Thursday, October 30, 2008

David Archer's "The Long Thaw"

David Archer is professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, the author of Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, and a frequent contributor to the weblog RealClimate.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book, The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, happens to be blank, so I will not be quoting it extensively here, although it is in fact a profound and pivotal page in the book. Page 99 is the turning point between a discussion of past and present climate changes in the first two sections of the book, and predictions for the deep future in the third and final section. The stuff in the first two sections is also fairly commonly treated in climate change books, whereas we head into new science after page 99.

Popular books on global warming present it as a century-timescale issue, if the question comes up at all. This is in part a case of shortsightedness, due to our own tragically limited life spans, but also due to a few unfortunate mistakes in the Summaries for Policymakers produced as part of the IPCC Climate Change Scientific Assessment Reports. As I explain after the reader has crossed the fateful page 99, CO2 from fossil fuel combustion will continue to affect the climate of the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, into the almost unimaginable future.

Many aspects of the Earth system, such as ice sheets and sea level, respond slowly to climate changes, so their responses will be much stronger over the very long haul. The response of sea level to climate changes in the geologic past lead us to conclude that ultimately we could flood the continents by tens of meters, significantly reducing the carrying capacity of the Earth. Fossil fuels have been accumulating on Earth for a hundred million years; we could blow through them in a century, and the climate impact would outlast all of our other works.
Read an excerpt from The Long Thaw, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit David Archer's webpage and read his blog posts at RealClimate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stephen Gundle's "Glamour: A History"

Stephen Gundle is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick. His books include Between Hollywood and Moscow: The Italian Communists and the Challenge of Mass Culture, 1943-91 and Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Glamour: A History (Oxford University Press, 2008), and reported the following:
Page 99 of Glamour: A History is mainly devoted to Carolina Otero, a Spanish-born dancer and courtesan otherwise known as ‘La belle Otero’. The highest-paid performer at the legendary Folies Bergère in Paris in the 1890s, Otero had no formal training as a dancer and, to judge by contemporary photographs, was not even especially beautiful. But her ability to captivate male audiences with her passionate and sensual renditions of Spanish and Latin American dances was unparalleled. Aristocrats and even monarchs pledged their devotion to her (she claimed that no fewer than five future or actual kings had been her lovers) and showered her with priceless jewels. She gambled at the casinos of Cannes and Monte Carlo and engaged in a bitter rivalry with the refined courtesan Liane de Pougy. I argue that glamour is an enticing and seductive image that is woven around people places and things to make them seem more magnificent than they really are. It rests on a series of values including beauty, wealth, sex appeal, mobility, theatricality, dynamism and leisure. The most effective bearers of glamour in the last two hundred years have not been aristocrats or the established rich, but those, like Otero, who were outsiders who rose from nothing by sheer determination and force of personality. They captured the dreams of the masses with an aura that combined exclusivity with accessibility. In the twentieth century the major motion picture studios would learn how to manufacture this aura as a corporate product linked to consumption.
Learn more about Glamour: A History at the Oxford University Press website.

Visit Stephen Gundle's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 26, 2008

John Howard's "Concentration Camps on the Home Front"

John Howard is professor in and head of the Department of American Studies at King’s College London and the author of Men Like That: A Southern Queer History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow, and reported the following:
Is a picture worth a thousand words? A good one merits a hundred thousand or more. That’s the lesson of my second book, which was launched by a single black-and-white photograph from 1943. I found it while searching for illustrations for my first book.

At the Library of Congress in Washington, I typed in “Mississippi” and selected “1940-1949” and came up with an astounding image of men in uniform and women in fancy dress, arranged boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl, as far as the eye could see. Almost all were Japanese American.

I knew about America’s World War II concentration camps from grad school days, thanks to Prof. Catherine Nickerson. But I was unaware of the extent of the Deep South connection. As with many long journeys, it initially seemed a side trip, a momentary diversion. Eventually, this insistent question about Asian American history would grow and evolve into a nine year research project, all resulting from that one unforgettable publicity shot. Which can be found on page 138, dang it.

Page 99 does contain a crucial argument that emerged from sustained analysis of the picture, among other sources – an argument informing many others in the book:

Even as the [indiscriminate] imprisonment [of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent] had devastating effects, it likewise yielded many opportunities, especially for … women…. Authorities had not anticipated these benefits, nor did they necessarily view them as such. When the full consequences became known, they acted to shore up gender differences, reasserting women’s subordinate position to men and reaffirming entrenched standards of heterosexual marriage, male privilege, patriarchal control, and female domesticity. At every step, they met with resistance.

Under the most dire conditions, women worked their way up the socio-economic ladder. Lesbians and gays crafted new ways of interacting. Striking laborers protested occupational hazards and forced concessions from administrators, after co-workers were injured and killed on the job. Visionary organizers cried out against the cruelties of American capitalism. They built successful co-ops and hatched daring plans for alternative, agrarian, utopian communities.

The gains achieved, amidst all the horrible, unnecessary loss, are testament not to any distinctively American values, but rather to the human capacity to endure, cooperate, and thrive.
Read one except from Concentration Camps on the Home Front at Southern Spaces, and another excerpt at the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn more about Concentration Camps on the Home Front at the publisher's website, and visit John Howard's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alexander Rose's "American Rifle: A Biography"

Born in the United States, Alexander Rose was raised in Australia and Britain. A military historian and former journalist, he is the author of Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, and his writing has appeared in the New York Observer, the Washington Post, Studies in Intelligence, and many other publications.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Rifle: A Biography, a reported the following:
Truth to tell, I was a mite worried about the “page 99” challenge. Would I fail Ford Madox Ford’s famous (and feared) test?

So it was with no little relief that when I leafed to the relevant page of American Rifle: A Biography I discovered that it was, as page 99s go, not a bad one.

It turns out that I was discussing the early nineteenth-century formation of the national myth of the American Rifleman, his unerring aim, and his magnificent weapon—the so-called Kentucky rifle. Just as Hollywood today influences our perceptions, so then it was showbusiness that performed that role.

Traditionally, riflemen had been regarded as ornery, uncouth backwoods folk. Among army officers, they were seen as undisciplined and singularly unsuited to the military life. They preferred their soldiers to carry smoothbored muskets and stay in line as they were ordered. The rifle—which was slow to load but devastatingly accurate in the hands of experts—suffered from a reputation as being a frontiersman’s weapon; the musket, on the other hand, could be loaded quickly and used by raw recruits. The former was the arm of the individual; the latter, of the masses. One exemplified marksmanship; the other, firepower.

Following Andrew Jackson’s victory in the War of 1812 against the British at New Orleans, the rifle enjoyed an “image makeover.” Jackson himself was a backwoodsman and his triumph was popularly attributed to the riflemen in his ragtag force that had put paid to the professional, disciplined legions of redcoats confronting him.

I’ll pick up the story on page 99, where we find Noel Ludlow, a theatrical impresario performing at a New Orleans music hall, keeping the locals entertained with a rousing song. Recently, his brother had sent him a copy of “The Hunters of Kentucky,” a patriotic broadside written by Samuel Woodworth (now better known for “The Old Oaken Bucket”). Ludlow then set it to the music of “Miss Baily,” a catchy tune from a comic opera, Love Laughs at Locksmiths. As Ludlow remembered:

I dressed myself in a buckskin hunting-shirt and leggins ... and with moccasins on my feet, and an old slouched hat on my head, and a rifle on my shoulder, I presented myself before the audience. I was saluted with loud applause of hands and feet, and a prolonged whoop, or howl, such as Indians give when they are especially pleased. I sang the first verse, and these extraordinary manifestations of delight were louder and longer than before; but when I came to the following lines:

“But Jackson he was wide awake, and

wasn’t scared with trifles,

For well he knew what aim we take

with our Kentucky rifles;

So he marched us down to Cypress Swamp;

The ground was low and mucky;

There stood John Bull, in martial pomp,

But here was old Kentucky.”

As I delivered the last five words, I took my old hat off my head, threw it upon the ground, and brought my rifle to the position of taking aim. At that instant came a shout and an Indian yell from the inmates of the pit, and a tremendous applause from other portions of the house, the whole lasting for nearly a minute ... I had to sing the song three times that night before they would let me off.

The rifleman, once snobbishly looked down upon as a brute, had been transformed into the very model of an American, and his firearm now represented independence, hardiness, and patriotism, not backwoods wildness. And it was all thanks to Noel Ludlow, the Ethel Merman of the Mississippi.
Read an excerpt from American Rifle, and learn more about the author and his work at Alexander Rose's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

William B. Irvine's "A Guide to the Good Life"

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, and reported the following:
Regrettably, my book fails the "Page 99 Test"—or, as I prefer to put it, the Page 99 Test fails my book. This is because p. 99 of Guide to the Good Life contains a slightly technical discussion of negative visualization, hedonic adaptation, and internalization of goals, all of which concepts have been introduced and explained (with admirable clarity!) in previous pages. Without reading those pages, readers would be at a loss.

Although my book does not fare well under the Page 99 Test, it passes the "Page 84 Test" with flying colors. This last test was devised by 19th century author Anthony Trollope (or was it Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope? I can never remember). Although the Page 84 Test is not nearly as well known as its Page 99 cousin, studies have shown the two test to be equally reliable. I therefore submit, for your consideration, the results of the Page 84 Test:

Copyright © 2009 by William B. Irvine
We need to keep firmly in mind that everything we value and the people we love will someday be lost to us. If nothing else, our own death will deprive us of them. More generally, we should keep in mind that any human activity that cannot be carried on indefinitely must have a final occurrence. There will be—or already has been!—a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch. There will be a last time you hear the sound of snow falling, watch the moon rise, smell popcorn, feel the warmth of a child falling asleep in your arms, or make love. You will someday eat your last meal, and soon thereafter you will take your last breath.

Sometimes the world gives us advance notice that we are about to do something for the last time. We might, for example, eat at a favorite restaurant the night before it is scheduled to close, or we might kiss a lover who is forced by circumstances to move to a distant part of the globe, presumably forever. Previously, when we thought we could repeat them at will, a meal at this restaurant or a kiss shared with our lover might have been unremarkable. But now that we know they cannot be repeated, they will likely become extraordinary events: The meal will be the best we ever had at the restaurant, and the parting kiss will be one of the most intensely bittersweet experiences life has to offer.

By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. We will no longer sleepwalk through our life. Some people, I realize, will find it depressing or even morbid to contemplate impermanence. I am nevertheless convinced that the only way we can be truly alive is if we make it our business periodically to entertain such thoughts.
Read an excerpt from A Guide to the Good Life, and learn more about the author and his work at William B. Irvine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Marco Iacoboni's "Mirroring People"

Marco Iacoboni is Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Lab at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Iacoboni pioneered the research on mirror neurons, the “smart cells” in our brain that allow us to understand others. His research has been covered by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and major TV networks.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book on mirror neurons, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2008), and reported the following:
On page 99, the book tells the story of the deaf children in Nicaragua. They spontaneously developed a sign language under rather extraordinary circumstances. The children were socially isolated and communicated with few friends and family using simple gestures or a rudimentary, home-made language of signs. The Sandinista revolution opened two special schools in Managua for these deaf children. By doing so, the Sandinistas triggered a real-life experiment of sort. There were hundreds of children enrolled in the schools and they had many opportunities to interact socially, in the classrooms, in the school yard, and on the buses used for transportation. At the beginning, each child used her or his own simple sign language to communicate with other children. Progressively, these simpler languages of signs merged in a more complex system of signs. Eventually, the signs of the deaf Nicaraguan children became more sophisticated, a full blown spontaneously developed sign language. Ironically, the adults that were working at the school did not understand what was going on: the children were signing to each other in a complex, mysterious way, but since nobody had taught them those signs, the school staff was at a loss: what was all that signing about? After some time, with the help of linguists specialized in sign language, they realized that the children had invented a new sign language.

The page 99 test reveals one of the many aspects of the research on mirror neurons. These brain cells are especially famous because they enable empathy, reading the minds of other people, and help us connect with others. However, they are also implicated in the evolution of language, and they seem especially important in those aspects of language that have to do with gestures and signs.

But how do mirror neurons do all this? These cells are located in the regions of the brain that control our movements. They obviously become active when we make actions, when we grasp a cup of coffee and bring it to the mouth, when we reach for a pen to jot down a short note to ourselves. Amazingly, mirror neurons become also active when we are completely still, and we are simply watching those same actions performed by other people. By watching the actions of others, we see ourselves as reflected by a mirror. With mirror neurons, we simulate in our own brain what is going on in the brain of others. These cells help us understanding the mental states of other people, which is something we do naturally and effortlessly every day, many times. We take it for granted, but it is indeed an extraordinary feat. Mirror neurons also help us understanding all the gestures we make when we speak and when we see (and hear) other people gesturing and speaking. Those gestures seem so intrinsically tied to language that we make them even when we speak on the phone, or to blind people.

The page 99 test captures a fundamental aspect of the book, the association between gestures and language that is enabled by mirror neurons. However, it also misses several other important aspects of the research on mirror neurons, from imitation to empathy, from developing a sense of self to autism, which may be due to a dysfunction of mirror neurons. Not to worry though: they are all discussed in the rest of the book.
Read an excerpt from Mirroring People, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 20, 2008

David Fromkin's "The King and The Cowboy"

David Fromkin is the Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. He also holds appointments as Frederick S. Pardee Professor for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, University Professor, and Professor of International Relations, of History, and of Law.

Fromkin's new book is The King and The Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners.

He applied the “Page 99 Test”--Is Ford Madox Ford's statement "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," accurate for The King and The Cowboy?--and reported the following:
“Quality” is perhaps too strong a word, but it does suggest its scope: from low sex to high politics.

From Page 99:

In the 1800s letters and other documents show a pattern of using call girls. A woman recommends a girlfriend for a meeting—Willy and the two of them. There are missed appointments and a final disagreement about Willy paying travel expenses. He asks for another engagement; they meet and take a single room for the night at an inn; the other guests complain of the noise they make. The lady remains, on a sporadic basis, part of his life: her name recurs.

Another lady regrets that she cannot come to him in Berlin at the end of August, as he asks, because she has a prior appointment in Switzerland; what about someday in autumn?

At about this time Willy contracted Frau Wolf. Röhl tells us that she was “a famous Viennese procuress,” who supplied him with lady companions. His expenses in this respect must have been considerable; he was driven to borrow large sums from Archduke Rudolf.

From his grandfather, William I, Willy inherited the apparently all-powerful Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The question, when Willy because William II, was who would rule. Before dying, William I confided to one of his intimates that “when Prince Wilhelm is Kaiser he will insist on appearing as a man who really rules—that is why I do not think he and the chancellor will agree for long.”

That turned out to be true. It explains a great deal about Wilhelmine Germany. It explains why the new Kaiser always surrounded himself with flatterers and yes-men. But it also explains why several of the most disastrous decisions of his reign were ones in which he allowed himself to be overruled by his government: if it looked as though a certain decision had to be made, he preferred that it appear to have been made on his authority. He wanted to seem to be the person in charge: to seem, but not necessarily to be.
Read more about The King and The Cowboy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ariel Sabar's "My Father’s Paradise"

Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns for the Christian Science Monitor and is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, Moment, Christianity Today and other publications.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, and reported the following:
When you’re writing about people as ancient and mysterious as the Kurdish Jews, you owe it to readers to widen the lens, to show how their story – my family’s story – ties into some larger current of history. Page 99 of my book, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, tries to set my family’s immigrant saga inside that broader history. It throws light on the sometimes condescending attitudes of the State of Israel’s early leaders and intellectuals, most of them European, toward Jews from Iraq and other Muslim lands.

The page’s first two words – “drunkenness and prostitution” – do grab the eye. But they are actually just the continuation of a quote from the previous page. In the quote, an Israeli journalist in the state’s early years describes what he sees as the perils posed by Jews from Arab lands. For the quote to make any sense, I have to cheat here, reaching back to a single line on p. 98 before leaping to p. 99:

As with Africans you will find among [Jews from Arab countries] gambling, drunkenness and prostitution … chronic laziness and hatred for work; there is nothing safe about this asocial element. [Even] the kibbutzim will not hear of their absorption.

These sentiments were on the strong side, but not uncommon for the era. The page includes the quote – and a look at Zionism’s European roots – to foreshadow the bigotry that Jews from Muslim countries would face on their immigration to Israel. I write:

By November 1950 roughly eighty-three thousand Iraqi Jews had registered to leave, but Israel had managed to fly out just eighteen thousand. Many had left their hometowns only to be crammed into Baghdad synagogues that served as makeshift holding pens for flights that never departed. Reports poured in of clashes with Arab rioters in Basra. Fears of a typhoid epidemic were spreading. The swelling ranks of stateless Jews stirred political unrest. Prime Minister Nuri as-Said threatened to halt the airlifts and expel the Jews to Syria, Jordan, or Kuwait or lock them up in concentration camps.

Israel, however, did not increase its quota for Iraqi immigrants. Instead, it made room for a flood of immigrants from Poland and Romania. The decision was not without reason: Poland had set a deadline for Jews to leave, and Israel feared Romania might do the same. Jews in both countries had already suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. But another, more subtle reason involved calculations about the relative merits of Jewish immigrants…

So is Page 99 of My Father’s Paradise a fair test of what Ford Madox Ford called “the quality of the whole”? In one sense, no. My book is first and foremost the story of one family’s epic journey from the remote foothills of Kurdish Iraq to the superhighways of Southern California. In a single generation, my father Yona Sabar, who was born to an illiterate teenage mother in a mud shack in Kurdistan, would become an esteemed professor at UCLA. Page 99 showcases none of the dramatic storytelling that is the book’s beating heart. Nor does it hint at the hopefulness that is just as much a part of the book as the heartbreak.

But in another sense, page 99 is a fair gauge. When I set out to write My Father’s Paradise, I didn’t just want to tell my family’s story. I wanted to show how it fit into a broader, more universal one – of immigration, of prejudice, of struggle in a new land. In that way, page 99 is as good a yardstick as any for the book’s higher ambitions.
Read an excerpt from My Father’s Paradise, and learn more about the author and his work at Ariel Sabar's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Kane's "Between Virtue and Power"

John Kane is professor, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Brisbane, and author of The Politics of Moral Capital.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of U.S. Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
I hadn't heard of Ford Madox Ford's dictum but I've always used a similar technique myself, opening a book at random and reading the first paragraph that catches my eye. The quality of the writer's mind and sensibility is usually immediately apparent, encouraging one to read further or not. It's a good browsing technique for crowded bookshops when one is wondering whether or not to invest. I presume the same principle works with my own writing, even on page 99. That passage is merely part of an introduction to a chapter entitled "Innocent Virtue and the Conquest of a Continent," which deals with the problem of how Americans managed to preserve a sense of innocence amidst civil war and wars with Mexicans and Indians as they pursued their Manifest Destiny. Not easy, but they somehow did.

About Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of US Foreign Policy:

An enduring article of American faith prescribes that power be used only for virtuous ends and that American virtue remain unsullied in any exercise of power. Only thus can virtuous innocence be preserved without offense to honorable pride and the national mission of securing liberty in the world be assured. Yet an irresolvable tension has marked the relationship between American power and American virtue throughout its history, causing recurrent uncertainty about the justice of American actions abroad and rendering the national psyche peculiarly vulnerable to doubtful exercises of power.

Not until World War II were American statesmen finally convinced that power was not in itself evil, but rather that the power of the virtuous must be expansively deployed to deter the power of the wicked. The Cold War, however, and particularly the experience of Vietnam, profoundly shook American belief in this solution. Power and virtue were again radically sundered and woundingly undermined, causing serious injury to both pride and innocence. An era of doubt and caution about the use of American power was inaugurated, evidenced in the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ and the Powell Doctrine on military interventions.

The attacks of 9/11 restored a sense of American innocence, albeit of innocence offended, justifying the righteous deployment of American power in response. But post-Vietnam caution was too rashly cast aside by the Bush administration in its pre-emptive war in Iraq. If the Cold War and Vietnam had shattered the post-World War II conjunction of virtue and power that underpinned the liberal consensus, Iraq more swiftly smashed the too-easy neoconservative assurance of the virtuous efficacy of American power. Once again, power had been discredited and virtue sullied. The ancient dilemma remained unresolved, the American mission was again in grave doubt, and American foreign policy was plunged once more into deep uncertainty.
Read an excerpt from Between Virtue and Power, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit John Kane's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Robert Buettner's "Orphan's Alliance"

Robert Buettner is a former Military Intelligence Officer, National Science Foundation Fellow in Paleontology, and has been published in the field of Natural Resources Law.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Orphan's Alliance, the latest installment in the bestselling Jason Wander series, and reported the following:
Well, reformed skeptic here. Page 99 does tell all!

Orphan’s Alliance continues the story of Jason Wander, war orphan, accidental Major General and terminal wise-ass. It’s about mankind’s long war with aliens who sucker-punch Earth. It’s about big monsters, bigger starships, and human allies who act small. But the story’s gut is orphan infantry grunt Jason’s bond with the comrades in arms who become his - and every combat soldier’s - family.

Therefore, how better to begin page 99 than by Jason listing those comrades? Jason tells how a massive starship’s shuttle, "Delivered Howard, Ord, Jude and me from orbit."

Ord, Jason’s basic-training Drill Sergeant, has become Command Sergeant Major to Jason the General, surrogate father and son. Ord is sort of Alfred the dryly omniscent manservant to Jason’s headstrong Bruce Wayne. Preternaturally gifted pilot Jude, Jason’s godson, wedges the surrogate father-son shoe on Jason’s other foot. Intelligence officer geek Howard fills the role of mentoring uncle who knows more than he tells, Ben Kenobi with tape-repaired glasses.

On page 99, Jason describes shuttling from orbit, dismissing war’s politics and technology with the dark humor that keeps infantry grunts sane:

B-Class cruisers like Kabul, because they manipulated gravity, weren’t confined to space by their lack of aerodynamics. They could theoretically sink gently and majestically down through the atmosphere, and land on a planet’s surface, like a bigger, fireproof version of the Hindenburg.

But a cruiser costs more than the Gross Domestic Product of Peru. Therefore, the starship designers didn’t really want to test whether something as big and complex as a B-Class was strong enough to sit on the ground without collapsing under its own weight like a wet Dixie cup.

However, our arrival on Tressel resembled the Hindenburg’s, anyway.

Uh-oh. The series rollercoasters from one untidy "uh-oh" to the next, because it tells the truth that, as Churchill said, "War is mostly a catalogue of blunders."
Learn more about the author and his work at Robert Buettner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Susan Wise Bauer's "The Art of the Public Grovel"

Susan Wise Bauer is the author of The History of the Ancient World, the first part of a four-volume history of the world. Her other books include The Well-Trained Mind and The Well-Educated Mind.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Art of the Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Art of the Public Grovel raises one of the central dilemmas of a public person forced into confession of some private misdeed: Confession can be a powerful way for a leader to get back his followers’ confidence, but if the confession is misplayed, it can cripple or even destroy. You can’t just confess: you have to do it properly. In The Art of the Public Grovel I suggest that successful confessions do three things: they demonstrate that the leader is no better than his followers; they place the leader on the right side of a war (either secular or sacred) between good and evil; and they give power to the listeners by allowing them the chance to forgive.

The page starts off in the middle of a quote--Jimmy Carter’s response to Playboy reporter Robert Scheer, who had asked him whether his Baptist faith would predispose him towards harsh, top-down legislation. Carter denied this, hotly, pointing out that his faith would actually prevent him from taking advantage of his power as an elected official. Unlike Nixon, Carter would never be caught

distorting the truth. Not taking into consideration my hope for my strength of character, I think that my religious beliefs alone would prevent that from happening to me....1

On September 11, Robert Scheer and Playboy editor Barry Golson appeared on the Today show to talk about the interview. On the same day, they sent a copy to Carter’s headquarters. Journalists covering the Carter campaign also received copies. Although the interview was not due to come out until October 14, Playboy released Carter’s remarks to the Associated Press and NBC Nightly News on September 20, a decision which allowed newspapers to pick and choose their quotes. The Los Angeles Times quoted his interview extensively, headlining it “Carter Admits to ‘Adultery in my Heart’.” The New York Times called the confession of lust and mental adultery “unusually candid for a Presidential aspirant.” 2 On September 23, Lee Dembart of the Times pointed out that the full interview was “much less stunning than the few excerpted quotations imply.”3 However, those three or four sentences from the multi-part, nine-page interview continued to be quoted and requoted for the next three weeks. By the time the full interview was published in Playboy, the entire four-part, nine-page article had been labelled the “Lust in his Heart Confession.”

The results of the interview, according to the chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, were “Bad, bad, bad....uniformly negative.”4 The numbers bear him out. As a reward for his willing confession of moral fault, Carter lost 15 percentage points in national polls.5 His lead--the “largest ever recorded in a presidential race”--was wiped out.6

Unlike Kennedy, Carter was concealing nothing. Unlike Kennedy, Carter was placing himself in the shoes of his followers. Unlike Kennedy, Carter was admitting that he was essentially flawed and fallen, without trying to explain his way out of moral responsibility for his actions. And if anyone was sympathetic to Carter’s desire to confess the sins of his heart, it should have been his Protestant Christian supporters.

The results of Carter’s confession were “bad, bad, bad” because he violated the second principle of successful confessions. He confessed to lust in the pages of Playboy--a horrendously bad idea.

Consider the setting of Carter’s admission that he had lust in his heart. The interviewer, Robert Scheer, saw Carter’s faith as a source for possible rigid top-down legislation, and he was asking Carter for reassurance that Carter would not use power granted to him by the voters for his own gain. In Scheer’s case, the “gain” in question was legislation based on Carter’s Baptist principles. Scheer’s questions reflected the democratic fear that an elected official would wield his power for personal gain (in this case, religious dominance); Carter’s insistence on his sinful heart was an attempt to reassure Scheer that this abuse would never happen. Carter sensed that a confession of moral fault would achieve the purpose of showing voters that he was “one of them,” rather than a man who would use an inborn superiority--in this case, a moral superiority--to support autocratic legislation.

This was all well and good, but Carter completely failed to realize the symbolic effect of testifying to all of this in the pages of Playboy, a magazine which promoted every one of the self-oriented “humanistic” principles that evangelicals condemned. As a Christian, he had not only to repent and confess, but to demonstrate that he stood solidly in the ranks of holy warriors. His evangelical supporters could easily have rejoiced over seeing a Christian point of view infiltrating one of the country’s most self-oriented publications--but Playboy was too far behind enemy lines. Any holy warrior skulking around the Playboy tent had obviously gone over to the other side.
Read an excerpt from The Art of the Public Grovel, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Susan Wise Bauer's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Alexander & Nicholas Humez's "On the Dot"

Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez are the authors of On the Dot: The Speck That Changed the World.

Nicholas Humez applied the “Page 99 Test” to On the Dot and reported the following:
I find that page 99, the third page in the chapter dealing with the dot in its incarnation as decimal point, begins with the tail end of a discussion of the divisibility of the old British pound before decimalization (as we point out, by "2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 20, 24, 30, 32, and 40") — versus the far less user-friendly factors of ten — and goes on to talk about the Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature scales ("A thermometer reading of 98.6 tells us that the human being in front of us is not running a fever; a thermometer that said 986 would be telling us something very different (that our low-temperature silver solder is just about warm enough to flow into the joints of whatever we’re repairing) and a temperature of 9.86 (if our outdoor thermometer were that discriminating), something else again: that it’s probably safe to go skating on our local pond.") This page is, I would say, quite typical of the sort of discourse for which the Humez brothers are justly notorious (one reviewer of a previous book — The Life and Times of the Roman Alphabet, I think — referred to us as "manic-digressives").
Read an excerpt from On the Dot, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

Alexander Humez has authored or co-authored ten trade and reference books, including collaborations with his brother such as Latin for People, Alpha to Omega, A B C Et Cetera, and Zero to Lazy Eight (also with J. Maguire). Nicholas Humez is a freelance writer and silversmith. In addition to the above collaborations, he is the author of Silversmithing: A Basic Manual, plus four poetry chapbooks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 10, 2008

Susan Squire's "I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage"

Susan Squire is the author of three books, most recently I Don’t: A Contrarian History of Marriage (Bloomsbury USA, August 2008). Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, New York, and The Washington Post, and in the best-selling essay collection, The Bitch in the House.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage, and reported the following:
Open this book to page 99, and read…all about a late-fourth-century scandal erupting within the now-official Church over a single sentence about Mary, composed by a Christian writer named Tertullian back in the day when lions ate Christians for breakfast. That would be the Mary described in the New Testament, the only authoritative account available to early theologians like Tertullian, as the virgin who miraculously conceived and bore God's son--after which she and Joseph may or may not have consummated their union. The idea that Mary remained a lifelong virgin isn't grounded in the New Testament, which if anything suggests the opposite. Only in, you guessed it, the late fourth century does the Church leadership become obsessed with implanting that idea into the public mind. That's when a minor-league theologian plucks Tertullian's 200-year-old line (from "On Monogamy", a lengthy rant against remarriage) and sticks it into an essay of his own. Here's the offensive quote: "It was a virgin who gave birth to Christ and she was to marry only once, after she brought him forth." Keeping in mind that "marry" is standard Biblical code for sexual intercourse, Tertullian simply states the truth that he and his contemporaries gleaned from the New Testament, citing numerous references in that text as backup: Mary and Joseph did consummate their relationship once Jesus was born. But what was once understood as a matter of fact now amounted to heresy (a term that the Church won't hesitate to use against anyone daring to question, let alone disagree, with its teachings), so all hell breaks loose…but that's beside the point.

For the moment, the point seems to be this: The subject of Mary's virginity doesn't promise to reveal the "quality of the whole" when the whole in question is a history of marriage, given that the history of marriage can't be separated from the history of sex, specifically the reproductive kind. I Don't chronicles the ongoing attempts to identify, organize, and control reproductive sex--and virgins don't have sex, reproductive or otherwise. They don't have babies either, or for that matter husbands, Mary being the glaring exception. How the leaders of the then-singular Christian Church orchestrate Mary's ascendance to triple-icon status as perfect virgin, perfect mother, and perfect wife at once, a process that begins to coalesce around Augustine in the late fourth century, unfolds in miniature on page 99. Revelation, of sorts, might be possible after all.

Here's a synopsis of the marital playbook designed and used by the ruling class, whose members were supposed to be both celibate and chaste, and who remained in power from late antiquity to the early modern period: The ideal human state combines celibacy (no marriage) with chastity (no sex, lifelong virginity being preferred to doing the deed and renouncing it, but whatever), the better to focus on God. Marriage is grudgingly tolerated to prevent the greater evil of fornication, defined as nonconjugal sex under any circumstances--although to engage in conjugal sex strictly for pleasure is equally vile. (The urge to procreate is accepted but not encouraged, as child-rearing and God-focusing don't mix.) In sum, the best of all possible unions between man and woman is a sexless one, more mellifluously known as "spiritual marriage." But jargon hardly matters when you've got a poster couple as promotable as Mary and Joseph. They were unassailable, presuming of course that no more unwittingly dangerous comments by long-dead theologians were leaked by otherwise forgettable writers, and the Church would see to that. Mary and Joseph would loom large and undisturbed over Christian married life--which is to say Western married life, virtually all of it subject to the increasingly ludicrous and prurient rules of Christian sex--for the next thousand years or so. In short: Punch another hole in Ford Madox Ford's belt.
Read an excerpt from I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage, and learn more about the author and her work at Susan Squire's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peter Mansoor's "Baghdad at Sunrise"

Peter Mansoor is the General Raymond Mason Chair of Military History, The Ohio State University. A recently retired U.S. Army colonel, he served as executive officer to Commanding General David H. Petraeus, Multi-National Force–Iraq (2007–8); as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategy Group that proposed the surge strategy in Iraq (2006); as founding director of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center (2006); and as Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, in Baghdad (2003–4).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, and reported the following:
On one level, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq is a memoir of my tenure in command of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2003-2004. But the book is much more than just a recounting of my experiences in Iraq after the collapse of the Ba’athist regime. Rather, I use the experiences of my brigade to examine the larger questions of the war in that first crucial year, from the inappropriate political policy to the failed strategy, and from the absence of an operational concept to stabilize Iraq to the lack of counterinsurgency doctrine to prosecute military operations. The book recounts just how difficult Iraq was for those who had to deal with reality on the ground, realities that page 99 of Baghdad at Sunrise exemplifies quite well.

By way of background, page 99 is part of a chapter entitled “Bad Karmah,” which describes an operation the 1st Brigade conducted on the outskirts of Fallujah and centered on the village of Karmah, then under the control of insurgent forces. We had been ordered to clear this large area and interdict the flow of weapons from Fallujah to Baghdad. The main effort fell to Task Force 1-37 Armor, which established a series of traffic control points to search tens of thousands of vehicles moving along two major highways in the area. At the conclusion of this mission, the task force turned to other tasks in its area.

These other missions, recounted on page 99, represent the Iraq War in microcosm. The task force conducts dismounted patrols through a market in Abu Ghraib, which included vendors selling looted material from Iraqi military stocks. Upon departing the area, kids throw rocks at the American soldiers, indicating that they belong to Sunni families that are distinctly unhappy with the presence of American soldiers on Iraqi soil. The brigade tries to win local allegiance by conducting civic action programs that include the renovation of a local school. “Given thirty-five years of Ba’athist rule,” I write, “many of the adults were irrevocably opposed to the change sweeping through their lives.” Reflecting on the rocks thrown at the soldiers, I add, “We thought, perhaps naively, that we had a better chance with their children.” Page 99 ends with the brigade combat team encountering a number of roadside bombs, which would soon become the enemy’s signature weapon in the Iraq War.

There is much more to Baghdad at Sunrise, of course, but page 99 is the war in a small nutshell: the inability of American soldiers to understand the anger directed at them, their attempts to improve the lives of the Iraqi people while fighting the insurgency, and the emergence of significant armed opposition to the presence of foreign forces on Iraqi soil. This might have been a sunrise for Baghdad, but the new day spawned a hurricane.
Read an excerpt from Baghdad at Sunrise, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Peter Mansoor's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ray Taras' "Europe Old and New"

Ray Taras is professor of political science and director of the world literature program at Tulane University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Europe Old and New: Transnationalism, Belonging, Xenophobia, and reported the following:
Stereotypes of the sexual practices of people of different nationalities are not described on page 99. The reader has patiently to work through over a hundred pages more of descriptions of the many national fears Europeans harbor today before coming upon the imagery of a train of whores heading from Turkey to Germany (see page 211). This is not an admission that page 99 is without interest. It cites, for example, a very angry Cuban diplomat who criticizes contemporary Sweden for pursuing the racial patterns established by the Vikings and persecuting people of different skin and, perhaps just as importantly, of different hair color. Such vitriol allows me to introduce and define the concept of racism, a particular subset of xenophobia that in recent years has been losing ground to cultural difference as the basis for discriminatory practices.

Racism and the Vikings are just part of the narrative found on page 99. Also described are the efforts of the nearby Baltic states to have the European Union identify Stalinist atrocities against them as a genocidal crime. They were unsuccessful, and the EU reserved the term genocide to apply solely to the mass extermination of Jews in World War II. In the EU’s 2007 legislation, prison sentences would be handed down for Holocaust deniers but only when these denials were likely to cause violence or hatred. Using similarly faulty reasoning, incitements to hatred towards a religious group would be punished, but only in those cases where they were inseparable from incitements to hatred of an ethnic or racial group.

As this study repeatedly shows, beneath the veneer of European unity and ever deeper integration lie profound differences between countries. So if Britain had supported an EU-wide ban on incitements to religious hatred, France and Germany wanted to go after the racists. By contrast fair-haired Scandinavian states like Denmark and Sweden came to the defense of freedom of speech. If there is no consensus on how to deal with racism and hate crimes, it is little wonder that the EU has seen anti-foreigner sentiments percolate up through the gaps in its unity.

An ironic feature of European transnationalism is, then, the shared xenophobia that is found in all 27 member states. To be sure, various indicators—attitudinal survey data, elite discourse, asylum rejections—point to a much higher level in Greece than among the maligned Swedes who, in the last two years, have admitted more Iraqi war refugees than the rest of Europe combined. If only EU states shared a strong passion for rooting out the ever more visible manifestations of hatred of foreigners—and the diverse causes that undergird them—we could do away with the xenophobic imagery of trains of whores bound from the European periphery to its core.
Read an excerpt from Europe Old and New, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

For more information on his research, teaching, and publications, visit Ray Taras' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 6, 2008

Michael Kimball's "Dear Everybody"

Michael Kimball's first two novels are The Way the Family Got Away (2000) and How Much of Us There Was.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Dear Everybody, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dear Everybody is a good page. It’s in the middle of the “1980” chapter, when Jonathon is 13 years old. Page 99 has three different kinds of pieces—(1) a letter from Jonathon Bender (the main character); (2) a conversation between Jonathon’s father and brother; and, (3) a diary entry from Jonathon’s mother.

1. The Letter.

Dear Mr. Sun,

Do you remember how you used to burn my skin during those summers while I was trying to grow up. People didn’t know that they were supposed to use sunblock back then, but I really needed something besides the clouds that would have protected me from you.

Jonathon Bender is writing letters of apology to nearly everybody he has ever known and through doing so he tells his life story. This particular letter shows Jonathon’s sometimes skewed understanding of the world and the people around him. Other letters are written to Jonathon’s mother and father, his brother and other relatives, his childhood friends and neighbors, the Tooth Fairy, his classmates and teachers, his psychiatrists, his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife, the state of Michigan, a television station, and a weather satellite.

2. The Conversation.

From a Talk Between Robert and Thomas

Tom: The next time that I got promoted, I moved out of the sales force and into management. It was an office job, here in the home office in Lansing.

Rob: I remember. I was glad. I thought that I was going to get to see you more.

Tom: At first, I tried to be the father and the husband that I thought I was supposed to be. After few months, I began to stay late at the office so that I didn’t have to go home for dinner. I began to get up early in the mornings so that I didn’t have to see you and your brother before you went off to school.

Rob: I remember, but I thought that you had gone back into sales.

There are many different transcripts of conversations included in the novel. Robert, Jonathon’s brother, is trying to piece Jonathon’s life back together after his suicide. This particular conversation between Jonathon’s father and brother shows how difficult the father is, how absent, and how dysfunctional the home life would have been.

3. The Diary Entry.

From the Diary of Alice Bender

November 12, 1980

Jonathon thinks he killed his grandfather. I don’t know why. I told him his grandfather had been sick with a bad heart. J keeps talking about batteries and some clock and something to do with his Walkman. I can’t understand him. I think there might really be something wrong with the way J thinks.

The mother’s diary entry shows her dawning realization of her son’s mental illness. Most of the diary entries relate to Jonathon in some way, but many of them also concern the mother’s attempts to cope with the difficult family life (which this one doesn’t).

These are 3 of the 400+ pieces that make up Dear Everybody. Many of these, 200+ or so, are Jonathon’s letters to nearly everybody he has ever known. The novel also includes newspaper articles, psychological evaluations, weather reports, a missing person flyer, a eulogy, a last will and testament, and many other fragments, which taken together tell the story of the short life of Jonathon Bender, weatherman.
Read an excerpt from Dear Everybody, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Kimball's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 4, 2008

David S. Reynolds' "Waking Giant"

David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include John Brown, Abolitionist, winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award; Walt Whitman's America, winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Ambassador Book Prize and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson represents the book well. As my subtitle indicates, Andrew Jackson is at the heart of my book, which begins in 1815, the year he defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, and ends in 1848, three years after his death. Page 99 of Waking Giant features a political cartoon of Andrew Jackson, who is satirically portrayed as “King Andrew the First,” crowned and richly robed as he stands with a scepter in one hand and, in the other, his veto of the recharter bill of the Bank of the United States, with his feet trampling the U. S. Constitution. The cartoon was printed by Jackson’s enemies, who saw him as an oppressive tyrant who sullied the Constitution by asserting his executive powers in his veto of a bill that would have renewed the charter of the national bank. For Jackson, the bank represented moneyed corporations that tyrannized over average people. He enforced this view so determinedly that his foes charged that he, not the bank, was the tyrant. The cartoon captures the aggressiveness that could make Jackson seem like a despot. All the while, however, Jackson was revered by the masses: he was the People’s President to a degree that few other American leaders have been. Not only does the cartoon express the political tensions (anti-Jackson and pro-Jackson) which gave birth to America’s two-party system, but it also captures the paradoxical combination of power and democracy, the extraordinary and the average that made Jackson so representative of that era’s boisterous individualism.
Browse inside Waking Giant, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and David S. Reynolds' faculty webpage.

Read the Wall Street Journal's long article on Waking Giant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lisa Lutz's "The Spellman Files"

Lisa Lutz wrote the screenplay for a mob comedy called Plan B and is the author of the novels The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Spellman Files and reported the following:

I locked my apartment door and tiptoed down the staircase, hoping to avoid chitchat with any family member. In particular, I was trying to avoid my mother, who had found another lawyer she wanted me to drink coffee with. I tried explaining to her that I was capable of drinking coffee without legal help, but she did not follow my logic.

Instead of running into my mother, I found Rae (with binoculars) peering out the window on the second landing. I checked the view and saw that Uncle Ray was moving in. Instead of a large orange-and-white truck outside, his moving vehicle was a Yellow Cab. It was a heartbreaking sight, and I turned to Rae, hoping that she might have seen the same thing.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Nothing," she replied sharply, and I knew she didn't see a tragic old man. She saw her archenemy.

"Don't you think it's time to let this thing go?"

I could tell from the look on Rae's face that she didn't.

* * *

The Spellman Files is a comedic novel about a family of private investigators. This passage is a decent representation of the book, which is driven more by family conflicts than by the cases the characters are trying to solve.

The contentious relationship between 14-year-old Rae Spellman and her Uncle Ray (in his 60s) is one of the central conflicts. In “The Ra(e/y) Wars” chapter, which begins on page 99, Uncle Ray is moving back into the house after the most recent of his Lost Weekends--habitual benders from which the family must rescue him.

Rae, being the youngest and not fully understanding her uncle’s complicated history, can’t forgive his constant debauchery. Page 99 sets up the war that will ensue. As in all the Spellman novels, the most intriguing--and hopefully the funniest--mysteries revolve not around murders or missing persons but around family relationships.
Read an excerpt from The Spellman Files, and learn more about the book and author at Lisa Lutz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Diana Spechler's "Who By Fire"

Diana Spechler's fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, Moment, Lilith, and elsewhere. She received her MFA degree from the University of Montana and was a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Who By Fire, her debut novel, and reported the following:
This feels like bible-dipping. I love the idea of bible-dipping, mostly because I like the way that sounds: sort of like skinny-dipping, but pious. If I had to categorize my novel—you know, for shelving purposes—I might say it’s of the pious skinny-dipping genre. It’s both racy and restrained, sexy and religious, sinful and redemptive. In fact, one of the narrators (Ash) is an Orthodox Jew and another (his sister, Bits) is a sex addict.

Many people (I mean…not me…just, you know, other people, so I’ve been told) find such extreme contradictions within themselves. Everyone has, to varying degrees, both a wild streak and a desire to be less wild. People indulge, lash out, lose their cool, and then wish they hadn’t. In the novel, these dueling forces are manifested in two separate characters. Bits feels out of control and Ash feels…well…guilty.

On page 99, Ash is discussing guilt with a rabbi. The rabbi asks him, “How many times do you think the Jewish people have repented for the golden calf?” and Ash replies, “We always remember the golden calf.”

In the context of the novel, Ash isn’t really talking about the sin of idolatry, committed thousands of years ago at the base of Mount Sinai. He’s talking about his own worst pain, the thing he’s been running from for most of his life, his deepest, darkest, most unbearable secret.

The rabbi senses this. He tells Ash, “We don’t kill ourselves over our mistakes.”

And this begs the question that is the crux of the novel: If we can't stop doing things that make us feel guilty, and if we have no choice but to live with our guilt, then how will we ever find contentment?
Browse inside Who By Fire, and read more about the book and author at Diana Spechler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue