Friday, April 30, 2010

Hugh Raffles' "Insectopedia"

Hugh Raffles teaches anthropology at The New School. He is the author of In Amazonia: A Natural History, which received the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing. His essays have been published in Best American Essays, Granta, and Orion. Raffles received a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2009.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Insectopedia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Insectopedia comes midway through a chapter about cricket-fighting in Shanghai. Does it reveal the quality of the whole? That’s probably for others to say. But it certainly reveals something about the book’s preoccupation with the ways people and insects are entangled and the ways that together they create complex and often unexpected worlds. And it’s also a dramatic moment, so it reveals something too about this as a story-book driven by the intensity — good and bad — of these cross-species connections.

But much as I admire his work, I’m not quite sure about the reliability of Ford’s test. I’ve come to think of Insectopedia as a book that’s not just about insects but also by them, a book that embodies many of their virtues and vices: it roams widely but within its own logic, it’s highly structured but also anarchic, it’s precise but still a bit ditzy, it can be seductive but it’s a bit scary too, there’s lots of it but it still only scratches the surface of what's out there. I’d like to suggest that readers base their judgment on a wider selection, open it randomly in several places, flip through it, jump around, take your time. Or, better still, and what I’m sure every author would prefer, read the whole thing!
Read an excerpt from Insectopedia, and learn more about the book and author at the Insectopedia website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Debra Galant's "Cars from a Marriage"

Debra Galant is the author of Rattled and Fear and Yoga in New Jersey. She is also the creator of the popular blog She lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Cars from a Marriage, and reported the following:
My novel, Cars from a Marriage, spans 20 years in the relationship between Ivy Honeycutt and Ellis Halpern, from 1981, when they start dating in New York City, to 2001, when their marriage hits a major rough patch during a California vacation. I always describe the novel as the story of a marriage told through car trips, but it is also about the way that love erodes through the wear and tear of everyday life. To this end, half the chapters are narrated by Ivy and half by Ellis, and you can see how far apart they are growing each time the narrator changes. Page 99 finds us a little more than midway through the marriage and at the beginning of chapter 5. It’s 1993 and Ivy (who narrates) is devastated to discover that her father has just died on his way home from a hunting trip. A death by car was going to be necessary, as the first sentence of the book is “I’ve always thought of cars as places to die,” and p. 99 delivers just that.
You might have found it funny had it been some anonymous guy in a plaid shirt and a billed cap, in an out-of-focus photo in some out-of-town newspaper, and you’d shake your head and look at the newspaper and think, Poor schmuck, what a way to go: killed by a deer hitting his truck on the way home from a hunting weekend. Ironic, huh? Like the prey getting some cosmic revenge on the predator. Only in this case, the coroner said, they both died instantly. No winner.
This is a sad chapter, and a long one, with lots of stories inside stories. My initial inspiration for killing off Jack Honeycutt, who’s a Buick dealer in Charlottesville, was writing a funeral procession that would include all the cars on his lot. I even had a Charlottesville friend show me the route this procession would take. I was just making this up, but much later, a car dealer I know told me that both her father and her brother had similar processions when they died.

In addition to the funeral procession, this chapter includes the long trip from New Jersey to Virginia and back, as well as the couple’s week in the house of mourning. With the introduction of Ivy’s sexpot of a sister, Bailey, the chapter takes some comical turns – and reveals the sexual chasm growing between Ivy and Ellis.
Read an excerpt from Cars from a Marriage, and learn more about the book and author at Debra Galant's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Christie Mellor's "You Look Fine, Really"

Christie Mellor was born in San Francisco, the home of the three-martini lunch. And so, appropriately, she wrote the bestselling book The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting and The Three-Martini Family Vacation: A Field Guide to Intrepid Parenting. She followed those books with Raised by Wolves.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, You Look Fine, Really, and reported the following:
I skip to page 99: It’s a page marking a new section in the book. The page is illustrated with a drawing of a smart paper-doll ensemble, including a paper crown. Peeking out from one of the paper-doll sleeves is a paper-doll hand holding a martini. The caption reads, “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party.” You Look Fine, Really is sprinkled with illustrations of paper doll clothing, but this page marks the beginning of a whole group of chapters devoted to celebration. And that one little nugget (a lyric from a Noel Coward song) really does sum up the sentiment of my book. Because although my book does appear to be a rather random compendium of beauty, fashion and survival tips for the maturing woman, the book is, at its heart, one big celebration.

Sure, it’s a snarky, fun alternative to painful surgery and injections, meant to do for women what The Three-Martini Playdate did for parents. But it’s more than just a diatribe against shooting bovine botulism into your forehead. It’s a tribute to women who’ve inspired me, a tribute to good friends, a tribute to personal style, to lipstick, to party hats, to creativity, to pretty much any random area that I thought might be of interest to a population of maturing females.

So of course “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party” reveals the quality of the whole book; as I hope it reveals the quality of your whole life. I’d love to have my book serve as a reminder that twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years hence, we all should look back on whatever the hell it was we did and be able to say with conviction, “I HAVE been to a marvelous party!”
Browse inside You Look Fine, Really, and learn more about the book and author at Christie Mellor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 26, 2010

Laurie Maffly-Kipp's "Setting Down the Sacred Past"

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories, and reported the following:
While I can’t say that p. 99 really gets to the heart of the matter of my book, it certainly gives you a small story that says a lot about African-American traditions of narration and commemoration. It relates the story of the centennial celebration of the founding of the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia that included the publication of a history of the church. Like other black Protestants, black Baptists used history to define their communities, to place themselves in larger narratives, and to counter Euro-American historical accounts that erased their presence. Black Baptists, though, also staked their claim in the competitive world of black denominationalism, and the stories that they told about themselves were very different from accounts by Methodists or other church groups. Describing these self-understandings breaks down the idea of a unitary “black church” to explore the ways that religious identity both reinforced and sometimes conflicted with racialized identities.

These church histories are only one piece of the larger study, though, which is concerned with the ways that African Americans narrated the past as a way of situating themselves and understanding their plight in the United States during the “long” nineteenth century (1780-1920). Men and women, southerners and northerners, clergy, shoemakers, and teachers fashioned their own narratives to counter white accusations that they had no history at all. They combined Protestant faith, American patriotism, and racial lineage to create new communities and to restore meaning and purpose in the face of enslavement and pervasive racism. This book describes the power of historical consciousness and the rich imaginations of ordinary men and women to refashion their worlds out of new intellectual tools and shards of memory.
Read about Laurie Maffly-Kipp's research and teaching, and learn more about Setting Down the Sacred Past at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hugh Bowden's "Mystery Cults of the Ancient World"

Hugh Bowden is senior lecturer in ancient history at King's College London. He is the author of Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle and general editor of "The Times" Ancient Civilizations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, and reported the following:
The top half of page 99 is taken up with a picture of a Roman relief depicting a man wearing a strange headdress, a torque and a loose gown. Around him hang musical instruments and other implements associated with the cult of the Great Mother of the Gods. The man is said by most scholars (but not by me), to be a eunuch: since the relief stops above the waist, there is not much to go on. Below the picture is a quotation from the antiquarian writer Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing at the end of the first century BC describing how the Romans would never engage in wild and ecstatic religious ritual. But this is a highly questionable claim, as I suggest in introducing it.

So does this reflect the quality of the whole? Certainly Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is well illustrated (189 of them, with 29 in color, according to the jacket). And I set out in it to describe some unusual aspects of ancient religion, and to challenge some of the preconceptions about them. All in all, I think the test works for the book.

There is rather more to it than this though. The book describes nocturnal rites – women dancing in the mountains in honor of Dionysus, men and women experiencing disorientation after a day of fasting and a night of initiation and revelation at Eleusis. These are part of the religion of the ancient Mediterranean world, but there are some examples of modern religious practice that come close to these experiences, and the book ends with a look at serpent-handling churches in the southern Appalachians. What participants felt in these rituals, ancient and modern, was a heightened sense of perception, which, in the ancient world at least, was understood to involve direct unmediated contact with the gods.

Academic studies of religion tend to shy away from this kind of thing, preferring to deal with doctrine and theology, or with how religion might be tied with social cohesion and political structures. I wanted in this book to get closer to the idea of what it might have felt like to meet a god. How far I succeeded you can read for yourselves, if you want to.
Read more about Mystery Cults of the Ancient World at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 23, 2010

John A. Ragosta's "Wellspring of Liberty"

John A. Ragosta is a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law; he received his PhD in history from the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Wellspring of Liberty: “Why hear the heart-affecting shrieks of the wounded, and the awful scene of garments enrolled in blood, together with the entire loss of many of our relations, friends, acquaintances and fellow citizens—and after all this, to be exposed to religious oppression…?”

William Fristoe, a revolutionary era Baptist minister who was attacked for preaching before the war, asked this of his countryman. Page 99 goes on to explain that, given the pre-war persecution of religious dissenters, their willingness to participate effectively in the war was the result of intense negotiations between dissenters and the religious and political establishment. In essence, support for wartime mobilization was provided in return for religious liberty.

While having serious doubts about the “Page 99 Test,” this does, perhaps, provide as good a summary of the book as any single page might.

Does it indicate the quality of the book? I think not. Page 99 goes on to address statistical evidence testing the proposition that religious dissenters mobilized in support of the war as part of the “payment” due from the negotiations. This statistical analysis is a small part of the book and is not indicative of the overall quality.

Rather, Wellspring of Liberty engages an interesting history of human challenges and disputes; it demonstrates that religious dissenters faced far more extensive and serious persecution than had previously been suggested. This, then, led to a rather pointed negotiation in which mobilization was contingent upon support for liberalization of religious freedom. Interestingly, there was some intentional effort at historic forgetfulness after the war as supporters of the former establishment sought to minimize any suggestion that religious liberty was not freely offered and former dissenters sought to minimize any suggestion that their support for the war was anything less than disinterested patriotism.

Finally, the book engages the question of what Virginia’s religious dissenters meant by religious freedom. In fact, they had a remarkably robust sense of what they were negotiating for, rejecting any notion of a “Christian nation” and insisting upon a strict separation of church and state to protect the church from the corrupting influence of government. Their views were based both on their theology and their experience.

I am afraid that page 99 might not provide much color to what is, in fact, a fascinating human story of contingency, revolution, and freedom.
Read more about Wellspring of Liberty at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Laura Brodie's "Love in a Time of Homeschooling"

Laura Brodie's books include the novel, The Widow's Season, and the nonfiction book, Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year, and reported the following:
Wow, Ford Madox Ford was right. Today, when I opened my new memoir, Love in a Time of Homeschooling, to page 99, the following words jumped out:
The best homeschooling lesson I ever taught….
There was the essence of my book, the crème de la crème of my pedagogy. What followed was not your stereotypical kitchen-table lesson, just a conversation with my three daughters in our family car, when driving home through the rolling hills of southwestern Virginia. That was fitting too, because Love in a Time of Homeschooling is not your stereotypical homeschooling book; it’s the story of one year when I decided to give my firstborn, then ten-years-old, a break from her public school routine.

Most homeschoolers embrace their educational choice as a lifetime mission, not a year off, and if they write books, they tend to emphasize the rosy side of home learning. I, however, am one of the growing number of public school parents who have welcomed homeschooling as a short-term venture, ideal for meeting an immediate need. In our family’s case, I have a daughter named Julia who loathes school, with its classrooms and worksheets and piles of homework. By fifth grade Julia was already burnt out, needing something to rejuvenate her love of learning and give her an academic and emotional boost before she entered middle school. Together, she and I tried to craft one ideal year of learning.

The results weren’t always rosy. This memoir describes anger and frustration, as much as love and joy. One take-away message is that homeschooling isn’t limited to kitchen-table learning between 8:30 and 3:00 p.m. Good parents are teaching their children every day, even when riding in the car.

So here, from page 99, is my best “homeschooling” lesson:
All three of my girls were in the back seat that day, bickering, poking, whining—their habitual state—when I turned on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade.

“Have you ever heard of Scheherazade?” I asked over their noise, and they quieted enough to mutter a negative.

“There was once a Sultan of Arabia,” I began, “with a beautiful wife that he loved very much, but she betrayed him.”

“You mean she had S-E-X with another man?” Nine-year-old Rachel had an unlimited, disgusted fascination with S-E-X.

“Yes,” I said, “She had S-E-X with several other men. As a result, the Sultan was convinced that all women were unfaithful and should be killed. So each night he married another young woman, and every morning he ordered her to be strangled, until all his people were terrorized, fearing for their daughters’ lives.”

By now my girls were silent. Any story that contains both murder and sex can hold their attention. I told them the whole gist of the Arabian Nights, and how Disney got the ideas for Sinbad and Aladdin from Scheherezade. Then I turned on Rimsky-Korsakov and the music began with loud brasses playing a few forceful notes.

“That sounds like the angry Sultan,” I suggested.

Next came the solo violin, sweetly melodic with a harp in the background, playing a winding, twisting tune— the voice of Scheherazade, weaving her stories. Rimsky-Korsakov titled his first number “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, ” and when the full orchestra launched into its rhythm of rolling waves, Julia nodded: “It sounds like the ocean.” And so it continued, with Sinbad’s ship cresting wave after wave after wave. (Rimsky-Korsakov can be maddeningly repetitive.) Every so often the orchestra stepped back and the solo violin intervened with its lovely song, reminding us that Scheherezade was still there, narrating this sea-story.

My girls were hooked. They asked to hear Scheherezade every day for two weeks, before school, after school, driving to errands. I checked out an illustrated version of the Arabian Nights from our local library, and we read some of the stories at bedtime. Once we took out the globe and located Saudi Arabia. And where is Iraq, they asked, home to the Thief of Baghdad? And why are our soldiers in Baghdad now?

This is homeschooling at its best—a constant segue from music history, to literature, to geography, to contemporary politics. It can take place anywhere, at almost any time, even with a carload of children driving home from their regular school.
Read an excerpt from Love in a Time of Homeschooling, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Brodie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kai Bird's "Crossing Mandelbaum Gate"

Kai Bird is the co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), which also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. His other books include The Chairman: John J. McCloy, The Making of the American Establishment (1992) and The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms (1998).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, and reported the following:
Well, page 99 of my memoir Crossing Mandelbaum Gate falls in a chapter entitled "The Magic Kingdom." This is what American expatriates working for the oil company ARAMCO called Saudi Arabia. Page 99 features a 1964 photograph of ARAMCO's president, Tom Barger, standing beside my mother, Jerine Bird. They each have a drink in hand, no doubt the home-brew made in Dhahran known as "sadiki"--Arabic for "my friend." Alcohol, of course, was illegal then and now. But every ARAMCON had a private still in their bathroom.

Tom Barger was running ARAMCO in the 1960s and it turned out to be a critical period in the Kingdom's history. A slow motion coup was taking place in which King Saud was being pushed aside to make room for Crown Prince Faisal. Barger, the U.S. government and the CIA were all supporting Prince Faisal against King Saud who was perceived as unstable, alcoholic and under the influence of a group of liberal princes who wanted to turn the Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy. ARAMCO feared these nationalists might endanger the oil concession. In any case, by late 1964 Faisal was in charge and King Saud was shortly exiled.

On Page 99 I profile Tom Barger: "He was only twenty-eight years old in 1937 when he became one of a dozen geologists recruited for a three-year contract for the California Arabian Standard Oil Company--a subsidiary of Standard Oil of California (SOCAL). His pay was $300 a month plus expenses, a good wage at the time. Before flying off to Arabia, Barger married Kathleen Ray, the coquettish daughter of a North Dakota rancher, and an expert horsewoman in the local rodeos. (Because his parents disapproved of Kathleen, Tom had to marry her in secrecy.)"

I guess my Page 99 is a fair representation of my memoir, which is a tight blend of the personal with a lot of history about the American experience in the Middle East. As with Barger, I profile many other characters in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Browse inside Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, and learn more about the book and author at Kai Bird's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 19, 2010

Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic"

Robert Whitaker is the award-winning author of The Mapmaker’s Wife and Mad in America. His manuscript of On the Laps of Gods won the prestigious J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, and reported the following:
Much to my delight, I turned to page 99 of Anatomy of an Epidemic and discovered that it is here that one of the major themes in the book starts to take shape. The book investigates how psychiatric medications affect the long-term course of mental disorders (as opposed to their short-term effects), and page 99 tells of the results from the first long-term study of antipsychotics conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. In that 1960s trial, at the end of six weeks the schizophrenia patients who had been treated with an antipsychotic were faring better than the placebo patients. However—and this information appears on page 99—during the following year, researchers “were startled to discover that ‘patients who received placebo treatment [in the six-week trial] were less likely to be rehospitalized than those who received any of the three active phenothiazines.’”

This is what then follows on page 99:
Here, at this very first moment in the scientific literature, there is the hint of a paradox: while the drugs were effective over the short term, perhaps they made people more vulnerable to psychosis over the long term, and thus the higher rehospitalization rates for drug-treated patients at the end of one year. Soon, NIMH investigators were back with another surprising result. In two drug withdrawal trials, both of which included patients who weren’t on any drug at the start of the study, relapse rates rose in correlation with drug dosage. Only 7 percent of those who had been on placebo at the start of the study relapsed, compared to 65 percent of those taking more than 500 milligrams of chlorpromazine before the drug was withdrawn. “Relapse was found to be significantly related to the dose of the tranquilizing medication the patient was receiving before he was put on placebo—the higher the dose, the greater the probability of relapse,” the researchers wrote.

Something was amiss, and clinical observations deepened the suspicion. Schizophrenia patients discharged on medications were returning to psychiatric emergency rooms in such droves that hospital staff dubbed it the “revolving door syndrome.” Even when patients reliably took their medications, relapse was common, and researchers observed that “relapse is greater in severity during drug administration than when no drugs are given.” At the same time, if patients relapsed after quitting the medications, Cole noted, their psychotic symptoms tended to “persist and intensify,” and, at least for a time, they suffered from a host of new symptoms as well: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, insomnia, headaches, and weird motor tics. Initial exposure to a neuroleptic seemed to be setting patients up for a future of severe psychotic episodes, and that was true regardless of whether they stayed on the medications.
This NIMH study is the beginning moment in a history of science that then unfolds over the course of the next 50 years, with the same startling “long-term” results appearing again and again. Page 99 in Anatomy of an Epidemic foreshadows the story, which really is tragic in kind, that is told in the next 150 pages of the book.
Read an excerpt from Anatomy of an Epidemic, and learn more about the author and his work at Robert Whitaker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jonathan Balcombe's "Second Nature"

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., is a former animal behavior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and currently a consultant based in Washington, D.C. His books include Pleasurable Kingdom and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is an expository passage, part of my efforts to showcase animals’ diverse inner lives. I am discussing animals’ communication skills, and in particular the ability of both birds and mammals to interpret the calls of other species. Hornbills (large tropical birds) respond to monkeys’ “eagle” alarm calls but not to their “leopard” calls because the big cats aren’t a serious threat to them. Similarly, seals distinguish the dialect of local orcas who don’t eat seals from the dialect of migrating orcas who do—which sends the seals fleeing for the safety of kelp beds.

As a biologist who cares deeply about animals as sentient individuals to protect and not to eat, my aim in Second Nature is to try to nudge humankind towards a new relationship with animals. There’s a quiet revolution going on in science, with a spate of new discoveries about animal cognition, emotion, awareness, and even virtue. The paradox is that as our knowledge grows, our treatment of them falls further behind. I predict that humankind will look back on the 21st century as the Century of the Animals, when we finally came to our senses and replaced our might-makes-right doctrine with a more compassionate and egalitarian ethic—as we already did with the demise of colonialism, the slave trade, the subjugation of women’s rights, and the denial of civil rights.
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Balcombe's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maurice Berger's "For All The World To See"

Maurice Berger is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, and reported the following:
Page 99 of For All The World To See contains no text, and just a single photograph. But what a powerful image it is: a shot of a distraught Mamie Till Bradley as she views the casket of her fourteen-year old son, Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in August 1955. The photograph brings to life the book’s abiding issue: the crucial role that visual culture played in altering prevailing ideas about race, racism, and segregation in the period of the modern civil rights movement.

Shortly after the teenager was killed, his grieving mother distributed to the press a gruesome photograph of his mutilated corpse. Other photographs of the crime and its aftermath—from shots of Till’s funeral to the trial of his murderers—would soon follow. Asked why she thought these photographs important, Mrs. Bradley explained that by witnessing with their own eyes the brutality of segregation and racism, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of racial justice. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” was her reply.

The publication of these images inspired a generation of activists to join the civil rights movement. By a number of measures, Bradley’s largely visual campaign to alter public opinion worked. The photographs of her shattered child were the most potent—and unimpeachable—witness to his tragic and senseless death. The images reached and moved millions of Americans, impelling a new generation of activists to join the cause. Despite this extraordinary episode, the story of visual culture’s role in the modern civil rights movement is rarely included in its history. For All The World To See is the first comprehensive examination of the ways images mattered in the struggle, and it investigates a broad range of media including photography, television, film, magazines, newspapers, and advertising.
Read more about For All the World to See at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eric Nelson's "The Hebrew Republic"

Eric Nelson is the Frederick S. Danziger Associate Professor of Government at Harvard University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought, and reported the following:
As it happens, the “page 99 test” works pretty well in the case of The Hebrew Republic. The book challenges the conventional narrative that attributes the emergence of a recognizably “modern” kind of political thought to the phenomenon of “secularization”—the exclusion of religious arguments from political discourse. The Hebrew Republic argues, in contrast, that political thought in early-modern Europe became less, not more secular with time. In particular, it assigns a great deal of significance to the fact that, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christians began to regard the Hebrew Bible as a political constitution, designed by God himself for the children of Israel. It accordingly became the central objective of political science in this period to replicate the divinely authorized Biblical constitution—and in pursuit of this objective, European Protestants became convinced (reluctantly in most cases) that they should turn for guidance to the full array of newly-available rabbinic materials. I argue that it was this encounter, rather than secularization, that yielded several of the most crucial elements of modern political thought.

Page 99 of the book reproduces a remarkably explicit defense of this enterprise written by the great seventeenth-century political theorist Hugo Grotius. He is commenting on a famous passage in Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian whose works first suggested to Europeans that Biblical Israel could be regarded as a “politeia”—a political constitution in the Greek sense. If Josephus was right about this, a fundamental question had to be answered: namely, what sort of constitution did ancient Israel embody? Greek political science had identified three basic options: the rule of one man, the few, and the many (each having a correct and a degenerate form). But Josephus argued that the Greek philosophers, due to their ignorance of revelation, had omitted one further possibility: “theocracy” (Josephus coined the term), a regime in which God himself was the civil sovereign. This was the regime of ancient Israel. Grotius endorses Josephus’s position, and then draws a set of implications from it that would prove utterly transformative, both for Grotius himself and for the many theorists he influenced (among them Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke).
Read more about The Hebrew Republic at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Craig Collins' "Toxic Loopholes"

Craig Collins earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis. He now teaches at California State University, East Bay.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Toxic Loopholes: Failures and Future Prospects for Environmental Law, and reported the following:
As an instructor of environmental law I was perpetually dissatisfied with the available texts because they avoided answering two essential questions:

• How well are our major environmental laws working?

• What prevents them from achieving their stated goals?

I decided to address these questions by writing my own “un-textbook.” In doing so, I tried to avoid the non-committal, austere, academic prose that forces students to consume copious amounts of coffee to avoid text-induced narcolepsy. Also, I abandoned all pretense of being a detached, disinterested academic and wrote instead as an outraged citizen of planet Earth.

By adopting this heart-felt stance I realize I leave myself open to criticism for being too partisan or “unbalanced.” So let me be clear. The balance I seek is not academic or political. It is ecological. The evidence is overwhelming: our economic and political systems are perilously out of balance with the planet and ecologically unsustainable. While our current environmental laws buy us some time, ultimately they are little more than a palliative--a bandage on a gaping wound.

Page 99 falls near the middle of my chapter on toxic waste laws like Superfund. The top of the page reproduces a bulleted list of the scathing criticisms leveled by a conference of neighborhood leaders fed-up with the EPA’s negligent efforts to clean up the toxic Superfund sites poisoning their communities. I shall quote from their list since it goes to the very heart of Toxic Loopholes’ central message:

Neighborhood leaders charged the EPA with:

• Studying a problem to death without doing anything;

• Ignoring or downplaying health problems and making a haphazard effort to compile and evaluate relevant health information;

• Discriminating against minority communities in nearly every aspect of the Superfund process, including longer response times to contaminations of minority neighborhoods and inequitable resources devoted to cleanups, health monitoring, buy-outs and relocations;

• Meeting secretly with polluters;

• Hiding vital information from the community;

• Ignoring and avoiding community input into the cleanup process;

• Favoring polluters with cheaper, less effective cleanup standards;

• Treating people as case numbers and demonstrating complete bureaucratic insensitivity to their stress, suffering and pain.

This list on page 99 is one small part of the factual evidence and the real life stories that have convinced me that America’s environmental laws, and the agencies that enforce them, are woefully inadequate. Powerful forces, emanating from the very nature of our political economy, confound the basic intent of the law and corrupt the policy-making and law enforcement process. The EPA is a fundamentally flawed agency embedded in a capitalist society where the most powerful economic actors wish to continue externalizing their environmental costs and their allies in government (from both parties) facilitate this by passing toothless laws and appointing compromised and corrupt enforcers.
Read an excerpt from Toxic Loopholes, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lisa Miller's "Heaven"

Lisa Miller is the religion editor for Newsweek. She is the recipient of numerous journalism prizes, including the 2009 Wilbur Award for Outstanding Magazine Article for her December 2008 cover story “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” She has a regular column in Newsweek and on, and in conjunction with the Washington Post, she helped to launch the religion website On Faith.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, her first book, and reported the following:
Jackpot! On page 99 of my new book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife, you find the beginnings of a discussion about the virgins, or houris, of Muslim heaven. According to the Quran, the righteous will, upon arriving in heaven be waited upon by houris, "eyes large and dark, like pearls in their shells, as a reward for past deeds." (p 83) These virgins were made famous, of course, after 9/11 when it was discovered that Islamist "martyrs" often committed suicide with visions of virgins dancing in their heads.

But on page 99, the discussion takes a turn. The obsession with houris, many moderate and progressive Muslims claim, is an American idiosyncracy:
Muslims cannot understand the American obsession with houris, with the idea that Muslim heaven must be something like a sex party for boys. They laugh at our insistent questioning, and with their laughter imply that this whole orgy-in-heaven-thing is our hang up, not theirs. Our questioning is not wholly unenlightened, however.
Non-Muslim Western observers continue to have all kinds of questions about the houris. Here are two of the most compelling. 1.) Isn't Muslim heaven a sexist place? And 2.) Sex? Really? In heaven?

In the reporting of my book, I spoke to all kinds of scholars and believers. To the first question, scholars concede, that yes, Muslim paradise probably is a sexist place -- in the same way the visions offered by all Western scriptures are in some way sexist. The people who wrote down and codified Judaism, Christianity and Islam were probably (mostly) men writing for men. Two of my scholar experts -- Kevin Reinhart of Dartmouth and Leor Halevi of Vanderbilt -- pointed me to a fourteenth century Persian poem which indicates that this anxiety about the pleasures available to women in heaven is at least 700 years old. "Are there men houris as well?" asks an old woman from the grave. She gets an answer: "If you show your face there [in Paradise] / You'll not escape when they give you chase!" Even in the 14th century women were being assured that some version of the sexual pleasure available to men in Paradise would accrue to them as well.

I also spoke to Lelah Bakhtiar, an American Muslim who did a controversial feminist translation of the Qur'an in 2007. She provoked the ire of conservative Muslims world wide by suggesting that wife-beating was not ordained in the Quran, but she has views on the houris as well. Houri, she says, has no gender: it only means "black-eyed." People have traditionally interpreted houris as maidens, but they're not, necessarily. In any case, she laughs, she doesn't believe that in heaven she'll be having actual sex with actual heavenly creatures -- just as many Christians don't believe they'll actually walk through pearl gates and down streets of gold. In heaven, she says, "your body is not there. We're in a completely different form... We're not going to feel the same things there. I'm not thinking about what kind of orgy we're going to have in Paradise." Bakhtiar says that after death she hopes to be "part of the light that would shine in the world." Sex is not part of the picture.
Browse inside Heaven, and learn more about the book and author at Lisa Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thomas A. Bruscino's "A Nation Forged in War"

Thomas Bruscino is the author of Out of Bounds: Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare. His work has also been published in Military Review and War & Society. He is assistant professor of history at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along, and reported the following:
So imagine my delight at applying the Page 99 Test and finding a full page about vomit and toilet facilities. Among the lovely phrases found on my page 99 are "sick to our stomachs," "nauseating stench," "residue of caustic GI soap lather," "a not too peaceful crap," "vomit covered the floors and fixtures," and "cold sea-water douche." Well.

It could be worse—page 99 might have been one of those blank pages in between chapters. Then I would have had to ramble about the irony of the meaninglessness of war, since my book was an attempt to find a larger meaning in World War II. Instead, I got “a not too peaceful crap.” So let’s talk about what that means.

The reason why everyone is so sick and uncomfortable on page 99 in A Nation Forged in War is because they are soldiers on ships, headed overseas to war. Over 10 million made the trip, most of whom had never been more than 100 miles from home, and the army and navy crammed them in. Page 99 begins with the story of a soldier who won a bet by standing in one place in the hold and touching forty-two individual bunks with his rifle. That would be tough enough, but then seasickness kicked in and the troops started getting ill in those tight spaces, which had a horrible multiplying effect. And the toilet facilities were no help, as they often consisted of long troughs that the men had to straddle in full view of each other, and with their activities occasionally punctuated by splashes of sea water running through the trough. Showers, if the men got a chance to shower at all, also consisted of cold sea water, and were less than refreshing.

The troops could distract themselves by messing with the ship crew, gambling, and reading, but it was a still nasty experience. The only real comfort was that they were in it together. That was a big deal, because they came from widely different ethnic and religious backgrounds in an era when those differences meant they weren’t supposed to get along.

But they suffered together in the service in World War II, and in so doing learned to get along. Then they came home from war and taught the rest of the country to do the same. A Nation Forged in War tells that story—where it went and where it did not go.

Sometimes it got a little disgusting. Like page 99.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America"

Rebecca Jo Plant is associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, and reported the following:
Does page 99 of Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America capture the “quality of the whole?” It certainly reveals my basic method as an historian, which is to present primary sources in sufficient detail to illustrate how people in the past thought and expressed themselves. On this page, I discuss two different sources, drawn from two different professional journals (Mental Hygiene and The New England Journal of Medicine). Both articles address the issue of neuropsychiatric disturbances among U.S. servicemen during World War II. The first analyzes a number of cases, including the one I cite, which concerned a young soldier who broke down in training due to his intense attachment to his mother. The second article alleged, more broadly, that pathological mothering was the underlying factor in the majority of cases involving “combat fatigue.” I use passages from these articles to show how medical authorities during World War II perceived a certain type of American mother—one who was overly dependent on her children and emotionally demanding—as harmful to the national cause. On this particular page, however, I am simply laying out evidence in support of the interpretation that I am building; one cannot really derive a sense of the book’s overall argument, or even the chapter’s main argument, from this page alone.

The chapter as a whole demonstrates how highly sentimental and prolonged mother-child bonds (especially between mothers and sons) became stigmatized over the course of the twentieth century. I argue that affective styles and ways of interacting that would have been viewed positively in the previous century came to be perceived with deep suspicion by the 1940s. For Victorian Americans, a grown son’s intense attachment to his mother signified virtuous manhood; for Cold War Americans, such a bond often evoked effeminacy and homosexuality. Elsewhere in the book, I draw on letters written by middle-class mothers to show how they internalized the cultural dictates concerning “momism” and “smother love” and sought to modulate their feelings of attachment to their children.

My discussion of “mother love” is just one component of a larger argument. By exploring a range of other issues—including the decline of maternalist politics and changing views and practices surrounding childbirth—I trace a major shift in the meaning of the motherhood within mainstream American culture. Particularly after World War II, I argue, motherhood ceased to be represented as an all-encompassing identity rooted in notions of self-sacrifice and physical suffering, and infused with powerful social and political meaning. Instead, motherhood came to be conceived as a fundamentally private, familial identity and a single component of a more multifaceted self—a role that women could voluntarily either embrace or reject.

Thus, while Page 99, with its tight focus on the concerns that medical authorities during World War II voiced about intense maternal attachment, may reflect the “quality of the whole,” it does not afford the reader a synopsis of the whole.

For instance, a 1943 article in Mental Hygiene detailed the case of “Private L.,” an eighteen-year-old soldier, still in training, who appeared “emotionally distressed” and “cried frequently.” A psychiatric interview revealed that he had never previously been away from home and remained “excessively attached” to his ailing mother, who wrote to him almost daily, “complaining of her ‘sufferings’ and of her difficulty in adjusting to his absence.” In psychotherapy, Private L. gained “insight into the neurotic nature of his relationship to his mother.” The psychiatrist also sent “a sympathetic, but frank” letter to the private’s mother, “eliciting and securing her cooperation.” By redirecting Private L.’s emotional attachment toward his company, while restraining his emotionally demanding mother, the psychiatrist and company adviser together strove to transform Private L. into a “‘good soldier,’ as well as a mature man.”

Similarly, after studying two hundred neuropsychiatric patients at an Army hospital in the South Pacific, medical officers J. L. Henderson and Merrill Moore concluded that war neuroses were “‘made in America’”—particularly by the nation’s mothers. In their 1944 study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, they argued that the single most important factor predisposing servicemen to psychological breakdown was not traumatic combat experience, but rather “distorted” familial relations. “In nearly every case, a mutually dependent neurotic relation existed between mother and child,” they claimed, sketching the typical background of a psychoneurotic soldier:
The mother was found to stand out. She was usually a “nervous woman” and had often had a nervous breakdown but was rarely hospitalized for it…. She tended to worry, particularly about her children, and to be overly concerned about them. For example, most of the mothers had waited up for their boys to come in at night up to the time that they entered the service. The father seemed to be in the background…. From these observations the following interpretation is made: The mother is an immature person who feels herself insecure and in her marriage tends to establish a childish, dependent relation to her husband.
Significantly, Henderson and Moore traced the problem of neuropsychiatric breakdown to maternal weakness: if the mother herself remained “childish” and “dependent,” her son could not develop into a mature and capable adult.

Other psychiatrists interpreted the very symptoms that predominated among neuropsychiatric casualties as evidence that too many American men could not control their dependent longings.
Learn more about Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kirsten McKenzie's "A Swindler's Progress"

Kirsten McKenzie is Senior Lecturer in History, University of Sydney.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Swindler's Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty, and reported the following:
Choose to write your history in the genre of a mystery story and the page 99 test could get you into serious trouble. Would it be a case of “Spoilers ahead”? Could I complete the assignment without giving the plot away? It was with some trepidation that I dipped inside A Swindler’s Progress, only to find that the typesetters had unwittingly played into my hands.

The story opens in a dingy court room in Sydney, in the penal colony of New South Wales, in 1835. A man stands before the dock charged with forgery and imposture. The authorities claim he is ‘John Dow’ (sometimes spelled ‘John Doe’) a former convict. The prisoner denies that name. He claims he is Edward, Viscount Lascelles, eldest son of the Earl of Harewood and heir to one of Britain’s most spectacular fortunes. He tells a melodramatic tale of betrayal and disaster. He had taken the fictitious name of John Dow, he explains, “in order that the spotless honor of my family might not be sullied by my disgrace”.

It was true that the Viscount had made a scandalous disappearance from the ranks of Britain’s elite. Had he ended up a convict under a false name? The book that follows is divided into three parts, taking the story of Edward Lascelles from the ‘Arcadia’ of aristocratic Yorkshire through ‘Ruin and Disgrace’ to the ‘Antipodes’. Along the way my intention is to reveal as much about the interlinked histories of Britain and Australia as about the stories of ‘Edward Lascelles’ and ‘John Dow’. My research uncovered a wildly improbable tale - one no less melodramatic than the story John Dow told in court. But I wanted to use it to ask bigger questions about what liberty could mean at this time of revolutionary change. Breaking the established bonds of status and rank meant the freedom to pursue individual potential, to rely on innate worth rather than on birth. But what does it mean to be free? The freedom to reinvent oneself also meant the freedom to lie.

And page 99? We have known from the first that Edward Lascelles is going to come to grief. The question is - how? p. 99 contains only the epigraph for part two of the book. But it gives a big hint at the secret about to be revealed:
My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not
the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine
heart, and tie them about thy neck. ...
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and
reproofs of instruction are the way of life: To keep thee from
the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange

Proverbs 6:20–24
Read an excerpt from A Swindler’s Progress, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Karen Anderson's "Little Rock"

Karen Anderson is professor of history at the University of Arizona. She is the author of Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II and coauthor of Present Tense: The United States Since 1945.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School, and reported the following:
In Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School, I offer new interpretations of the school desegregation crisis that developed in that Arkansas community in the 1950s by locating it more broadly in a context of rapid social change and heightened community fears and conflicts. I illuminate these themes by centering different social actors, including white women activists organized on both sides of the issue, and by focusing on the emotional cultures, political strategies, and competing visions of the public good evidenced by Little Rock’s activists.

Little Rock received national attention in the fall of 1957 when Governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the entry of nine African American students into all white Central High School. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered federal troops to protect the students’ right to enter, segregationists turned to new strategies, as I note on p. 99:
After the African American students returned to school on September 25, 1957, with protection from the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army and the recently federalized Arkansas National Guard, resistant white students began a long-term war of attrition designed to drive the black students from Central High. Taking advantage of the vast size of the school building and grounds, they orchestrated a campaign of verbal threats, name-calling, and physical harassment that ranged from shoving and tripping to spilling ink on students’ clothes and putting broken glass on the floor in the gym’s shower room.
The resistant white students received crucial assistance from adult supporters, including the Mothers’ League of Central High School, a small group of working class women. The Mothers’ League mobilized children as political actors and politicized their treatment when school officials tried to discipline them for harassing African American students. Their actions reflected and created a segregationist political culture focused on white “victimization” and righteous retribution against all whom they associated with desegregation. Rooted firmly in class anxieties, racial fears, fundamentalist religion, and sexual concerns, segregationists’ emotional culture fueled their movement and motivated their most important political miscalculations.

In response to segregationists’ threats to their power, school officials and their allies in the business community backed off from effectively protecting the black students, fearful that they would be creating “martyrs” to the segregationist cause. Business leaders, who were primarily concerned with maintaining a lawful image of their community in order to foster business development, adopted a politics of caution and evasion that ultimately paved the way for white flight. They faced opposition not only from the segregationists, but also from African Americans who sought to dismantle segregation at a faster pace than the glacial one desired by Little Rock’s moderates. After segregationists closed the public high schools in 1958, an organization of middle class white women, the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, formed. The liberal leaders of the WEC soon found themselves also at odds with the local power structure over issues related to race and the schools. Little Rock explains the outcomes and consequences of these interrelated struggles for local power.
Read an excerpt from Little Rock, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue