Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kathleen George's "The Odds"

Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the author of the acclaimed novels Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, the short story collection The Man in the Buick, scholarly theatrical books and articles, and many short stories.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new thriller, The Odds, and reported the following:
I open my own book (the ARC version) to p. 99, wondering what I will find. And this is what it is: Joel, an eleven-year old boy is researching gunshot wounds at his friend’s computer. Why? 1. Joel is poor and doesn’t have a computer at home. 2. He has just encountered a man who is wounded, unable to walk, and he thinks he can help this man. He’s rushing through sites and memorizing medical terms while his friend Russell, who knows nothing of Joel’s real quest, is down in the kitchen trying to cadge some food without angering his mother. Joel is very smart. And he’s turning out to be a capable liar.

The page splits and a new scene begins. It’s a “meanwhile” scene that captures what Joel’s sister Meg is doing. She’s thirteen and also a good pretender when it’s necessary. In the scene on p.99 she brushes up her appearance in the ladies’ room of Allegheny General Hospital in preparation for a visit to the ER where she will attempt to find out all she can about emergency procedures for a gunshot wound. She will say it’s for a Science Fair project and that she is a likely candidate for a prize. The project is a falsehood, but Meg, like her brother, is off the charts at school, super-smart. And the two of them are smitten by the wounded man.

Yes, this is a mystery. While my detective Richard Christie is undergoing chemo, while the force is in some turmoil and Narcotics is leaching detectives from Homicide for a big drug bust, on the street terrible things are happening to those who have come anywhere near the major drug dealers. At the center of The Odds are a family of abandoned kids and a wounded man who reminds them of their father.


Joel pounds keys as fast as he can, almost cursing with impatience. He kills time looking at guns, waiting to transition to “Gunshot wounds.” If only Russell would be called to dinner and leave him alone for a few minutes. He opens the candy bar and breaks off a bite for himself. The gun he handed to Nick is possibly a .45, or no, a 9mm. Latter picture is the one that made the wound, then.

“Cool gun.”

Joel grunts.

“You taking notes?”

Joel points to his head. “Memory. You got anything good to eat downstairs?”

“Cheese and crackers. My mom gets mad when I eat before dinner, but maybe I can get some.” He slides off the bed, hesitates, and finally leaves the room.

As fast as he can, Joel types in “GSW compound fracture.” A bunch of pictures comes up, but he’s going through sites as fast as he can. He tries, “treatment.” And “shin,” then “tibia.”

It is the tibia, and it is broken—and he has set it, but not firmly enough. Now he studies the text of medical journals and other sites.

Neuropraxic, paresthesias. New words come at him, words he likes.

His heart pounds as he reads on. He has done right. He was right.

Russell comes up with some crackers and cheese and a couple of cartons of juice. “She’s mad,” he says. “I took these anyway.”

The part of the candy bar Joel ate has awakened his hunger. He grabs handfuls of crackers and cheese, eating, going so fast on the Internet highway that Russell who wants to be interested can’t catch up.

In the women’s room at the hospital, Meg splashes cold water over her face, extracts a comb from her backpack. Her breath is still ragged from rushing. She mustn’t look like someone who’s been scrambling around in the weeds all day. Her light brown hair is shoulder length and straight, her bangs long. She looks ... ordinary. She takes a deep breath and walks out and down the hall to Emergency.

“I’m here to talk to someone about my research project,” she explains at the intake desk. “I need to do an interview with a trauma doctor. Physician.”

The receptionist rakes up some incredulity. She’s a black woman with severely straightened hair, very orderly, and she says, with affront, “This is an emergency room!”

“That’s what I’m supposed to write about. Trauma units. Specifically, treatment of gunshot wounds.”

Preview The Odds, and learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2009

Maria Laurino's "Old World Daughter, New World Mother"

Maria Laurino is the author of Were You Always an Italian?, a national bestseller.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Old World Daughter, New World Mother: An Education in Love & Freedom, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

“You must have a really strong mother,” a young assistant editor at the Voice remarked to me one day as we stood by the restroom sink, the central place for girl talk at the paper.

The observation, announced out of the blue by someone who didn’t know me but seemed extremely intuitive about mothers, startled me. I fiddled with the faucet, unsure of how to respond. She was the shy and literary daughter of a well-known feminist who wrote novels and essays about trapped women like my mother. Finding my way through the labyrinthine world of New York City politics working with the macho gang, I regarded my ambition and determination as a reaction to, not the fruit of, my mother’s steady presence. The constant attention that my brother required, along with raising two other children, cooking, cleaning, and reentering the workforce as a typist to help pay for Bob’s and my college tuition, ensured that my mother personified the opposite of a “free woman.”

As I opened my book to page 99, I was again surprised. Years ago the remark, “You must have a really strong mother,” left me speechless. This time, I recognized that the anecdote on page 99 revealed one of the book’s central themes.

Old World Daughter, New World Mother is both a memoir and a meditation on contemporary feminism. I try to sort out dueling influences in my life: growing up in an “Old World” family, in which the word “dependence” was considered a good thing, versus embracing a “New World” feminism that championed personal autonomy. It wasn’t until I had a child that I began to see how our society has failed badly in balancing those opposing values.

The poet Mark Doty observes that writers come to memoir from all different genres, “and that primary genre (a habitual way of making meaning) seems to make all the difference.” He suggests that fiction writers often seem most concerned with the creation of a narrator, poets seek “a representation of how it feels to live,” and essayists are out to build “a line of thinking, and characters and incidents are there in order to support that movement.” Doty’s observation captured my intent. I am an essayist and a journalist and my book is, in large part, a call to reconsider the reality of dependency in our lives.

When this scene took place, I was a reporter at the Village Voice. The idea that I might have a strong mother was incongruous with my new life experience in which strength was about female autonomy, not subservience and submission. I was angry that my mother had devoted her life to caring for my mentally disabled brother. The young woman’s observation about my mother lingered for years, and I couldn’t offer the obvious answer – yes, I do have a strong mother. This incident fueled a central line of thinking in my book – that the feminist movement’s historical and pivotal achievement was to create an antithesis to women’s traditional subservience: autonomy against caregiving. Yet we still haven’t found a sustainable synthesis of the two.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rachel M. McCleary's "Global Compassion"

Rachel M. McCleary is a Senior Research Fellow, Taubman Center, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and director of the Political Economy of Religion program.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1939, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1939 is a snapshot of the turbulent 1960s in the United States and the effects of secularization on Judaism and Roman Catholicism. Judaism in America was losing adherents, the state of Israel was at war with its neighbors, and significant efforts were made to ratchet up the Jewish lobby and increase federal as well as private donations to Israel. American Judaism was in crisis as its youth intermarried with non-Jews. For its part Roman Catholicism had been losing members for some time not only in the United States but in predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Latin America. The women’s movement of the 60s meant that the profession of becoming a nun was no longer attractive, particularly in a patriarchal structure. As a consequence, the Roman Catholic Church lost a significant source of volunteer labor.

Out of the ashes of secularism came the growth of evangelicalism. Why? Because people were looking for a personal religious experience, a back-to-basics approach to religion. Judaism was struggling with its renewal and relevance through its reform branch. Eventually, Roman Catholicism would come to terms with Vatican II. Page 99 reveals a lot about the dynamics captured in the book in that religion plays a large role in American culture, politics, and social involvement. Although secularism made great headway during the 1960s, Americans did not become atheists; rather they sought religious experimentation, reform, and renewal. All of which translated into a significant growth in new private voluntary agencies, involvement in international programs such as the Peace Corps and belief that American know-how could change the world.
Learn more about Global Compassion at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

David & Fiona Haslam's "Fat, Gluttony and Sloth"

David Haslam is a medical doctor and clinical director of the National Obesity Forum. He is also visiting lecturer at Chester University and a visiting fellow at the postgraduate medical school of Herts & Beds. Fiona Haslam has written numerous articles on medicine and art and is the author of From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Fat, Gluttony and Sloth: Obesity in Literature, Art and Medicine, and reported the following:
Anyone waging a personal battle against obesity can rest assured that millions of others have trodden the same weary path over many centuries,and most have failed. This book documents the successes and heroic failures as far back as 30,000 years. Physical activity is possibly the most daunting aspect of any weight loss regime, and also the most challenging chapter to interest the reader in its history. Cardan, the ancient physician declared that trees have the answer, because they live for up to a thousand years by being totally inactive and immobile, therefore so should humans, if they want to achieve a similar span. Activity should be frowned upon; just ask any tree. Page 99 is a necessary lull between the high octane essays on diet and drugs. Read page 99 for an interesting perspective on the views of ancient commentators on activity, but read on to discover how strychnine, arsenic and mercury cured obesity, how circus 'fat ladies' are even more sexually alluring than 'male dwarves', and about a '250 lb man eating chicken'!
Read more about Fat, Gluttony and Sloth at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2009

David Hess' "Localist Movements in a Global Economy"

David J. Hess is Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Program in Ecological Economics, Values, and Policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry (MIT Press, 2007) and many other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States (MIT Press), and reported the following:
Page 99, perhaps fortunately, has a summary section on it. Here I discuss the issue of “justice” in the title and some arguments that have been raised against localism. But first, let me give a little bit of context.

By “localist movements” I refer to grassroots efforts to build greater local ownership and control over the regional economy. Examples that I discuss in the book include the “buy local” movement of local businesses, the local food and community gardening movement, community media, expanded public transportation, the reuse sector, and publicly controlled or owned electricity. Much of the motivation for the movements is that the quality of life has not been improved by the growing corporate control of the economy, whether it is big-box retail, factory farms, or media conglomerates.

In the book I explore how efforts to rebuild local economic control are related to questions of sustainability and economic fairness. To answer that question, I traveled around the country and visited organizations where there was some evidence that local control and ownership could be brought into alignment with sustainability and fairness goals. Examples included community gardens, reuse stores, public power agencies known for their green electricity, and public transportation organizations that were greening their fuels. I also became heavily involved in those efforts in the region where I live: New York’s Capital District.

Some people are skeptical about localism, and on page 99 I summarize one set of their arguments. One of the central arguments is that localism tends to be a middle-class phenomenon. Somewhat like the “buy organic” phenomenon, the idea of shifting some of your purchasing to locally owned and independent businesses may seem like a luxury that the poor cannot afford. In the section following page 99, I look at these arguments and conclude that although they present risks to advocates of localism, there are many examples where cross-class coalitions are being built. To begin, the “buy local” movement supports locally owned and independent businesses, which are often small, mom-and-pop shops that contribute a great deal to the quality of life in the community. Some of the stores are located in low-income neighborhoods, and when the “buy local” idea is extended to the “bank local” idea, then we find some very interesting patterns of investment occurring from community banks, loan funds, and credit unions.

I also point to studies that indicate that although goods are not always cheaper in the local sector, they are less expensive more often than the big-box advertising would have us believe. Plus, service is often better, and the quality of merchandise is superior. For example, produce sold at farmers’ markets is often cheaper than comparable produce sold in supermarket chains, and you can ask the farmers (who aren’t certified as organic) if they spray the food with pesticides. Likewise, in the reuse sector—second-hand stores that include clothing all the way to home supply stores—prices and quality are often superior even to new objects in the discount chains. Furthermore, by keeping your money in the community, the local economy benefits from the recirculation of money in the local economy. At the same time there can be environmental benefits from buying local food and reusing goods.

So that’s the general terrain that I look at in this book. When I started writing it, I didn’t see the great recession coming, but I think this book is an example of how we can start to think about rebuilding the real economy and exiting from the casino economy of financial speculation.
Read excerpts from Localist Movements in a Global Economy, and learn more about the book at the MIT Press website.

Visit David J. Hess' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dan Nexon's "The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe"

Daniel H. Nexon is assistant professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change, and reported the following:
The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe examines the impact of the Protestant Reformations on European state formation and power politics. People in my field generally argue about two major questions when they study Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries: whether or not the 1648 Peace of Westphalia marked the beginning of the modern international system by establishing key principles of state sovereignty, and whether or not the fate of the Spanish Empire demonstrates timeless principles concerning strategic overextension and the balance of power. I argue that both these questions should be approached through a different lens--one in which we treat the period as a case of transnational religious movements (such as Calvinism and Counter-Reformed Catholicism) playing havoc with routine strategies of imperial rule. My findings therefore turn out to have some relevance to contemporary concerns.

Chapter 4, "Religious Contention and the Dynamics of Composite States," begins on page 99. This would seem to confirm, at least in part, the "Page 99" hypothesis, as this chapter develops my core arguments about why the Protestant Reformations created a great upheaval in early modern European politics. In this sense, the "quality of the whole" very much rises and falls on arguments that begin in page 99. On the other hand, page 99 is also one of the driest pages of the entire book.

I'm going to cheat a little bit and include an extract that begins on page 99, but carries over into page 100. Page 99 begins with a transitional paragraph that summarizes some of the material from Chapter 3 concerning the organization of early modern European political communities, particularly dynastic composite states such as Valois France and the Habsburg Monarchy. The bulk of the chapter analyzes this organization in terms of social-network analysis.

The network-structure of ideal-typical early modern European states accounts for their routine patterns of collective mobilization, resistance, and rule.

• Such structures create barriers against cross-regional and cross-class resistance to central authority: they produce institutionalized patterns of divide-and-rule that tend to limit the capacity of local actors to overcome the capabilities of central authorities. These same features also produce strong cross pressures on rulers stemming from the different interests and identities of their territories.

• Indirect rule limits governance costs for rulers; it also, however, leads to inefficiencies and principal-agent problems. Local intermediaries—such as viceroys, governors, magnates, and urban oligarchs—often already have, or develop, their own interests and ambitions. Not only might they disregard the policies and goals of their rulers, but they sometimes seek to expand their own autonomy or even, whether de facto or de jure, secede from central control.

• Rulers more effectively extract resources and negotiate with their subjects if they find ways to legitimate their rule across diverse audiences: that is, if they engage in what social scientists call multivocal or polyvalent signaling. Failure to do so, however, worsens cross-pressures and generally narrows the scope of mutual accommodation for rulers and ruled.

These conditions facilitated the rise of religious heterodoxy that we now call the Reformations. The structure of composite states in general, and dynastic agglomerations in particular, also accounts for why the Reformations led to a crisis in early modern state formation. The emergence of cross-region and cross-polity networks centered around religious beliefs and identities undermined the various ways that rulers managed their heterogeneous domains. Once disputes over theology and ritual entered into ongoing struggles over central and local control, rulers found it more difficult to legitimate their authority across different political coalitions. As Richard MacKenney argues, “The obstacles to sovereign national entities, universalism and localism, took new forms and indeed acquired new vigor—and in their novelty became more recognizably modern as political forces precisely because of the expanding importance of religion as an ideological and social force.”
Read an excerpt from The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Daniel Nexon's Georgetown webpage and group blog, The Duck of Minerva.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Linda Himelstein's "The King of Vodka"

Linda Himelstein began her journalism career in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal, and from there went on to work for the San Francisco Recorder and Legal Times. She covered Congress, federal agencies, city hall, and the courts, and appeared on television outlets such as CNN and C-SPAN as an expert commentator. In 1993 she joined BusinessWeek in New York as its legal affairs editor. One of her cover stories, titled "Bankers Trust Tapes," helped BusinessWeek win the National Magazine Award.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire, and reported the following:
In writing The King of Vodka, my goal was twofold. First, I wanted to tell an amazing and original tale. The narrative follows the rags-to-riches-to-rags drama of the family of vodka pioneer Pyotr Smirnov (Smirnoff today), an uneducated serf who rose from nothing to become one of Russia’s wealthiest and most successful industrialists. On his way to prosperity, Smirnov piqued the ire of Chekhov, became a foe of Tolstoy’s, and wooed the Tsars. The family lost everything after the revolution.

My second goal was to wrap this wonderful tale in historical context so that the reader could taste, feel, smell, and ultimately understand the Russia of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Page 99, thankfully, illustrates both goals. The scene is outside Smirnov’s vodka factory. He has just gotten married for the third time. It is May and his business has taken off. Horse-drawn carts of fresh fruits and herbs are approaching his factory from the train station, angering pedestrians and snarling all other traffic. It doesn’t matter, of course. “Luckily for Smirnov, he had the personal clout to get away with creating such pandemonium.”

As one of Smirnov’s sons later told his wife: “The air was resounding with the cries and insults from the carters and the people whom they were obstructing. Ladies closed their ears and hid themselves behind their umbrellas.” These small details help to create a very vivid scene. A reader can actually envision the crowded street, smell the fruits, and hear the cries of the angry passersby. In addition, you get a sense for the way business worked in Smirnov’s day. He was already a powerful business leader. He had made the necessary connections to get his way. It is apparent from this passage, when looking at some of Russia’s business practices today, that history does repeat itself.

In combining many of the essential elements in The King of Vodka, p. 99 is pretty representative of the book.
Browse inside The King of Vodka, and learn more about the book and author at Linda Himelstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John G. McCurdy's "Citizen Bachelors"

John G. McCurdy is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test”--is Ford Madox Ford's contention, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," accurate?--to his new book, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States--and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book Citizen Bachelors, I discuss the identity of Mr. Spectator and Isaac Bickerstaff, two of the most famous—yet fictional—single men of the eighteenth century. I am fascinated with these two because they are representative of the complexities of what it was to be a bachelor in early America. They were simultaneously proud to be free of a wife and children—yet they discussed courtship and marriage nonstop. They were asexual characters who passed little judgment on their libertine companions—yet they insisted that they had once loved and lost so that no one would think they were homosexuals. They challenged the need for a law to punish men for being single—yet they heaped scorn and rebuke on those that followed in their footsteps.

Such contradictions are emblematic of the larger themes in my book. For too long, historians have assumed that bachelors in colonial America were the objects of ridicule and scorn. My research reveals that this interpretation was only part of the story. Instead, early Americans had a contradictory view of single men. They admired their independence, but feared they were idle drunks; they were jealous of their sexual agency, but worried about all the bastard children they were fathering. I believe that this contradiction remains with us today—we simultaneously ogle People magazine’s “Fifty Hottest Bachelors” while fretting over fatherless families.

More importantly, my book argues that in the contest between admirers and critics of the bachelor, it was the former who actually won the battle and this has had a lasting impact on American society, especially our ideas of citizenship. When Bickerstaff pondered bachelor laws, he was reflecting on actual events. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ten colonies and England maintained a special tax on single men. Yet by the American Revolution, many asked why the bachelor should be treated differently than any other man. Accordingly, when the United States was formed, nearly all of the states revised their legal codes to ensure equal treatment of their citizens regardless of marital status. This set the model for notions of equality before the law which later brought women and African Americans into the political process.

So my answer to the original question is “yes.”
Read more about Citizen Bachelors at the Cornell University Press website.

Learn more about the author and his scholarship at John G. McCurdy's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frank Partnoy’s "The Match King"

Frank Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader and Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Greed Corrupted the Financial Markets. He has worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a corporate lawyer, and has testified as an expert before both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. A graduate of Yale Law School, he currently teaches law at the University of San Diego.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals, and reported the following:
When Bernie Madoff confessed to a $50 billion pyramid scheme in November 2008, I considered sprinkling some last-minute references to Madoff throughout The Match King. There are so many parallels between Madoff and Ivar Kreuger: financial manipulations, consistent double-digit returns, secretive persona, Hollywood connections – everything but the bullet to the center of the heart. But my editors advised I should resist, so I simply labeled Kreuger “the original Bernie Madoff” in the Preface and left the rest for readers to discover on their own.

It won’t be hard for anyone to see the parallels on page 99, which is truly Madoff-esque. Our financial schemer/hero is in Paris, in February 1927, negotiating with government officials for a monopoly on the sale of strike-on-the-box matches (yes, matches – they were important back then), while fending off pesky inquiries about the legitimacy of his businesses.

The authorities might have stopped Kreuger then with a proper audit, just as regulators might have stopped Madoff if they had listened to a whistleblower years ago. But Ivar, like Madoff, ran his financial details through a fly-by-night audit firm, and the truth stopped there. It didn’t hurt that Kreuger’s investors – like Madoff’s – stuck their heads in the sand.

Page 99 also marks an early stage of Kreuger’s bipolar descent. Like Madoff, Kreuger began cracking under the pressure of generating the outsized returns he had promised investors. He began hiding records from everyone, including his trusted assistant and frequent travel companion, the beautiful Karin Bökman. Just as Madoff apparently kept secrets from his family, Kreuger didn’t want his colleagues and relatives to know an inspector might be coming.

Page 99 ends with a passage from a bizarre letter I was thrilled to discover among the miles of archived cables stashed in a castle at Vadstena, Sweden. Miss Bökman typically typed Kreuger’s letters, but he did this one alone. Unlike his assistant’s meticulous work, some of the words were out of line, “the ‘m’s were raised slightly, and there were ‘I’s in place of ‘1’s. The letter was dated ‘February I5th I927.’” It “looked a bit creepy, as if a madman had hunted and pecked each key.” Soon, that appearance of madness would become reality.
Read more about the book and author at Frank Partnoy's website and watch Frank Partnoy on The Daily Show.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2009

Judith K. Schafer's "Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women"

Judith Kelleher Schafer is the author of several books, including Slavery, the Civil Law, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana and Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846–1862.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Brothels, Depravity and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans describes how prostitutes verbally abused each other as well as physically inflicting violence on their counterparts. Although public women lead violent lives in antebellum New Orleans, their ill treatment of each other is only one part of the story.

The book uses legal case histories and contemporary newspapers to tell the story of the sex trade in the Crescent City. It details the brutal and often harrowing lives of women and young girls who engaged in prostitution. Some watched helplessly as gangs of rowdy men smashed their furniture; some endured beatings by their customers or other public women; others were murdered. The book discusses the sexual exploitation of children, sex across the color line, and the city’s feeble attempts to suppress the trade. Brothels also profiles several infamous sex workers, including Delia Swift, alias Bridget Fury, a flaming redhead with a fondness for stabbing me, and Emily Eubanks and her daughter Elisabeth, free women of color known for assaulting white women.

Although scholars have written about New Orleans’s Storyville era, no in-depth studies on prostitution in antebellum New Orleans exist. This book offers insight into an intriguing period in the history of the “oldest profession” in the Crescent City.
Learn more about Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women at the publisher's website.

Visit Judith K. Schafer's Tulane faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steve Luxenberg's "Annie's Ghosts"

Steve Luxenberg, an associate editor at the Washington Post, has worked for more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Post reporters working with Luxenberg have won several major reporting awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for explanatory journalism. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new nonfiction book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret, and wrote the following:
I know this is a gift, a golden opportunity to introduce Annie’s Ghosts to a new audience. I also know that I would be following past practice for this blog if began by providing a powerful summary of the book’s narrative sweep (“it’s a story of...”) and then slowly working my way to page 99.

I can easily claim that I’m setting the stage when I reveal to you that my mother hid the existence of a disabled sister, and that I went on a two-year search to understand my mom’s motivations, and the consequences of keeping the secret for her and those around her. I might even get away with sneaking in a mention of a starred Kirkus review, which called the book “Beautifully complex, raw and revealing.”

But it would be more fun to turn the tables.

Last night, I visited page 99 of a Vintage paperback edition of Ford Madox Ford’s famous novel, The Good Soldier. It’s a page that moves the story along, but I doubt that even Mr. Ford would say the quality of his work is revealed there. Maybe he would mumble something about how, in the original hardcover, page 99 was a real knockout. Or maybe he would say, wait, you took me too seriously—I was reading a boring novel when I came up with that line, page 99 was the place where I gave up, that’s all.

Ford understood a brutal reality: No one reminds a writer to take care with page 99, but every reader looks at the opening sentence. The Good Soldier famously begins, “This is the saddest story I ever heard.” That line has earned a place in the canon of memorable opening sentences.

So, in the interest of full disclosure and in the spirit of Ford, here is the first sentence of Annie’s Ghosts: “The secret emerged, without warning or provocation, on an ordinary April afternoon in 1995.” And the next: “Secrets, I’ve discovered, have a way of working free of their keepers.”

Okay, okay. I admit to a parlor trick here, a sleight-of-hand. I’ll even defend it. (Ford himself liked to engage in a literary trick or two.) I’m not trying to divert attention from page 99. I’m fond of that page, too, although it’s less personal than much of the book. The page resides in one of the book’s most powerful chapters, “Actually Insane,” which tells the unsettling story of how my secret aunt, Annie, was committed to a public mental hospital in 1940. The chapter is based on court records I found in Michigan.

Two court-appointed doctors had to certify Annie as “actually insane” before she could be admitted for treatment. At that time, patients had few rights; this was three decades before the medical and legal revolutions that brought an end to the nationwide system of large public mental hospitals.

From page 99 of Annie’s Ghosts:

[I]n calibrating this particular scale of justice, the state legislature put a heavy finger on the side of the courts, the medical profession, the asylum, and the family.

Under the law in effect in 1940, “The father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, child or guardian” could petition the court to have a family member declared insane, but the legislature didn’t stop there. It specifically allowed a sheriff, a superintendent of the poor, a “county agent,” or anyone that a judge deemed a “proper person to make such a petition” to come before the court and swear that a fellow citizen was “mentally defective”—insane, or “feeble-minded” or epileptic—and needed to be confined in an institution.

As if the courts and doctors didn’t have enough power, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in several cases during the 1930s that some judges were skipping the part of the law that called for the taking of evidence, and were relying instead almost entirely on the two physicians’ findings... Worse, once the judge had issued the order, patients remained insane in the law’s eyes until another pair of physicians, also appointed by the court, had certified their return to sanity.

Page 99, like the rest of Annie’s Ghosts, tries to get to the bottom of something, in writing that is direct and accessible. The language and material reveal, in Ford’s phrase, “the quality of the whole.”
Read the prologue to Annie’s Ghosts and visit Steve Luxenberg’s website, where you can see photos and documents relating to the book and read his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2009

Patrick Allitt's "The Conservatives"

Patrick Allitt is Goodrich C. White Professor of History and Director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum at Emory University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Conservatives describes the life and work of William Graham Sumner, who trained to be a minister in the late nineteenth century but discovered that his faith in God was less intense than his faith in the free market. He gave up the church and became a professor of political economy at Yale instead, where he developed a legendary classroom reputation. One student wrote that "the majority of our teachers were mechanical and dull" but that "we came to Sumner's teaching with eager expectations and were never disappointed... He used to enter the classroom as if he were pushing his way triumphantly through hostile forces; he had the air of a conqueror." Sumner was conservative only in a paradoxical way; he certainly didn't believe in looking to the past for guidance ("A man of good faith....must come to the conviction honestly, that the traditional doctrines and explanations of human life are worthless"). He said that economics should be thought of as a coldly rational science and that it was time for modern universities to get rid of their philosophy departments. "Philosophy is in every way as bad as astrology," he wrote. "It is a complete fake ... We might just as well have professors of alchemy or fortune-telling or palmistry."

The book as a whole traces American conservatism from the Founding Fathers to the present and shows that conservatism has meant very different things at different moments of American history. In the early republic, some conservative writers opposed the idea of human equality and did not think the United States should be a democracy. Southern white conservatives before the Civil War wrote ardent defenses of slavery. In the early twentieth century writers like Irving Babbitt thought of America as the defender of a vast civilization ("Christendom") that was jeopardized as much by vulgar materialism as by Communism. Many of the characters introduced in the book, especially more recent ones like William F. Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol, have been controversial. I have tried to keep the rhetorical temperature low and to avoid taking sides, presenting each figure's ideas impartially, along with those of his or her opponents. I believe and hope that it's a book anyone interested in conservatism, American politics, and American ideas, can turn to for a useful introduction.
Read an excerpt from The Conservatives and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2009

David Vine's "Island of Shame"

David Vine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, and reported the following:
While I’m now wishing I had included some sex on page 99 of Island of Shame, the page does reveal the book’s scandalous content. For page 99 tells part of the long hidden story of the Chagossian people exiled from their homeland by the United States during the creation of the military base on the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia. Told from the perspective of both the exiled Chagossians and the U.S. government officials who orchestrated the expulsion, the book exposes how the United States and Britain conspired to forcibly remove the people and build what has become a major, if little known, base critical to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and home to a top-secret CIA prison.

Page 99, for the most part, reveals only half this story: that of the U.S. officials who created the base. The page describes how officials like longtime cold warrior Paul H. Nitze deliberately inflated the Soviet threat to ensure, in Fred Kaplan’s words, “the construction of a gigantic, world-wide U.S. military machine.” Beginning in the 1970s, a base as far flung as Diego Garcia, at the center of the Indian Ocean, became an increasingly important part of this machine.

The other half of the story told in Island of Shame—the treatment meted out to the Chagossians—reveals itself in the title of the chapter that begins on page 99. Taken from a three-word 1971 memo written with Kurtzian zest by former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the chapter’s title represents the U.S. government’s final, callous verdict on the Chagossians: “Absolutely Must Go.”

The chapter and the book thus show how the military machine built by men like Zumwalt and Nitze has too often come to destroy the lives of people like the Chagossians around the globe. As I later write:

“We must face the damage that the nation has inflicted on [the Chagossians] and so many others…. We cannot continue to allow claims of ‘national interest’ to justify the destruction of the lives of others. The story of Diego Garcia is in many ways a story of just that: how we have allowed empire and militarism to trump human lives.”

Island of Shame concludes with a call for allowing the Chagossians to return to their homeland:

“For too long both [the United States and Britain] have denied and hid from their responsibility. For too long they have allowed the Chagossians to languish in exile. Now is the time for both governments to rectify the injustice they have done to the Chagossians.”
Read an excerpt from Island of Shame, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Read more about the book and author at David Vine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Anne Nelson's "Red Orchestra"

Anne Nelson is an author and playwright, and teaches international media studies at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1989 Livingston Award for international reporting.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book and reported the following:
My book is called Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler. I spent nearly ten years researching the book -- and learned that the German resistance to the Nazis was far more pervasive than most people realize. The ragged collection of movements lasted for years – it was not just a “Johnny-come-lately” phenomenon at the end of the war. But in order to write about the German resistance, I had to address the question of how the Nazis consolidated their power.

Page 99 of Red Orchestra falls within a chapter called “The Prague Express,” which discusses how German trade unionists tried to carry on anti-Nazi activities in the early years of the regime. Many German Socialists and Communists fled to Czechoslovakia and ran extensive exile opposition activities from Prague and the border town of Carlsbad. There were many anti-fascists among the railway workers who used the Reichsbahn to smuggle anti-fascist publications into Germany. (They specialized in quirky fake covers for their political pamphlets – my favorite is “Proper Care for Cactus Plants,” for what was surely a prickly subject.)

The page quotes the hapless Social Democrats writing from Prague, protesting “Things can’t go on like this.” Yet the Nazis foil their efforts at every turn. The arrest and persecution of dissidents was bad enough. But they also lulled German workers into giving up their hard-earned unions, until they woke up one day with no one to defend their interests.

The chapter describes the daring activities of John Sieg. Oddly enough, the charismatic Detroit native was one of the leaders of the German workers’ resistance movement. (Sieg, a former Ford auto worker, committed suicide in Gestapo detention rather than betray his friends.)
Read an excerpt from Red Orchestra, and learn more about the book and author at Anne Nelson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lisa Jones' "Broken"

Lisa Jones has written about cowgirls during calving season, the regional Miss Navajo Pageant, native bees, geese as companions, the state of land-grant universities in the West, dating biologists and global warming.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Broken: A Love Story, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 starts in the mountains high in Wyoming's Wind River Range. Moses Stark -- an itinerant cowboy with a mystical streak and a face that had been half-melted in a truck fire several years before -- had just completed three weeks of "fasting and praying and starving." He ran into a Northern Arapaho medicine man named Three Bears, who was cutting firewood for a sweat lodge that evening.

Moses's blond hair scattered over his shoulders as he walked towards Three Bears.

“Maybe that's Custer's ghost,” the medicine man thought.

Meanwhile, Moses was thinking that Three Bears was the toughest man he’d ever seen. ”I’d only been afraid two times in my life that another man could kick my ass,” he told me later. “One was my dad, the other was this guy... There was no doubt in my mind. He could kick my ass.”

Despite their imaginings, the men greeted each other calmly, loaded the firewood into the truck, and drove down to the flats of the reservation. Three Bears took Moses to the sweat lodge of his nephew Stanford Addison, a quadriplegic horse gentler and traditional healer who is the main character in Broken: A Love Story. Moses took to life on the Wind River Indian Reservation and became a part of the Addison family. He had been a violent man, but life around the Stanford and the rest of the Addisons eventually gentled him into a modern-day supplicant. Moses and I came from completely different backgrounds, and he stayed on the reservation much longer than I did, but in some ways his experience there foreshadowed my own.

For both of us, there were plenty of hard knocks. Moses told me about some of his years after they happened, during one of my first visits to Stanford’s house: A few years after his arrival, Moses and Stanford, both alpha males in their thirties, needed to spend some time apart. Moses found a house about five miles away, right outside the village of Ethete.

From page 99:

The house was spacious, with twenty acres of pasture for his Arab stallion, Sinbad, and a couple of mares. The Episcopal Church owned it, and they said he could live in it for free if he did some renovations. Moses was happy with the arrangement. At first he cowboyed for a living, then he worked at the tribal detox center. He figured he could save some money and fix the house in his free time.

But he soon discovered there was someone else in the house: a rather high-maintenance ghost. It came to him as a voice. At first Moses was congenial and practical. “You take the back of the house,” he told the spirit. “I’ll take the front.”

The spirit wasn’t interested; it wanted to talk. It made Moses feel good at first. He was doing research for a book on a subject that fascinated him -- the Indo-European horsemen of the steppes. But soon enough the spirit turned into a book critic, and Moses found it difficult to distinguish the spirit’s messages from his own self-critical thoughts. The spirit made Moses feel hopeless, worthless, better off dead.

Welcome to writing, I wanted to joke, to dispel my own discomfort with the fact that Moses actually believed what he was saying about the spirit. I couldn’t join him in this belief, but Moses was a born storyteller. His story, so unwillingly initiated, sprang out as polished and whole as if telling stories was all he did.
Read an excerpt from Broken: A Love Story, and learn more about the book and author at Lisa Jones' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 11, 2009

Carla Gardina Pestana's "Protestant Empire"

Carla Gardina Pestana, W. E. Smith Professor of History at Miami University, is the author or editor of several books, including The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World, and reported the following:
Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World may fail the page 99 test. Page 99 falls at the conclusion of a chapter, providing a general discussion to summarize the main point of the preceding chapter and anticipate the next one.

Chapter three considers the first half century of English expansion into the Atlantic world. Within decades of the founding of the first colonies, Scotland, England, and Ireland collapsed into civil wars, rebellions, and eventual regicide. Sharing the same monarch, these three distinct kingdoms all boosted different religious establishments and distinctive religious majorities (Presbyterian, Anglican, and Catholic). Rulers hoped to establish the Church of England in all their Atlantic dominions, believing that political loyalty followed from religious affiliation. Diversity at home and the largely unchecked impulse on the part of non-Anglicans to migrate made that impossible. Soon colonies exhibited even greater diversity than was the case at home. This diversity was further exacerbated—in all kingdoms as well as in the colonies—by the coming of revolution, which gave rise to new sects (most famously the Quakers) and added impetus to the growth of older faith traditions (such as the Baptists). This chapter chronicles the explosion of diversity, the largely unsuccessful efforts to staunch it, and the anomalous case of some New England colonies, which created a strong established church that was not patterned on the monarch’s own Church of England.

Taken in total, Protestant Empire charts the history of Atlantic religious encounters from 1500, when Europe, West Africa, and the Americas were on the verge of interactions that would shape the modern world, to 1830, when the new United States had left the British Empire to chart its own path politically while staying very much within a shared religious culture that connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Ranging widely through the Atlantic basin and across centuries, the book reveals the creation of a complicated, contested, and closely intertwined world of believers of many traditions.

Text on page 99:

{The Atlantic empire Charles II regained in 1660 differed markedly [98]} from the one that his father had ruled over in 1640, and changes that had overtaken it in the interim would not be reversed. This revolutionary interlude had a particularly significant impact on British Atlantic religion by increasing diversity within and beyond the Christian community, politicizing religious positions, and sparking discussion of religious liberty in distant colonies not so quickly influenced by changes at home. By 1660 the newly instated monarch held a far-flung collection of colonies in the Atlantic world, and controlled England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Much of what had been wrought in the decades of revolution since the founding of the first successful English colony would remain as it was. The diversity among and within kingdoms had been transferred into the wider Atlantic world and exacerbated by the increased fragmentation of the revolutionary era. The transplantation of religious institutions to the new plantations had ironically been most successful in the case of New England congregationalism, a system that necessitated the local control that an Atlantic setting encouraged. Hence the first successful religious establishment in the English New World had no direct equivalent as an establishment in England or the other Stuart kingdoms.

Of necessity religious observance in the wider Atlantic was often a personal affair since individuals and families were bereft of institutional supports for their faith. Thrown back on their own resources, believers acted on their adherence to any one of a wide variety of faith traditions at work in the region, including various forms of Christianity as well as Judaism, Islam, and traditional Native American and African faiths. Believers navigated a complex and variegated religious reality that had emerged by 1660, with profound implications for the future of religion in the British Atlantic world.
Read an excerpt from Protestant Empire, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Carla Gardina Pestana, W. E. Smith Professor of History at Miami University, is the author or editor of several books, including The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Andy Raskin's "The Ramen King and I"

A long-time NPR commentator whose essays have been heard on All Things Considered and This American Life, Andy Raskin has written for the New York Times, Gourmet, Playboy (Japanese edition), and other publications.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life, and reported the following:
The Ramen King and I is a memoir about romantic infidelity. Specifically, it's the story of how I adopted Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen, as a spiritual guide, and how he helped me understand my behavior and change it.

Page 99 turns out to be a shortie, the first of 12 brief biographical sketches of Ando. Yet it really does convey the book's primary theme—that by coming to play a godlike role in my life, Ando would help me change. The journey I wrote about is one of finding faith, if in a non-traditional way, so I'd say the p. 99 test holds up nicely.




To understand how the inventor of instant ramen helped me change, it would be useful to know something about his life. No better place to start than Halley’s Comet.

You see, the baby who would grow up to invent instant ramen was born on March 5, 1910. That year, Halley’s Comet made one of its near-Earth flybys. To most people, this was nothing more than a coincidence.

Nissin Food Products, however, has always made a big deal about the connection. For example, on the page devoted to Ando’s birth in the catalog to the Instant Ramen Invention Museum, an illustration shows an icy white ball zooming past Earth. The entire planet is covered in clouds except for a small clearing, through which sparkling dust from the comet’s tail gently settles over Japan. There’s no doubt about it. Nissin means to suggest that Ando—and maybe instant ramen itself—was sent from above.
Read more about the book and author at Andy Raskin's website and the Ramen Advice blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Susan Brackney's "Plan Bee"

Susan Brackney is a beekeeper living in Bloomington, Indiana. A nature writer whose articles about honeybees and beekeeping have appeared in the New York Times, Plenty Magazine, Wildlife Conservation, and elsewhere, she is also the author of The Insatiable Gardner’s Guide, The Lost Soul Companion, and The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion. You might have seen her taking Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie to task on Good Morning America.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet, and reported the following:
You don't have to don the beekeeper's veil to get to know honeybees, but, I admit, it certainly helps. Long before I set up my first beehive -- long before I'd even considered becoming a beekeeper -- I knew only what most people know about the striped insects. Namely, they produce honey in some mysterious way, and, occasionally, they sting. But that's giving the honeybee short shrift.

Peering into their humming cities from time to time, I've watched bees practice real magic. They fashion honeycomb as if out of thin air. Ever pragmatic, they hustle nectar, pollen, and even water and tree sap into the hive just as other bees haul out intruders, debris, and the dead. I've seen queens overthrown and drones tortured, and, naturally, I thought you might like to look over my shoulder.

Page 99 isn't a bad place to start. Bet you didn't know honeybees are typically sold by the pound. They are. And, most often, they're shipped quite spectacularly via U.S. Mail. The first bees I ever ordered came from a Mom-and-Pop apiary in Georgia. On hold interminably, I could hear a TV blaring from somewhere in the background...

Minutes passed, and I thought she'd forgotten me. If I hadn't wanted those Italians so badly, I might've given up. Instead I pressed my ear closer to hear Richard Dawson shout, "Survey Says!" followed by a game show Ding! and the requisite applause. The screen door banged once more, and here she was: "Ah think Earl's list is full up, but you tell him Mama said to put you ohn it. Mama said!" Once I had Earl on the phone, that's just what I did. He'd told me he was all out of bee packages, but he must really love -- or fear -- his mama. My bees arrived in the early spring.

* * *

Prices do continue to rise, but three pounds of bees and a queen can cost roughly $40 or $50 plus shipping. (I've never tried to count them myself, but most people say there are, give or take, about 4,000 bees to a pound.) Generally, when a cage full of live bees shows up, the post office notifies its recipient with uncharacteristic alacrity. (A rather rattled postmaster once phoned a beekeeper I know at 2 a.m. to let him know his bees had arrived -- and to ask if he would please come and get them at once. Instead, the beekeeper suggested they tuck the cage into a quiet corner somewhere until he could come for them -- at a more reasonable hour.) The bees usually come in a wooden box, and so that plenty of fresh air can circulate through, its sides are screened with wire mesh. This arrangement allows for an up-close view of thousands of honey bees.

There isn't anything quite like holding a cage full of bees, but it's OK if you'd rather take my word for it than find out on your own. Inspiring a general interest in honeybees is more important to me than inspiring would-be beekeepers, and, in the context of Colony Collapse Disorder, our continued reliance on pesticides, shrinking natural habitat, and the many other challenges with which honeybees must contend, there's never been a more critical time to appreciate them.
Learn more about the book and author at the Plan Bee website and Susan Brackney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cathy Pickens's "Can't Never Tell"

Cathy Pickens has been, under different names, a lawyer, a business professor, a university provost, a clog-dancing coach, a church organist / choir director, and a typist.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Can't Never Tell, the fifth Southern Fried Mystery featuring Avery Andrews, and reported the following:
In Can't Never Tell, the Page 99 test gives a nice overview for the major themes in the murder mystery and for its protagonist, attorney Avery Andrews.

Captured on page 99 is the conflict with Professor Rog Reimann, a client whose wife disappeared over the edge of a waterfall and who doesn't think he needs representation, even as the police size him up as a likely murderer. Stir into the mix Eden Rand, a fellow professor who has taken Rog under her protective wing, despite the eyebrows raised by her obvious attentions to an until-recently married man.

The page also gives a glimpse of the growing and quirky friendship between Avery and Rudy, a high school acquaintance who is now chief sheriff's deputy.

Then there's the Fourth of July festivities in a small Southern town, complete with a waitress at Maylene's who resents having to work the holiday -- or work at all.

In small towns, the closeness and intimacy of the residents gathers alongside the tensions that familiarity can breed; those themes run through the book.

At its heart, the book is a traditional mystery, showcasing the small-town South, family closeness and long-standing friendships, the importance of food and celebration, even the classic scarred Formica table at the local diner where Avery contemplates whether the scratches "formed a Rorschach outline or a meditative maze I could trace with my finger."

Page 99 gives the flavor of a book that combines traditional puzzle mystery with quirky humor and a head-line death whose tendrils reach surprising places. Come and visit.
Learn more about the author and her books at Cathy Pickens' website.

The Page 99 Test: Hush My Mouth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Christopher Magra's "The Fisherman's Cause"

Christopher P. Magra is Assistant Professor of Early American/Atlantic History and Director of the Atlantic History Center at The California State University at Northridge Department of History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fisherman's Cause: Atlantic Commerce and Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
Why not page 98? Is it possible that any single page can illuminate ten years of research in three countries surrounding the Atlantic Ocean? Would that somehow diminish my first book, The Fisherman’s Cause, on the transnational origins and progress of the American Revolution? I hope not.

Page 99 of The Fisherman’s Cause is the first page of a chapter devoted to the ways in which business influenced politics in the late 1700s. The chapter opens with a frustrated colonial fish merchant fretting over the British government’s interventionist regulation of colonial commerce. He is particularly persnickety about the Sugar Act, which Parliament is about to pass into law. Colonists banded together and lobbied against the Act. They compiled financial records that concretely demonstrated that the tax on imported foreign sugar made colonial trade with the Caribbean prohibitively costly. British sugar merchants wanted the tax to protect their interests, however, and sugar was the most valuable commodity in the Atlantic World. As a result, the British government passed the Sugar Act.

Does any of this material underscore the book’s central message? Does one page encapsulate all of my efforts?

I’m afraid the answer to both questions is “yes.” I wrote this book to demonstrate that people’s interaction with the world’s oceans has had a fundamental impact on the course of human history. In the case of the American Revolution, colonists’ commercial fishing and overseas trade helped spark tensions with the British government. These tensions led to war, and colonists used the ocean to defeat the most powerful military force in the world. Fish merchants converted trade routes into military supply lines and transformed their most valuable capital assets, their fishing vessels, into warships. For their part, fishermen armed and manned the first American navy, served in the first coast guard units, and manned privateers. In short, the Atlantic Ocean assisted colonists in bringing about the birth of the United States of America. This is the first book-length effort to explain why and how fishermen fought in the Revolution.
Read an excerpt from The Fisherman's Cause, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bill German's "Under Their Thumb"

Bill German met the Rolling Stones while he was a teenager, shortly after launching his Stones-only magazine, Beggars Banquet. The publication lasted for seventeen years, during which time he traveled the world with the Stones, stayed at their homes, and witnessed their recording sessions. He lived the dream of every Rolling Stones fan, until he eventually had to leave the life behind.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with the Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It), and reported the following:
The bitter and the sweet. Both are represented on page 99 of Under Their Thumb -- as they are throughout the book.

In 1978, as a 16-year-old Rolling Stones fan and aspiring journalist, I launched a newsletter about my favorite rock band by sneaking into my high school's mimeograph room in Brooklyn. My fellow students weren't interested -- in 1978, Brooklyn was in the throes of Saturday Night Fever fever, and every kid wanted to be Tony Manero, not Mick Jagger -- so it was ironic that the Stones themselves were the ones embracing my little creation. As detailed in the first 98 pages of Under Their Thumb, the "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world" took me under their wing and allowed me into their inner circle.

On page 99, I bring my readers to the Manhattan home of Stones guitarist Ron Wood. It was December 1985, and we were sitting in his dining room at 4 in the morning. Ron had just been hired to write a book about his life and he needed a co-author. I was hoping he'd consider me -- even though I was a 23-year-old novice -- but he hired me in his dining room before I had the chance to bring it up.

As I write on page 99, "This was the biggest thing that ever happened (to me). ... I was going to be the first person on earth to co-author a book with one of the Stones. I was so excited, I couldn't sleep when I got home. This was better than sex. I wanted to call everyone I knew, but had to wait. It was 6 o'clock in the morning."

Two hours later, I received word that Ian Stewart, one of the founding members of the Stones, had died in London that morning. Everything would get put on hold for awhile, and the Stones would obviously shift their focus.

I conclude page 99 by saying, "The air was instantly let out of my balloon. What should have been the most joyous day of my (writing) career turned out to be its gloomiest."

But that was typical of my time with the Stones. Whenever I felt too comfortable around them, I'd get a slap in the face that'd bring me back to reality. By befriending the Rolling Stones, I may have lived the dream of every baby boomer rock fan, but, as I state in my book, "Be careful what you wish for."
Read an excerpt from Under Their Thumb, and learn more about the book and author at Bill German's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Rachel Hope Cleves' "The Reign of Terror in America"

Rachel Hope Cleves is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Northern Illinois University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery, and reported the following:
P. 99 of The Reign of Terror in America begins with “rivers of blood” and the terrifying image of infants “carried to be drowned, stuck on the points of spears” while “the hands of mothers, stretched out for mercy to their tender babes were chopped off.” In other words, it’s the perfect place to drop in!

The Reign of Terror in America is an exploration of how conservative fears of the violence of the French Revolution reshaped American political culture during the early nineteenth century. Haunted by “anti-Jacobin” imagery of French revolutionary violence, northeastern Federalist politicians and Calvinist clerics launched a rhetorical offensive against social violence in the United States -- including the violence of slavery and war. However, like all violent language, anti-Jacobinism had the power both to repulse and to seduce. At the end of my book, I explore how French Revolutionary imagery not only inspired critiques of the violence of slavery, it created a rationale for the violent destruction of the slave system. Driven to my research by an interest in non-violence, I regret the seductive qualities of the language I describe. Even today, the French Revolution retains its metaphoric power both to criticize and rationalize violence. When Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006, several American newspapers editorialized the hanging as a fit end to the leader’s “Reign of Terror.”

P.99 opens at a critical point in the book. We are in a section entitled “New Words, New Sounds,” which describes how terror of the French Revolution inspired the creation of an “American Gothic mode of writing” that both recorded and enacted violence. I begin p.99 with an example from a 1798 anti-Jacobin sermon delivered by the Massachusetts Congregationalist minister David Osgood. Osgood has a significant place in my book because he was the childhood pastor of the famous abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, who would later use French Revolutionary imagery both to attack slavery and to defend violence against slave holders (Child once wrote that she wished she was a “Charlotte Corday” who could assassinate the slave power). Here is the bipolar legacy of the “reign of terror” in America -- and the bipolar power of The Reign of Terror in America. It is Osgood’s words that opened this reflection, and that I hope served the purpose of both repulsing you, the reader, and drawing you in.

Osgood’s example leads to a discussion of how American anti-Jacobinism fit into a broader “Atlantic political culture.” This is a fascinating topic and vital to my argument, but would take too many extra words to discuss here. Instead I will leave you with Osgood, hoping that for all the right reasons, and none of the wrong, you choose to read on.
Read an excerpt from The Reign of Terror in America, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Visit Rachel Hope Cleves' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue