Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gabriel Cohen's "Neptune Avenue"

Gabriel Cohen is the author of Red Hook, The Graving Dock, and Neptune Avenue, three crime novels featuring Brooklyn South Homicide detective Jack Leightner. He is also the author of the novel Boombox and of Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky, a nonfiction book about how to recover from divorce.

He has written for the New York Times, Poets & Writers, the New York Post magazine, Crimespree, and other publications, and will be the guest lecturer aboard the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner in May, 2009.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Neptune Avenue and reported the following:
I feel lucky with this random page from my new novel. For me, my books are never just about plot or whodunnit. It doesn’t matter how action-packed or dramatic a story is if the reader doesn’t care about the characters.

One way to do that is to give them well-rounded personal histories, and to explore how those might affect their behavior. Page 99 of Neptune Avenue features a scene between my protagonist, Brooklyn South Homicide detective Jack Leightner, and his elderly uncle Leon, who survived the Holocaust only to become estranged from his brother, Jack’s father:

Jack stared down at the table. His uncle had managed to talk about the death of most of his family without much visible emotion. Maybe he had come to terms with it somehow, or figured out how to distance himself from the memory. But this wound was still fresh. Jack thought of his own brother, dead at just thirteen, and wanted to put an arm around his uncle. Instead he got up, filled a glass with water, and set it down in front of the old man. As if that would help.

Beyond character, I also love to explore settings, especially the crazy quilt of neighborhoods that is Brooklyn. I found the Russian immigrants of Brighton Beach particularly intriguing, partly because my own grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from what is now Ukraine, but also because I’m interested in testing the distance between real life and what we have learned to assume from pop culture. We often hear about “the Russian mafia.” Does such a thing really exist?

As the book begins, Jack learns that a Russian friend has been murdered. On Page 99 he asks his uncle if he has heard of a possible suspect named Semyon Balakutis.

Leon snorted. “He’s a thug.”

“Russian mafia?”

The old man frowned. “I don’t like this talk. Because of the movies, people think we are all hoodlums here in Brighton Beach. Most of us work very hard; we just want to make a success of our little beauty parlor or tchotchke shop.”

I think this page points to what I’m trying to do with my writing: to tell a vivid story, to encourage the reader to empathize with the characters, and to present them in a deeply realized, interesting world.
Learn more about the author and his work at Gabriel Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Graving Dock.

My Book, The Movie: Red Hook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Allegra Huston's "Love Child"

Allegra Huston was born in London and raised in Ireland, Long Island, and Los Angeles. She has worked with Chatto & Windus publishers in London and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, where she was Editorial Director from 1990 to 1994. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than ten years; her work has appeared in The Times, the Independent, the Tatler, and Harper's Bazaar (all in the UK), in French Vogue, and in the U.S. in People, the Santa Fean, and Mothering. She lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her six-year-old son, Rafa, and his father, Cisco Guevara.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found, and reported the following:
“I’m not sure when it happened: that Daddy became fallible.” It’s a big moment in Love Child, and it’s at the bottom of p. 99. I was about ten years old.

Daddy is John Huston, the legendary film director and hellraiser. I was introduced to him in a hotel room when I was four – soon after my mother was killed in a car crash – with the words, “This is your father.” I realized then, and in the following years, that there was something fishy about being introduced to your father, but I didn’t dare examine it. My mother was dead, and for three years after that I didn’t see my sister Anjelica; Daddy was the centerpoint of my universe. When I was twelve, I was told that in fact he wasn’t my father; someone else was: John Julius Norwich, the British historian. This did not come as good news. It felt like losing a father, rather than gaining one.

In the end, though, this new father didn’t change my relationship with Dad. We never discussed it; and I realized how generous he had been, to accept me and raise me as his own daughter. I was, as a child, always in awe of him – and that moment at which he became fallible in my eyes was also perhaps the moment he became human. Generosity of spirit is not a god’s characteristic; it’s human, and I needed to see him as human to see it.

Love Child is a story of a little girl’s world atomized by her mother’s sudden death; the chronicle of a fractured family; and an honest account of how I came to terms with the secrets in my family. It has a happy ending: the day all my family – my brothers and sisters through both fathers, and the one father who is still alive – came together on the bank of the Rio Grande for my son’s christening. That is the story I wanted to tell: of rising above old histories and secrets, and finding love in the family you have, whatever its shape. Seeing the humanity in everyone – as I do on p. 99 of Love Child – is what makes that possible.
Read an excerpt from Love Child, and learn more about the book and author at Allegra Huston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2009

Owen Davies' "Grimoires"

Owen Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. His most recent books are The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (2007) and Murder, Magic, Madness: The Victorian Trials of Dove and the Wizard (2005).

His new book is Grimoires: A History of Magic Books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Grimoires and reported the following:
Grimoires explores the history of books of spells and conjurations from their origins in ancient Babylonia, through the fertile cultural exchanges of the Hellenistic world, the rise of Christianity, the advent of print, the Enlightenment, and finally to our continuing modern fascination with the mystical power of books in the Internet age.

Page 99 comes a few pages into Chapter 3, entitled ‘Enlightenment and Treasure’, which explores how the boom on cheap literature across much of Europe during the eighteenth century promoted magical knowledge as much as the rational thought that usually characterizes the so-called Enlightenment. On page 99 there is an image of the title page of one of the most influential cheap grimoires of the modern period – the Secrets Merveilleux de la Magie Naturelle et Cabalistique du Petit Albert. Beneath there is a description of how the Petit Albert first appeared in print in Geneva in 1704 and then in Paris two years later. A few years after it was being sold around the country by hawkers and attracting notoriety. Two centuries on, the popular fascination with the spells and charms it contained had permeated French colonies in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. In the sense that one of my reasons for writing Grimoires was to demonstrate how closely literacy and literature has always been tied to the desire to record and access secret knowledge, the discussion of the Petit Albert on page 99 is pretty representative of the book as a whole.
Learn more about Grimoires at the Oxford University Press website.

See Davies's list of the top ten grimoires.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Peter Leeson's "The Invisible Hook"

Peter T. Leeson is the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism in the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, and reported the following:
The Invisible Hook is the story of the hidden economics behind history’s most notorious criminals—18th-century pirates. It uses basic economic theory to analyze and understand infamous pirate behaviors, from pirates’ infamous flag of skull-and-bones to their (alleged) partiality for making prisoners “walk the plank.”

Page 99 of The Invisible Hook discusses how pirates treated merchantmen that resisted their assault: they annihilated them. The economic logic motivating this practice is straightforward. Pirates, who, like other businessmen, were interested in making as much money as possible, preferred prospective prizes to peacefully surrender rather than to fight for them. Fighting hurt pirates’ bottom line; it could injure pirates, kill them, or damage booty.

To encourage merchantmen’s peaceful surrender, pirates adopted a simply policy: show mercy to quarries that submit without a fight and slaughter quarries that resist. This policy, which pirates grimly announced to merchantmen through their infamous flag, raised quarries’ cost of resisting pirates while simultaneously raising their benefit of submission. In short, it worked exactly as pirates hoped.

Of course, for their policy to appear credible, pirates had to follow through on their deadly promise when a wily merchantman dared to resist them nonetheless. As page 99 of my book points out, “Pirate captain Edward Low, for example, ‘had a [victim’s] ears cut off close to his Head, for only proposing to resist . . . [his] black Flag.” Needless to say, such follow-through had the desired effect. Most merchantmen surrendered to their pirate attackers without ado, enhancing pirates’ profit.

But pirates weren’t the only beneficiaries of their policy. Innocent sailors benefited from it too. Sailors were worse off for being attacked by pirates in the first place. But conditional on such attack, pirates’ profit-motivated surrender-or-die policy actually saved sailors’ lives by preventing bloody battle.

In combining basic economic reasoning with the details of pirate history, page 99 accurately reflects the whole.
Read an excerpt from The Invisible Hook, and learn more about the author and his work at Peter T. Leeson's website and his group blog, The Austrian Economists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jane S. Smith's "The Garden of Invention"

Jane S. Smith is an independent author and Adjunct Professor of History at Northwestern University. Her books include Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology; Elsie de Wolfe: A Life in the High Style, the biography of the pioneer decorator who turned good taste from an attribute into an industry; and Fool's Gold, winner of the Adult Fiction Award from the Society of Midland Authors.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants, and reported the following:
The Garden of Invention revisits the expansive period between the Civil War and the Great Depression, a time when agriculture was moving west across the continent, when plant inventors were popular heroes, and when the public clamored for new varieties for farm and garden that would extend seasons, increase yields, look beautiful, or simply (and wonderfully) be different from anything seen before.

Page 99 opens Chapter 5: A Personal Interlude. As the chapter title hints, the story here takes a brief detour into the private life of Luther Burbank, the charismatic plant breeder who is the central figure in The Garden of Invention. In reality, though, the personal and the professional were always united for Burbank, from the moment when he read Darwin in the public library and was inspired to develop the Burbank potato (still the favorite of McDonald's fries and Idaho license plates), to the Congressional debates five years after his death when Burbank's reputation as a selfless, long-suffering genius helped pass the Plant Patent Act of 1930, the world's first legislation treating living things as intellectual property.

On page 99, we see Burbank's triumphant return from California to Massachusetts, a happy mix of seed potatoes, bank checks, business contacts, and crates of California prunes. The moment epitomizes the sharpness joined with simplicity that made him such an enduringly popular figure. The "interlude" here is the period between Burbank's successes in California's new fruit industry and his emergence as the world-famous "Wizard of Santa Rosa," an inventor hailed as the equal of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and also lauded as an exemplar of scientific genius, spiritual wisdom, and even as an expert on child-rearing. Once celebrated, now largely forgotten, Burbank's legacy is full of valuable surprises.

Page 99, The Garden of Invention:

Chapter 5: A Personal Interlude

In the fall of 1888, soon after he sold the bulk of his retail nursery business, Burbank took a seven-week trip to Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., that was the longest time he would ever be away from his California gardens. It was a sentimental journey, a triumphal return, and a time for well-earned relaxation. It was also a business trip with multiple objectives. There were new customers to find, new plants to bring back to California, and publicity outlets to cultivate.

Thirteen years earlier, Burbank had gone west with a small nest egg, his clothes, a few books and seeds, ten seed potatoes, and a hamper of food. Now he armed himself with three hundred dollars in cash, five hundred dollars in bank checks, and an array of California wonders to dazzle the folks back home. He brought copper ore, abalone shells, petrified wood, and samples of redwood, olive, palm, and eucalyptus-all natural curiosities as yet unknown in Massachusetts. He packed a box of prunes large enough to offer samples to the crowd that came to hear him speak at the Lunenburg cattle fair, an annual event that carried much honor for the local boy made good. He enjoyed giving interviews to all the local papers that now ran long stories on his many marvelous successes. When asked for suggestions on what farmers in Massachusetts should raise, his favorite joke was to answer, "enough money to move to California."
Read more about the book and author at the official The Garden of Invention website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Antoine Bousquet's "The Scientific Way of Warfare"

Antoine Bousquet is lecturer in International Relations at Birkbeck College, University of London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity, and reported the following:
One of the greatest scientific minds of his generation, von Neumann was a crucial figure in the development of both the computer and nuclear weaponry. Unlike other scientists, such as Robert Oppenheimer who became uncomfortable about the consequences of their work on the Manhattan project, he remained closely involved in the subsequent work on the nuclear arsenal until his death in 1957. A fervent proponent of nuclear build-up and even of a pre-emptive strike on the Soviet Union, he participated in the development of the hydrogen bomb and was appointed Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1955.

P.99 of The Scientific Way of Warfare discusses the role of the scientist John von Neumann in the development of two technologies that would play a central role in the Cold War, namely nuclear weaponry and the computer. It is representative of the book as a whole in that the latter is concerned with the complex and intimate relationship of science and war since the dawn of the modern age. The Manhattan Project has been often portrayed as the moment of science’s loss of innocence but science had in fact long been intertwined with military activity from the early proximity between the study of ballistics and the formulation of the laws of motion in the seventeenth century.

Nor has science’s contribution to war been limited to the development of more powerful weapons or technological systems since the very worldviews it has successively embraced have influenced military theory and practice. When mechanistic and Newtonian conceptions dominated the burgeoning scientific revolution, depicting the universe and the bodies inhabiting it as divinely ordained clockwork mechanisms, contemporary militaries sought to emulate their regularity and predictability by organising their troops according to rigid and precise deployments and manoeuvres on the battlefield. In the thermodynamic era that followed and in which the operation of the engine was seen as capturing the fundamental dynamics of the natural world, armies sought above all the channelling and projection of energy in all its forms. The development of the computer in which the role of von Neumann was paramount accompanied a new cybernetic worldview that made warfare into an activity determined by the most efficient collection and distribution of information. Finally, we are today in the midst of the latest regime of the scientific way of warfare in which the decentralised networking of armed forces has become the order of the day, bolstered by the new sciences of chaos and complexity.
Learn more about The Scientific Way of Warfare at the Columbia University Press website, and visit Antoine Bousquet's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Adrian Goldsworthy's "How Rome Fell"

Adrian Goldsworthy is the author of many books about the ancient world including Caesar, The Roman Army at War, and In the Name of Rome. He lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower, and reported the following:
Pg. 99 of How Rome Fell describes how the previously sporadic and localized persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire became far more concerted when the Emperor Decius commanded all of his subjects to perform a public sacrifice. Up until this point:

Christianity remained illegal, but only rarely was the law enforced, and most of the time Christians went about their normal lives and even practised their religion in a semi-public way. Decius’ edict challenged this and Christians responded in various ways....

How Christianity changed from being a persecuted sect to the official religion of the Empire is one of the threads running through the story of the last centuries of the Roman Empire. There were probably far more people sympathetic to Christianity than is often suggested:

Many who were not Christians still revered Jesus as a holy man. …. It is easy to forget that the polytheistic mindset made it easy to accept new deities, even if Christians themselves insisted that worshipping Christ must mean a denial of other gods.

People often claim that Gibbon in his classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire saw this as a cause of decline, but in fact his attitude was a good deal more complex. How Rome Fell tells the story of this process, but argues that this religious change made very little difference to how the Empire functioned or its ideology of power.

The chapter has the deliberately ambiguous title ‘King of Kings’, and begins with the rise of the Sassanid dynasty in Persia and the victories they won over a succession of Roman emperors. It is often argued that the appearance of this aggressive neighbour forced the Roman Empire to adapt, changing into a far more centralized state to meet the new threat. How Rome Fell argues that this is to misunderstand the evidence, and that the Persian success had a lot more to do with the internal weaknesses of an Empire split by civil war. Even the Decian persecution must be put into this context.

It was the act of a nervous new ruler, and one worried by foreign invasions, by the probability that usurpers would challenge, and also the continued impact of outbreaks of plague.

The thesis of How Rome Fell is that the Roman Empire rotted from within, its institutions and strength sapped by usurpations and civil wars so that emperors became more concerned with their own survival than actually ruling well.
Read an excerpt from How Rome Fell, and learn more about the book and author at Adrian Goldsworthy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paul Gootenberg's "Andean Cocaine"

Paul Gootenberg, a former Rhodes Scholar, is a professor of Latin American History at Stony Brook University in New York. He wrote a number of notable academic books on Andean economic history before moving into the emerging and considerably more exciting field of global drug history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug, and reported the following:
Does Andean Cocaine, my new century-long global history of the drug cocaine, really pass the "Page 99 Test"? Like a typical university professor, let me at least argue that it might.

Page 99 of Andean Cocaine depicts the complex political activities of one Augusto Durand–an eastern Andean political boss and notoriously rebellious national political figure in turn-of-century Peru–who also happens to have been the era’s leading world producer of legal cocaine, then a wonder drug coveted in world medicinal markets. It ends on Durand’s attempt in 1911 to organize local Peruvian coca growers into a union-like "Trust" to offset the commercial power of German pharmaceutical firms. Perhaps not the most felicitous passage in my otherwise page-turner of a book, it nicely illustrates the book’s key themes and innovations.

What does page 99 reveal about the larger and deeper message in Andean Cocaine?

First, the story of Durand here is a new narrative, based on mounds of new evidence (including interviews with Durand descendants), about the hitherto unknown Andean actors and forces involved in making cocaine into a historical world commodity--both in its legal phase (the 1880s to 1940s) and during its birth as an illicit recreational drug (from 1945-1975). This fresh Andean viewpoint corrects a trite brand of Western "great man" coke history, obsessed with figures ranging from Sigmund Freud to John Belushi.

Second, the story of Durand captures the way that "politics" have always been at the heart of the drug’s saga. Andean Cocaine is a commodity history, about South America’s most infamous and lucrative export product of the late 20th century. Yet, cocaine has always been a highly politicized and politicizing commodity. Even cocaine’s ultimate transformation into an underground good, I argue, was an essentially political process, wrapped up in the passions and calculus of hemispheric cold-war politics.

Third, the story of Durand is about the initiatives and activities, or what academics love to call "agency," of South Americans. They deeply shaped cocaine’s history, a history deeply set in its regional cultural context. Today, it’s tempting for us to promote simple drug policies (such as overseas interdiction and eradication) or perhaps criticize them (as mere U.S. "imperialism"), but both of these views overlook the drug’s complex living roots in Andean history.

I hope this argument entices readers and consumers of Andean Cocaine to go way beyond "page 99"--to the far end of the book--for it is truly a fascinating story that sheds new light on our ongoing struggles with global illicit drugs.
Read an excerpt from Andean Cocaine, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nathaniel Frank's "Unfriendly Fire"

Nathaniel Frank is a senior research fellow at the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and teaches history on the adjunct faculty at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His publications on gays in the military and other topics have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Slate, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Lingua Franca, and other venues.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, and reported the following:
This is more fun than I even expected! I don’t know if I just got lucky (I like to think every page of Unfriendly Fire is riveting) but my page 99 seems to have it all: sodomy, sailors, submarines, war, double standards, lies, secrecy, hypocrisy, senators, gays, showers, innuendo, gossip, pretense and dishonesty.

Unfriendly Fire argues that the ban on open gays in the military is unnecessary and far more harmful to the military and the nation than people realize. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been responsible for firing over 12,000 service members for something that everyone knows has nothing to do with military performance. It requires gays and lesbians to conceal their sexual orientation and to remain celibate at all times, just to serve their country.

But I argue that the damage done by the policy is far greater than just the impact on gays and lesbians in the military; it affects all members of the military by creating a climate of fear and suspicion, putting a magnifying glass to the sexuality and private lives of straights as well as gays, and encouraging hyper-masculine behavior (read: sexual harassment, homophobic abuse) as a way of proving to the world that you’re not gay.

More important, it’s not even just the military this policy affects, but the nation: this is a law that forces people to lie, and punishes people for telling the truth. It says about America that we are a nation that would rather stick our collective heads in the sand than face sometimes difficult truths.

My page 99 makes this case with a glimpse into the political drama of two senators—Sam Nunn and John Kerry—having it out over what it means to be gay, to be truthful, and to be patriotic in 21st-century America.

Excerpt--most of page 99:

And sodomy was far from the worst of it. “I mean,” continued Kerry, “there is not a marine or a sailor or anybody who went to the Philippines during the Vietnam War who cannot tell you a story about heterosexual behavior in public that was in violation of the Code of Military Justice. So let us be honest about this and not apply a double standard to it.”

Worse than the double standard of Nunn’s rationale for the gay ban was his own blindness to the reality of what he was supporting: a half-way measure, where, as he put it, “no one would ask questions about anyone’s sexual orientation and people could serve as long as they keep their private behavior private.” What would be wrong with this, Nunn wanted to know? The problem, Kerry answered, is that even if recruiters did not ask about sexual orientation, anyone else might. Nunn spoke of privacy as though, in his emerging “don’t ask, don’t tell” plan, it would be protected equally for gays and straights. But what he really meant was that when “private” behavior became public, it would mean discharge if you were gay, and would mean nothing if you were straight. “You are still going to have a policy of exclusion if you learn that somebody is gay,” explained Kerry. “Well,” replied Nunn, “you would not learn they were gay unless it was by their own admission, unless it was by conduct.”

Nunn’s ignorance was striking. There were countless ways that, well short of an “admission,” a person’s homosexuality could be quite clear—at least clear enough to worry anyone concerned about showering with gays. (Indeed some service members had said that “just the mere suspicion of homosexuality” could wreak havoc. In one case, according to one who testified at Nunn’s field hearings, sailors broke regulations by stealing the mail of a shipmate they suspected was gay.) No less a Nunn ally than John McCain once said that he knew he served with gay people in the Navy because of their “behavior and by attitudes.” But Nunn simply could not envision the daily reality of gay life in America. For all his professed concern about creating a policy that was free of lies and hypocrisy, for the scores of questions Nunn asked under the banner of formulating clear direction for the military leadership, what he would ultimately endorse was a law that couldn’t have been more confusing, more misunderstood or more predicated on concealment, innuendo, gossip, pretending and dishonesty.
Read an excerpt from Unfriendly Fire, and learn more about the book and author at the Unfriendly Fire website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seth Shostak's "Confessions of an Alien Hunter"

Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, in California. His day job is to search for sentient life beyond Earth and his new book is Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Confessions of an Alien Hunter and described the experience as follows:
Do we share the Milky Way with some clever company? Do the star fields of our cosmic metropolis shelter species that, by any reasonable measure, are as accomplished as Homo sapiens?

Grab the next dozen astronomers off the street and ask them if they think extraterrestrial life is superabundant or scarce, and I assure you that an imposing majority will opine that our universe probably teems with protoplasm. Consider the fact that life – mostly of the single-celled variety – occupies every remotely tenable niche on Earth.

Many worlds might sport some sort of alien pond scum. But success in the search for E.T. is dependent on another question: will worlds with life frequently gin up our functional equivalents – creatures that are clever enough to understand science and build powerful radio transmitters or lasers that would give away their presence?

We don’t know if they will or won’t, and the pleasing assumption that life commonly begets intelligence is controversial. Readers who perversely confine their perusal of this book to page 99 will land in the middle of a gedankenexperiment that exposes the nature of this problem. Suppose the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out. Would we – or some other intelligent beings – still arise, and eventually be of sufficient refinement to stack those dino remains in museums? This is a legitimate query, because these creatures (and most of their land-dwelling brethren) would still be walking the planet if the asteroid that spelled their doom had arrived in our vicinity only 20 hours earlier, to sail by without notice or incident.

Page 99 considers the possibility that either the dinosaurs or some other animal would have eventually developed human-level intelligence, assuming Earth’s flora and fauna were spared the great Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell tried “evolving forward” the cleverest of the dinosaurs – Stenonychosaurus – to see if, after 65 million years of Darwinian selection, it might have become a worthy doppelganger for ourselves. Russell believed such a development was likely, but the jury (read: evolutionary biologists) has yet to agree. After all, the dinosaurs strutted the Earth for 150 million years – plenty of time to get clever. They botched the job.

This might suggest that cosmic intelligence is rare, even if cosmic life is abundant. But any reader who continues beyond page 99 will learn about new research hinting that – given complex animal life and enough time – sentience will be a commonplace development, even if the dinosaurs weren’t going down that road. If this is true, our telescopes may soon discover that humans are not the cleverest kids on the galactic block.
Read an excerpt from Confessions of an Alien Hunter and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Peter Conn's "The American 1930s"

Peter Conn is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917, and Literature in America, which was a main selection of Associated Book Clubs (UK). Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, was chosen as a "New York Times Notable Book," was included among the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography, and received the Athenaeum Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The American 1930s: A Literary History, and reported the following:
The Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression confronted Americans with the most profound crisis they had known since the Civil War. How did the men and women of that period respond to a decade of economic and political shock? In The American 1930s, I've tried to provide a broad cross-section of the writing of the period, suggesting connections between novels and non-fiction and the turmoil of those years. Specifically, I've explored the various ways in which the decade's writers turned to history as a way of debating the fundamental questions that divided the country. What lessons might be learned from the past?

Page 99 comes in the middle of my discussion of Hervey Allen's Anthony Adverse (1933). Now almost completely forgotten, Allen's huge, twelve-hundred-page novel was the best-selling book of both 1933 and 1934. Some critics rhapsodized that this three-volume blockbuster just might be the long-sought Great American Novel. (When Jack Warner bought the movie rights, he confessed that he hadn't read the novel, and added: "I can't even lift it").

Spanning five decades of nineteenth-century European and American history, Anthony Adverse follows the life of its title hero from childhood as an orphan in Italy through a kaleidoscopic career as a wealthy merchant, a slave trader in Cuba and Africa, an international financier, and finally a penitent spiritual seeker. The novel combines history, melodrama, exotic settings, romance, intrigue, scenes of unusually explicit sex, warfare and duels, mysticism, and indefatigable narrative ingenuity.
I've included the whole of page 99, which describes the latter portion of Anthony's life. At the bottom of the page, I begin to speculate on the reasons for the novel's out-sized success. Aside from its sheer entertainment, the book dramatized the daring deeds of a rugged individual, a man who masters great odds in climbing up from obscurity and poverty. For Depression-era readers, the hair-raising adventures of such a person could provide both pleasure and the reassurance that self-reliance could still bring success. In addition, Anthony's ultimate renunciation of material goals provides a morally satisfying conclusion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Anthony’s sojourn in Cuba takes up the first half of Volume Two. Growing in skill and confidence, he masters the intricacies of international finance, soon becoming the most able businessman on the island. At the same time, his scruples gradually decay, a transformation that is sealed by his decision to become a slave trader, the most lucrative career available in the late eighteenth century. In the subsequent chapters of this second volume, the most chillingly sensational in the novel, Anthony takes up residence in Africa, personally managing the capture, imprisonment and sale of thousands of black men, women and children over the next several years. These pages lay out in harrowing detail the steps through which new slaves are stolen, brought to barracoons, stripped, examined, appraised, and chained. Anthony feeds them well, but only to improve their chances of survival on the slave ships, which in turn increases his profits. And the profits, as laid out in a historically accurate two-page ledger statement, are tremendous.

Anthony’s moral adversary throughout this portion of the book is a saintly Catholic missionary, Brother Francois, who loathes slavery, risks his life continuously to aid the slaves, and warns Anthony that the trade will cost him his soul. The opposition between the two men is the allegorical fulcrum on which the contest over values is tested. Francois also threatens the authority of the local witch doctor, who ultimately retaliates by having the missionary crucified on a jungle hilltop.

Francois’s death marks a turning point for Anthony, who gives up the trade (though not the money it has brought) and returns to Europe. The third volume of the novel traces his moral reclamation, which takes place in tiny increments over the book’s last five hundred pages. Initially, Anthony agrees to immerse himself in the financing of the Napoleonic wars; his business partners include the rising banker, Nathan Rothschild. When these various schemes grow into the “largest commercial operation of modern times,” Anthony moves to New Orleans to supervise the shipment of silver from Mexico to bankers in Paris and Amsterdam. Motivated as much by the risks and adventure as by greed, Anthony piles up an immense fortune, builds a plantation – staffed by several hundred slaves – and retires to a kind of peace. When a fire consumes his house, killing his wife and child, he sees an act of divine retribution, and from that point on embraces asceticism and self-sacrifice.

The unprecedented success Anthony Adverse enjoyed had several sources. To begin with, Allen incorporates just about every cliché of the ripping yarn: impossible coincidences, hairbreadth escapes, exotic settings, passages of overheated romance.
Read an excerpt from The American 1930s: A Literary History, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2009

Victoria de Rijke's "Duck"

Victoria de Rijke is principal lecturer at Middlesex University and director of the CD-ROM and website “The Quack-project.” She is also author of Nose Book: Representations of the Nose in Arts and Literature.

Dr. de Rijke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her recent book, Duck, and provided a short introduction, which is followed by an extended commentary by her alter ego, Dr. Quack:
Victoria de Rijke: Page 99 of the duck book shows a lovely photograph of Henri Fabre’s seaplane ‘le Canard’ flown by its inventor over the Mediterannean sea at Martigues, France, in 1910, plus some written text on duck idiom [see inset, below left]. It’s pretty representative of the study of the animal as also the study of eccentric invention: whether in language, mechanical or animated duck, toys, architecture, domestication & hunting, myth & legend, or the visual & acoustic arts.

Dr. Quack replies:

I see a book has been published on Duck. (Victoria de Rijke, Reaktion Books, 2008). My subject. No-one asked me, but I certainly have an opinion.

Well, my ducks, it could be so much braver, so much more than the sum of its careful, scholarly parts. I should explain at this point that I offered my expertise at several early draft stages and though Dr. de Rijke originally gave me the right to reply in the early versions, any improvements I made have been firmly ironed out, by the Great Editing Machine, no doubt. Truth be told, it should either have been a debate between us, or, still better, I should have written all of it.

There is no doubt that Duck presents nuggets of interesting facts. However, given it is ludicrously insecure to imagine any animal study is definitive, why isn’t fiction offered as proper evidence in a democratic discussion of ideas? Why so little on the great Thomas Pynchon’s use of Vaucanson’s duck as the magical unreliable little European automaton challenging what counts as real in an age of Enlightenment and Reason? Why so little on Leonard Woolf or Muriel Spark’s extremely disturbing use of the word ‘quack’? (The quack of the fascist and the adulterer?) Even more seriously, why are children’s books given so little space? Is it possible that the importance of that masterpiece Farmer Duck to world literature has simply not been recognized? Why are there so few jokes? Though the book touches on how many man-made things are formed in duck shape, did humans fail to notice how funny ducks are in themselves; what masters of farce? I despair: are they looking, or listening at all?

Duck book’s final chapter “Quackery Unmask’d” is by far the best. By examining zoonoses, duck sociability and hybridity, the ‘mobile vulgus’ of being-together, duck oil holding up the world and so on, proper parallels between unreliable species and narrators are drawn. This is the chapter that might have begun the book had Dr. Quack written it.

I might imagine Reaktion Books regretted getting involved with ducks at all: a species as quintessentially cute as puppies and kittens (which is curious, given ducks are not really pets and you eat them). And you can dress them up as anything, especially doctors. Ducks are not really part of the ‘noble animal’ project of the series as a whole; their symbolism’s so plural it’s manic, they’re so silly they cock a snook at prestige–worse!- they’re popular, populist. Are our publishing houses all so petty bourgeois, ducking risk by making authors write within the same cautiously inoffensive scholarly confines? Oh the pity of it! Dr. Quack says: Let them go wild! Let them dive in!

The illustrations throughout the book are rewarding. Nice picture editing job. A hefty bill for the author (as everyone knows publishers no longer pay for anything). Don’t get me started on copyright. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that tax payer’s money pays for public collections such as museums, galleries, and so on. Why are writers then billed again to reproduce pictures from national collections? Private agencies acting for artists can charge the earth for something the artist might have offered for free were they allowed to engage directly with individuals. It doesn’t have to be like this. Example: like the Bach family (where children were produced for musical accompaniment) Stockhausen-Verlag, run by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s son, is precisely this positive alternative to profit-making private agencies. You can approach directly, explain your project and receive clear instructions on exactly what conditions the avant-garde composer requires the work to be seen or heard. Copies need to be sent to them; there is no charge. Perfect. And what of all those so-called ‘amateur’ naturalists or ‘hobbyists’ out there making meticulous observations, taking superb photographs of ducks, pasting them into Wikipedia or in open source and allowing writers free reproduction? These are the true scholars, teachers, artists. They are out in the field all over the world producing masterpieces for love of the subject and Bless Every One of ‘em for a Duck of Diamonds, I say.

My major quibble with Duck is because (like almost all animal analysis, radio, TV and film) it is written from the perspective of people. Don’t we all agree a new term is needed for what humans still call comparative psychology? How about ‘experimental biology’ used to describe Douglas Spalding’s work; a man who, untrained and instinctive himself, was therefore qualified to make claims for the same when he observed it in animal life. Too much effort goes into arguments about relative species intelligence and most of it fails to recognize animals are staged as relative to humans in order to maintain the Great Human Superiority Complex. It’s a set-up. Four hundred years of anti-instinct controversy, and still humans analyzing animals suggest pretty much everything they do is out of instinct. Whose action patterns are really fixed?

And what of animal agency? Whilst de Rijke attempts to understand the connections (historical and otherwise) among the categories ‘duck’ or ‘representation’ and the book explores some political or policy ramifications that ensue from complications of human and animal agency (such as rape and hybridity), why wasn’t she given word space to explore how representations of ducks undermine or complicate the boundary that supposedly differentiates ducks from human? (Good to see the word ‘rape’ used in the book, by the way, instead of mealy-mouthed bogus scientific terms such as ‘enforced copulation’). Surely it’s time for humans to exercise the intelligence they are supposed to be born with and deepen the debate about animal culture. Time to build on what is known about genetics and basic behaviours to what lies beneath and beyond: animal attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, persuasion, coercion, play, creativity, agency and so on.

So, Reaktion Books and Dr. de Rijke, why the hesitancy of the ‘Ducks R Us’ argument? It is staring us in the face, not least with that image of Konrad Lorenz playing with his duck on a stick. The ducks line up to play too. Who is toying with whom?

Duck is all very well, as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. Suffice it to say, should there be any publishers out there brave enough, Dr. Quack is ready, quill poised, to start the definitive book. I promise you, it would be the duck’s quack.
Learn more about Duck at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dara Horn's "All Other Nights"

Dara Horn, author of the award-winning novels The World to Come and In the Image, is one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new novel, All Other Nights, and reported the following:
From Page 99 of All Other Nights:

Her face lit up. "Do you know General Jackson?" she asked. "He was William's contact."

Stonewall Jackson! Now Jacob was frightened. He had pictured her passing minor messages to some twenty-year-old sergeant who took the credit for himself. He had never imagined her doing anything at that high a level. How many people had died because of what she had done?

"No, but I know one of his deputies," he lied, praying that she wouldn't ask him to name anyone. She didn't. Instead she listened. "I could explain the situation to him, and pass the messages along for you."

She looked back at him, and suddenly smiled. Her face glowed. "Thank you, Jacob," she whispered.

Her torn wedding dress was gleaming in the lamplight, darkness luring him beneath her ripped skirt. He reached behind her curls to her neck and back, tracing her skin with his finger, following the line of her spine down to the buttons of her dress. She kissed him, and pulled him down with her onto the flowers her sisters had picked for them. For the rest of that evening, Jacob was able to forget his first war.


My third novel, All Other Nights, is a Civil War espionage story of an unusual sort. The main character, Jacob Rappaport, is a Jewish soldier in the Union army whose commanders discover that he has relatives in New Orleans—including an uncle who is involved in a plot to assassinate Lincoln. Jacob is then sent down to New Orleans on Passover, in order to murder his own uncle at the holiday table before the plot can progress. After this harrowing mission, his superiors offer him another "opportunity," this time involving a Confederate spy named Jeannie Levy, the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time, his assignment isn't to murder her, but to marry her—and then turn her in. Suffice it to say that this marriage doesn't turn out the way anyone expected.

Page 99 takes place on Jacob and Jeannie's wedding night—shortly after a shootout at their wedding reception, and right after Jeannie has revealed to her new husband that she is a spy. All Other Nights is an adventure story with all kinds of twists and betrayals along the way, as Page 99 makes clear. But it is really a story about loyalty, about how we decide who deserves our devotion, and why. I wanted to write about the Civil War because of how polarized America is now, how impossible it has become even to talk to those who disagree with us. Underneath the action-adventure plot, the book ultimately suggests the possibility of reconciliation that I hope awaits our country too. Page 99 might not offer any hint of that, but hopefully it will at least make you want to read on!
Read the first chapter of All Other Nights and learn more about the author and her work at Dara Horn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 10, 2009

Joshua Fogel's "Articulating the Sinosphere"

Joshua Fogel is Canada Research Chair in Chinese history at York University in Toronto. He has taught previously at Harvard University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Ai Ssu-chi's Contribution to the Development of Chinese Marxism and Nakae Ushikichi in China: The Mourning of Spirit.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time, and reported the following:
My book is a revised version of the Reischauer Lectures that I gave at Harvard in 2007. As a result, the volume is rather slender, and p. 99 happens to be the last page of text before all back matter. Rather than summarize the volume as a whole and prove Ford Madox Ford’s point, it actually looks to the future and assumes readers have read the preceding 98 pages (or most of them).

I have been working on Sino-Japanese cultural interactions throughout history for the past thirty or more years. The three chapters correspond to the three ways in which history is most often done by its practitioners. The first and longest is a macro-history of Sino-Japanese relations from the first through the mid-nineteenth centuries, also providing a tripartite periodization to characterize changes in the relationship over time. The second is a micro-history following several unexplored trails extremely closely that led up to the restarting of diplomatic ties between the two countries with the historic voyage of the Senzaimaru from Nagasaki to Shanghai in 1862. The third is the most familiar approach to historical research—midway between macro- and micro-history—and examines the first generation of the first Japanese expatriate community of Shanghai.

In these pieces I explore a new concept, the Sinosphere, for understanding China’s relationship with her neighbors, in particular Japan. I introduced the term Sinosphere in my original lectures in an innocent, almost innocuous, way, but in the questions raised at all three lectures, I found myself forced to refine and rethink the idea. It is an effort—resembling the Bohr atom—to comprehend Sino-Japanese relations both in space and time, as my subtitle suggests.
Read an excerpt from Articulating the Sinosphere and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Juan Cole's "Engaging the Muslim World"

Juan Cole, internationally respected historian, celebrated blogger, and Middle East expert, teaches history at the University of Michigan and is the former president of MESA. His blog, Informed Comment, receives 250,000 unique hits every day. He has written numerous books, including Sacred Space and Holy War and Napoleon's Egypt.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Engaging the Muslim World, and reported the following:
P. 99, on "The Wahhabi Myth:"

It is not even clear that most Saudis raised in the Wahhabi tradition adhere to the values preached by their more narrow-minded clergymen. In polling, ordinary Saudis overwhelmingly reject harsh punishments for moral infractions such as adultery. One pollster found that only 62 percent of Saudis even described themselves as "religious," a much lower percentage than Jordanians or Egyptians. Most Wahhabis go through life without killing anyone. Cultural traditions do not commit violence, people do, and they do so for concrete reasons in particular situations.

Wahhabism is a sort of "national church," if you will, of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Wahhabism has gotten a reputation as a font of terrorism. Politicians keep saying that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis, as if that is a meaningful statistic (Bin Laden handpicked al-Qaeda members for the mission to sour relations between Washington and Riyadh). That Saudis funded the Muslim seminaries that produced the Taliban is also marshalled as evidence for a sinister connection to terrorism. But it was the Reagan administration that urged Afghans to mobilize on religious bases to fight a guerrilla war against the Soviets, so was that not the real moment of radicalization? I am arguing above that in opinion polls the Saudi public does not evince support for the severe strictures of Wahhabism, for the stonings, beheadings, and so forth that scandalize the West (and much of the urban Muslim world). Second, there is a difference between being puritanical and being a terrorist. Terrorism is the deployment of violence against civilians by a non-state actor for the achievement of political goals. There is no evidence that I know of that Wahhabis are more likely to join terrorist groups or commit terrorism than are Sunni Muslims or Shiite Muslims. In my book, I am arguing for precise thinking about Muslim movements, and for avoiding easy stereotypes and sloppy thinking. Saudi Arabia has more often than not been an ally of the US, and its people want better relations with us; they should not be pushed away by thoughtless slurs.
Read an excerpt from Engaging the Muslim World and visit Juan Cole's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Christopher Beckwith's "Empires of the Silk Road"

Christopher I. Beckwith is Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages; Koguryo, Language of Japan’s Continental Relatives; and several other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, and reported the following:
I hope that page 99 of my book does reveal “the quality of the whole,” in the literal sense of Ford’s statement of his test. The page gives a brief account of the death of Attila the Hun and the collapse of his empire, with several minor correctives to the usual accounts, and begins telling how the death of Aetius was soon followed by the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Because much of the text is a continuous narrative—the first full history of all of Central Eurasia—the page is thus representative of that aspect of it; but because it covers a famous episode in world history it does not give a good idea of the book as a whole.

Most of the book covers topics that are little known outside of the tiny number of specialists in Central Eurasian history. Its main goal is to completely redo Central Eurasian history and put the region back in its proper place at the center of Old World history in every major respect until its partition and conquest by peripheral states in the early modern period. Among other things, the book explains how the Central Eurasians’ unique culture was responsible for their successes, most of which are wrongly credited to various peripheral peoples such as the Persians or peripheral areas such as Europe. It also discredits outsiders’ myths and prejudices about Central Eurasians—for example, the complex fantasy of the ‘barbarian’—most of which are still repeated by contemporary historians.

I think more representative, quickly chosen pages would be 16 (on the comitatus, or sworn guard corps); 47 (on the Indo-European chariot warriors who brought the Central Eurasian Culture Complex to early China); 125 (showing how the Türk state was not a threat to T’ang China, it was the other way around); 153 (on the transmission of science from Buddhists to Muslims in medieval Central Asia); 229 (on the establishment of the Junghar Empire, and the Renaissance in Eurasia as a whole, not only Europe); and 300 (on the destruction of the arts by Modernism and the nearly total devastation of Central Eurasian culture by radical political Modernism).
Read an excerpt from Empires of the Silk Road, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 6, 2009

W. J. Rorabaugh's "The Real Making of the President"

W. J. Rorabaugh is professor of history at the University of Washington. His books include Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties and The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election, and reported the following:
Page 99 explains why Nelson Rockefeller declined to run against Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination in 1960. Party leaders did not want a contest, and polls showed Nixon with too great a lead for Rocky's campaigning to overcome. Rocky, however, continued to make himself available for a draft.

About one-sixth of the book is about Nixon gaining the Republican nomination. About one-third tells how Kennedy used money, organizational skills, and television to gain the Democratic nomination. About half the book concerns the Fall campaign. While Kennedy used money, organization, and television to beat Nixon, he also depended upon Lyndon Johnson to carry much of the South. Without Johnson, Kennedy would have lost.
Read more about The Real Making of the President at the publisher's website.

Learn more about W. J. Rorabaugh's scholarship at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dean Falk's "Finding Our Tongues"

Dean Falk is Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. She is the author of Braindance and Primate Diversity, and co-author of The Face in the Mirror. Her “putting the baby down” theory, published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, New Scientist, National Geographic, and Newsweek.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language, and reported the following:
My ideas about language origins started to take shape when I first realized that motherese, or baby talk, is used all over the world and that it helps infants learn to speak (support for both assertions, which have been challenged, is provided in Finding Our Tongues). Because apes do not engage in baby talk, I wondered how it evolved in the first place. My “putting the baby down” hypothesis is that vocal communication between mothers and infants ratcheted-up when our ancestors’ infants lost the apelike ability to cling unaided to their mothers. For the first time in prehistory, moms had to carry babies in their arms, and must have put them down next to them when they needed to use both hands for various tasks such as collecting food. I believe that little ones began to protest vociferously when they were put down, and that mothers responded voice-to-voice by inventing the first lullabies and soothing motherese as part-time replacements for cradling arms. This, I think, is how motherese got going. Although this idea focused on the behaviors that preceded the evolution of language, as discussed on page 99, some linguists were skeptical and demanded to know how symbolic words and the ability to link them together into an infinite number of meaningful phrases and sentences (in other words, language) could have emerged from such a background. My book attempts to rise to this challenge, and also explores the origins of music and art. One approach is to take a look at the development of linguistic, musical, and artistic skills in children, which have surprising similarities; another is to examine relevant evidence from nonhuman primates and the fossil record for our early ancestors. Natural selection is about who lives and who dies. As with our nearest cousins, the great apes, it would have been prehistoric mothers who had the primary responsibility for keeping their infants alive. This, alone, is reason enough to explore the roles of mothers and infants as lightning rods for evolutionary change. Christine Kenneally recently reviewed Finding Our Tongues along with Adam’s Tongue, by Derek Bickerton. Coincidentally, he is the linguist who raised the challenge on page 99, to which my book responds. I wonder what is on p. 99 of his book.
Read more about Finding Our Tongues at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Dean Falk's research and writing at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Julia Angwin's "Stealing MySpace"

Julia Angwin is an award-winning journalist at The Wall Street Journal, where she writes about the convergence of technology and media.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America, and reported the following:
"Better Than Botox!" "Watch the Fat Disappear!" The page 99 test reveals a very important part of my book, Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Web Site in America.

It was 2004, and MySpace's parent company, Intermix, was blanketing the Web with ads for its wrinkle-reducing cream Hydroderm, and its diet pill Dream Shape. The money was rolling in – the two products generated $11.3 million in sales a year – but customer complaints were mounting.

The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau was deluged with reports from customers who had signed up for what they thought was a free trial. Instead, these customers were charged a shipping & handling fee of $5.95 and were automatically enrolled for monthly shipments at $49.95 apiece. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had also weighed in with a letter, requesting Intermix to provide support for its diet pill claims such as "Increases Lean Muscle Mass."

Intermix's newly installed CEO Richard Rosenblatt couldn't afford to shut down the wrinkle cream business. He needed the money to fund Intermix, which had racked up $13.5 million in losses for the year.

To shore up the business, he was considering ditching MySpace, which had lost $319,000 in its first six months of existence. At the company board meeting, he asked Intermix's directors to contemplate the following question "Do we sell MySpace? Or are we missing the next Google?"

Rosenblatt's decision is a tipping point for MySpace. It sets up the 'theft' that is the subject of the title Stealing MySpace.
Read an excerpt from Stealing MySpace, and visit Julia Angwin's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 3, 2009

Roger Collins' "Keepers of the Keys of Heaven"

Roger Collins is Research Fellow of the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. The author of numerous books and articles in the field of religious history, he lives in Edinburgh.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy, has surprised me by being more of a proof of the value of 'The Test' than I ever imagined possible when I first heard about it. It is the second page of a chapter entitled 'Slave of the Slaves of God', which starts with the pontificate of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), who invented this title, which was preserved by his successors - its better known form 'Servant of the Servants of God' lacks the sense of ownership and real servitude that exists in the Latin original, and makes him sound more like a superior kind of butler. Gregory, although pope for only fourteen years, is central to the book as he was perhaps the most influential of all holders of the office, to whom many of his successors looked back as a model and inspiration, and who typifies a style of papacy that was primarily pastoral and caring, if authoritarian, and contrasting with later periods in which it became primarily a money-making judicial and bureaucratic machine, that gave the impression of being mainly concerned to defend its rights and property at all costs. In this particular page I describe his political role, his literary works, and his friendships; one of which led to his 'close interest in Spain, where his memory and writings were thereafter especially revered', as would also happen in Anglo-Saxon England. In addition, as my wife wrote her doctoral thesis on Gregory, and as her role as 'the true inspirer, guide and constant companion of both this book and its author' made the whole lengthy project never less than exciting as well as challenging for me, it is particularly appropriate that it is 'her' pope who appears on page 99.
Learn more about Keepers of the Keys of Heaven at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 2, 2009

James Hall's "The Sinister Side"

James Hall is a freelance art critic and historian. A former art critic for the Guardian, he is the author of two critically acclaimed books: The World as Sculpture and Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Sinister Side: How Left-Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art, and reported the following:
We all use pairs of polar opposites to make sense of our world – high and low, good and bad, east and west, and, most recently, boom and bust. Right and left are two of the most important polarities, not least because our own brains are divided into right and left hemispheres, each with their own specialized functions. In almost every culture, the right hand has been regarded as morally as well as physically pre-eminent while the left hand has been denigrated and even demonized. My new book, The Sinister Side: how left-right symbolism shaped western art (OUP), is the first systematic attempt to explore the cultural manifestations of left-right symbolism, with a particular focus on the visual arts.

Page 99 is truly amazing…! It explores one of the most surprising manifestations of left-right symbolism – the archetypal distinction between the right and left eyes. In ancient mythology and in astrology, the right eye was believed to be the domain of the sun, and the left of the moon. This led to a further claim – that the right ‘solar’ eye was the spiritual eye, and the left ‘lunar’ eye was the worldly eye. For Christian writers, the simultaneous illumination of the right eye and the darkening or concealing of the left eye symbolised extreme spirituality; conversely, the darkening of the right eye and illumination of the left eye symbolized extreme worldliness.

Titian’s hitherto misunderstood Portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto (Philadelphia Museum of Art), in which the whole of the left side (and eye) of the elderly cardinal is concealed by a curtain, expresses his desire for spiritual rebirth. Similarly, when the damned man in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1536-41) covers the left side of his face with his hand, this implies a tragically belated moment of spiritual awareness. As Michelangelo’s friend and spiritual adviser Vittoria Colonna wrote in one of her poems:

“The left eye closed, the right open,

the wings of hope and of faith

make the loving mind fly high”

The Obama ‘Hope’ painting, by Shepard Fairey, in which the right eye is illuminated, and the left in shadow, draws on this ancient heritage – even if the President is a left-hander!
Learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

Read James Hall's examination of right and left in Titian’s Diana and Actaeon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nerina Rustomji's "The Garden and the Fire"

Nerina Rustomji is assistant professor of history at St. John's University in Queens, New York. She recently received an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and an American Council of Overseas Fellowship for work on female companionship in the Islamic afterworld.

She 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 your book?--to her new book, The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture, and reported the following:
The Islamic afterworld is a place where Muslims can live full, dynamic afterlives within the parameters of a physically described world. These otherworldly realms known as al-janna (literally the Garden) and al-nar (literally the Fire) were filled with objects, beings, and social realities that mirrored the best and worst of earthly life. In The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture, I analyze the material culture of the afterworld – green expanse, silk cushions, bricks of gold and silver, mortar of musk, soil of saffron, and myriad sort of infinite punishments, and I argue that while conceptions of heaven and hell began as doctrinal innovations in the seventh century C.E, they soon transformed into highly formalized ideals of perfection by the twelfth century. The book demonstrates that even otherworldly realms have histories that are shaped by Muslims’ ethical formulations, aesthetic sensibilities, religious reform, and unending impulse to contemplate the everlasting future.

Chapter 6, "Individualized Gardens and Expanding Fires," presents eschatological manuals (from the ninth to sixteenth centuries C.E.) that enhanced the dramatic quality of the Islamic afterworld by placing the apocalypse, the last judgment, and the descriptions of the Garden and the Fire within a narrative framework. The chapter addresses several mysteries presented in the previous chapters: when do houris or pure female companions overtake wives and families in the Garden? How do the class of demons and their punishments shift the notion of pain in the Fire? How much meaning is located in the architecture of adornment? While the chapter offers a crescendo, Page 99 simply introduces readers to the various kinds of eschatological manuals treated in the chapter. For the reader, it is necessary, basic material. Yet, when I look at the paragraphs, I am reminded of the many hours of pouring through manuals, many of which were not helpful. Simple paragraphs; lengthy process.

The book's expansive approach differs from the narrow list of titles on page 99. Even books about the grandest of topics depend on the most modest of paragraphs. So Ford Madox Ford’s odd mystic claim about the quality of the whole is not supported by pg. 99 of The Garden and the Fire. Sometimes pages simply do not reveal. Instead, they represent our sweat, our training, and take us along quietly to the next section where meaning may await.
Learn more about The Garden and the Fire at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue