the boys like a beacon of sorts.

“Earlier,” I said to the boys, “you said something to Mr. Frazier here.”


“True,” one of the boys said. They both looked exactly the same, with their
faint mustaches, their flat alabaster stomachs, their nipple rings glinting and glistening in the sun.

“Well,” I said, “I’d like you to apologize to him. I think he deserves an
apology.”

One of the boys shook his head, and said, “Fucked up.” He said this with
no malice or slyness or any emotion at all. It was delivered as a statement of fact.

“Hey!” I said, because I couldn’t take it anymore. Mr. Frazier had so much
life left in him, but even if he hadn’t, even when old people were taking up space and air, they’d lived through a lot and you had to give them some credit and respect. I moved toward the boys in what I hoped was a menacing fashion. When I did so, they stood up — also menacingly and I noticed that their white socks were pulled up very high, probably to their knees (I couldn’t tell exactly because of the length of their shorts). Why pull your socks so high? There was only one reason I could think of: these were the kind of guys who might have knives in their socks, except the socks were so high they could probably have

That's my page 99. Sam Pulsifer is the novel's first person narrator. When he was 18 years old, he accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, killing two people in the bargain. After he gets out of prison, he discovers that not only has received letters from other people who want him to burn down other writers' homes in New England, but that someone has already done burned, or tried to, the Edward Bellamy House in Chicopee, Massachusetts. So, he's gone to visit Mr. Frazier, who he believes is the man who has tried to do the burning.
Read an excerpt from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and learn more about the book at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Philip Gordon's "Winning the Right War"

Philip H. Gordon is the senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at The Brookings Institution, having previously served on the National Security Council staff as director for European affairs. He is the author or co-author of five books on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy, and his articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Affairs.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Winning the Right War: The Path to Security for America and the World, and reported the following:
Here is one sentence from p. 99 of Winning the Right War:

"Just as millions of Europeans had to make their choice in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, now millions of Muslims must decide whether to join the extremists, extend them support, remain neutral, or actively pursue a liberal and nonviolent future in cooperation with the United States and its allies."

That's a pretty good summary of one of the key arguments in the book, in which I apply lessons from the Cold War to the "war on terror" today. The point I'm making here is that we didn't win the Cold War by killing or capturing all our enemies, but rather by demonstrating the flaws in communist ideology and convincing millions of people who might have been tempted by it that communism would not deliver the future they sought. The same thing, I argue in Winning the Right War, applies to the battle against Islamist extremism today. We will defeat it not by killing or capturing all terrorists or potential terrorists, but by convincing their pool of potential recruits to reject the means and ends being preached by al Qaeda and the like. We can do that not (or at least not only) by deploying our military power, but by containing the threat, maintaining our moral authority, preserving our values, winning over friends and allies, and choosing our battles carefully – just as we did during the Cold War. In the pages that come before and after p. 99, I explain how we did that then, and how we need to do it now. We've been fighting the wrong war for the past six years and now urgently need to change course.
Read an excerpt from Winning the Right War and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Matthew Pearl's "The Poe Shadow"

Matthew Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club, has been an international bestseller translated into more than 30 languages. His highly anticipated second novel, The Poe Shadow is another New York Times and international bestseller.

Pearl applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Poe Shadow and reported the following:
There are actually two different page ninety-nines for The Poe Shadow — in the hardcover and in the paperback — but because the paperback is out more recently, let's stick with paperback 99. And, hey, it is one of my favorite parts of the book! I didn't plan that. Actually, when writing a book you have little sense, if any, of what page anything might end up on, because of unknown fonts and layouts to be chosen by the publisher, and because continuous editing until the book is finally printed. Still, I'm happy to say, out of coincidence or hypnotic deference to Mr. Ford, The Poe Shadow's paperback 99 lands in my "epitome" scene. What do I mean?

For each of my novels so far, there has been a scene that sneaks into my head early on in the writing process (or even in the outlining stage) that epitomizes the novel as a whole for me and helps me nail down the tone, style, and plot that I want. That was chapter nine for this (wow, page ninety-nine comes in chapter nine — how about that numerology!). The Poe Shadow takes place between 1849 and 1851 and focuses on a fan of Edgar Allan Poe named Quentin Clark who wants to recruit the "real" model for Poe's detective hero, C. Auguste Dupin, to investigate Poe's death. What made me want to tell this story was the idea that there would be two characters who claimed to be that real Dupin. Page ninety-nine occurs during the introduction of the second "Dupin," the contender for the title named Baron Claude Dupin.

"I can tell, Monsieur Quentin, you have got yourself in an awkward position," Dupin said. He pressed his hands together as though in prayer, then let them curl into a double fist. "But I am the real Dupin — I am the one you have sought all along."

The Baron's announcement "I am the one" helps me bring out themes of the complex and sometimes messy relationship between literature and reality (is there a real Dupin? Must there be one? Can there be two?), and also the question of who controls a literary property once an author dies, something that's always interested me. And he was a fun character to write, probably the most fun I've had so far as a writer.
Read an excerpt from The Poe Shadow and learn more about the book at Pearl's website.

Check out the MySpace page for Quentin Clark, the protagonist of The Poe Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 14, 2007

Aurelie Sheehan's "History Lesson for Girls"

Aurelie Sheehan is the author of a collection of short stories, Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant, and two novels, The Anxiety of Everyday Objects and History Lesson for Girls.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to History Lesson for Girls and reported the following:
My novel’s main narrative is interspersed with brief, largely faux histories such as this one on page 99. These comprise a story called “The Chronicle of the Lost Heroine,” written by two thirteen-year-old girls in 1976 to nominally satisfy a social studies class requirement. Sarah Beckingworth, the Lost Heroine, is a girl their age, and her story is set in 1776 (it’s a Bicentennial thing). In many ways quite obviously an abdication from factual history, the Lost Heroine entries track the truth of the girls’ emotional lives, and become one of many ways the novel examines the variety of possible interpretations of history.

I was never particularly good at history as a subject, and math wasn’t all that splendid either, though my brief stint with Latin was okay and English worked for me. For years I felt annoyed at my inability to remember dates or the names of kings and emperors … so then finally I decided to turn this flaw into an inquiry. Writing this novel, I began to see history everywhere, with king/emperor history being only one part of the story.

From Page 99:

Then one terrible night, Sarah Beckingworth’s ambling and perambulations came to an end. It was a night of unearthly calm, and she was standing by the window, holding open the gingham curtain she and her mother had made with their own hands. Out there was the clearing made by her father and her father’s father, a small clearing on a hill just a stone’s throw from Wistin. And out past the clearing, past the little barn where the horse stood, was the forest.

Who lived in the forest? you might ask. It’s true that the forest was inhabited by Indians. Indeed, by the Paugussetts, the largest tribe in Connecticut.


Now there was a shift in the shadows. The Paugussetts were approaching, gripping tomahawks made of oak and elk sinew and flinty rock in their hands.
Read an excerpt from History Lesson for Girls and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Philip Matyszak's "Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day"

Philip Matyszak teaches ancient history in Cambridge. His books include Chronicle of the Roman Republic, The Enemies of Rome, and The Sons of Caesar.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his most recent book, Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, and reported the following:
Open Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day at page 99 and you will find yourself amid temples as a religious procession or two goes by. It may well be that this is representative of the quality of the whole book, though religion does not crop up that often. As a guide book to the ancient city, my work is more concerned with telling you which overnight accommodation has the fewest bed bugs, and insalubrious places to look for entertainment. (Though I note that in this section I mention that the forecourts of most ancient temples are swarming with prostitutes, so perhaps even here my low tastes have betrayed me.)

In my own defence, I do direct readers to more high-minded things elsewhere, such as where to find poetry readings in the original Greek (down at the Odeon, naturally) as well as where to shop for anything from a nice pair of Persian slippers to farm-bred 'wild boar'. And of course, religion itself, as on page 99 is high-minded assuming that we skip over the debaucheries of the Floralia spring festival.

One of the problems with choosing page XCIX is that as this book is only 40,000 words by the time you get to page 99 you are well past the mid-point of exploring the city. The book is by design no heavy-weight tome of the Platner school.

I got the idea of the book while chatting with a fellow author who wrote a guide to travel on the trans-Siberian railway. He explained that even people with no intention of travelling on the thing like to take armchair journeys of the imagination. The idea of a travel guide developed from there. Whilst writing, I constantly kept in mind what a visitor to Rome would like to do or see. Certainly after reading the book, if time travel were possible, you could bluff that you had been there.

'Oh, we stayed in a little Caupona off the Aventine near the Aqua Claudia. It got a bit noisy during the Apollonian games, but the baths of Nero were sooo convenient. I got a bit of a dodgy tummy after eating some Liburnian figs, but the stuffed sow's udders at Marcus' dinner party were simply divine ...'

So is p.99 representative of the whole? In style and approach, probably. Now I know of the test, I'll pay attention to p.99 in the sequel, as the success of this book has inspired my publisher to commission Ancient Athens on a Drachma a Day.
Learn more about Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lisa See's "Peony in Love"

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new novel, Peony in Love, and reported the following:
My page 99 comes with a huge spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know an important twist in Peony in Love, stop reading now!

That said, I love my page 99. If this had been about page 98, I would have been out of luck, since in the final printed book that’s a blank page between parts one and two. At the end of part one, Peony, who’s been suffering from a bad case of lovesickness, thinks she’s being prepared for her wedding by being bathed, dressed, and carried in a procession to the front of her family’s compound. In fact, her family has been preparing her for death and have abandoned her outside to die, since it’s unlucky for unmarried daughters to expire inside the family home. From birth, a daughter belongs to her husband’s family. She’s raised by her natal family for her husband’s family. If she doesn’t live long enough to marry and go to her husband’s home, she’s apt to become a hungry ghost – a soul unable to complete its journey to the afterworld and instead wanders the earth causing havoc in a never-ending search for food and sustenance. No one wants a ghost lingering in the household, not even if she was once a precious daughter.

Page 99 is a “Sixth Sense” moment, when everything that happened in the previous chapters becomes clear. Many readers are completely shocked by Peony’s death; others have followed and understood exactly what’s been happening to Peony even as she was completely deluded and confused.

As I sat down to write Peony in Love, I knew she was going to die and that she would become a ghost. I wanted that to happen early as possible, because I really wanted to write from the perspective of a ghost. Nevertheless, readers wouldn’t have cared about Peony’s plight as a hungry ghost unless they cared about her as a living girl first. The challenge for me was to balance those two imperatives. I kept telling myself, She has to be dead by page 100. I made it by one page. Not bad…

Part II

Roaming with the Wind

The Separated Soul

I died in the seventh hour on the seventh day of the twelfth month in the third year of Emperor Kangxi’s reign. I was just five days from my wedding. In those first moments of death, much of what had happened in the last few weeks and days became clear to me. Obviously I had no idea I was dying, but my mother had understood it when she first entered my room after not seeing me for so long. When I’d gone to the Spring Pavilion, my cousins, my aunts, and the concubines had tried to get me to eat, recognizing I was already starving myself. In my final days, I’d been obsessed with writing just as Liniang had been obsessed with painting her self-portrait. I’d thought my poems had emerged from love, but deep inside I think I knew I was dying. What the body knows and what the mind chooses to believe are two different things, after all. Baba had come to give me the peony because I was dying and the proprieties didn’t matter anymore; I’d been happy to find out I was marrying my poet, but I was too close to death to recover. I had tried to kowtow to my parents, believing I was going to my wedding. They probably saw me as trying to emulate Liniang’s actions at her death.

The drapes in my room had been taken down not for me to take to my new home but because they resembled fishing nets and my family didn’t want me to be reborn as a fish. My father told me about my uncles, because he wanted me to carry a message to them in the afterworld. “One day you may meet them,” he’d said. He couldn’t have been more direct than that, and yet I hadn’t understood. My family had placed taro around me. Taro is carried by a bride to her new home, but it is also offered to the dead to ensure future sons and grandsons. Tradition demands that an unmarried girl be taken outside when there is “only one breath left.” But how can anyone gauge these things? At least I wasn’t a baby when I died. I would have been left to be eaten by dogs or buried in a shallow grave and quickly forgotten.
Read an excerpt from Peony in Love and learn more about the book and its author at Lisa See's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Renee Rosen's "Every Crooked Pot"

Renee Rosen's debut novel is Every Crooked Pot, a coming of age story about a lovable misfit born with a disfiguring birthmark covering her eye. It was named one of the Summer’s Hot Reads by the Chicago Tribune and received a starred review from Booklist.

Rosen applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
Page 99 of Every Crooked Pot finds us smack in the middle of an argument held during a holiday family dinner and instigated by a visit from the Goldman’s eccentric Cousin Ricky, who believes that meditation is the answer to all of mankind’s maladies. He has even convinced Nina that meditating can heal her disfiguring birthmark.

Does this pass the test? Well, it does capture all the main characters in one scene and it does touch upon Nina’s quest to be normal which, along with her relationship to her father, is the driving force behind the novel. The rest is up to the reader to decide!

Page 99:

“And you want to know why? Because deep down inside, you know it’s nothing but bullshit! That’s why you have to preach it. You’re trying to convince yourself more than anybody else ‘cause you don’t believe it yourself.”


If this was true, did that mean my eye wouldn’t be cured? I pushed my plate away.


My grandfather got up from the table and took his plate back into the kitchen. My grandmother called after him to stay away from the
gribbenes, the pan drippings. “You don’t need it, Sy,” she said, leaning back in her chair, watching him to make sure.

“Mitch!” Lissy set her water glass down hard.


“What?”


“Stop shaking!”


“Shssssh, shsssh…” My grandmother reached over and squeezed Lissy’s wrist. “I mean it, Sy,” she said, still straining toward the kitchen, “stay away from that. It’s all fat — and you don’t need it!”


“And you know what your problem is, Art?” Cousin Ricky was saying now. “You’re so narrow-minded, you don’t even let yourself imagine what could be.”


“What you mean, Ricky, is that I’m not blessed with the kind of ignorance that lets me believe in hope certificates. You’re kidding yourself. You think everything’s going to work itself out magically. You don’t have to take responsibility for a goddamn thing. You’re counting on magic, Ricky. Nothing but goddamn hope certificates.”


“HOPE CERTIFICATES! I’ve cashed in on every one of them!”


“Yeah, by selling out on your wife and kids. Admit it,” my father pressed on, “just admit you walked out on your family!”


“Let’s just drop it, Artie, will you do that for me, please?” My mother tried keeping peace.


“You know what that does to me, Ricky? It makes me sick! It makes me absolutely sick to my goddamn stomach!”
Read an excerpt from Every Crooked Pot and learn more about the novel at Rosen's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 7, 2007

Karna Small Bodman's "Checkmate"

Karna Small Bodman is the author of the political thriller Checkmate and its forthcoming sequel, Gambit.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to both novels and reported the following:
The “Page 99 Test” is amazing! I served in the Reagan White House for six years – last post was Senior Director of the National Security Council – so I try to have my “political thrillers” reflect sights and sounds emanating from strategy meetings in the Situation Room, the Oval Office and confrontations on Capitol Hill.

One of the President’s major proposals, his dream of creating a missile defense system, created quite a stir (and still does). I watched as the Pentagon fought with the State Department who then fought with the White House, and we, in turn, sparred with the press over the whole idea. In the end, it didn’t matter who was right or even if “Star Wars” would ever really work. The point was: the Soviets thought it might work and they came back to the bargaining table. I saw the power of an idea and decided to turn it into a contemporary novel, Checkmate.

In the story, a young scientist invents a breakthrough technology for a defense against cruise missiles. A member of the NSC staff helps her when foreign agents try to steal her system, and a lecherous Congressman is more interested in her bod than in giving her an earmark (just trying to write an authentic Washington story here). One night our heroine comes home to find her apartment in a shambles but the only thing missing is her computer. The NSC staffer comes over to survey the damage and we see the following on Page 99:

She turned to face him. “What do you really think this is all about?”

“I can’t say exactly. But there’s a lot going on, here and overseas, with all kinds of people trying to get a handle on missile defense projects.”


“I kno
w. I’ve been doing research for ages.”

“And now you’re working on a new project that could put a lot of the boys with the missiles out of business.”


“And so you think this is an act of industrial espionage where someone’s trying to steal my idea?”


“Steal it or stop you maybe. It could be someone from another company, or it could be agents from some other country trying to get their hands on your system for their own use.”


Cammy slumped down in a chair, a sliver of fear creeping up her spine. He seemed to know a lot about this. What wasn’t he telling her? “So you think that I’m the target of some scheme and this was not just a random burglary?”

The crux of the story on Page 99? You bet! As for the sequel, Gambit, that tale involves the same characters with yet another crisis to solve: someone is targeting our commercial airliners -- they just explode in the sky. Nothing shows up on radar. No one claims responsibility. What’s the point? Is it terrorism or some other diabolical scheme?

Turn to page 99 and we learn that the National Security Advisor’s plane was the most recent target. Our hero is in another country when he gets the news. He calls Stockton Sloan, the Deputy NSC Advisor who says, “The President is convening an emergency Cabinet meeting within the hour. All hell is breaking loose around this place…. We could use you up here. How soon can you leave?”

I’ll catch the next plane back. At least the international flights haven’t been targeted”

“Not yet.”

“Uh Stock?”

“Yes?”

“Does this mean you’re the new National Security Advisor?”

There was a slight pause. “Not sure about that.”

“Why not? You’re the Deputy for God’s sake.”

“There may be some things other than succession at play here.”

There you have it. Stick with Ford Madox Ford – he’s onto something.
Read an excerpt from Checkmate and learn more about both books at the publisher's website and at the author's official site.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Nicholas Griffin's "Dizzy City"

Nicholas Griffin's books include the historical novels The Requiem Shark and House of Sight and Shadow and the nonfiction work, Caucasus.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel, Dizzy City, and reported the following:
I want to distance myself from my 99th page. Better yet, let me explain it. Drop in on it from above, as the test recommends and you'd think you'd discovered a novel about a pair of drunken bigots about to wreck a Harlem nightclub in 1916 New York. However, Dizzy City is a book about con artists, war veterans and showgirls told from three different points of view. By page 99 we have lots of suspicions. Who is conning who? Are these two men, who we've just seen cheating and bullying their way through the night, really that bad, or will we learn something vital a few pages later that lets us see this apparently humiliating situation in a brand new light?

Still, despite knocking the 99th page test, it ends up being one of the most vital pages in the book. Pieces of information are picked up by the reader, even though they may not seem so much valuable as down right offensive at the time. That's the joy of giving your game away slowly. If you can get a reader to like, dislike and re-like a character, then that forgiveness tightens the bond.

In the end, con novels aren't so dissimilar to games of three-card monte. They're about trying to deceive the reader while entertaining them at the same time. So judging Dizzy City on page 99 alone would be like seeing a snapshot of a hand dealing a card and thus having no sense of the speed or trickery in the movement.
Read an excerpt from Dizzy City and learn more about the book and author at Nicholas Griffin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2007

Nicholas Guyatt's "Providence and the Invention of the United States"

Nicholas Guyatt is an Assistant Professor of History at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. He has two new books out this year: Have a Nice Doomsday: Apocalyptic Christianity and American Politics and Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1865.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the latter and reported the following:
Page 99 isn't the best page of Providence and the Invention of the United States. In fact, I would urge you to read another page if you only have time to look at one. (Pages 98 and 100 are close by and more exciting.) The book offers a new answer to an old question: how did Americans come to think that God had a special mission for the United States? A lot of historians have explored this topic in the past, but my book approaches the question a bit differently. Instead of talking about Puritan missions or errands into the wilderness, I argue that most people in Britain and America before 1800 believed that God (aka Providence) was responsible for everything that happened in the world -- then I explain how Americans developed the unusual belief that God had a special plan for America, while Britons had a hard time believing the same thing about their nation.

Page 99 is towards the beginning of chapter three, which compares the providential rhetoric of American Patriots during the Revolution with similar rhetoric from British newspapers and political debates. The evidence is really fascinating -- even when the war was going badly, Americans confidently declared not only that God wanted them to win, but that he would make the United States into a massive and powerful country that would bring liberty to the world. The Brits, meanwhile, got depressed about God’s purposes and their nation’s future – some even wondered if Britain’s providential role has been to give birth to America.

Providential rhetoric helped Americans to present the early United States as much more promising and accomplished than it really was – a useful device when you consider Britain’s military might during the Revolution, or the nasty political fights within the early republic between 1783 and 1815. But providential confidence had a darker side – it encouraged Americans to overlook or deny those moments (or people) in their history that didn’t fit easily with the idea that God loved America. In the second half of the book, which explores Indian removal, slavery and ‘manifest destiny’, you can see this very clearly.

A paragraph from page 99 (and the first four lines of page 100):

Providentialism had, since the 1650s, oriented American history toward an extraordinary future. Its proponents in the 1770s and 1780s offered this grand future as a counterweight to America’s parlous fortunes in the present. A Connecticut newspaper noted in 1775 that “the conduct of providence and the course of empire since 1757” confirmed that “America will be the grand theatre on which will be displayed both civil and religious liberty in meridian splendor.” Patriots elsewhere made extravagant projections of American population increase; one preacher predicted in 1776 that the United States would comprise 192 million people at its bicentennial (a figure not far short of the actual number of 218 million). As the British army took New York in the autumn of 1776 and ejected the Congress from Philadelphia a year later, Patriots tried to shore up the United States in the present by aggrandizing its divinely favored future. In his sermons in 1776 and 1777, Massachusetts minister Samuel West noted that God intended America to be “the asylum of liberty and true religion” and that “Divine Providence had laid a foundation for our becoming a nation at once.” These predictions of an enormous population for the United States bolstered the claim that God favored the ragtag Patriot forces in their current battles with Britain. It was as if the United States had to become an enormous nation in the popular imagination to win a more modest independence in practice.
Read an excerpt from Providence and the Invention of the United States and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Philip J. Cook's "Paying the Tab"

Philip J. Cook is professor of public policy and economics at Duke University and former director of the university's Sanford Institute of Public Policy. His books include Gun Violence, The Winner-Take-All Society, and Selling Hope.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, and reported the following:
P. 99 of Paying the Tab deals with a bit of history and its lessons. During the 1980s MADD was very active and successful in promoting a tougher approach to drunk driving. Numerous states adopted per se laws and other measures to facilitate conviction in DUI cases, and Congress enacted a national minimum age of 21. Yet the percentage of highway fatalities that involved alcohol was exactly the same in 1990 as in 1980, namely 41%. One solution to this puzzle, suggested by the economist Chris Ruhm, is that the price of alcoholic beverages declined (adjusted for inflation) during this period. The political will to raise excise taxes to keep up with inflation was simply lacking, then as now. One result was to negate all the good efforts of MADD.
Read Chapter One from Paying the Tab and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue