Monday, May 31, 2010

Angus Trumble's "The Finger: A Handbook"

Angus Trumble was born and raised in Victoria, Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, and of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 1994–95. From 1996 to 2001 he was Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and since 2003 has been Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Finger: A Handbook, and reported the following:
I was not aware of Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test, but in the case of my own new book The Finger: A Handbook (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) it seems to work nicely. My page 99 brings the reader into the middle of an extended, but hopefully fruitful discussion of old British nursery-rhyme naming conventions for the fingers that obviously relates to the more fundamental concept of learning to count, and count moreover to the power of ten—a habit that obviously came into being because of what primitive mankind discovered wiggling helpfully at the most conveniently proximate extremities. My page 99 is also picaresque, because among the rhymes is one that in the 1940s an old Englishwoman recalled her gloomy Scottish nurse reciting to her many decades earlier, in the flickering light of a candle: “Thumb, Black Barney; / Finger, Lope Dake; / Finger, Steel Corney; / Finger, Runaway; / And Little Canny Wanny who Pays All.” This and many similar rhyme schemes appear to account for the activities of four bucolic thieves, concluding with the little finger that almost always bears the cost.

My page 99 fits snugly into the early part of the fifth chapter (of ten, naturally, all of which shun footnotes). That chapter is entitled “The Finger and the Economy,” and in it I have some terse words to say about modern theft, and the present fiscal madness, but the book as a whole is about fingers in the broadest possible sense: about the nuances of gesture, about nonverbal communication, about finger imagery in art, and (inter alia) about fashions in gloves and colored nail polish—a phenomenon that crash-landed in the field of cosmetics in Paris in the 1920s, initially in the form of highly toxic green fuselage paint for aircraft. My first book, A Brief History of the Smile, began its life as a talk at a conference of dentists, but The Finger: A Handbook started off as a lecture for orthopedic surgeons. It is wayward, discursive, exploratory, and personal in outlook. I suppose I really wrote it as an entertainment, and I fervently hope that my readers will derive some enjoyment from exploring its digital byways. Why, for example, were the Victorians so obsessed by the concept of “filbert nails”? What is a filbert nail?

I should also mention that my page 99 is a beautiful page, set in magnificent Bembo, and brilliantly copy-edited for me by John McGhee, and designed (along with all the rest) by the estimable Jonathan D. Lippincott at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who clearly has the nimble fingers of a true artist.
Learn more about The Finger at the publisher's website and Angus Trumble's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Richard H. Immerman's "Empire for Liberty"

Richard H. Immerman is the Edward J. Buthusiem Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in History and the Marvin Wachman Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University. His books include John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy and The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz, and reported the following
My chapter “William Henry Seward Reimagines the American Empire,” begins on page 99. I’m fine with that. In a book that chronicles and assesses the evolution of the America’s empire by historicizing six of its architects, Seward emerges as perhaps the most complicated actor. John Quincy Adams is the subject of the previous chapter; if there is a hero to my story, he’s it. But he is a tragic hero. No one was a truer believer in America’s ideals, and no one advocated more fervently, or guided more expertly, the country’s expansion. Yet once Adams concluded that expansion served slavery, not liberty, he became empire’s most resolute opponent.

I introduce Seward as Adams’s disciple. He wrote a biography about his model and inspiration, dedicating it to the “friends of liberty and human rights throughout the world.” And in the run-up to the Civil War, Seward was among Abolitionism’s most eloquent spokespersons. In contrast to Adams, however, Seward refused to sacrifice empire to liberty—or the lack thereof. Throughout the 1850s he tirelessly promoted U.S. overseas expansion, primarily across the Pacific but also throughout the Caribbean and further to the south. Identifying America’s commerce as the “chief agent of its advancement in civilization and enlargement of empire,” he formulated a strategy aimed at America’s gaining control of “the commerce of the world, which is the empire of the world.” While the politics of Reconstruction consumed Americans after the Civil War, Seward schemed to extend US control—formally and informally—over Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, the Danish West Indies, and of course Alaska. He perceived no contradiction between empire and “liberty and human rights throughout the world.”

The juxtaposition of Adams and Seward is emblematic of the book’s overarching argument. My first empire-builder is Ben Franklin. The initial philosopher of an Empire for Liberty, Franklin saw the two concepts—Empire and Liberty—as mutually dependent and reinforcing. So did his fellow Founding Fathers, as do most Americans up to the present day. Yet U.S. history reveals that the liberty and empire were constantly rubbing up against each other, and they were often mutually exclusive. Situated within this context, my final chapter on Paul Wolfowitz and the Postscript on “the Dark Side” were the most challenging for me to write. That’s because at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo the rubber met the road: empire and liberty collided.
Read an excerpt from Empire for Liberty, and learn more about the book from the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sheena S. Iyengar's "The Art of Choosing"

Sheena Iyengar's innovative research on choice has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Security Education Program. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School of Business, and Stanford University. She is the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University and a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award. Her work is regularly cited in such periodicals as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and TIME magazines, and in books such as Blink and The Paradox of Choice.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Art of Choosing, and reported the following:
The Art of Choosing is, of course, a book about choice, and one of its most important messages is that choice is more complex and multi-faceted than most of us realize. Every action we take in our lives can be considered a choice, and the choices we make today shape the choices we’ll have tomorrow. It would have been impossible to cover all aspects of choice in a single book, so I focused on exploring the questions that I found most thought provoking and most relevant to how we live. Why do we desire choice? How do we make our choices, and why do we sometimes choose against our own interests? What can we do in order to make better choices?

Since having a lot of choice can be overwhelming, I’m glad the “page 99 test” has saved me from having to choose which part of my book I should describe here. Page 99 in The Art of Choosing falls in the middle of a chapter on the role choice plays in helping us express and even create our identities. From a young age we learn to see the world around us through the lens of personal preference, and by understanding our preferences we make sense of ourselves and create a coherent picture of who we are.

However, though we may think of choice as an individual act, a way to distinguish ourselves, we do not choose alone. By this I mean that choice is a form of communication. Like body language, we generate it —sometimes consciously and sometimes not—and it sends messages to others. This can lead to a dilemma if, as our preferences change naturally over time, we begin to worry about sending mixed messages. We may feel torn between making new choices today and remaining consistent with the choices we made in the past, as I explain on page 99:
To behave in a way not in keeping with the identity that others have grown to recognize and love is to become unknowable or trustworthy. On the other hand, the world is an ever-changing place, and in being too consistent we risk becoming inflexible and out of touch. One high-profile example of this tension popped up in the 2004 presidential campaign. John Kerry’s candidacy was damaged by accusations of flip-floppery, whereas George W. Bush was admired by many for sticking to his guns. Once in office, though, Bush was criticized for parroting certain mantras with little regard for “the realities on the ground.” In his roast of the president at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, humorist Stephen Colbert “praised” Bush by saying, “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday—no matter what happened Tuesday.” It seems that you’re damned if you do change, and damned if you don’t. That’s what makes it so difficult to find the proper balance between consistency and flexibility.

One common, if perhaps not ideal, response to this dilemma can be seen in a study I conducted in collaboration with Rachel Wells, one of my doctoral students. We tracked hundreds of graduating college seniors as they went about looking for their first serious job, a major choice that would significantly affect their subsequent experiences and identity. As part of that study, we asked them to describe what they were looking for in their ideal job on three separate occasions over the six to nine month period it took them to go from initial search to successful employment. Each time, we asked them to rank the same 13 attributes of a job, including “high income,” “opportunity for advancement,” “job security,” “opportunity for creativity,” and “freedom to make decisions,” from most to least important. We looked only at new graduates, but all people, no matter where they are in their career, have to make trade-offs by considering these very attributes. Is it more important to have a job that’s personally fulfilling or one that lets you better provide for your family? Is it worth sacrificing job security for the chance to strike it rich?
We found that the students steadily changed their preferences over the months, becoming more pragmatic as they came closer to making a final decision, but this wasn’t the most interesting part. It turned out that the people who were happiest with their new jobs were also the people who didn’t realize that this shift in preference had occurred. They misremembered the past, believing that what they wanted now was what they had always wanted. Thus they were able to both satisfy their current preferences and maintain a narrative of consistency. In other words, to be happy with our choices, sometimes we may need to lie to ourselves.
Read an excerpt from The Art of Choosing, and learn more about the book and author at The Art of Choosing website.

See-Sheena Iyengar's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Patricia Morrisroe's "Wide Awake"

Patricia Morrisroe received a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.A. from NYU. She is the author of Mapplethorpe: A Biography and was for many years a contributing editor to New York magazine. She has written for numerous other publications, including Vanity Fair and Vogue.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia, and reported the following:
My book Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia is a first-person account of my struggle to “find” sleep, as well as a look at the many facets of the $24 billion sleep industry. Poor sleep runs in my family. Both my mother and maternal grandfather had insomnia, so I learned from an early age that sleep wasn’t a natural process but a gift from the fickle gods, who, at any moment, could snatch it away. Moving to New York after college, I lived in a series of increasingly noisy apartments and began to feel totally at odds with nature. I couldn’t see the sky from my windows. I hadn’t seen a moon in, well, a moon. I began to wonder if city living was contributing to my insomnia.

As part of my research, I traveled to Las Vegas, where I attended a continuing medical education course with 300 doctors. If New York is the city that doesn’t sleep, Vegas is the Village of the Damned – a neon metropolis that glows so brightly that its lights are visible from eight national parks. After spending nearly a week there, I didn’t know what day it was, or even if it was day. I felt incredibly unhealthy. Page 99 finds me sitting in a conference room at the MGM Grand Hotel listening to Dr. Fred Turek, a circadian biologist, talk about the research he’s conducted on the effects of sleep deprivation on mice. Not only did the mice get fat, but they developed diabetes and high cholesterol – symptoms seen in overweight people. His research is supported by studies done by Dr. Eve Van Cauter, who showed the effects of short-term sleep on healthy young men. After two nights of four hours of sleep, they had lower levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and higher levels of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. As Turek said in the lecture, he believes that one of our big problems is that we’re increasingly out of sync with nature – my feelings exactly.
Read an excerpt from Wide Awake, and learn more about the book and author at Patricia Morrisroe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Christine Stansell's "The Feminist Promise"

Christine Stansell is the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Chicago. Her previous books include American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century and City of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789–1860. She writes widely about matters of feminism and American history in print and online, including for The New Republic, Salon, and The Daily Beast. Among other awards, Stansell has received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. She has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Mary Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present, and reported the following:
Open up The Feminist Promise to p. 99 and you have a story about a woman you never heard of, Belva Lockwood, and her machinations in the 1870s in Washington DC to catapult out of obscurity into the ranks of the movers and shakers. You see how hard it was for a woman to do anything besides toil in obscurity, and how hard she worked her connections to become (and you learn this on that very page) one of a handful of women admitted to law schools and then the bar, and then (and here's the kicker) the first woman to be admitted before the bar of the Supreme Court. Most of the book is about the twentieth century, so maybe it's not the best place to begin; but you do get a sense of the book's preference for odd characters and of my interest in writing about how politics shaped the fullness of lives. The Feminist Promise tries to make feminism a living, breathing, argumentative matter.
Read an excerpt from The Feminist Promise, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gabriel Cohen's "The Ninth Step"

Gabriel Cohen's books include the Edgar Award–nominated Red Hook. He has written for the New York Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.

Cohen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, The Ninth Step, and reported the following:
The Ninth Step, my fourth Jack Leightner crime novel, is coming out on May 25. I was glad to see what came up on page 99 for two reasons.

On that page, my protagonist, NYPD homicide detective Jack Leightner, and his partner Richie are talking to a Homeland Security agent named Charlson about a humble murder in a Pakistani deli in Brooklyn. Charlson informs them that their case may actually be connected to an incident in which pirates hijacked a ship in the Middle East. Here’s a snippet:
Richie interrupted. “Why wouldn’t the ship’s owners just go in and take it back by force? You said they were connected to the military, right?”

“Very simple: if the pirates were attacked, they could sink the ship. The potential loss might be much greater than the ransom demand. It’s a difficult problem.” Charlson sat back and steepled his hands together again. “Now, incidents like this are practically routine in the gulf—they get hundreds of pirate attacks every year. But what happened next was not routine. Not at all. While the Iranians were trying to decide what to do, the Somalis went poking around the cargo containers, just out of curiosity. After several days, some of them started to get very ill. They lost their hair and got mysterious skin burns. And then they began to die off, one by one.”

Jack whistled. “That wouldn’t be radiation sickness, by any chance?”
First, The Ninth Step is different from the other books in the series because it plays the mundane realities of daily life in Brooklyn against a wider international picture—it has a bit of a thriller element.

Second, it contains four fascinating real-life stories. Aside from this bizarre piracy incident in the Gulf of Aden, the story also deals with what happened to Pakistani-Americans in Brooklyn post 9/11, when the “War on Terror” devastated a whole thriving community. And another investigation in the book takes Jack back to his childhood in Red Hook and explores the world of the Italian mafia there in 1965—where, for example, the loan-sharking Gallo brothers briefly kept a lion in their basement and told their debtors to “go down and talk to Leo.”

Last but not least, I used one of the most amazing real stories I’ve come across in 26 years of freelance journalism. Back in 1943 a fully loaded munitions ship caught fire in New York harbor. If it had exploded, it would have taken out other munitions ships docked nearby, and the resulting shockwave would have flattened a number of New Jersey port towns, as well as the northern tip of Staten Island and the southern end of Manhattan. It could have been the greatest disaster in human history, if not for the incredibly brave efforts of a little band of local firemen, dockworkers, and Coast Guardsmen. This is all true! (I interviewed an 88-year-old former Coastie who was there that day, and made his story part of my book.)

It was a really fun challenge for me to weave these real tales into my fictional present-day world, and to make them emotionally significant to my characters.
Learn more about the author and his work at Gabriel Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Graving Dock.

My Book, The Movie: Red Hook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jed Z. Buchwald & Diane Greco Josefowicz's "The Zodiac of Paris"

Jed Z. Buchwald is the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology. His books include The Creation of Scientific Effects: Heinrich Hertz and Electric Waves. Diane Greco Josefowicz teaches in the writing program at Boston University.

Buchwald and Josefowicz applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Zodiac of Paris: How an Improbable Controversy over an Ancient Egyptian Artifact Provoked a Modern Debate between Religion and Science, and reported the following:
The Zodiac of Paris recounts the European fortunes of the Dendera zodiac, an ancient bas-relief temple ceiling adorned with symbols of the stars and planets. Now installed at the Louvre, it was discovered by the French during Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and removed, in 1821, by a French archaeological vandal who brought it to Paris. There the zodiac caused a sensation because it seemed to suggest that the Biblical account of creation was wrong—a dangerous proposition at a time when departures from religious orthodoxy were crimes against the state as well.

We stumbled on the zodiac’s story when one of us wandered into a Paris book shop and found a small volume, half-clad in red Morocco, with a single word embossed on the spine: ZODIAQUE. This was a collection of pamphlets, dating from the zodiac’s Paris debut, assembled and elegantly bound by an early enthusiast. It is part of the enduring magic of the subject that, as a result of this discovery, we soon became fascinated by the object’s power to excite scientific, religious, and political passions.

Before 1800, most accounts of the zodiacs discovered in Egypt (of which only one was physically brought to France years later) were written by people who had actually seen it; many were produced during the French occupation. After Napoleon’s return, these stories, accompanied by drawings, began to circulate. On page 99, we shift from eyewitness accounts of the zodiacs to the arguments they provoked, as scientists and scholars became obsessed by the historical, religious and astronomical facts that the objects appeared to encode.

At issue was the age of creation: If the zodiacs pictured the sky at the times when the edifices containing them were constructed , then astronomy, rather than textual sources from the Bible and classical antiquity, could be used to date the temples. Astronomers quickly pointed out that the dates that resulted from their calculations were remote indeed from anything offered by Biblical chronology. Since hieroglyphics had not yet been deciphered, and knowledge of ancient Egypt was correspondingly primitive, the zodiac offered fertile ground for flights of abundant speculation along these lines, much of which ultimately concerned whether science or religion was the more authoritative source of knowledge about the past.
Read an excerpt from The Zodiac of Paris, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Beth Greenfield's "Ten Minutes from Home"

Beth Greenfield received her M.A. in journalism from New York University and has since written about travel, entertainment, gay culture, and parenting for publications including the New York Times, Lonely Planet guidebooks, Out, Time Out New York Kids, and Time Out New York, where she is currently a staff editor. She lives in New York City and Provincetown with her partner and their daughter.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her newly published memoir, Ten Minutes from Home, and reported the following:
When I opened Ten Minutes from Home to see what was on page 99, I was disappointed: It was only half a page of text, the end of chapter nine. Could it really come close to passing the Ford Madox Ford test? My initial answer was, "No way." But upon further thought, I think it actually comes pretty close.

My book is, most simply, a tale of adolescent grief. It tells the story of what happens in my family in 1982, when I was 12 years old, after our car was hit by a drunk driver, killing my 7-year-old brother and 13-year-old best friend. My narrative explores all sorts of relationships of mine and how they were affected—how I felt anger toward my mother because she was so crushed by her grief, how I hungered for new close friendships and sought them from neighbors I had little in common with, how I turned to many other adults in my life, from teachers to the new young rabbi of our suburban New Jersey synagogue, to become stand-in mother figures for me. It also takes a close look at the role my grandparents played after the accident, how they lived with us for a short time, greeting mourners and trying to make life continue normally for me while my parents were on the emotional mend.

And what appears on page 99 kind of exemplifies all that. It takes place at the end of a house call from my mother's friend and her 13-year-old son, Scott, on whom I had a massive crush at the time. The friends' good-bye wishes prompt me to ruminate on the types of phrases I kept hearing from caring adults—how I, after being forced to mature overnight after the accident, had begun to read into everything that people said to me. And how one of my grandmothers, my father's mother, was here when I needed her most. It is a snapshot of my adolescent self, expressing pain, thankfulness and a new, unfamiliar wisdom.
All that week, I had begun to sense deep meaning in people's basic words. "Take care" meant "What happened to you is unspeakable, so I don't know what to say."

"Take care of Mom" meant, "I know she's a mess. Don't do anything to make it worse." In general, people stuck to their clichés. They let me figure out the rest.

"Later," Scott said, nodding in my direction. "Feel better."

Grandma Lil saw them to the door and then wrapped her arms around me. When she let go I saw that her eyes were wet with tears, and that her lip quivered as she tried to hold herself together.

"That's my granddaughter," she said, gripping each arm. "That's my Beth." She held my face between the palms of her hands, soft and warm, vaguely scented with lemony hand cream and tuna salad, and leaned in to stamp a juicy kiss just under my left eye. I closed it and smiled, thinking of all the times she'd put her lips to my cheeks, so relieved she was there to do it then.
Read an excerpt from Ten Minutes from Home, and learn more about the book and author at Beth Greenfield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robert Pippin's "Hollywood Westerns and American Myth"

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hollywood Westerns and American Myth: The Importance of Howard Hawks and John Ford for Political Philosophy, and determined that "p. 99 is actually not a bad 'sample'." Here is a brief description of the book:
Robert Pippin argues here for the importance of political psychology for any adequate political philosophy, and so encourages a re-animation of a philosophical concern with those dynamics of the human soul relevant to any life in common. Traditionally, such a psychology concerned the core political passions: among others, love, especially love of one’s own, fear (fear of violent death, of suffering and insecurity), desires for ease and luxury and pleasure, and a powerful passion called by many names: thymos, amour-propre, vanity, self-love, the desire for recognition, the need to secure one’s status with others and even to elevate one’s status above and even at the expense of others. Secondly, he argues that while these issues are not in the foreground of much political thought (concerned almost exclusively with the problem of legitimacy), they are treated in subtle and compelling ways in many of the great Hollywood Westerns. For many such films are about the founding of modern bourgeois, law-abiding, property owning, market economy, technologically advanced societies in transition situations of, mostly, lawlessness (or corrupt and ineffective law) that border on classic “state of nature” theories, and so such Westerns adopt a mythic form of narration about founding. The question often raised is the question of how legal order (of a particular modern form, the form of liberal democratic capitalism) is psychologically possible, under what conditions it can be formed and command allegiance, how the bourgeois virtues, especially the domestic virtues, can be said to get a psychological grip in an environment where the heroic and martial virtues are so important. Pippin singles out for special attention three films, Red River, directed by Howard Hawks, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Searchers by John Ford.
Learn more about Hollywood Westerns and American Myth at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cristina Mazzoni's "She-Wolf"

Cristina Mazzoni is a Professor in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Vermont.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, She-Wolf: The Story of a Roman Beast (Cambridge University Press, 2010), and reported the following:
“Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” It is clearly not up to me, the author, to comment on the quality of my own work; to reveal relationships between a particular page and the book as a whole, however, is precisely what my university pays me to do, for much of my workday. Page 99 of She-Wolf: The Story of a Roman Icon discusses the work of Latin poet Propertius; he compares the poet’s verbal task to the maternal work of the Roman she-wolf—who rescued abandoned infants Romulus and Remus by feeding them with her own milk. The poet’s voice, an expression of his chest, celebrates Rome’s greatness much like the she-wolf’s milk, expressed through her teats, allowed for Rome’s very birth. But the she-wolf, as well as generous, is a fierce beast; so also the Romans, according to another author quoted on p.99—ancient historian Justin—“had the disposition of wolves, being insatiable of blood and tyranny.”

Given the book’s title and the time period discussed on this page, the reader of p.99 might conclude that She-Wolf deals with the ancient world; that, however, is only one-third true—the remaining two thirds of the book examine later periods, all the way up to the twenty-first century. Poetry, the subject of p.99, is not the book’s only focus—equally important are artworks as well as literary, historical, and political prose. Conversely, what of p.99 is typical of the book is a close reading of the complexities embodied in the Roman beast: sexual greed tempered by protective maternity, literal beastliness marked by metaphorical significance, selflessness made dangerous by natural ferocity. The texts quoted on p.99 provide just two examples of how the she-wolf, inherently ambiguous, has served to represent, at different times and through a variety of media, a number of disparate issues and ideas—among them, our moral imperatives towards others’ needs, the pervasiveness of misogyny, the status of immigrants, and the meaning and acquisition of a national identity.
Read an excerpt from She-Wolf, and learn more about the book and author at the Cambridge University Press website and Cristina Mazzoni's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paul Collier's "The Plundered Planet"

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University and a former director of Development Research at the World Bank. In addition to the award-winning The Bottom Billion, he is the author of Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Plundered Planet: Why We Must--and How We Can--Manage Nature for Global Prosperity, and reported the following:
By good fortune, page 99 really matters.

The Plundered Planet is about the mismanagement of nature’s assets. The romantic environmentalists have seized the high ground, arguing that nature should be preserved. But often we can do better by using up natural assets and converting them into more productive assets such as schools, ports and factories. Our ethical responsibility to future generations is not to preserve, but to pass on at least the equivalent value of any natural assets we use. For the poorest societies – the bottom billion – this distinction is truly important because their natural assets are so valuable. If poor countries have to preserve nature rather than harness it they will lose their main opportunity for prosperity. We are the custodians of value, not the curators of artifacts. This is the key ethical proposition of the book and page 99 has a clear statement of it.

But more happens on page 99: are the governments of the bottom billion behaving ethically in their use of natural assets? Are they handing on to the future the equivalent value of the natural assets they deplete? If not they are living unsustainably. The punch line of the page is that most of them fall far short of this ethical standard. They save and invest very little of the revenues generated by natural resource extraction.

So much for page 99: what goes on it the rest of the book? A lot in a short space, I think. I try to show that the same ethical challenge arises across a range of superficially different issues concerning nature, such as climate change and fishing, as well as resource extraction. Yet nature has been moralized before it has been analyzed. It arouses deep passions, but the underlying economics is badly misunderstood. I wrote the book to help build a critical mass of informed opinion. I think it is my best book. Please read it.
Listen to The Plundered Planet podcasts, and learn more about the book and author at Paul Collier's website.

Read J. Tyler Dickovick's interview with Collier about his award-winning book, The Bottom Billion.

The Page 99 Test: The Bottom Billion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Elaine Tyler May's "America and the Pill"

Elaine Tyler May is Regents Professor in the Departments of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of several books, including Homeward Bound and Barren in the Promised Land. She has contributed to Ms., the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and more. May is the 2009–2010 President of the Organization of American Historians.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, and reported the following:
Fifty years ago, in May of 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of the oral contraceptive, which quickly came to be known simply as “the pill.” At the time, its proponents believed it would bring about an end to overpopulation, poverty, unwanted and unwed pregnancy, ensure sexually satisfied married couples who would raise well-adjusted well-planned children and bring down the divorce rate. At the same time, its opponents feared it would unleash sexual chaos. It turned out that the pill fulfilled none of these expectations. But it did many things that were not anticipated at the time. Most importantly, it allowed women to control their fertility with almost 100 percent certainty, without the participation or even the knowledge of their sex partners. America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation tells the story of the pill over the last 50 years. One intriguing aspect of the pill is that it was the first of many contraceptive products developed for women over the last half century. Over those same years, not one new contraceptive was developed for men. Why not? Page 99 hints at some of the reasons. The page begins with a woman in 1970 complaining to a doctor. The doctor quotes her in his column in the Boston Globe:
“It’s the same old story, male domination.... Why not let the ever-loving husband take his turn and allow a few experiments performed on him for a change?” Dr. Curtis responded by explaining that there were male contraceptives in the works, but that more time was needed to test their safety and effectiveness. He also noted that men do not have the same stake in contraception: “What it boils down to is this: Women can get pregnant; men can’t.” There were also psychological effects. “Generally speaking, a man equates his ability to impregnate a woman with masculinity. And all too often the loss of such ability really deflates his ego.” Helen replied, “Might be just what a lot of egotistical males need.” Needed or not, the male libido seemed to be the primary preoccupation in any discussion of a pill for men. Although there was evidence that the oral contraceptive could negatively affect women’s sex drive, that particular side effect was dismissed as unimportant.

As early as 1965, Gregory Pincus articulated the problem: “Male volunteers for fertility control studies may be numbered in the low hundreds, whereas women have volunteered for similar studies by the thousands.... He [the human male] has psychological aversions to experimenting with sexual functions....

Perhaps experimental studies of fertility control in men should be preceded by a thorough investigation of male attitudes.” In the 1970s, sexuality remained a central concern in the male contraceptive trials. A 1974 report to the World Health Organization urged researchers to develop a reversible male contraceptive that would not compromise libido or potency.
Learn more about the book and author, and read an excerpt, at the America and the Pill website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Larry Wolff's "The Idea of Galicia"

Larry Wolff is professor of European history at NYU, and director of the NYU Center for European and Mediterranean Studies. His research focuses on Central and Eastern Europe, and his books include Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment, and Postcards from the End of the World: Child Abuse in Freud’s Vienna.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 is actually one of my favorite pages in The Idea of Galicia. It describes Alexander Fredro, the greatest comic dramatist in Polish literature (sometimes called the Polish Molière), sending a live captured bear from the Carpathian Mountains in 1826 as a welcoming gift to the new governor of Galicia (the province was part of the Habsburg monarchy and ruled by the Habsburg emperor from Vienna with a governor named by the emperor). Fredro writes a comical letter to present the bear to the governor, and I quote the letter on page 99:
“My Prince! I hasten to send to Your Highness a bear from the Beskidy mountains [a range of the Carpathians]... The pious and loyal physiognomy promises much, and it is to be supposed that cubs will find in him a worthy preceptor. I believe that it would be well to be reassured for the future by the Italian manner of his sweetness and of his good conduct; there may also exist among his numerous talents that of singing.”
I then discuss the ways in which this letter is not simply comical, but suggests an imperial-provincial dynamic: the wildness of Galicia represented by the bear from the mountains, and the loyalty of the Galicians to the governor and the emperor implicit in the “pious and loyal physiognomy” that Fredro claimed to see in the face of the bear (as well as Italianate sweetness, “good conduct,” and even musical talent). Still, Fredro and the governor both knew that a wild bear was a wild bear, and might take you by surprise.

The purpose of the book is to explore the whole history of Galicia, from its creation in the 18th century to its abolition after World War I, through a study of the “idea” of the place: how people who lived there, or governed there, thought about the province (for instance, its supposed wildness). This becomes a kind of labor of historical archaelogy, since Galicia has been gone from the map since 1918, and only exists today as a memory or phantom. Still, it’s a meaningful memory for the people who live in that territory today (southern Poland and western Ukraine), and even for the great number of Polish-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, and Jewish-Americans, whose families emigrated from Galicia. Jewish ethnography still often makes use of the category of the Galitzianer.

The other thing I like about page 99 is the discussion of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, the younger son of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Franz Xaver was a musician like his father, but, alas, not nearly as talented, and he left Vienna to try to make his career in the provinces, that is, in the province of Galicia. He initially approached Galicia with a very condescending Viennese attitude, but he came to regard it as a kind of home and formed connections with Polish musicians and noble families (he gave piano lessons to their children). Franz Xaver fell in love with the wife of a Habsburg bureaucrat who worked for the governor, and that kept bringing the musician back to Galicia even though he meant to move on. In 1826 (on page 99), Franz Xaver was leading a performance of his father’s Requiem in the Ukrainian church of St. George in Lviv, marking the 35th anniversary of his father’s tragically early death.
Read more about The Idea of Galicia at the publisher's website and visit Larry Wolff's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Claude S. Fischer's "Made in America"

Claude S. Fischer is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of many books, including Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years and America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, and reported the following:
The context here is a discussion of how Americans are not really individualists, but community “voluntarists,” taking as a key example the evangelical Protestant congregation. Page 99:
gotta go there by yourself.”) Crucially, however, the believer finds salvation not in a hermitage, a desert, or a lonesome valley, but in a church, together with others of the faithful, testifying to his or her rebirth. This theology and this form of church, as political scientist James Block well argues, shaped American culture: the “new idiom of religion—combining individualism with elective community—becomes the American character.” A modern, mundane parallel is the gated community. Virtually anyone with the money can join or leave, but residents must accept strict limitations on what color they paint their homes, where they park their cars, and so forth in order to enjoy the benefits of the association. A third, more complex example is contemporary marriage. Easier to enter and easier to leave than it was generations ago, marriage remains to almost all Americans central to personal fulfillment. As Emersonian as Americans sometimes seem, they are committing themselves to churches, neighborhoods, and marriages—but only insofar as they choose those groups and are not shackled to them. The individualism remains in the insistence on free entry and exit.

“Contractualism” or “covenantalism” is central to American voluntarism. Individuals make this implicit contract by joining the group: I am free to stay or leave, but while belonging I owe fealty to the group. One might also call this the “love it or leave it” rule. Modern American marriage has this character: Americans believe that a person should be free to choose to marry or not and should be free to choose to leave an unhappy marriage or not, but so long as a marriage continues, the spouse must be faithful. (Americans have little taste for discreet adultery à la française.) Similarly, many Americans switch religions or denominations, but those who do are at least as devoted to their newly chosen faiths as are those who stay in their parents’ churches. This is also how local activists in the San Diego area understood their commitments to their towns, as explained by sociologist Richard Madsen:
To be a member of a community means to fulfill the social dimensions of one’s humanity through interaction with others. Belonging to a community does not, though, entail the sacrifice of oneself for the good of the group.... [A]n individual must resist the twin temptations of submerging oneself in the group and of denying one’s responsibilities toward the group.
Such activists do not feel obligated, for example, to stay forever—that would be to sacrifice the self—but when they move, they feel obliged to become activists in their new towns. This implicit contract helps explain the conformism that many observers have historically charged to Americans: conformity is part of the deal. It also helps explain why Americans are neither anarchists nor free lovers—positions one would expect of true libertarians—and why they more often defer to groups and group leaders than other Westerners do.
The page 99 test is fair enough for me. It reveals some of the key ideas of the book. What it does not show is that most of the book's roughly 250pp of text are devoted to concretely recounting the lives, relationships, and thinking of ordinary Americans from the colonial to the modern era -- such as men striving for success in the new cities, women trying to establish church and civility on the frontier, parents coping in different ways with the deaths of infants, farmers dealing with the decline of farming, and young adults trying to fashion their own characters to be both boldly confident and emotionally sensitive.
Read an excerpt from Made in America and visit the book's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jeffrey Wasserstrom's "China in the 21st Century"

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. His books include Global Shanghai, China's Brave New World, and Twentieth-Century China.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a typical part of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know in that it is devoted to answering a question. This is because, like nearly all the contributions to Oxford’s new “What Everyone Needs to Know” series, mine is structured in a brisk Q & A format. Here’s the question addressed on page 99: “What does China have in common with other countries?” This query is a direct follow-up to the previous one (posed on page 96): “Is contemporary China utterly unique?”

My aim in responding to these two questions is simple. I want to show that, while there are certainly specific ways in which China’s recent trajectory has been unlike that of any other country (e.g., never before have so many cities swelled so rapidly in a nation), we shouldn’t treat the PRC as being in every way a nation that is in a class by itself—or assume that, if it does have things in common with other countries, these will only be places ruled by Communist Party regimes or shaped by “Confucian” traditions.

Toward the end of the book, I argue that China and the United States share many traits, something that goes against the grain of much commentary in both countries that highlights only the contrasts between them. On page 99, though, my concern is with the similarities between China and India. These are also two countries that are more often contrasted with one another, due to the former’s authoritarian and the latter’s democratic political system, than placed in the same category.

I set up my discussion of China-India comparisons on page 98. I emphasize that, while we shouldn’t forget the degree to which Asia’s two largest countries are dissimilar, we should note that each is a political entity that “took its modern form as a nation-state in the 1940s” and each is a place where “in the 1950s economic five-year plans were the order of the day.” I also note that by “the 1960s, Cold War visions of a clear Communist/Free World binary notwithstanding, Chinese and Indian leaders were each trying to find a place for their country that kept it out of both the shadow of the United States and the shadow of the Soviet Union,” and all of them were eager “to discover a developmental path that was unique,” something that led them to become “fascinated by the Singapore model.”

The first paragraph on page 99, building on this groundwork, begins as follows:
Once China and India are thought of as sharing important characteristics, in addition to having many distinctive features, developments in one country can be used to illuminate those in another. The Chinese interest in using mega-events to show that the PRC is now a “modern” rather than a “backward” country, for example, has an Indian parallel. New Delhi is making the most of its hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games, an Olympic-like spectacle, with an ambitious urban redevelopment drive that, while not as costly and over-the- top as that which preceded the Beijing Games, brings to mind the lead-up to 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. There was a great deal of hand-wringing in the Indian press at the time of China’s Olympic success because Indians feared it would be difficult for India to put on as polished a show. But this only underlines the similar ambitions within each country to use dramatic acts to shed the sense of backwardness they have carried from a time when Western empires dominated the world.
Another thing that page 99 shares with many others in the book is that it doesn’t have a single footnote. I do, however, stress in my treatment of China-India similarities that I am not alone in this divergence from the conventional wisdom. A look at my “further readings” section reveals this. So, too, does the last part of page 99 and first part of page 100 where, after moving from international spectacles to patterns of communal violence, I quote at length from the writings of Pallavi Aiyar, the former Beijing bureau chief of the Hindu newspaper, who is now based in Brussels but continues periodically to shed light on things that, in my mind, “everyone needs to know” about how the two most populous countries on earth resemble as well as differ from one other.
Read an excerpt from China in the 21st Century, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

Wasserstrom is the co-founder and consulting editor of The China Beat.

The Page 69 Test: Jeffrey Wasserstrom's China's Brave New World.

The Page 99 Test: Jeffrey Wasserstrom's Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sujatha Fernandes' "Who Can Stop the Drums?"

Sujatha Fernandes is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Who Can Stop the Drums?: Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela, and reported the following:
When you turn to page 99 of my book, Who Can Stop the Drums?, you will find yourself in the middle of the life history of Yajaira Hernandez, a middle aged black woman from the shantytowns of Caracas. The first line on that page quotes Yajaira, as she talks about her work with street children and those with mental disabilities in the barrios:
I generally think that the most beautiful thing that one can have as a human being is to enjoy life with those around you, with the people, to do things that are insignificant to you but valuable to others. I won’t become a millionaire with this, although many times I need money, but these are the things that fulfill you as a human being and person and they make you live with happiness.
This is one of my favorite lines in the book. Although it doesn’t necessarily represent the whole book, during that interview with Yajaira I realized something important. The kind of service to others that Yajaira talks about was a strong part of the ethos of urban movements. While the last few decades of Venezuelan history were dedicated to entrenching a model of neoliberal economic reform that prioritized the individual and the profit motive above all else, there was still a strong sense of humanity and collective solidarity among ordinary people that ran counter to this.

It is this spirit of urban social movements that emerges over and over throughout the book – in the barrio assembly high in a hillside shanty, in the handmade broadsheet, on the airwaves of a small low power radio, or in the drums of the festival of San Juan. The radical leftist leader Hugo Chávez who came to power in 1998 promising to reverse neoliberal policies drew on this spirit, but at times his institutions also reinforced neoliberal rationalities.

People always say that your field work changes you, and I personally felt uplifted by Yajaira’s narrative. We live in a society that is very dominated by consumption and money and worrying about how to pay bills. Whenever I find myself getting too stressed out by all this, I just turn to page 99 of my book and Yajaira reminds me again about the things that are really important in life.
Learn more about Who Can Stop the Drums? at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paul Cheney's "Revolutionary Commerce"

Paul Cheney is Assistant Professor of History, University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Revolutionary Commerce: Globalization and the French Monarchy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Revolutionary Commerce deals with the economic and historical thought of the Chevalier d’Arcq, a downwardly mobile literary hack who found himself—like many other members of France’s military aristocracy—on the wrong side of history as Europe became more commercial, meritocratic and bourgeois. For the majority of writers prior to the French Revolution, economics was a discipline more akin to comparative political theory or sociology, and so here we find d’Arcq puzzling over the question of how France (and more importantly, members of the French elite like himself…) could find a place in an international order increasingly dominated by trade. This question was all the more pressing for the French because it seemed to many that their ancient monarchy was ill-adapted to economic competition with commercial republics such as Holland and England. As I discuss in the closing chapters of Revolutionary Commerce, the French never really found a successful formula for politically adapting to the challenges of globalization, which helps to explain the form that the Revolution took when it came in 1789.
Read an excerpt from Revolutionary Commerce, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Marla Miller's "Betsy Ross and the Making of America"

Marla Miller directs the Public History program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she also teaches courses on the American Revolution and early Republic.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, and reported the following:
My book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, is the first scholarly biography of the famed seamstress, the alleged maker of the nation's first flag. The book aims to get past the Betsy Ross of folk legend and historical pageantry and recover the world of Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole (1752-1836), a Philadelphia upholsterer and flagmaker for more than sixty years. One of the main challenges of the book is that, since Ross wasn't yet famous at the time of her death, none of her papers were saved for posterity. The legend of the making of the first flag is preserved wholly in affidavits signed by descendents and other family members decades later. The book, then, seeks to tell her story by restoring it in the context of Revolutionary Philadelphia, and the large Griscom family (Betsy was one of 17 children) who weathered the rebellion and its aftermath together.

Page 99 introduces one of my favorite episodes in that family history, the disownment of Betsy Ross from the Society of Friends, or Quakers. On that page -- the second page of Chapter 6, "Domestic Rebellions" -- I'm just warming to the topic of resistance in the household of Betsy's parents, Samuel and Rebecca Griscom, who were having as much trouble controlling their "unruly subjects" in the late 1760s and 70s as was George III.

People who know a little bit about Betsy Ross usually know that in order to marry John Ross (who, as the son of an Anglican minister, was off-limits to Quaker girls like Betsy), she had to elope to New Jersey; she was disowned from the Society of Friends for marrying, as they say, "out of unity." Much has been made of this romantic episode--Betsy Ross as headstrong, and lovestruck. So on p. 99 I am just introducing the story of how Betsy's four older sisters, as it turns out, had each, also, been disowned for marrying "contrary to discipline"--one of them, in fact, for having had a child our of wedlock. As I explain how each girl, in turn, was chastised by the church, and how some of them managed to drag the deliberative process of disownment out for months and months, I set up the story of Betsy's own elopement and disownment, events that end far more abruptly as she quickly reports that she will be leaving the Society, so there's no need for any long conversation about possible regret, forgiveness, and the restoration of unity with that community of faith.

This is one of the juicier sections of the book, and contains some of the most fun stories to tell, and I'd say too that it is indeed pretty well representative of the larger book because it's mainly about Betsy's sisters, but ends by yielding new insight into Betsy, too, since her comparatively quick decision to forego the traditional means by which such breaches are resolved suggests--to me at least--her very decisive nature. In the Myers-Briggs typology, as I suggest elsewhere in the book, Betsy Ross was rock-solid "J" (quick to make judgments), and this episode helps me to show that.
Read an excerpt from Betsy Ross and the Making of America, and learn more about the book and author at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wenda Trevathan's "Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives"

Wenda Trevathan is the Regents Professor of Anthropology at New Mexico State University. A biological anthropologist whose research focuses on the evolutionary and biocultural factors underlying human reproduction, her publications include Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Has Shaped Women’s Health, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Has Shaped Women’s Health is given over to a discussion of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), not the most attractive of the health problems I talk about in the book. My first reaction was to dismiss the whole idea and argue that it isn’t representative of the book, but, on reflection, it actually does a pretty good job of exemplifying the arguments I make. The evolutionary process has involved a number of tradeoffs over the course of human history; very few of the fundamental characteristics that make us human has required more compromises than the evolution of bipedalism, or two-legged walking. In fact, there are a number of medical specialties that owe their existence to the fact that we walk on two legs, including orthopedics, podiatry, physical therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, sports medicine, and obstetrics/midwifery.

Another fundamental characteristic of humans is our large brains and heads, and just as natural selection was favoring a narrow pelvis for bipedal walking, it was also favoring increased brain size. This helps to explain why birth is so much more challenging for humans than it appears to be for most other mammals. In a four-legged animal, the tough muscles of the abdominal wall contain the internal organs in a sling beneath the spine and their weight is spread out evenly along the horizontal support. With the shift to bipedalism, the organs are now packed in the bowl formed by the pelvic bones and they are squished downward, sometimes spilling forward out of the basin, putting strain on the abdominal wall. Too much strain can result in small openings in the lower abdomen through which the intestines can spill known as hernias. The abdominal muscles provide only a little support from the front, so it’s up to the muscles and ligaments in the lower pelvic basin to do the hard work of holding the organs in and keeping them from falling through the pelvic opening. Unfortunately, sometimes they do fall through, resulting in the medical disorder called pelvic organ prolapse or POP. This is thoroughly discussed on page 99, but if that’s all you read, you’ll miss a lot of the more interesting topics including the health consequences of early puberty, highly frequent menstrual cycling, difficult births, breastfeeding, and menopause.
Read an excerpt from Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ian Johnson's "A Mosque in Munich"

Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson spent five years researching and writing A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, interviewing survivors, scouring archives, and pressuring governments to release sensitive intelligence documents. He is also the author of Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China.

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Mosque in Munich and reported the following:
This is a part of the book that I had a lot of fun researching. It's the late 1950s and one of the coldest points in the Cold War. Espionage is rife and each side is angling for "assets" to use against the others. Thanks to newly declassified information that I used on this page, I could piece together a turning point in the book.

The West Germans have identified a group of Muslims living in Munich who had fought for the Nazis in World War II. The government in Bonn hopes to use them to curry favor in the Muslim world against the East Germans. But the CIA has started to make overtures to these Muslims and is hoping to usurp the Germans and use these Muslims in covert propaganda operations against the Soviet Union.

At this point in the story, one of our protagonists, Gerhard von Mende, has just brought back to Germany an Uzbek who had been the imam of a SS division in the war and declared him head of Munich's Muslims. He hopes that this person will unite the Munich Muslims and keep out the United States. Von Mende's letters are rife with criticism of the Americans and grand plans to win over the Muslims. At this point in the book, his man has just arrived in Munich.

When you think of it, the move was audacious--and kind of galling. Who the heck was von Mende, himself a Nazi agent and post-war spook, to anoint someone as head of a group of Muslims? It was also a tactical disaster. The man he picked had worked in a division famous for its cruel suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Today we
might call him a war criminal. Back then he lacked credibility. The upshot: the West Germans lost control of the Muslims and the door was opened for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain its first toehold in the West.
Learn more about the book and author at Ian Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stacy Dittrich's "Stumbling Along the Beat"

Stacy Dittrich is an award-winning law enforcement officer and former detective specializing in sex crimes. A certified law enforcement instructor, she is also a media consultant in the area of law enforcement. Her books include the CeeCee Gallagher thriller series and the true crime thriller, Murder Behind the Badge: True Stories of Cops Who Kill.

Dittrich applied the “Page 99 Test” to her recently released memoir, Stumbling Along the Beat: A Policewoman's Uncensored Story from the World of Law Enforcement, and reported the following:
Interestingly enough, page 99 of Stumbling Along the Beat actually set the stage for things to come. This particular case involving “Edward” became embedded in my brain forever. It was the case that actually set the stage for my exit as a full time law enforcement officer. The story of Edward and his dolls became the inspiration and the beginning of my new career as a writer. My first novel, The Devil’s Closet, follows protagonist—female detective CeeCee Gallagher, as she hunts a serial child killer who has a disturbing affliction for life-sized dolls. I thought it was extremely important to feature Edward’s case in Stumbling Along the Beat as it leads the reader towards an understanding of why I chose to take a different career path in the end.

Page 99:
“Can we go upstairs?”

“I…I suppose.” By now, he was sweating profusely.

Basically, we needed to stall as long as possible, to give the department time to get the warrant completed and signed. Jim had already called the detective writing the warrant to get him to add the information on the photo album.

Searches are tricky. Yes, Edward had given us consent to search certain areas, and we’d found more than enough for probable cause, but only in the general area in which the contraband was found—not in the bedroom. We clearly had enough to arrest Edward for child pornography, but a search warrant would make the evidence and arrest airtight. And it would give us free rein to search the rest of the house, including the bedroom. Luckily for us, it was the middle of the day, so the judge was in his chambers, ready to review and sign the warrant.

When I got upstairs, I found more startling photos. This wasn’t mail-order kiddie porn. By the upstairs window, lying next to a camera, were photographs of little girls playing in sprinklers wearing bathing suits, little girls playing hopscotch and riding their bikes on the sidewalk. In the corner of each photograph was the distinct image of a window frame.

I looked out the window and back at the photographs, realizing that Edward stood at that particular window taking photographs of little girls in the neighborhood. As a mother, the thought horrified me. Little did the parents in that neighborhood know that their daughters were being photographed for a grown man’s sexual gratification.
Browse inside Stumbling Along the Beat, and learn more about the book and author at Stacy Dittrich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jonathan Eig's "Get Capone"

Jonathan Eig is a former writer and editor for the Chicago bureau of The Wall Street Journal and the former executive editor of Chicago magazine. He is the author of two highly acclaimed bestsellers, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. Luckiest Man won the Casey Award for best baseball book of 2005, and Opening Day was selected as one of the best books of 2007 by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Sports Illustrated. Eig lives in Chicago, half a mile from the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, with his family.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster, and reported the following:
The test fails.

Page 99 of my book is a section break. It’s the start of the book’s second act. The page contains only four words:



For some time while I was writing, I thought about using “King Capone” as the book’s title. It has a nice ring to it, evoking King Kong, of course, but also suggesting that he was a man who ruled his world.

Capone was in fact the king of the Chicago underworld, if only for a period of four or five years. He came to the city in 1920, at the dawn of Prohibition, and worked at first as bouncer and bartender in a dive called the Four Deuces. He was fortunate, though, to have for his boss a man named Johnny Torrio, who recognized that the ban on booze could make criminals insanely wealthy. So Torrio, with Capone at his side, assembled an organization that would continue to produce and distribute beer and alcohol in spite of the national law.

Capone was a capable lieutenant, but he was not the visionary, and he did not seem particularly hungry for power.

So how did he become king?

In 1926, two things happened that changed his life: Torrio got shot, decided to retire, and left Capone in charge. The man known as Scarface was only 27 years old at the time and a virtual unknown.

The second event was even more critical: Someone shot and killed a prominent local prosecutor, William McSwiggin. Most people assumed the killer was Capone. So the big man disappeared for a couple of months, and it appeared that perhaps he would never return.

Instead, in the summer of ’26, Capone came back to Chicago. He summoned the press. He declared his innocence and declared that he’d been bribing the prosecutor for years and certainly had no reason to kill him.

From that moment on, Capone became a towering figure on the national scene. He embraced celebrity like no gangster before or since. He tried to make the world see him as he must have seen himself: as a businessman merely trying to meet the public demand for his product, a man who had been all but forced into a life of crime by an unpopular law, a man who tried his best to avoid conflict but, yes, did occasionally find it impossible to avoid.

There were bigger criminal outfits in the country. There were more vicious gangsters out there, too. Capone became king not so much by his actions but by his words. He loved talking to reporters. He always felt like he had to explain himself. He felt picked on. When the stock market collapsed in 1929, he said he couldn’t wait to see how the feds would blame that on him, too.

Damon Runyon and other ink-stained wretches ate it up.

But crime kings, as a rule, do not enjoy lengthy periods of rule.

When Herbert Hoover took office (and before the economy tanked), he grew furious with Capone’s high and mighty image. He wanted to show Americans that he intended to enforce the nation’s laws, including the unpopular ones. He made plans for sweeping reforms in criminal justice, but he also wanted to make a symbolic gesture, and to do that he informed his top officials that he wanted them to go after Capone.

That’s the turning point of my book. That’s where the conflict and the suspense really arise. That’s why, after much debate, I decided not to call my book King Capone.

If you read Get Capone and think I chose badly, you can rip out page 99 and paste it on the cover. I won’t mind. And you won’t miss a word of text.

Here’s the first full page that follows, the beginning of the “King Capone” section on page 101:
Al Capone called his organization the outfit, small t, small o. He referred to it casually, and, despite the organization’s Byzantine structure and bountiful cash flow, he ran it fairly casually, too. The word “mafia” never crossed his lips. The term usually applied to Sicilian criminal groups, and Capone was not a Sicilian. He was also non-discriminatory in his hiring practices. His closest aides were Jack Guzik, a Jew,; Tony Lombardo, a Sicilian; and Frank Nitti, who hailed from Angri in Calabria. Brother Ralph Capone supervised beer distribution (thus his nickname, “Bottles”), assisted by Capone’s cousin Charlie Fischetti and another Italian business associate named Lawrence Mangano. Pete Penovich, a native of Austria, ran much of the gambling business. A pair of Irishmen, George “Red” Barker and William “Three Fingered” White, along with a Welshman named Murray “The Camel” Humphreys, took care of the labor unions and rackets. The outfit’s principal gunman was Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a Sicilian, whose real name was Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi.

The Capone empire reached every corner of the city, and yet, like Lake Michigan, it was nearly impossible from almost any single angle to comprehend its depth and breadth. Capone owned the house on Prairie Avenue, along with with his wife and mother. But that was it. He didn’t want to be tied too closely to any of the illicit businesses he helped to supervise and supply. Members of his organization, on the other hand, had their own hotels, casinos, speakeasies, lower-class speakeasies known as “blind pigs,” cabarets, restaurants, breweries, bakeries, and brothels. Capone would get a slice of the profits…
Read an excerpt from Get Capone, and learn more about the book and author at the official Get Capone website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bonnie J. Rough's "Carrier"

Bonnie J. Rough is an American writer living in Amsterdam. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA, and reported the following:
The test works perfectly for my book! On page 99 of Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA, I’m 27 years old and getting a taste of what my road to becoming a mother might feel like—a perfect slice of the “quality of the whole.” My blood sample was still in the lab for DNA testing, to determine whether I risked passing a rare genetic disorder to my future children. I had just published an essay in The New York Times “Modern Love” column about the dilemma my husband and I might face: If I turned out to be a carrier of hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, or HED, any sons we bore risked being born with a lack of sweat glands, only a few tooth buds, sparse hair, a slightly unusual appearance, and extra susceptibility to illness and infection. HED was not necessarily life-threatening. But, as an exploration of my family tree had begun to reveal, it could be profoundly and painfully life-altering.

The day my essay appeared in The New York Times, I told four million readers that if Dan and I decided to avoid having children with the disorder, these were our options: We could remain childless, consider adoption, use IVF and discard certain embryos, or become pregnant naturally and test our fetus near the end of the first trimester, possibly facing an excruciating choice.

I began receiving e-mails by the dozen. Even though half of the e-mails validated my indecision by grappling with the same question I asked—should fate or medicine shape our babies?—a great many letters came from readers who believed they knew exactly what Dan and I should do. One called our in-vitro option a “no-brainer,” comparing the cost to the price of a car. Several others, all adoptive parents, called adoption the clear choice for us, implicitly agreeing that HED was best avoided. Other letter writers begged us to forget about testing and allow fate to decide as a way of protecting the diversity of our gene pool. Many readers didn’t care what we did, as long as we ditched the abortion option.
I wanted to argue my side, but I’d had my chance. I typed a few heated responses, but never sent them. For a few days, I felt overcome. Responses continued to flow in, all different, all strong, all personal. The only practice I’d had in fielding the commentary of riled readers had been in a few years’ experience writing for a little newspaper with a circulation of twenty thousand—nothing like the shelling I was taking now. Still, I was glad I had written the essay before Dan and I had made up our minds about what we would actually do if I turned out to be a carrier. I imagined all the weighing-in I would have invited by revealing an actual decision, as if I were offering it up for judgment and asking for a mass verdict.

With my essay, I had hoped to describe a moral dilemma and give a personal account of how it might look to approach such a problem thoughtfully. But scores of people treated my real-life story as we tend to treat the movies: She should never have said that. He could have been more courageous. There was too much scenery and not enough sex. It should have been different in the middle. Why couldn’t they just sell everything and start over?

But, I reminded myself, my readers weren’t the only ones who approached the essay with a cinemagoer’s mentality. The only way I could write it in the first place was to calm myself the way I often did at the movies: by telling myself, It’s not real—I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to. At least not yet.
Read an excerpt from Carrier, and learn more about the book and author at Bonnie J. Rough's website and blog, The Blue Suitcase.

--Marshal Zeringue