Friday, October 30, 2009

Peter H. Wilson's "The Thirty Years War"

Peter H. Wilson is G. F. Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, and reported the following:
The Thirty Years War was Europe’s most destructive conflict prior to the twentieth-century, contributing to the deaths of proportionately far more Europeans than either world war. My interpretation differs substantially from earlier views on three points. I regard it as a struggle over the political and religious order of Central Europe, which was related to, yet remained distinct from wars elsewhere across the continent. Second, it was not primarily a religious war, despite the presence of militants, mainly on the sidelines, who interpreted events as signs of God’s will. Third, it was not inevitable, hence the tragedy of missed opportunities for peace.

Page 99 relates to the first of these points, as it discusses the mounting problems of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty that became embroiled in a protracted, fruitless war against the Muslim Ottoman empire at the end of the sixteenth century. Bankrupt and internally divided, the dynasty embarked on an inadequately-resourced effort to reassert influence over the Holy Roman Empire and their hereditary possessions within it. This programme helped trigger the Bohemian Revolt which began the Thirty Years War in 1618. Equally, the Habsburgs’ underlying weakness explains their failure to contain the Revolt and its subsequent spread into wider conflict. Page 99 examines Habsburg intervention in Transylvania in 1600 which contributed to their over-extension. It also illustrates a more general aspect of my approach, which is to emphasise contingency over more impersonal structural forces in explaining events. The devil really is in the detail.
Learn more about Peter H. Wilson's The Thirty Years War at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michael Goldfarb's "Emancipation"

One of Michael Goldfarb's documentaries for the public radio program Inside Out became the basis for his first book, Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2005. Reporting another documentary, British Jihad: Inside Out, provided the inspiration for his new book, Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance.

Goldfarb applied the “Page 99 Test” to Emancipation and reported the following:
There is nothing in heaven that ordains a clever remark by a highly regarded author must be correct and I'm afraid p. 99 in my book proves that Ford Madox Ford was talking rubbish.

Not that p.99 is uninteresting, it explains how Napoleon, having convened the leaders of France's emancipated Jewish community in what he called the Great Sanhedrin, decided to organize Jewish life under the aegis of the state. Church and state are not quite separate in France. The government administers many aspects of French religious life. P. 99 in my book describes how Napoleon brought Jewish life under state control in an attempt to force the pace of the community's integration and assimilation. They had only been out of the ghetto for 15 years yet they were still practicing usury, rabbis did not speak French and they had not taken French names!!!!!!!!! This story is interesting but not necessarily the best in the book and I might suggest a more numerological expansion of Ford's theory to get to some juicier bits.

P. 199 is more like it. It describes the scene in Vienna in March 1848 when that year's revolutionary cyclone finally touched down in the Austrian capitol and two Jewish medical students suddenly found themselves leading a demonstration at the Austrian parliament.

P. 299 describes the home life of young Sigmund Freud in Vienna. One of the best insights in my book is that Jews coming out of the ghetto were like immigrants in their own countries. Freud's early life on Matzo island, Vienna's Jewish neighborhood, is like the story of some brilliant son of off the boat immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York in the early 20th century. It's a very good page.

P. 399 is in the index (I deliberately tried not to write a long book ... it is a popular history, a book that is a pleasure to read not an exercise in proving how much I know). Anyway, by chance this is the J page and if you were just thumbing through you would find a key on this page to most of the book's main topics under the word "Jews."
Read an excerpt from Emancipation, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Goldfarb's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mark Garvey's "Stylized"

Mark Garvey has worked in book publishing since 1988 and is currently an executive editor for a large Boston-based publishing house. A former editor of Writer's Market, he has been writing on the side since the early 1980s. His books include Searching for Mary (Penguin) and Come Together (Thomson).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's the Elements of Style, and reported the following:
I happen to love page 99 of my book Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. That’s not as egotistical as it sounds—I didn’t write a word on the page. It contains a portion of a letter, dated December 12, 1958, written to E. B. White from his editor at Macmillan, Jack Case. They were in the late stages of preparing the first Strunk and White edition of The Elements of Style, and as part of the editorial review, Case had hired an English professor to vet the manuscript and to solicit opinions from his teaching colleagues. The consultant’s report had expressed concern about The Elements of Style being perhaps too dogmatic, too prescriptive, for the modern student. Case wrote to White:

Bill brought his stuff to the office yesterday and we discussed the project for a while. He is still enthusiastic about it, but he has one great and chilling fear, which we cannot help sharing. It concerns the single-purpose, one-track mind of the descriptive linguist and his less learned next of kin, the anything-goes-in-usage “liberal”. For convenience I shall treat these creatures as one. Almost every English department of any size now shelters at least one of these shrill messiahs. They dearly love, and will fight at the drop of a hat for, any non-standard locution adopted by the man in the street, or used once, absentmindedly or for a special purpose, by anyone of note, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and they will tolerate no disapproval of such peccadilloes. One of these aggressive fellows on a textbook committee can put the other members on the defensive—it’s hell to be accused of not being modern. As a result, an excellent book that is not wholly neutral and permissive with regard to usage often is dismissed from consideration after only perfunctory defense by the majority, who would be quite happy with it, but who can’t stand being considered old fogies.

I indicated in a letter of last May that, regarding problems of usage, we thought the time might be ripe for a stance that was simple, direct, unpretentious, but with some backbone in it, and we still believe this. Moreover, it is clear to us that anyone who read your preface and the last chapter could not regard this book, or even Strunk’s material, as rigidly prescriptive on all levels. The trouble is, as Bill has pointed out, the people in question don’t look at the whole book. They turn at once to the usage section to see how prescriptive you are on, shall...will, the split infinitive, and a few other points, and reject the text or consider it further, on the basis of that one issue. I’m sure that’s hard to believe of people intelligent enough to teach English. It’s true.

Case advised White to soften the stance somewhat, to meet the professors halfway by relenting on a few key points and rounding off some of the book’s sharper corners. White’s reply, quoted a bit later in the chapter, is a masterpiece of authorial flag-planting, delivered in high E. B. White style, with humor and heart. My page 99, dropping us, as it does, into one of the central controversies about The Elements of Style, is a reasonably characteristic moment from Stylized, which draws on history, biography, letters, photographs, and interviews to tell the story behind this classic American writing guide.
Read an excerpt from Stylized, and learn more about the book and author at Mark Garvey's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 26, 2009

Edward M. Lerner's "Small Miracles"

Edward M. Lerner is a writer of SF and technothrillers, most recently Small Miracles.

Lerner gave Small Miracles the “Page 99 Test” and reported the following:
Small Miracles is a novel of nanotechnology, one of the most promising – if also the most hyped – technologies of our time.

Briefly, nanotech deals with building objects at the scale of nanometers (billionths of a meter), and doing so with atomic precision. When the technology matures, it will be revolutionary. Think: materials without any microscopic flaws or impurities, orders of magnitude stronger than steel. Think: photovoltaic cells able to exploit even UV light, to be much more efficient than today’s solar cells. And getting to Small Miracles, think: nanoscale medical robots – nanobots – smaller than individual cells in the human body, ready to repair and enhance at the cellular level.

When the gas pipeline exploded, it took a small miracle – or rather a myriad of them – to save Brent Cleary’s life. Only now the small miracles have a mind of their own. And an agenda.

Page 99 sees Kim O’Donnell, Brent’s best friend, trying to make sense of the changes in him. A near-death experience alters a person, but she senses something more has happened. She seeks insight from the head of biological research at the company where she and Brent both work. But the researcher is dismissive, serenely confident in the failsafe mechanisms built into the first-aid nanobots that have saved Brent’s life.

Has Brent changed? Could bots circumvent the very sophisticated mechanisms that safeguard patients? How can anyone go about finding stray devices so tiny among the trillion-or-so cells of the human body?

Does page 99 reflect the overall quality of the book? That’s hard for an author to judge. But I can say with objectivity that page 99 embodies the conflicts the characters must face throughout the novel.

And if they guess wrong, woe to … all of us.
Learn more about the author and his work (including his collaborations with SF master Larry Niven) at the Edward M. Lerner, Perpetrator of Science Fiction and Technothrillers website and at his blog, SF and Nonsense.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Arthur Ripstein's "Force and Freedom"

Arthur Ripstein is a professor of law and of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Equality, Responsibility and the Law (1999), and editor of Ronald Dworkin (Cambridge 2007) and co-editor of Law and Morality (1996, second edition 2001, third edition 2007), and Practical Rationality and Preference (2001).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Force and Freedom: Kant's Legal and Political Philosophy, and reported the following:
In Force and Freedom, I try to explain and defend Kant’s legal and political philosophy. Kantian ideas have had a considerable indirect influence on political philosophy, but Kant’s own arguments have been neglected. His central claim is that force can only be used to uphold a system of equal freedom. That claim has been rejected as empty or incomprehensible by writers in many different traditions. I show that Kant’s ideas are not only coherent, but powerful and appealing. Kant understands freedom in terms of each person’s independence of the choice of any other. The systematic requirements of freedom generate familiar legal doctrines of property and contract, but such private rights are only enforceable in a condition of what he calls “public right” in which citizens reason and act together through public institutions.

Page 99 is in the middle of a discussion of the acquisition of private property. Acquisition is an important topic for political philosophy, less because anyone thinks that most property claims in modern society depend on it, than because it is puzzling how one person, acting entirely on his or her own initiative, manages to put others under an obligation – to avoid interfering with the acquired object – without consulting those others at all. The discussion is part of a negative argument to show why neither intention nor effort could have this power. Kant’s positive account explains individual acquisition as an exercise of political authority, and so provides the starting point for his explanation of public right. So page 99 is pivotal to the argument of the book as a whole, though you might not know it from that page alone – a common difficulty while reading (about) Kant.
Read an excerpt from Force and Freedom, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Erotic City"

Josh Sides is Whitsett Professor of California History, and Director of the Center for Southern California Studies, at California State University, Northridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco, and reported the following:
On the ninety-ninth page of Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco, readers are introduced to Ted McIlvenna, the night minister of the Glide Urban Center in San Francisco's Tenderloin district during the mid-1960s, and Cecil Williams, the recently appointed African American minister of Glide Church. Along with social workers and church allies, these two men created outreach programs to help gays, lesbians, and transgenders in the Tenderloin at a time during which these groups were still heavily stigmatized, even in San Francisco. McIlvenna and Williams proffered a vision of Christianity in which social responsibility for the poor and marginalized trumped sexual moralism. By recognizing the humanity of sexual minorities ­ and advocating for them in the face of considerable resistance -- McIlvenna and Williams contributed to the gradual integration of queers into American society. To the extent that McIlvenna and Williams embodied the new trend toward extensive civic engagement with issues of sexuality in the 1960s, I would say that their story on page ninety-nine captures the spirit and subject of the book quite well.
Learn more about Erotic City at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Diana Welch & Liz Welch's "The Kids Are All Right"

Liz Welch is an ASME award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Glamour, Inc., the New York Times Magazine and many other publications. Her sister, Diana Welch, is a writer based in Austin, Texas. A former reporter for the Austin Chronicle, she is currently a curator for Monofonus Press.

The sisters are also co-authors of The Kids Are All Right, a memoir in four voices in which they tell the story of losing both their parents at an early age from their own perspectives, as well as that of their brother Dan and their older sister Amanda.

They agreed to apply the “Page 99 Test” to their new book -- page 99 wound up being one of Liz's chapters -- and learned the following:
To set the scene, Liz, a 15-year-old sophomore, has started dating Paul Martino, a popular senior at Fox Lane High School. He knows her father died in a car accident two years earlier, but does not know that her mother, a well known soap opera actress, is ill with cancer.

From that moment on, I knew what it was like to be Paul Martino's girlfriend. It was bliss. When he smiled at me in the hallway, helium replaced blood in my veins. If he snuck a kiss, I was paralyzed. And everyone at school knew we were dating. At Fox Lane, I was Paul's girlfriend, not the daughter of a sick widow. I worked hard to keep those two identities separate. No one at home knew I was dating Paul. There was no point in telling anyone: Amanda thought Paul was an asshole--to her, all jocks were. And Mom had other things to think about. June, her character on Loving, was about to murder her husband Garth Slater, who kept her drunk so he could sneak into their daughter Lily's room at night to molest her. In the script, she kills Garth to protect Lily. While that may have been good for Lily, it was not good for us. June was being sent to an insane asylum which meant Mom was out of a job as of that spring.

Those last few lines sum up the tragi-comedy that was our life back in the early eighties. Handsome, investment banker father dies in mysterious car accident in 1982 leaving four children fatherless and his glamorous soap opera star wife, she soon finds out, 1.2 million dollars in debt. Then, exactly one month after he died, our mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It turns out our mother’s real life death -- slow, painful, brutal over the next three and a half years -- was not nearly as sensational as any of her daytime deaths. Morgan Fairchild shot her, as Eunice on Search for Tomorrow in the late seventies, and then she, playing Margo on The Edge of Night was bludgeoned with a fire poker in a who-dun-it story line that involved a cult leader, pornography and a sham marriage. Dying from colon cancer was dull in comparison.

But we don't know that she is going to die on page 99. At this point, we think she is going to be fine because she has to be: if she lost her battle with the big C, then the four of us would be orphans. And that was a story line none of us could fathom.
Learn more about the book and authors at the official The Kids Are All Right website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Martin Kitchen's "Rommel's Desert War"

Martin Kitchen is Professor Emeritus in the Department of History, Simon Fraser University. His publications include The Third Reich: Charisma and Community (2007), A History of Modern Germany, 1800–2000 (2006) and Europe Between the Wars (second edition, 2006).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Rommel's Desert War: Waging World War II in North Africa, 1941-1943, and reported the following:
It was with some trepidation that I applied Ford Madox Ford’s test to my own book Rommel’s Desert War. Page 99 begins with a discussion of the operational plans for his first attempt to take Tobruk. Fine enough, but the book is much more than an operational history, which can at times be rather dull for all but the most committed war buff.

The next paragraph discusses the various objections raised to Rommel’s plans. The principal of which was that his forces were neither sufficiently strong, nor adequately supplied, for there to be any chance of taking the garrison. Rommel, in a typical fashion, overrode all such objections, arguing that speed and surprise would do the trick. His impetuosity was such that he refused to allow any reconnaissance; for fear that the element of surprise might be lost.

A divisional commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Count Schwerin, ignored this ridiculous order, thereby securing at least his men’s success. Schwerin had replaced Major General Johannes Streich, an exceptionally brave soldier whom Rommel had dismissed for ‘going too far with (his) concerns for (his) troops’, a complaint that the General regarded as high praise. The net result was that Rommel failed to take Tobruk in 1941 and was forced to retreat back to the starting line.

The page thus shows Rommel’s impulsiveness and derring-do, his high-handed attitude towards his subordinates and his disregard for logistical imperatives, but no one page can tell all. There is nothing here on the strategy and politics of the Axis powers, on the organisational complexities of a wartime alliance, on the contribution of the Italian armed forces, or the back and forth between the two armies in this brutal desert environment. It is precisely the detailed discussion of these multifaceted factors that make the book not only a major reassessment of Rommel, but also the first comprehensive account of the Desert War from the Axis side.
Read an excerpt from Rommel's Desert War, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thad Carhart's "Across the Endless River"

A dual citizen of Ireland and the United States, Thad Carhart is the author of the international bestseller, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. He lives in Paris with his wife, the photographer Simo Neri, and their two children.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Across the Endless River, and reported the following:
My story in Across the Endless River proceeds with a number of different voices and narrative devices throughout: letters, journal entries, and third-person descriptions. So long as readers understand the context, my p. 99 is an interesting example of this latter form. While lacking some of the colorful details of earlier sections describing, say, the American frontier of the 1820s, or the internal voice of my characters’ correspondence, it does put forward one of the novel’s central themes: how do we make sense of worlds that we have not before known – both in the general and the particular – and how do we then adapt in order to fit in?

In this scene, it is 1824, and my nineteen-year-old principal character, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, is preparing for a ball in Paris. He had arrived from the wilds of the American frontier only weeks before. His patron’s servant, Schlape, is trying to hurry him away from where the orchestra is practicing, but Baptiste is captivated by the waves of music, unlike anything he has heard before. The strict social code – guests do not mingle with servants and musicians – is not something Baptiste knows or cares about, but the ever-watchful servant won’t let him alone.

When he reluctantly joins Duke Paul, his patron, on the floor above, Paul is immersed in the preparations of dressing for the formal ball. This, too, is terra incognita to Baptiste, and the page ends as Baptiste observes the medals and ribbons that make up a nobleman’s dress. Another code that he doesn’t know presents itself, and he uses his wiles to understand its meaning: observe closely, ask questions, try to fit in.

Page 99:

March 1824

The musicians sat down, took up their instruments, and, at the conductor's downbeat, sounded a long full chord that thrilled Baptiste. Lost in the pure pleasure of the dance rhythms that filled the ballroom, he listened to them play several pieces. Eventually Schlape appeared at his side, a look of concern on his face. "Sir, wouldn't it be wise to take your bath and dress for the evening?"

"Yes, Schlape, of course. I just want to listen for a while." Baptiste gestured toward the orchestra.

Schlape leaned in closer and added a more insistent tone, "If you don't mind my saying so, sir, your presence makes them uncomfortable."

Baptiste was surprised. "Why, Schlape?"

The older man raised his voice a little. "These musicians are preparing a prince's ball in honor of Duke Paul. You are one of Duke Paul's friends and cannot properly be seen to consort with the servants. Your proper place is among the guests tonight."

The conductor gave them both a long glance before taking up his baton and calling the ensemble to order.

"And you?" Baptiste asked.

"I am in service, sir, and you" -- he raised his eyes to indicate the floor above where both Baptiste and Paul were housed -- "are not."

Baptiste though of the young clarinet player's diffidence. He saw that there was no use arguing, so he left the room, shadowed by Schlape, who waited on the landing while he walked up, as if to assure himself of the compliant behavior of a schoolboy.

Paul greeted him through the open door of his apartments. "There you are, my friend. Time to put on that new suit of clothes and prepare to meet Paris society."

He was standing in front of a cheval glass set diagonally in the corner of the room, adjusting his white tie and pulling his shirt cuffs down from his coat sleeves. To Baptiste, there were two Pauls, the real one seen from behind and his reflection, which nodded and talked to Baptiste as he primped before the mirror. A gold medal suspended from a broad scarlet ribbon hung around Paul's neck, and on his left breast pocket was pinned a smaller medal with the same striped ribbon Baptiste had first noticed in Le Havre.

Excerpted from Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart Copyright © 2009 by Thad Carhart. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The above is an excerpt from the book Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Read an excerpt from Across the Endless River, and learn more about the book and author at Thad Carhart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 19, 2009

Carla Nappi's "The Monkey and the Inkpot"

Carla Nappi is Assistant Professor of History at the University of British Columbia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009), and reported the following:
Much like the naturalists and doctors I write about in The Monkey and the Inkpot, I became fascinated with the bugs on page 99 when I first read about them. And much like Li Shizhen (“Lee Sher-jenn”), the main character in my book, I spent a long time trying to figure out what to make of these little guys.

Here’s how the story goes. Once upon a time, there lived a group of wasps. Flying around was fun for a while, but at some point these bugs would get lonely and want to settle down and start a family. Sounds reasonable, right? One problem: all of the wasps were male, so reproduction was an issue. At some point, one of them figured out a way out of this conundrum: he flew over to a nest of baby worms, chanted the phrase “Be like me” over them a few times, and voila! The worms transformed into little wasplings. Instant babies with minimal fuss.

You’re probably thinking: wow, that’s pretty weird. That’s what I thought, too. And after I read this story in the Bencao gangmu (“Ben Sow-like-a-lady-pig Gong-Moo,” or Systematic Materia medica) [1596] I asked some of my Chinese-historian friends if they’d heard of these wacky wasps and many of them responded with something like, “No, that’s really weird – are you sure that’s in Li Shizhen’s famous compendium of traditional Chinese herbal knowledge?”

And I thought, Aha! I need to read more of this Bencao book and figure out what’s going on in there. As I learned about the intellectual and social world of its author, I tried to understand how a reasonable, educated person in sixteenth-century China, in a context before we see the typical trappings of modern bioscience but still in the midst of a flourishing intellectual world, went about assessing “weirdness.” How, after reading about plants and animals in poems and recipes and history books, looking around at the creatures in his backyard, and talking to his neighbors, did he put all of the resulting information together and try to figure out which stories were baloney? This was important, because Li was a practicing doctor: he was trying to use all of this information to understand the raw materials that went into the drugs that he’d make up for his patients, so his decisions were very much a matter of life and death.

As you’ll see in the book, I didn’t find a codified body of “traditional Chinese herbal knowledge.” But what I did find was infinitely more interesting: a natural landscape rich in both common weeds and deadly dragons, and a rowdy bunch of scholars trying to make sense of the conflicting stories about that landscape that were filling their bookshelves and their senses. I found Li getting drunk in his local bar, musing on the qualities of dragon-meat, and cutting open anteaters. To find out what he thought about the wasps, however, you’ll have to read page 100.
Read an excerpt from The Monkey and the Inkpot, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jake Adelstein's "Tokyo Vice"

Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005. From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a U.S. State Department-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, and reported the following:
This page comes from a chapter in the book called "Bury Me In A Shallow Grave." It's the story of how I met the first yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss I ever knew. It happened when I was a cub reporter at the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1994--in Saitama, the New Jersey of Japan--covering principally the organized crime control division. I should explain that the yakuza boss in question was a big dog in the Sumiyoshi-kai, the second largest organized crime group in Japan, with an estimated 12,000 members. (The National Police Agency estimates that there are about 86,000 yakuza in Japan. The largest group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, has over 40,000). At this point in time, the gang boss, Kaneko Naoya had asked me to talk to the Saitama Police as his proxy, and find out why the police would no longer drink the tea he offered them when they came to visit his office. Yes, cops used to drop in at yakuza offices and chit-chat and exchange information. Organized crime groups are legal entities in Japan, regulated somewhat, but legal. Think "Rotary Club" with tattooed thugs who dabble in extortion and felony crime. I would say that the page has many elements of the book: journalists, cops, bad yakuza, good yakuza, betrayal, back-door deals, and attempted murder by proxy. What that says about the quality of the book, I don't know. The Japanese have a saying--to praise your own painting--which is considered in poor taste and so I will refrain from commenting on whether my book is any good or not. You can decide.

Now that I think about it, I learned a lot from this episode. I also should explain that people called Kaneko "Mr. Cat" because the last part of his last name, Neko, can also be read as cat. The detective who is speaking to me in the third paragraph, Sekiguchi-san, was my mentor and a great friend. Both died a few years ago from cancer. In general lung cancer kills cops (smoking too much and second-hand smoke) and liver cancer kills yakuza. The tattoos, and often the Hep C contracted from the tattooing process, and the heavy drinking tend to make yakuza prone to liver problems. It's why the so-called John Gotti of Japan, Goto Tadamasa, and three of his other yakuza cronies all desperately need liver transplants from UCLA, but that's another story. Reading this page remind me of how much I miss those two guys, especially Detective Sekiguchi. I still have his number on my cell-phone.
I should say this chapter has a happy ending of sorts. Not for everyone, of course.

Page 99:

Two days later, he called me with the goods. The rumor was being spread by one Yoshinori Saito, the number four guy in the Sumiyoshikai. Saito had told one of the detectives in Section 1 that Kaneko was bribing a cop. Saito hadn’t named the cop, thus sending the police into a feeding frenzy while they tried to find the mole.

That was on the cop side. On the yakuza side, Kaneko and Saito had long been at odds with each other. Lately, Saito had wanted to sell speed to the convoy of truck drivers who made their way through Saitama, but Kaneko didn’t want any part of it. Kaneko’s boss, Nakamura, had allegedly been a meth head in his youth, and Kaneko didn’t want his boss getting involved in a business that might tempt him to return to bad habits. Saito had deliberately spread the rumor, knowing that it would result, through a certain convoluted logic, in making the organization think The Cat was a police stoolie. Saito didn’t have the guts to challenge The Cat himself. He was going to let the organization take care of it.

“So what do you think I should I do with this information?”

“Tell it to Kaneko. As soon as possible.”

Reluctantly I agreed to communicate the situation to Kaneko. I called his office and scheduled an appointment for that night.

It was freezing cold, which didn’t help because I was already getting the shivers. Besides, yakuza offices are spooky enough in broad daylight. Before I could even knock on the door, Kaneko opened it and gestured me inside. He was wearing jeans and a dark green sweater. He looked like a yachting instructor.

I sat down on the sofa, and this time I drank the tea. I told The Cat everything I knew.

He nodded as I spoke, closing his eyes, fingers spread out on the table. “Thank you. I now understand. I owe you for this,” he said.

“Maybe it’s not my place to say this,” I dared, rather like a fool, “but rather than having to deal with this crap, why don’t you just leave the organization?”

The Cat opened his eyes and took a deep breath. “Look at me. If I dress like this, I look like any other businessman on the train on his day off. But if I roll up my sleeves”―which he then began to do―“that’s the end of the pretty picture.” From his wrists, extending up his arms as far as I could see, were gaudy, elaborately engraved tattoos. You couldn't see a vestige of bare skin.
Read an excerpt from Tokyo Vice, and learn more about the book at the Pantheon website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rhoda Janzen's "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress"

Rhoda Janzen holds a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was the University of California Poet Laureate in 1994 and 1997. She is the author of Babel’s Stair, a collection of poems, and her poems have also appeared in Poetry, The Yale Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Southern Review. She teaches English and creative writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, and reported the following:
I probably wouldn’t have picked page 99 [inset, below left, click to enlarge] as representative of my book, but hey, sometimes the meaning of life can be located in your sister’s closet. It’s huge, it has a variety of options, and the mirrors do not lie. In the corner at the back is a stack of mother-in-law sweaters, themed on snowflakes and elk. We’ve all been there. (“Elk! Frisking in a winter wonderland! Aren’t they adorable!”) And if you feel cosmically compelled to reminisce about a lame blind date twenty years prior, let it be so. In fact, while you’re at it, do a little imitation of the way that guy danced! Shake a tailfeather as you sing She’s a brick howwsse—owwww! Because that’s what we collectively do in times of crisis, is it not? Call me crazy, but engaging in off-topic badinage is just the ticket when your life’s in the pooper. Plus what says, “We will overcome!” better than a dress that makes your torso look weirdly square, like the Sphinx?

On this topic, I would like to add that in my small Midwestern town there used to be a consignment store called My Sister’s Secret. It was impossible to drive by without inserting a long list of Adjectives of Shame into the title—My Sister’s Nasty Shaved Powdered Secret, and so on. Why the proprietors selected a suggestive name like My Sister’s Secret I cannot say, but I feel in my heart that this title frames some quiet injunction to improve the human condition. Sister has a secret. It is in her closet. And if you go there and try on seventeen of her identical black dresses, you will doubtless feel better.
Read "The Tractor Driver or the Pothead?" in the New York Times Magazine, an essay adapted from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

Learn more about Mennonite in a Little Black Dress at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 16, 2009

Richard Alba's "Blurring the Color Line"

Richard D. Alba is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America is part of a discussion of the growing diversity at the top of the American labor market. That is, there is an “increasing representation, especially blacks and Hispanics, among younger workers” in the best-paying occupations. This change is the fruit of changing demography: the young adults entering the labor market come more and more from minority groups, and this shift is reflected at all levels of jobs. This diversity, however, does not appear to reflect a decline in discrimination, according to the analysis.

Could such a decline occur in the near future? My answer is: yes. The next quarter of a century will feature an unusual opportunity to narrow the cleavages that separate Americans into distinct and unequal ethno-racial groups. This little-comprehended opportunity will arise from a massive and predictable demographic process: the retirement of the baby boom. The turnover in the labor market will produce what might be called “non-zero-sum” mobility: a situation where minorities can advance socioeconomically without threatening very much the opportunities that whites take for granted for themselves and their children.

Non-zero-sum mobility is a critical element in my new theory of ethno-racial change. I find the foundations for the theory by looking back to another period of profound social change: the mass assimilation of the so-called white ethnics, Irish Catholics and southern and eastern European Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews, in the decades following World War II. These changes also took place during a period of massive non-zero-sum-mobility, originating then in an extraordinary period of prosperity.

However, for minorities to be able to benefit from the opportunity ahead, the nation will have to address the barriers that stand in their way, chief among them unequal educational attainments. It is worthwhile nevertheless to attempt to envision how ethno-racial distinctions might appear if U.S. society becomes much more diverse in its middle and upper strata, and the book ends with such a sketch.
Read an excerpt from Blurring the Color Line, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 15, 2009

David Hancock's "Oceans of Wine"

David Hancock is a Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785, The Letters of William Freeman, 1678–1685, and History of World Trade since 1450.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste details part of the multi-stage process whereby wine achieved its modern form: packaging. This book, therefore, is in a very real sense a full-bodied history of wine. Yet it is more than that. It is the first history to use ground-level, trans-national/trans-imperial evidence to address the critical question about the community from which the United States emerged: what determines the shape that a market will take where and when none like it exists before? Analysis of previously unknown, extensive records – labor contracts, the customs records of European ports, the private business papers of nearly forty private American, British, Portuguese, Dutch, and French wine firms working around the Atlantic, and material objects (like cellars, bottles, decanters, corkscrews, and glasses) – sheds light on the early American marketplace with a precision and breadth that few writers have achieved. Oceans of Wine provides a portrait of the “grape-to-table” life of a single commodity, Madeira wine, the principal wine drunk in early America. It offers an absorbing rendering of the economic and social activities of wine producers, traders, and drinkers in the 175 years before the fall of Napoleon. In particular, it wrestles with how they created and experienced that market, and in particular how their social worlds emerged and evolved in tandem with and intersected economic and political ones. Finally, it tracks the emergence of a trans-imperial, inter-imperial, and increasingly global market that had not existed before. Historians have only recently begun to investigate the matter, and this book, the first such in-depth discussion, should engage those readers interested in globalization processes, both commercial and cultural. This was a world in which Britain, Portugal, their colonies, and the United States were full contributing members; this was a community in which the interactions of wine-loving individuals from all points around the ocean – not principally the workings of the western European governments, as most current accounts would have it –were the active agents of change. Luminously written, Oceans of Wine reassesses and so reemphasizes cosmopolitan connections and interactions, stressing the internationalist frame that everyday people around the Atlantic shared before and after the great Age of Democratic Revolution. Economic and social internationalism is hardly new.
Learn more about Oceans of Wine at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John E. Wills, Jr.'s "The World from 1450 to 1700"

John E. Wills, Jr. is Professor of History Emeritus, University of Southern California, and the author of Pepper, Guns, and Parleys: The Dutch East India Company and China, 1662-1681; Embassies and Illusions: Dutch and Portuguese Envoys to K'ang-hsi, 1666-1687; Mountain of Fame: Portraits in Chinese History; and 1688: A Global History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The World from 1450 to 1700, a volume in the New Oxford World History Series, and reported the following:
These are short books and try to be accessible in style. The target audience is people with little background in history, including advanced high school students and college freshmen. The last page of text in my book is 154, so 99 is over halfway through it. I try to fit in something substantial about a lot of parts of the world. It still seems like an impossible assignment. Some of the themes I chose to make a lot of are the many roles of Islam, from Senegal to eastern Indonesia; the revivals of cherished ancient ideals in Hinduism, Confucianism, Christianity, and the Italian fascination with ancient Greece and Rome; the ways more parts of the world began to interact after the voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama; the struggles to build stronger and more unified states; and the movements of people from continent to continent, including the Chinese in Southeast Asia and the African diaspora created by the slave trade.

Page 99 comes in a chapter on “Settlers and Diasporas”. At the top of the page I’m just finishing a bit on the vast Armenian diaspora around the Indian Ocean, including even an outpost in Tibet. Then I look quickly at the settlement of some French Protestant refugees near the Dutch outpost at the Cape of Good Hope, and even a bit on interaction between the European settlers and the native Khoikhoi people. And by the time I get to the bottom of the page I’m starting to discuss English settler groups in North American who had some financial backing from the home country but also were seeking a place where they could follow their own religious convictions. That’s two big changes of subject on one page, which is considerably more than the average for the book. For example, Luther and the political transformation of Japan each get five pages. I think it all works pretty well to keep the reader thinking about comparisons and connections, and above all about the variety and strangeness of our many histories.
Learn more about The World from 1450 to 1700 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peter Maass' "Crude World"

Peter Maass is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and has reported from the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa. He has written as well for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post and Slate. Maass is the author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, which chronicled the Bosnian war and won prizes from the Overseas Press Club and the Los Angeles Times.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, and reported the following:
I pass the test!

I try in my book to combine narrative writing about oil—vivid descriptions of people, places and journeys—with useful ideas that show how oil shapes us. I particularly focus on countries that possess an abundance of oil yet have become poorer and more violent for it. The places and situations I ventured into included the troubled Niger Delta of Nigeria, the anarchy of Baghdad after American troops arrived in 2003, and Equatorial Guinea, which is a small country with a lot of oil and from which I was expelled on charges of being a spy (which I’m not, by the way). I weave into these narratives a variety of ideas about oil—theories of social and economic development, connections between resources and warfare, as well as solutions for the problems.

On page 99, I describe a journey I made into Ecuador’s Amazon region, where indigenous Indians are trying to prevent drilling on their pristine land. “The Cessna circled over a clearing of thatched huts and dropped to a bumpy landing on a dirt airstrip,” I write. “I had arrived in Sarayaku, and after unloading my backpack and standing clear as the plane turned around and hopped back into the sky, I was wrapped in the thick heat and vibrant noise of the Amazon.” The journey continues (colorfully, I think) yet I also explain on page 99 how the situation in Sarayaku illustrates the unceasing incentives to drill despite local resistance. “Oil firms are not like door-to-door salesman who, turned away from one house, go to other houses, other streets, other towns,” I explain. “There are a finite number of reservoirs in the world, so oil companies have a limited number of doors to knock on.” I think the page offers narrative as well perspective—and I hope the book as a whole does that, too!
Read an excerpt from Crude World, and learn more about the book and author at Peter Maass' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Douglas Rogers' "The Last Resort"

Douglas Rogers is a Zimbabwe-born journalist and travel writer. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Travel & Leisure, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph. He lives in Brooklyn.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe, his first book, and reported the following:
Page 99, from the chapter, "The Refugees:"

And yet by 2004 she was still there, untouched.

She reckoned it was because of her guns. Which was when, she said, she made her fatal mistake.

‘You know what I did? I decided to give my farm to the government.

I was so tired by then. I had been working hard all my life. At that time they were killing white farmers. My son Bredell told me: “Ma, don’t keep the farm for me. Sell it, enjoy your later years.” He was never a farmer. He’s mechanical. He lives in Michigan, there in America, working with engines. These young people don’t want to farm any more like the old days.

And so I decided: before they kill me, let me offer it to them because I am old.’

She went to the Ministry of Lands in Harare and cut a deal. In exchange for her giving her farm to them they would allow her to harvest her final crop and pack her belongings unmolested. They agreed to protect her. She would leave by early in the new year.

Her voice grew softer, graver as she spoke now, her eyes watery blue pools.

‘And of course they broke their word,’ she whispered. ‘They broke their word …’

Unita was attacked in her home just before midnight a week before Christmas. A truckload of militia arrived, locked her and Frans in a bedroom and began to ransack the house. They were held captive for a day and a half. A black friend of Unita’s came to plead with the gang leader, a ZANU-PF official from the local rural council. The leader gave Unita three more days to pack everything.

That Monday, 150 settlers arrived at her home and began offloading chickens and goats on her lawn, while she frantically tried to gather forty years of her life. When the sun fell and she was still not packed the leader came to her. ‘He had a stick. He stood there like Hitler, tapping that stick on my floor: “Out! Out! Out! I want you out before dark!”

‘I fell down at his feet. I said, “Please, I can’t. I am tired. Please, just let me sleep, let me sleep on the carpet here tonight, I am so tired.” And he said: “You are out. Tonight!”’

Tears were rolling down her face as she spoke. She was whispering…

On Page 99 I am in the middle of a conversation with an elderly white Zimbabwean farmer named Unita Herrer, who lost her cattle farm during the land invasions in Zimbabwe in 2005/6 and, like many other white farmers in eastern Zimbabwe, found sanctuary on my parents’ land.

In terms of the Page 99 Test, I would say it scores a convincing 80%.

The book tells the story of how my parents have somehow managed to hold onto their game farm and backpacker lodge during the past ten years of violent land invasions in Zimbabwe by, in turns, operating it as a bordello, a marijuana plantation, a sanctuary for political activists on the run from death squads, and a safe haven for evicted white farmers. Questions of family, land, race, security and survival are central to the story, and this page has all that.

It’s also very much a character-based story, full of heroic, brave, strange, funny, and eccentric people. Unita is all these and more, without doubt one of the most original characters I have ever met.

Where the page doesn’t quite reflect the tone of the book is that this a terribly sad scene, and although the book has sadness and tragedy, it’s actually a dark comedy. This page has darkness, but you probably won't laugh.
Learn more about the book and author at Douglas Rogers' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 9, 2009

Amy Bach's "Ordinary Injustice"

Amy Bach, a member of the New York bar, has written on law for The Nation, The American Lawyer, and New York magazine, among other publications. For her work in progress on Ordinary Injustice, Bach received a Soros Media Fellowship, a special J. Anthony Lukas citation, and a Radcliffe Fellowship.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court, and reported the following:
For eight years I sat in criminal trial courts across America and watched how smart, committed hard working professionals routinely act in ways that fall short of what it is people in their position are supposed to be doing -- and not even realize that anything is missing; or that their behavior has devastating consequences for regular peoples’ lives. This is ordinary injustice: Mistakes become routine and the legal professionals can no longer see their role in them.

So how is it that they stop checking each other? In short, they become more attached to each other than making the adversarial system of justice work. One of the people featured is Hank Bauer. Bauer was handsome and winning. He loved his city of Troy, New York. And to walk the streets with him was accompany a celebrity. When I first met him in 2005, he had recently won a landslide election to city council president. But what intrigued me was that just months before the New York State Judicial Commission had kicked him off the bench as a city court judge. The Commission had charged him with 51 gross infractions including instances of excessive sentences, coerced guilty pleas, excessive bail, and failure to notify defendants of their right to counsel.

What was happening in Troy that so many in Troy were able to turn a blind eye to gross injustice? One attorney, on page 99, explains that Bauer was the type of judge who would help a lawyer out. For example, he remembered how Bauer helped the most beleaguered of clients, a toothless prostitute who kept getting rearrested. When she was arrested, he would release her. He felt sorry for her. “He did not suffer from what they refer to as black robe disease,” this attorney explains. Bauer could be fair and helpful.

The problem was that this fair treatment didn’t happen across the board. On the last line of page 99, I allude to the treatment of John Casey, a rail thin man that can be seen sitting on park benches drinking. On two different occasions, Casey was arrested for misdemeanors and Bauer didn’t assign a lawyer. And then, the judge pleaded him guilty without his knowledge and without Casey’s presence in court. This couldn’t have happened if the entire legal community hadn’t looked the other way when their interests weren’t being addressed.
Read an excerpt from Ordinary Injustice, and learn more about the book and author at the Ordinary Injustice website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lesley Hazleton's "After the Prophet"

Lesley Hazleton is a psychologist and veteran journalist whose work has focused on the way religion and politics, past and present, are inextricably intertwined in the Middle East. The author of several books on Middle East politics, religion, and history, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Republic, and many other publications. Her books include the award-winning Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother and Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, After the Prophet: the Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, and reported the following:
Is the ghost of Ford Madox Ford hovering over After the Prophet? I turned to page 99 and found one of my favorite paragraphs in the book, and I didn't even write it. It was written by a ninth-century Islamic historian, quoting an eyewitness who describes the grisly relics of assassination with such careful, deadpan detail that I knew the moment I read it that I'd use it verbatim.

The book narrates the foundation story of the Shia-Sunni split, a powerfully emotive saga whose themes and images play a major role in today's Middle East, from the Islamic revolution in Iran to the civil war in Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan -- yet is all but unknown in the West. Beginning at the moment of Muhammad's death, it's an epic drama of murder and treachery; fatal rivalries and long-standing resentments; loyalty, nobility, and intense faith; dynastic power struggles and desperate battles -- and all with a cast of characters that would have made Gabriel Garcia Marquez green with envy.

The specific background to page 99: Muhammad's been dead just twenty-five years when Othman, the third caliph (khalifa, or successor, to Muhammad), is assassinated in Medina -- stabbed to death by rebels who have accused him of corruption and nepotism. The assassins are closely allied with Ali, Muhammad's cousin, son-in-law, and closest male relative, whose followers (the Shiat Ali, or Shia for short) instantly acclaim him as the fourth caliph.

Othman's assassination was particularly bloody -- even the blood spatter is described in detail by those who were there -- and not just his blood. When Naila, his favorite wife, tried to stop the rebels, part of her right hand was slashed off. The dead man's torn and blood-soaked shirt and Naila's severed fingers were smuggled out of Medina and taken to Damascus, where the powerful governor of Syria -- a wily politician with his own eye on the caliphate -- ordered them displayed in the main mosque for a full year as a prelude to war against Ali.

Here is the eyewitness account of the scene that year in the main mosque of Damascus:

"The shirt was placed every day on the pulpit. Sometimes it was draped over the pulpit, sometimes it covered it, and Naila's fingers were attached to its cuffs -- two fingers with the knuckles and part of the palm, two cut off at the base, and half a thumb. The people kept coming and crying at the sight, and the Syrian soldiers swore an oath that they would not have relations with women or sleep on beds until they had killed the killers of Othman and anyone who might try to stop them."
Read an excerpt from After the Prophet, and learn more about the book and author at the official After the Prophet website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mark Goodale's "Surrendering to Utopia"

Mark Goodale is Associate Professor of Conflict Analysis and Anthropology at George Mason University and Series Editor of Stanford Studies in Human Rights. He is the author of Dilemmas of Modernity: Bolivian Encounters with Law and Liberalism (Stanford, 2008), editor of Human Rights: An Anthropological Reader (2009), and coeditor of The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law Between the Global and the Local (2007).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his book, Surrendering to Utopia: An Anthropology of Human Rights, and reported the following:
Since I was invited to demonstrate the truth, or not, of Ford Madox Ford’s characteristically pithy remark, I am going to exercise a prerogative of a certain sort and quote from Page 98 (not 99) of Surrendering to Utopia:

The great value in the idea of human rights is that it implies a set of norms whose legitimacy depends on nothing more complicated than the simple fact of common humanness. Political entities (like the nation-state) will come and go; but the fact of common humanness, if true, both preexists these entities and will remain after they are gone. That is the real genius of the idea of human rights. It is also its greatest weakness, since it is when such a noble (if essentially speculative) idea is converted into the language of social and political practice—as it must necessarily be—that all the problems begin. Nevertheless, we must recognize that to be able to speak meaningfully of transnational human rights is to point to evidence that at least some of these problems—like the problem of culture—have so far not proven fatal.

The modern idea of human rights offers a radical theory of human equality and makes the equally radical suggestion that this theory should form the metric by which contemporary political, legal, and moral institutions are measured. What makes this idea so radical is that it emerged in its latest iteration from the ashes of the murderous paroxysms of the mid-twentieth century, which can be taken to represent the logical and tragic culmination of a centuries-long process of intellectual historical development (aka “modernity”). Yet if modernity reintroduced both the idea of radical human equality and its antitheses expressed in particular forms, what else could the mandarins at the newly created United Nations do but restate their absolute belief in radical equality even in the face of the murderous failure of this idea?

If Surrendering to Utopia is a reflection on the life of the idea of radical human equality in the contemporary world, it is a reflection grounded in the intellectual margins: it uses anthropology and cultural studies as primary sources of information and inspiration. It asks the question: How would the idea of human rights be understood if it were formed by bits and pieces of different ethical, religious, and legal systems around the world? The book is thus as much a reflection on moral knowledge and how we come to validate it as it is a book about human rights.
Read an excerpt from Surrendering to Utopia, and learn more about the book at the Stanford University Press website.

Visit Mark Goodale's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lawrence Badash's "A Nuclear Winter's Tale"

Lawrence Badash is Professor Emeritus of History of Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Kapitza, Rutherford, and the Kremlin and Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Nuclear Winter’s Tale: Science and Politics in the 1980s, and reported the following:
Of course I had no idea what I’d find on page 99 of A Nuclear Winter’s Tale: Science and Politics in the 1980s. But, by chance, the text is a good representative of my writing and of the political part of the story I tell.

Nuclear winter is a shorthand term for the concept that cities surely would be attacked in a nuclear war and that combustible materials found in urban areas would produce so much smoke and soot that the sun would be obscured. A result of this is that agriculture would likely be destroyed in much of the world, and that more people would die from these “side” effects of nuclear war than directly from explosions in the combatant nations.

Any prediction of the consequences of nuclear war was bound to be controversial, for it inevitably would be entangled in proposals for arms control or arms expansion. Nuclear winter was further susceptible because it was a product of a new type of scientific research. Formerly, experimentation and theoretical investigations were the basis for science. Now, computer programming showed its usefulness. The programs, however, were not accepted by all, even if similar results were obtained as scientists moved from one-dimensional atmospheric models to three-dimensional global circulation models. Were such models, largely designed for normal atmospheric behavior, appropriate for such extremes as the consequences of nuclear explosions?

Scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center were cautioned not to talk about nuclear war, even as they were permitted to investigate nuclear winter. War was not an appropriate study for the civilian space agency, and especially so under the heavy political hand of the Reagan administration. The bureaucracy was particularly concerned about the media skills of astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan, who was one of the nuclear winter proponents. Yet the Department of Defense, quietly and with integrity, funded much of the research on a phenomenon that might affect how it would conduct future warfare.

My story of these political and scientific developments runs mostly from 1983 to the end of the decade. In time, the Reagan administration agreed that nuclear winter was a real effect, but claimed that its arms-expansion policies (including SDI) would prevent nuclear war and thus nuclear winter. Nuclear winter was co-opted, research funding fell victim to budget cuts, and burning oil wells in Kuwait, following Desert Storm, failed to produce a full-blown nuclear winter effect. But research has been resurrected in the mid-2000s, showing that even “small” nuclear wars can produce serious regional climatic effects. When, we must ask, should governments act on scientific advice?
Read excerpts from A Nuclear Winter's Tale, and learn more about the book at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Barry Friedman's "The Will of the People"

Barry Friedman is the Vice Dean and Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. He has taught, written and litigated about the Constitution for twenty-five years.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution, and reported the following:
Page 99. Presaging the Civil War, South Carolina convenes a revolutionary convention and nullifies the federal tariff law, threatening to secede if challenged. Andrew Jackson wins the election of 1832 by a landslide and swears to preserve the Union and the authority of the national government. But Jackson has a problem ... a big one. Over the last few months, the State of Georgia has been in outright defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision protecting the native Cherokee. How can Jackson reconcile permitting Georgia to defy the Supreme Court, but refusing to allow South Carolina to do the same when a congressional statute was at stake?

Answer? He can’t, and he doesn’t. Instead – though Jackson was no lover of the Court, and had been quietly supportive of Georgia’s defiance – he helps resolve the situation in Georgia and becomes a strong advocate for judicial power.

The Will of the People describes how, in steps like these, great and small, the Supreme Court goes from being a powerless and often-ignored body to the most powerful court in the world: deciding momentous social issues and resolving elections. Challenging the oft-held view that the justices of the Supreme Court are beyond popular control, The Will of the People demonstrates that judicial power actually has been shaped by popular opinion. The book is an historical account of 250+ plus years of American history, and how public reaction to the justices throughout that history made the Supreme Court – and the Constitution – what it is today.
Read an excerpt from The Will of the People, and learn more about the book and author at the book's official website and Barry Friedman's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan's "The Language of Nazi Genocide"

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Davidson College and an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Language of Nazi Genocide: Linguistic Violence and the Struggle of Germans of Jewish Ancestry, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Language of Nazi Genocide discusses the intricate ways in which Mally Dienemann defied racial categories imposed on her by official discourse of the emerging Nazi dictatorship in the spring of 1933. Dienemann was a resident of Offenbach, Hesse, where her husband served as the rabbi of the town’s liberal Jewish community. In light of Max Dienemann’s prominent position, the couple swiftly became targets of the new regime’s linguistic violence that excluded them from society and marked them as “aliens” and “enemies” of the German people. The verbal assaults directed physical brutalities of local Nazis and culminated in the Gestapo’s arrest of Max Dienemann later that year.

As I write on page 99, “Dienemann reflected on the ‘continuity of fate’ of the Jewish people [in her semi-private writings]. This fate at the hands of the Gentile majority spanned from medieval anti-Jewish tales about well poisoning to the contemporary anti-Semitic accusation of atrocity propaganda... By evoking the concept of fate and referring to her own and the Offenbach religious community’s suffering, Dienemann reinserted her sense of self in the collective Jewish experience and ‘community of fate’ described in the German-Jewish press, particularly the Jüdische Rundschau, [the leading German-Jewish Zionist newspaper]... Aware of the impact of the intensifying Nazi press control, she began to ‘read between the lines’ and draw on the language from selected articles, especially on the Frankfurter Zeitung’s feature pages. Dienemann’s spring 1933 diary entries reveal the paper’s impact. She contrasted, for example, ‘Jewish stores, doctors and lawyers’ with a ‘Christian customer’ and thus emphasized the religious [instead of racial] meanings of Jewishness.”

The page captures a key component of the book’s argument. Its discussion connects language to the everyday life, reading and writing practices, and, ultimately, the survival strategies of German Jews, Jewish converts to Christianity, and people whom the Nazis termed “Mischlinge.” Like Dienemann, many Germans of Jewish ancestry engaged in what my book conceptualizes as acts of “discursive contestation.” These members of state-targeted minorities intervened by pointing to semantic contradictions of Nazi terminology, and sought shifts in the boundaries between Germanness and Jewishness in the hope of escaping persecution. An increasing number of German Jews strengthened their sense of Jewishness. During the early Nazi years, many more Germans of Jewish ancestry, highly acculturated men and women alike, embraced and defended a sense of Germanness rooted in their readings of German history, language use and other cultural practices. Anything but passive victims of state-organized violence, Germans of Jewish ancestry actively engaged in a struggle for their survival and sense of self against the Nazi onslaught.

Appearing at the end of the second chapter on the Nazifying of language in 1933, page 99 only indirectly points to the book’s other layers of analysis. In the previous sections, the reader learns about my discovery that only by analyzing the language of genocide can one comprehend how the perpetrators constructed their imagined enemy. Beyond the book’s exploration of the Nazi linguistic creation of difference, race, and the enemy, I investigate how official Nazi agencies communicated these constructions to the public via the nation’s press. Still, the most important part of the book, reflected on p. 99, demonstrates how Germans with Jewish forbearers, the very group Nazis sought to alienate and ultimately murder, both received and actively responded to the regime’s linguistic violence in their daily struggles.
Read an excerpt from The Language of Nazi Genocide, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue