Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Karl Gerth's "As China Goes, So Goes the World"

Karl Gerth is a tutor and fellow at Merton College and an historian of modern Chinese history at Oxford University. His new book is As China Goes, So Goes the World: How Chinese Consumers are Transforming Everything, which Kirkus Reviews describes as “Nuanced, balanced and accessible—essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of China today.”

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to As China Goes, So Goes the World and reported the following:
Consider the book’s title. As China Goes, So Goes the World. If that weren’t promising a lot already, the subtitle goes even further: How Chinese Consumers are Transforming Everything. Not just a few things, everything! Yet at first glance, the Page 99 test seemingly catches me with my pants down. On page 99, I am describing the transition from government-run stores during the Mao Zedong era in the 1970s, through the mom-and-pop shops of the reform era in the 1980s and early 1990s, leading toward the present spread of Wal-Marts, 7-Elevens, Best-Buys, and other leading global retailers.

Page 99 focuses on the reemergence of private marketplaces in the 1980s where sellers set their own prices and buyers must again beware:
The end of fixed prices [during the market reforms in the 1980s] also saw the return of the image of the “cunning merchant” (jianshang). In traditional Chinese culture, merchants were generally viewed as making money not, like most Chinese, through hard agricultural labor in the hot sun or even making things by hand, but rather by manipulating prices and information. Even before the Communist Revolution [in 1949], in the early twentieth century merchants were often portrayed in popular culture as treasonous, helping to sell imported products from the imperialist powers, especially Japan, that then dominated China. Then, as now, not everyone sold the same product at the same price. Now price has again become, like so much else in China, relational, with premiums demanded from foreigners and anyone unfamiliar with the market or the seller. In this environment, no wonder bargaining quickly re-emerged as the quintessential marketplace experience.
But why should readers care that Chinese are changing where they shop? How is that changing everything? Of course, Chinese learning to shop at Wal-Mart is a small part of a much bigger picture. The book shows how hundreds of millions of Chinese adapting consumer lifestyles similar to yours is deepening the global commitment to consumer-driven economies and cultures. And, as China continues to participate in the world economy, in the coming years and decades, their brands will change your consciousness and lifestyle the way, say, Sony or Google have. China giving you countless new brands, products, and shopping experiences is a bit of the good news. But there are also serious downsides. What if global markets, including in your country, increasingly look like Chinese markets and are rife with counterfeits? Imagine buying a Coke and not trusting what is in it. Likewise, as the newly wealthy in China buy the things they want, they are consuming into extinction entire species. Will your local aquarium be as interesting a place without the shark exhibition? Big and small, these and countless other changes are underway.

As China Goes gives general readers a way to understand the tremendous and diverse global changes underway that have been triggered by Chinese consumers; it’s the Chinese people who are driving these changes rather than the political elites whom we usually read about. I hope As China Goes will also prompt readers to think about how their own consumer choices are driving global environmental, economic, and cultural changes. After all, what happens inside China is also deeply influenced by the actions of consumers in other countries.
Read more about As China Goes, So Goes the World at the publisher's website, and visit Karl Gerth's Oxford University homepage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pauline Maier's "Ratification"

Pauline Maier is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at M.I.T. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1968. She is the author of several books and textbooks on American history, including From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776, The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams, and American Scripture, which was on the New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice" list of the best 11 books of 1997 and a finalist in General Nonfiction for the National Book Critics' Circle Award.

Maier applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, and reported the following:
Page 99 isn’t all that bad a test of Ratification: it happens to fall on the first page of the first chapter on a state ratifying convention--Pennsylvania, whose convention was the first to meet. Moreover, the chapter starts with Gouverneur Morris’s speculations in late October, 1787, on the Constitution’s chances of being ratified. “Failure,” it says, “was a strong possibility.”

The heart of the book is in the elected state ratifying conventions, which decided the Constitution’s fate. They were the events of the year that began on September 17, 1787, when the federal Convention adjourned, and September 13, 1788, when the Confederation Congress declared the Constitution ratified and made arrangements for the first federal elections. Once the conventions met, they had to find halls big enough to hold both the elected delegates and the large number of spectators who wanted to witness the debates and who could hardly be locked out of meetings called to make a major decision on behalf of “We the People.”

The book also includes a Prologue that looks at the background of the Constitution through the eyes of George Washington, who, as a retired general at Mount Vernon, pondered whether or not to attend the federal Convention in Philadelphia. (The federal Convention happens in the crack between the Prologue and Chapter One, where the delegates are packing their bags and leaving Philadelphia with printed copies of the Constitution in their bags.) It also has an Epilogue, which follows the emergence of the first amendments to the Constitution in the first federal Congress (surprise: nobody called them a bill of rights) and gets North Carolina and Rhode Island, which at first refused to ratify, back into the union. A Postscript tells what happened to some of the more obscure but remarkable members of the state conventions.
Browse inside Ratification, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Duncan Kelly's "The Propriety of Liberty"

Duncan Kelly is a University Senior Lecturer in Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Propriety of Liberty: Persons, Passions, and Judgement in Modern Political Thought, and reported the following:
On p. 99, my argument concerns the relationship between legislative passions and civil religion in the political thought of Montesquieu, the famous eighteenth-century author of L’Esprit des lois. At this point in the book, I have already discussed some of the ways in which Montesquieu considers justice in relation to classical moral philosophical arguments about politics, friendship, and despotism, and have also explored his analysis of the human passions.

If we are to have political liberty, Montesquieu tells us, we must struggle to regulate our own passionate natures. Moreover, if we are to have the greatest possible political liberty, we will need to live under a moderate government that can adequately align itself with our natural desires and thereby help to cultivate our freedom. Balance, moderation, and prudence are crucial to the enterprise, and the combination of internal and external regulation this requires, according to Montesquieu, hints at the more general argument of the book. For in essence, this book considers the historical development of a particular idea of liberty as a form of propriety. In this history, propriety is understood both as an internal form of self-governing conduct concerned with the quality of individual agency, and also as an external standard of judgement for assessing the actions of others, rooted in a common conception of justice. The story begins with John Locke and ends with Thomas Hill Green, but covers the works of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill (as well as Montesquieu) along the way. Here is a passage:
True political virtue, the spring (ressort) for action that unites the good man to the ideal republic, is neither moral, nor Christian, nor indeed classical and heroic virtue. Only political liberty, and hence moderation or propriety, can foster the promotion of political virtue through the artificial manipulation of natural passions, and while monarchy might best achieve this aim, part of the human ingenuity that makes this artifice possible stems from the wisdom of the legislator who knows how to relate religion to politics. Civil religion is another tool, like honour, for promoting a well-ordered polity. Just as intermediary powers help to balance moderate regimes by cultivating good citizens, so too should ‘religion and the civil laws’ aim ‘principally to make good citizens of men’. To the extent that one or the other ‘departs from this end’, the other force should attempt to counterbalance it.
Montesquieu clearly sees himself as part of a much broader political tradition here. As an earlier discussion from the same page suggests:
It is unsurprising therefore to find Montesquieu suggesting that the connections between laws, the constitution of the state and the various passions of the people, all ‘meet [in] the passions and prejudices of the legislator’. It was a claim that allowed him to present Aristotle and Plato, Machiavelli, Thomas More, and James Harrington as precursors of his argument. Balance, moderation and propriety structure Montesquieu’s political thinking, and he saw the need for it everywhere, whether in terms of balancing property and political power, or in terms of the need to balance our natural self-interest with the demands of political stability. It was equally vital, though, that the ‘genius’ of the legislator recognize the need for concision and simplicity in style. Laws should be like the Roman Twelve Tables, not the ‘Novellae of Justinian’ or the overly rhetorical laws of princes in the East. They certainly should not change ‘without sufficient reason’. They should also sit well with the mediocrity or generality of the middling sort, as Aristotle had proposed.
Outlining some of these connections in Montesquieu, and in the works of other major figures in the history of modern political thought, the book as a whole makes the case for reconsidering our current sense of the relationship between free agency and political freedom. By looking again at the intellectual history of the idea of liberty in modern political thought, it tries to show how such an account might help to move us beyond some of the conventional, and occasionally misleading, categories of contemporary political argument.
Read an excerpt from The Propriety of Liberty, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giles Whittell's "Bridge of Spies"

Giles Whittell is currently the Washington bureau chief for the London Times. He has been based in Times bureaus all over the world, including Moscow and Los Angeles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Bridge of Spies a Brooklyn artist named Burt Silverman has just seen a friend on the front page of the New York Times. It's August 8, 1957, and Silverman is on his way home when he passes the news stand. He knows his friend as Emil, a fellow painter with a faint Scottish accent and a complicated past. The Times identifies him as Colonel Rudolf Abel, "the most important Soviet spy ever caught in the United States".

Silverman is stunned:
[He] rode the subway home in a daze that in a sense has yet to lift. Here was an answer to the Emil question, but it was other people's answer; an answer announced by people who didn't even know him. "The disconnect between public and private was wrenching," he says, half a lifetime later. "In fact, I still view this as a story somebody made up about my life, a chapter which is totally untrue."
It was true that Emil was a spy; untrue that his real name was Abel. He was William Fisher, for nine years the KGB's most senior undercover agent in North America. He had uncovered little and recruited no one of interest to Moscow, but as a prisoner he was magnificent. He admitted nothing but he floored his lawyer and the press with his erudition and his courtroom cool. In him, the legend of the Soviet masterspy was born.

He was exchanged five years later on a bridge outside Berlin for Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down in 1960 over central Russia. That shootdown changed the course of history in ten seconds flat, in ways not fully understood till now. Had Powers made it to his destination there might have been no Berlin Wall. As it was, a third man was caught on the wrong side of the wall, interrogated for five months, and released at Checkpoint Charlie into the arms of his parents as part of the same exchange. His name is Frederic Pryor, and he is still alive nearly half a century later.

Bridge of Spies is the story of how these three men came together in Berlin, and how, on the way there, one of them managed to destroy the fond hopes of the leaders of two superpowers for a new age of détente.
Read more about Bridge of Spies at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sarahlee Lawrence's "River House"

Sarahlee Lawrence was born and raised on her family ranch in Terrebonne, Oregon. After a decade spent studying, traveling, river rafting, and earning an MS in Environmental Science and Writing from the University of Montana, she returned to the ranch, where she owns and operates an organic vegetable farm.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, River House, and reported the following:
“The paralysis that comes with too much to do and not enough time was familiar to me. No matter if I was trying to travel the length of a continent or run the length of a river, I never had enough time.”

I cannot believe these words fall on page 99, representing the “quality of the whole.” They sum up my life’s struggle. In this case they referred to the construction of my house, a massive project I continue to whittle away at. The theme recurs throughout the book from rivers to continents. It was in the end of my marriage and the middle of my farming season.

Sometimes big ideas, hopes, and dreams get you in so deep that the pressure is nearly unbearable. River House deals repeatedly with going forward, digging deeper, and getting tough.
Read an excerpt from River House.

Writers Read: Sarahlee Lawrence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jay Kirk's "Kingdom Under Glass"

Jay Kirk's nonfiction has been published in Harper's, GQ, the New York Times Magazine, and The Nation. His work has been anthologized in Best American Crime Writing 2003 and Best American Crime Writing 2004, and Best American Travel Writing 2009 (edited by Simon Winchester). He is a recipient of a 2005 Pew Fellowship in the Arts and is a MacDowell Fellow. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kirk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals, and reported the following:
Weirdly enough, when I turn to page 99 I find the kernel of what first turned me on to my main character, Carl Akeley, the famous taxidermist who would not only revolutionize his grim art, and create the dioramas in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum in New York City -- after five harrowing expeditions to kill the animals he would later resurrect with painstaking verisimilitude -- but in the end who would become transformed as a great conservationist and save the mountain gorillas. The interesting thing here is that on page 99, we find Carl Akeley in the middle of strangling a leopard with his bare hands. I first came across this particular detail while conducting research on a story for Harper’s Magazine about extinct cats, specifically, the Eastern Mountain Lion, which, despite its status as extinct since 1888, still enjoys more “sightings” than Elvis Presley. I remember I was reading about the general historic background, when America was systematically exterminating cougars and wolves and all these great mammals that we thought were devil creatures but now consider charismatic (perhaps due to their harmless scarcity). In any event, it was during my research that I first ran across a mention in passing about Akeley and his death match with the leopard in Somaliland, in 1896. In the end, however, if it weren’t for the epiphany he had while collecting mountain gorillas, in 1921, paradoxically enough, the mountain gorilla would have gone extinct.

Page 99, Kingdom Under Glass:…it was too small a target. Then the other bird poked up its head, and figuring he stood a better chance of hitting at least one, he decided to take the shot, but by the time he took aim, the damn things had ducked out of sight. After repeating this several times, he tired of the game, and decided to climb down off the termite hill and go back into the grass after them.

All he found was an empty nest in a small clearing. The sandy ground was so scratched up with tracks, he couldn’t tell which way they’d gone off, and for a minute he stood there wondering what to do next. Then he heard a sound, a rustling in the grass, and the ostrich cock came running out. Akeley half-aimed and took a wild shot. But before he could chamber another round, the hideous bird vanished back into the bush and again he was alone.

When he saw that the last bit of the day’s sun was beginning to flare against the horizon, he started back. But, on his way, when he returned to the spot where he’d left the warthog, he found to his naïve dismay only vulture feathers and hyena tracks scattered in the dusty red soil. The entire day had been a complete waste.

He had not gone much further, however, when he saw a hyena duck ahead into the grass with what he was pretty sure was the head of his warthog in its jaws. He cursed when it slipped away before he could get in a shot, and decided to think about the stiff drink he’d have when he got back to camp. But then, a few steps later, he saw another shadowy figure in the grass and—in the mood to take vengeance for his loss—thoughtlessly fired.

In reply, a high chilling yowl came from the grass. It was not the cry of a hyena at all. Scared, now, he fired two more shots and then felt the dry click of the trigger on the third. His rifle was empty. Sensing that he had only wounded whatever he’d just blindly shot at, he ran up a nearby hill, trying to jam a cartridge into the magazine. He jumped over a bank into a dry, sandy river bed, and turned to see if he was being followed. But by the time he registered the black spots and long switching tail it was too late. Springing from the grass, the leopard knocked the rifle from his hands. It lunged for his throat. But, instinctively, Carl twisted—and just in time—as its jaws clamped down on his shoulder instead. Screaming and doing his best to dodge the giant cat’s scrambling hind claws, he managed to fall in the right direction and by dint of this accident pinned…
Read an excerpt from Kingdom Under Glass, and learn more about the book and author at Jay Kirk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Joe Perry's "Christmas in Germany"

Joe Perry is associate professor of modern German and European history at Georgia State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
My book German Christmas: A Cultural History explores Germany's favorite holiday from about 1800 to the 1970s, so any single page will tell part but not all of the story. The material on page 99 does not spell out my main arguments—they are set out in the introduction. But if readers have made it that far, they know that I see German Christmas as a holiday of family affection and the birth of Jesus, but also as a time for celebrating ideas about civic belonging and German national identity. Competing political groups, including Nazis and Communists, Liberals and Social Democrats, all shaped their own versions of the holiday. Each tried to manipulate the intimate emotions evoked by family celebration to support their political agendas.

Chapters One and Two show that symbols like the Christmas tree and Father Christmas, and rituals such as opening gifts on Christmas Eve, were not timeless traditions with roots in an ancient past. Rather, they were inventions of the nineteenth-century cultured middle classes, and so at its core the Christmas we know today is a celebration of bourgeois love and domesticity. Across the nineteenth century, the family holiday was "nationalized." Christmas became a sign of a proud German identity rooted in domestic life, but these apparently natural values were contested. Protestants and Catholics clashed over the correct forms of religious observance. A "proper German Christmas" was too expensive for working-class Germans and too Christian for German Jews, and both groups remade Christmas in ways that both challenged and appropriated the mainstream holiday.

This brings us to Chapter Three, on what Germans called "War Christmas," and page 99. This chapter again underscores the political malleability of the German holiday. When Germans went to war—as they did in 1870, 1914, and 1939—Christmas became a sentimental celebration of German patriotism. Even as ordinary soldiers longed for absent loved ones, civic leaders and government propagandists used the holiday to remind soldiers at the front that they fought for Germany and their families at home. On page 99, I try to show the ways ordinary soldiers experienced frontline celebrations during the Franco-Prussia War—the war that led to German unification in 1871. As this passage suggests, in much of the book I use personal diaries and letters to try to recover personal responses to the holiday:
The burdens of war made recollections of childhood celebrations particularly poignant. "Never did our thoughts, never did our wishes fly more warmly to the beloved Heimat," remembered infantryman Florian Kühnhauser, a Bavarian soldier active in his local veterans group after the war. "Memories of past years, yes of childhood were awoken [by this] painful suffering and deprivation." Religious services, according to court chaplain Bernhard Rogge, made soldiers "whole" by reminding them of home. Such feelings were supposedly universal. As a Catholic chaplain noted in a typical comment, attempts to celebrate this "holy family celebration" led to common desires: "Who among our soldiers, whether sick or healthy, married or single, does not think of Heimat [the Homeland] on this night?" In numerous accounts, the sight of a tree in occupied France elicited feelings of Germanness and memories of home and childhood. General Hans von Kretschmann described the effects of the tree in a letter to his wife in December 1870, in an account of a religious service: "to the right and left of the altar stood candle-lit Christmas trees, surrounded by our good chaps, with long beards and serious faces; here one felt something akin to: the homeland." When he saw the decorated trees set up by soldiers quartered in a French town, Chaplain Rogge noted, "One could think one walked through a German village." […]

Rowdy barracks parties compensated to some degree for the lack of a conventional holiday. Soldiers repeatedly described wartime celebration as an unforgettable experience, when the intensified desire for wholeness and comfort inspired feelings of close comradeship and national fraternity. Such stories were idealized and often had propagandistic overtones: the jocular soldier's Christmas "in enemy territory" is one of the most enduring aspects of the War Christmas myth. First-hand accounts nonetheless reveal the existence of a rich celebratory culture within the lower ranks of the German army.
Chapter Three goes on to discuss Christmas on the frontlines during the First World War, and then the rest of the book examines the commercialization of the holiday, "People's Christmas" in the Nazi Third Reich, and the Cold War Christmases celebrated in East and West Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. The rich history of the holiday itself, with its cherished family traditions, is central to this story. Yet the book is about more than folklore or family customs. When Germans observed Christmas they celebrated family, faith and love to be sure, but they also grappled with the values and ideals that made them German.
Read more about Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tim Brookes' "Endangered Alphabets"

Tim Brookes' books include A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow (one of the Top Travel Books of 2000–the New York Times and Booklist), Guitar: An American Life (one of the Best Books of 2005–Library Journal), and Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Endangered Alphabets, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Endangered Alphabets consists mostly of a photograph of a piece of wood.

The piece of wood—more accurately, an inch-think slab of Vermont maple--is irregularly-shaped, sports a fair number of worm-holes, and is inscribed with a chain of what appear to be symbols.

Some look like letters; some look like mathematical symbols. The whole effect is very odd. The rough-cut nature of the wood, and the fact that these marks trail unevenly across the board, rather than being arranged in neat horizontal rows, make the whole ensemble look primitive—yet these marks are clearly man-made and demonstrably imply meaning. It’s like looking at the verbal equivalent of Stonehenge: it clearly means something, but what? Or maybe a crop circle—the fact that some of the signs are apparently mathematical makes it all seem eerie, almost alien. It is, in fact, two sentences in the endangered North African script known as Tifinagh.

By falling midway through the book, page 99 just happens to lie within a sixteen-page folio of photographs, and as such it unites both Endangered Alphabets, the book, and the Endangered Alphabets Project, a series of carvings that commemorate and preserve more than a dozen of the world’s writing systems in danger of extinction.

The whole thing started with the carvings. I got it into my head to carve Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood“) in boards of Vermont curly maple to draw attention to the fact that the world’s unique writing systems are vanishing even more rapidly than the world’s endangered languages.

Once I started carving the Alphabets, though, I started noticing that seeing the same two sentences in such different scripts raised all kinds of questions about writing itself: how it was first conceived, how it developed, how it spread from culture to culture, how it was affected by developments in technology and vice versa, how it expressed not only meaning but individual character, cultural assumptions, even the surrounding environment. These insights, along with research into the Alphabets themselves, came to make up the book Endangered Alphabets.

Tifinagh was little more than a curiosity to me until I came across online photographs of the wall of a cave deep in the Sahara desert.

The site is called the Wadi Matkhandouch Prehistoric Art Gallery, near Germa in Libya. It's startling to find any evidence of human presence in such an inhospitable place, so far from what we think of as civilization. And this meandering strand of symbols occurs in the same set of rocks and caves as an incredible array of carvings of animals: giraffes, lions, crocodiles, elephants, ostriches, two cats apparently fighting.

This twisting strand of language looks so old and so deep it might just be the DNA of writing. Oh, and did I mention that the symbols or letters are in such a strange and vivid red pigment that they look as if they've been written in blood?

It’s like a missing link, the verbal equivalent of the famous prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux in southwestern France. Written language was here, it says (and in other sites, too, such as the one between Tamanrasset, chief city of the Algerian Tuareg, an oasis high in the Ahaggar Mountains, and Djanet, deep in the desert), long before anyone thought to write in straight and level lines.

The individual letters have the same combination of angular purpose yet prehistoric crudity that challenge the sense at Stonehenge. Something is being born. It is a defining moment in human intellectual history: not just representation, a panorama of hunting, but early, early, unbelievably early symbolism. It’s as if we’re looking at the invention of meaning itself.
Visit the Endangered Alphabets Project website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toby E. Huff's "Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution"

Toby E. Huff is Research Associate in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University (and Chancellor Professor Emeritus in the Department of Policy Studies at UMass Dartmouth.). He has been attempting to understand why modern science arose only in Western Europe and not in China or the Islamic world. He first explored this big question in The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West (1993, 2nd 2003).

His new book, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective, brings the discussion up to the end of the seventeenth century and Sir Isaac Newton’s grand synthesis, The Principia Mathematica.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book and gave this report:
The scientific revolution unfolded in Europe in the 17th century and needs to be seen against the backdrop of the cultural climates of China, Mughal India, and the Ottoman Empire. Not to be forgotten in this context is the invention of the telescope in 1608 and Galileo’s use of this discovery machine in 1609-10 to reveal the rough, cratered surface of the moon and the four satellites of Jupiter. These discoveries added weighty new evidence to support the Copernican, heliocentric hypothesis. Subsequently the telescope revolutionized the practice of astronomy in Europe by encouraging and enabling the constant search for celestial novelties.

So what if the telescope went to China, Mughal India, and the Ottoman Empire during these early years when it was transforming European thought and practice? Would it have the same impact outside of Europe where it is thought that astronomy had a glorious past?

Page 99 of my book takes the reader into the so-called Rites Controversy in China in the 1660s, approximately four decades after the telescope arrived. At that time Adam Schall von Bell, a Jesuit scientist who was a student in Rome and heard Galileo speak at the Roman College in 1611, was now at the helm of the Chinese Bureau of Astronomy and Mathematics. Because of the clear predictive superiority of European astronomy, still based on the geo-heliocentric models of Tycho Brahe (who died in 1601), the Chinese had been persuaded to adopt the new Western system. But being in charge of that Bureau meant that Schall had to make divinatory decisions within the traditional Chinese astrological system. In this case he had to choose an auspicious date and site for an Imperial burial. When Chinese scholars hostile to Schall and the new system repeatedly attacked Schall, his authority waned. He, his European and Chinese associates ended up under house arrest, sentenced to death.

This is perhaps the most dramatic encounter between “East” and “West” involving the new astronomy and the telescope. It was taken to the Mughals and to the Ottomans during the first quarter of the seventeen-century, where at least one merchant lost his life for using a telescope to view forbidden scenes.

The book, however, contains much more about revolutionary scientific discoveries in Europe in other fields such as anatomy, microscopy, hydraulics, and electrical studies that set Europe off from other parts of the world for the next four hundred years.
Learn more about Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Louise Shelley's "Human Trafficking"

Louise Shelley is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, and reported the following:
My book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2010) examines all forms of human trafficking globally, revealing the operations of the trafficking business and the nature of the traffickers themselves. Using a historical and comparative perspective, it demonstrates that there is more than one business model of human trafficking and that there are enormous variations in human trafficking in different regions of the world. I conclude that human trafficking will grow in the twenty-first century as a result of economic and demographic inequalities in the world, the rise of conflicts, and possibly global climate change.

Page 99 of the book is halfway into the third chapter devoted to Human Trafficking as Transnational Organized Crime. This section on the recruitment of trafficking victims addresses some of the major themes of the book that citizens of failed post-socialist transitions, individuals displaced by conflicts, and large scale natural disasters are likely victims of human trafficking. As the book shows, the last twenty years have been ones of significant growth in human trafficking as the Soviet Union and other socialist states collapsed, the end of the superpower conflict resulted in the rise of numerous conflicts internationally. Moreover, with increased problems of climate change, the number of natural disasters has increased leaving ever larger numbers susceptible to exploitation.

Page 99 focuses on two particular regions in which victims are recruited: the former Soviet Union and Iraq. In contrast to many books on human trafficking, this book focuses on labor as well as sexual trafficking. Trafficking from the former Soviet Union is not only the widely publicized trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. Rather a larger number of victims are those exploited within the countries of the former Soviet Union as laborers. Particularly numerous are the male trafficking victims from Central Asia who work in Russia and Kazakhstan where they often work long hours without days off for substandard wages or are even deprived of their wages. These illegal workers are often poorly educated, unlike their counterparts in the United States, who were once highly trained professionals but are now working in menial work in the American shadow economy.

The discussion of Iraq shows that human smuggling and trafficking out of Iraq preceded the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. In Kurdish Iraq, in the late 1990s, a sophisticated business existed that smuggled individuals out of the country. Families would sell their homes to pay for the high costs of smuggling hoping to get members out of the country who could repatriate money or establish a foothold overseas. This smuggling was not always successful and Kurds were sometimes imprisoned as illegal immigrants in Europe. Or, as is shown elsewhere in the book, those who started out in a consensual relationship with their smugglers wind up as trafficking victims.
Read an excerpt from Human Trafficking, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harold Schechter's "Killer Colt"

Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture at Queens College, the City University of New York.

Among his nonfiction works are The Devil's Gentleman and the historical true-crime classics Fatal, Fiend, Deviant, Deranged, and Depraved.

Schechter also writes a critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Edgar Allan Poe, which includes The Tell-Tale Corpse, The Hum Bug, Nevermore and The Mask of Red Death.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend, and reported the following:
I can’t judge whether p. 99 reveals the quality of my book but it certainly gives a misleading idea of its subject. Killer Colt interweaves the stories of Samuel Colt, legendary inventor of the revolver, and his brother John Caldwell Colt, a well-known accountant and the central figure in one of the most sensational American murder cases of the nineteenth century. In September 1841, Samuel Adams, a respected printer with a shop in lower Manhattan, paid a call at the office of John Colt, who had hired Adams to produce the latest edition of a popular book-keeping textbook he had written. Adams was there to collect a debt. The two began arguing over the amount. Before long they were trading blows. The altercation ended when Colt bludgeoned Adams to death with the blade of a shingle hammer. He then stuffed the mutilated corpse into a packing crate, addressed it to a nonexistent person, and attempted to ship it off to New Orleans on a boat scheduled to leave the next morning. Unfortunately for him, a storm rolled in, preventing the ship from leaving port for a week and the horrific murder came to light. Thanks to penny-press publisher James Gordon Bennett, the much-reviled pioneer of tabloid-style journalism, the story became a newspaper sensation, displacing other notorious crimes from the front page. Among the latter was the still-unsolved murder of the “Beautiful Cigar Girl,” Mary Rogers, whose case was the basis for Edgar Allan Poe’s famous detective story “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Page 99 of Killer Colt comes from a chapter about Bennett and deals not with Colt but with Mary Rogers. A reader opening to that page might think the book was about a completely different crime (one expertly covered in Daniel Stashower’s 1997 true-crime history, The Beautiful Cigar Girl).
Read an excerpt from Killer Colt, and learn more about the book and author at Harold Schechter's website.

Writers Read: Harold Schechter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 15, 2010

A. J. Langguth's "Driven West"

A. J. Langguth is professor emeritus of journalism in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. His books include Union: 1812, Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, and Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War, and reported the following:
Sam Houston, an aide to Andrew Jackson, had just shown Jackson a letter proving that his running-mate for the presidency, John Calhoun, had once urged James Monroe's cabinet to censure Jackson for his earlier military adventures in Florida.

From page 99:
Reading of Calhoun's duplicity set off one of Jackson's rages: "It smelled so much of deception," Jackson said, "that my hair stood on end for one hour."

In that quote and in the many others from the book, it's Jackson's insistence on the specific detail ("for one hour") that helps to bring him to life for me. When he was consoling the wife of his Secretary of War for being the target of sexual innuendo in the capital, Jackson said, "I tell you, Margaret, I had rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women."

Jackson often reminds me of Lyndon Johnson, also adept with a trenchant phrase. But the judgment on their presidencies is very different, and I think unfair. LBJ's towering achievements have been blighted by the Vietnam War, while Jackson usually has been forgiven for his slaves, for his ruinous economic policies and for forcing the Cherokee Nation at bayonet point down the Trail of Tears.
Learn more about Driven West at the Simon & Schuster website, and visit A.J. Langguth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Edward Berenson's "Heroes of Empire"

Edward Berenson is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of French Studies at New York University. He is the author of Populist Religion and Left-Wing Politics in France and The Trial of Madame Caillaux.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa, and reported the following:
Is “the quality of the whole” revealed on page 99 of my new book, Heroes of Empire? That’s, of course, not for me to say. But bizarrely enough, that one page features several of the book’s most important themes.

Heroes of Empire tells the story of five colonial figures, two British and three French, who made imperial conquest exciting, even exhilarating, for millions of ordinary citizens. Most British and French people never set foot in their country’s imperial possessions, nor did they have any economic interests there. But between 1870 and 1914, imperialism became a popular phenomenon. The press gave it top billing and advertisers embraced its “exotic” imagery. Above all, people looked up to the charismatic heroes whose adventures, richly narrated in penny papers, seemed to turn overseas expansion into a series of extraordinary, personal quests.

Page 99 comes about halfway into my chapter on Charles Gordon, one of Lytton Strachey’s “eminent Victorians.” Gordon was shyer about publicity than his countryman Henry Morton Stanley, an ardent, if ambivalent, self-promoter. But as I note on this exemplary page, Gordon did allow Vanity Fair to lionize him in one of its famous “Men of the Day” portraits.

Even more important, Gordon readily agreed to an interview with the Pall Mall Gazette’s editor W. T. Stead, one of the leading lights of Victorian journalism. The general had things “to say about the Sudan.” In particular, Gordon wished to warn his compatriots about the dangers “of a conquering Mahommedan [sic] Power established close to [our] frontiers.” (Both quotes, p. 99)

Stead’s front-page interview revived Gordon’s charismatic appeal and helped convince William Gladstone’s supposedly anti-imperialist government to send the hero to Khartoum. The Mahommedan Power, aka the Mahdi, had trapped British troops there, and a great many writers, Stead included, claimed the general would singlehandedly bring them home. Instead, Gordon too found himself besieged in Khartoum, where he ultimately fell to a Mahdist sword. The hero became a martyr—a Victorian legend and imperial saint.
Learn more about Heroes of Empire at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 12, 2010

Misha Angrist's "Here is a Human Being"

Misha Angrist is Assistant Professor of the Practice at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy and a Visiting Lecturer at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy inside Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. He holds a PhD degree in Genetics from Case Western Reserve University and was formerly a board-eligible genetic counselor. Angrist received his MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. He is a past winner of the Brenda L. Smart Fiction Prize and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In April 2007 he became the fourth subject in Harvard geneticist George Church's Personal Genome Project. In 2009 he was among the first few identifiable persons to have his entire genome sequenced.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics, and reported the following:
I have spent most of my adult life studying and thinking about human heredity at an intellectual level. In this book, I wanted to understand it at a visceral level and a personal one. The Human Genome Project cost close to $3 billion. My personal genome cost $23,000. Your entire DNA sequence will almost certainly cost a small fraction of that. What will you do with that information? How will you perceive it? Who should have access to it? What does it mean?

On page 99 I begin Chapter 6, "And Then There Were Ten," which describes the coalescence of the Personal Genome Project, the initiative started by Harvard geneticist George Church that aims to sequence the genomes of and collect trait information from 100,000 people and to make all of that information freely available online, thereby turning health privacy on its head. On page 99, we meet Esther Dyson, the daughter of two world-renowned scientists, the "doyenne of the digerati" and, like me, one of the first ten participants in the PGP. To call her a self-starter would be an understatement:
A few months earlier she’d sent me her travel schedule: Moscow, Brussels, London, New York, Aspen, Washington—and that was just June. No wonder she had no land telephone line—it would atrophy from disuse. As a consultant to the air taxi business, she was ferried all over the globe on someone else’s nickel, which made her life seem like some kind of Condé Nast Travel/Wired mashup of “Where’s Waldo?” If I wanted to know where she was, she suggested I follow her on Dopplr, whatever that was.
Esther is not a typical PGP participant. Indeed, she's probably not a typical anything. And I think that that's the point: Curious people with an appetite for risk come in all shapes, sizes and colors. If it is successful, personal genomics will afford them an opportunity to learn about themselves, each other, and the latest and greatest model organism: Homo sapiens.
Learn more about Here is a Human Being and Misha Angrist.

Writers Read: Misha Angrist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dan P. McAdams' "George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream"

Dan P. McAdams is the Chair of the Psychology Department and Director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, which won the American Psychological Association’s 2006 William James Award for the best general-interest book in Psychology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait, and reported the following:
In the spring of 2003, President George W. Bush launched an American military invasion of Iraq. From a psychological standpoint, why did he do it? In George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream, I argue that Bush’s momentous decision was the product of a perfect psychological storm – a confluence of world events, personality dispositions and goals, and the president’s peculiarly redemptive story for his own life. After years of drinking and waywardness, Bush fashioned a story in his mind about how, through self-discipline and God’s guidance, he had triumphed over chaos, enabling him to recover the freedom and goodness of his youth. In the days after 9/11, President Bush projected this very same narrative of redemption onto America and the world, motivating and justifying the Iraq invasion.

Here is where we are on page 99: The reader and I have already explored how Bush’s post-9/11 response was shaped by fundamental personality traits of high extraversion and low openness to experience, combined with his lifelong goal to defeat his beloved father’s greatest enemies. But how do we get from these childhood determinants to Bush’s midlife dream of redemption? We do it by imagining what human life was like 50,000 years ago:
We are the ancestors of modern human beings, living together in social tribes as foragers and hunters, migrating across grasslands and forests in search of food, shelter, and safety, forever on the move, on the outlook for opportunities and for dangers. Life is hard.... We are under constant threat. To survive, we must stick with our group. The group is everything.

Everybody is different, although we are all part of the group. Some of us are more adventurous than others, willing to take risks, willing to explore what goes on outside the group or outside the group’s rules.... By contrast, some of us are more prudent than others, tending to rely on the tried-and-true, cautious and vigilant in our dangerous environment... Those among us who hew most closely to the group’s timeless traditions aim first and foremost to keep us safe and secure. They typically urge us to keep things more-or-less the way they have always been, or to restore a golden time we may have lost. More than the rest of us, these especially restrained and cautious members of our group – deferential as they are to established authority – affirm the wisdom of ages past. They are our conservatives.
By suggesting on page 99 that political conservatism is deeply ingrained in group life and human nature, I begin to consider the development of George W. Bush’s characteristic brand of evangelically inspired political conservatism. Conservatives often look back in longing to a golden age. For Bush that golden age was his years growing up in Midland, Texas. Restoring the freedom, control, and self-determination that run through the mystic chords of George W. Bush’s Midland memories becomes the key narrative aim of his redemptive dream. In his personal life, Bush overcame chaos and restored Midland by committing himself to his family and public service, finding God, and giving up alcohol around the age of 40. In Bush’s redemptive dream, America, too, might overcome the chaos of 9/11 and restore, even for the Iraqi people, the freedom and the goodness that, once upon a time, were Midland. Because the story had played so well in his own life, the president knew in his heart that the mission would be accomplished and that there ultimately had to be a happy ending.
Learn more about George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Patrick Vinton Kirch's "How Chiefs Became Kings"

Patrick Vinton Kirch is Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology and Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many books, including Feathered Gods and Fishhooks and On the Road of the Winds.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Chiefs Became Kings: Divine Kingship and the Rise of Archaic States in Ancient Hawai'i, and reported the following:
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands on Earth. Yet voyaging Polynesians managed to discover and settle this large and fertile archipelago around A.D. 1000, establishing the roots of what would grow to become a unique island civilization. When he established contact with the Hawaiians in A.D. 1778, the English explorer James Cook was amazed by their complex society with its many gradations of status and rank. Drawing upon Cook’s account as well as other European and indigenous sources, in How Chiefs Became Kings I argue that by the time of their fateful contact with the West, the Hawaiians had invented the concept of divine kingship. Moreover, their political system had evolved from a classic Polynesian chiefship into true archaic states, as were found in other early complex societies in both the Old and New Worlds.

How does chiefship evolve into kingship? The question is at the heart of long-running debates in anthropology and sociology. I argue that an explanation of this kind of socio-political change requires that we take into account both individual human agency and longer-term dynamic processes. Thus, for example, on page 99 of How Chiefs Became Kings, I examine Hawaiian oral histories regarding the first political consolidation of Maui Island, around A.D. 1600, by the high chief Pi‘ilani and his sons. I write that “a rivalry between junior and senior siblings (and hence a test of inherited privilege versus demonstrated mana) is at the core of this mo‘olelo [tradition].” It was frequently such contests between senior and junior lines that gave the impetus to conquest and political consolidation. Both Maui and Hawai‘i islands became single polities around the same time, and indeed their royal houses intermarried.

Yet powerful leaders such as Pi‘ilani, or the famous ‘Umi of Hawai‘i Island, carried out their wars and strategic alliances within a broader context. Drawing upon recent archaeological findings, I demonstrate that a history of population growth coupled with significant intensification of the islands’ agricultural production systems enabled these new kings to achieve their political aims. And, once kingship had been established, new forms of ritualized control of the political economy were instituted, as is well documented in the archaeological record of monumental temple architecture. In short, my book shows how—over the course of just eight centuries—the most isolated society in the world developed social and political institutions that paralleled those of the world’s other pristine states.
Learn more about How Chiefs Became Kings at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 8, 2010

Virginia Scharff's "The Women Jefferson Loved"

Virginia Scharff is Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly publications include Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (1991); Twenty Thousand Roads: Women, Movement, and the West (2003); two textbooks, Present Tense: The United States Since 1945 (1996); and Coming of Age: America in the Twentieth Century (1998); and the edited volume, Seeing Nature Through Gender (2003).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Women Jefferson Loved, and reported the following:
If you open The Women Jefferson Loved to page 99, you’ll get a revealing glimpse of the book. You’ll be standing at the moment when Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, wife of Thomas, lost her father, John Wayles, and gained her inheritance. Wayles took care to see that his four daughters, Martha and her half-sisters, Elizabeth, Tabitha and Anne, received equal portions of his holdings. He was especially concerned to see that Martha, daughter of his first wife, was not cheated out of her due by any of his later wives. Jefferson would later have his own way of dealing with that potential problem.

Martha’s inheritance (which, of course, instantly passed to her husband) included eleven thousand acres of land and 135 human beings, more than doubling Thomas Jefferson’s fortune. Along with those things, however, came a debt “that did not seem onerous at the time, but would bedevil Jefferson for all the years to come.”

Readers may already know something of the stories of the land and the debt and the people Martha Jefferson brought to her union with her husband. Martha Jefferson inherited her father’s concubine, Elizabeth Hemings, and six of her own half-brothers and sisters. The Wayles-Jefferson-Hemings family was the very embodiment of Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided,” a family that lived every day pretending, at least publicly, that the bonds among them did not exist, even as they were all pledged, in different ways, to take care of each other. Thomas Jefferson would carry on in his father-in-law’s fashion, himself fathering children with John Wayles’s daughter, Sally Hemings, and not insignificantly, piling up debts of his own.

But what you won’t see on page 99 is the emotional quality of Jefferson’s relationships with women, the belief in love and affection that he learned at his mother’s knee. The lifelong connections, of blood and tension and affection and denial, between the enslaved and free children of John Wayles, and the family of Thomas Jefferson, were forged in kinship, and in Jefferson’s promises to women he loved. Those unequal bonds shaped everything he brought into being, from the first spring peas of his garden to his greatest public legacies.
Learn more about The Women Jefferson Loved at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Richard Francis' "Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia"

Richard Francis has taught at universities on both sides of the Atlantic and has written on Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, and on the Salem witch trials. He is also a novelist.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds the Alcott family living in their house, Concordia Cottage, in Concord, along with two supporters who have joined them from England, Charles Lane and Henry Gardiner Wright. It mostly consists of the reaction of Ralph Waldo Emerson, neighbour and sponsor of Bronson Alcott, to this ménage.
Enjoying the quiet of his own study as he did, Emerson was appalled at the thought of [their] endless gabble. “All day, all night, they hold perpetual parliament.”
This immediately foregrounds two important issues in the book. The first is that these utopians were addicted to theorizing at the expense of being practical, and the second is that Emerson was alert to their limitations.

As a result he offers Lane the chance to move out and live with him and his family. His motive is described as follows:
He was hoping to disrupt the utopia at the very moment of its inception. The real point was to thwart Lane’s desire to re-establish the Garden of Eden by re-enacting, on a limited scale, humankind’s subsequent expulsion from it. The idea was to use his house as “a sort of cooling furnace, or a place where he might be partially corrupted & fitted for the grossest realities of the Yankee land.” The grossest realities would of course include square meals, apples from the forbidden tree.
This passage takes us to the central issue of the book, which was the attempt to achieve reform of the world through correct diet, consisting of an extreme vegan regime. Emerson’s imagery picks up one aspect of this project, its revisiting of the story of the Garden of Eden. The Fruitlanders believed that the Fall of humankind was triggered by eating the wrong food – the fruit of the tree of knowledge rather than of the tree of life. Therefore, if we correct our diet we can re-enter the Garden. Emerson wanted to sabotage that plan by feeding Lane with forbidden fruit. (The other aspect of their thought is not mentioned here. The Fruitlanders were very concerned about environmental degradation and believed that correct methods of husbandry and proper nutrition would ensure that the earth remained unpolluted and that human beings would enjoy spiritual and physical health. In this respect their ideas are relevant now.)

Lane refused Emerson’s blandishments, however. The rest of the page is devoted to Emerson’s grave doubts about the viability of the proposed utopian community – scepticism which is utterly vindicated by the book as a whole - and by his slightly comic, slightly paranoid, sense of the threat they posed and of his need to be rid of the reformers.

On the whole, I believe that Fruitlands passes the Page 99 Test.
Learn more about Fruitlands at theYale Univrsity Press website and Richard Francis' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 5, 2010

Benjamin L. Carp's "Defiance of the Patriots"

Benjamin L. Carp is Associate Professor of History at Tufts University, where he teaches the history of early America. His first book is Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America, and reported the following:
The BCC [Boston Committee of Correspondence] invited the committees from the neighboring towns to meet with them at Faneuil Hall at 9 a.m. on Monday, the 29th [of November 1773], and “send as many Friends to our assistance at this important crisis as you can possibly spare.” Only with widespread supportfrom the people in Boston and its surrounding towns could the Boston Committee be certain that no one would land the tea.
Bostonians awoke that Monday to find notices pasted up throughout the town. “Friends! Brethren! Countrymen!” they began. “The Hour of Destruction or manly Opposition to the Machinations of Tyranny stares you in the Face.” The notice called upon “every Friend to his Country, to himself and Posterity” to meet at Faneuil Hall at 9 a.m.
These lines come from page 99 of Defiance of the Patriots, and I think this passage very much distills the excitement of the tea crisis of 1773. The merchant ship Dartmouth had just arrived in Boston the day before. It was carrying the first shipment of the East India Company's tea under the Tea Act of 1773. Now Bostonians faced a choice--would they let the tea land, and accept the sovereignty of the British Parliament? Or would they gather together, and resist?

Page 99 comes from chapter 5, "The Detestable Tea Arrives," and by this point in the book, the narrative is moving ahead at full sail. This page contributes to the suspense as we anticipate the famous destruction of the tea on December 16. I spend some time describing the meetings of various groups who were reacting to the ship's arrival. I write about the consignees--these were a group of Boston merchants that the East India Company had hand-picked to receive the tea when it arrived. The Bostonians were trying to persuade these consignees to give up on their lucrative contracts and refuse to receive the tea. So far, despite threats and violence, the consignees weren't playing along.
The selectmen, as formal leaders of the Town of Boston, had failed to persuade the consignees to act. Instead, Bostonians convened in a larger mass meeting as “the Body,” which accomplished several goals. First, a “Body”meeting broadened the base of interested, mobilized participants to include poorer Bostonians and residents of the outlying towns (only qualified property-owners were eligible to vote at a regular town meeting). Second, a “Body”meeting granted a broad, popular legitimacy to the political movement against the Company’s tea—and perhaps this would further intimidate the consignees. Finally, as the selectmen learned from a “Lawyer and high son of Liberty”—possibly Josiah Quincy or John Adams—the Town of Boston could not be held liable for the tea if anything untoward happened to it. In theory, the authorities could not hold a spontaneous gathering of a “Body” of people accountable for anything.
The meeting of November 29 was important, but the nature of the meeting was even more important: it was big, inclusive, intimidating, and unsanctioned--just the ingredients you'd need if you were preparing for the possibility of taking a bold stance. In New York City, Philadelphia, and Charleston, the townspeople were able to persuade their local consignees to resign their commissions and decline the tea shipment. In Boston, the townspeople failed, which is why bold action became the only option.
Learn more about Defiance of the Patriots at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

William J. Talbott's "Human Rights and Human Well-Being"

William J. Talbott is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington, where he has been teaching since 1989. He has published articles in moral and political philosophy, especially the philosophy of human rights, philosophy of law, epistemology, and rational choice theory. His new book, Human Rights and Human Well-Being, is the second of two volumes on human rights. The first was Which Rights Should Be Universal? (Oxford, 2005).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Human Rights and Human Well-Being and reported the following:
My book Human Rights and Human Well-Being is a book in the philosophy of human rights. It addresses such questions as: What is a human right? What reasons do we have to believe in human rights? (Hint: They are not self-evident.) What is the relation between human rights and human well-being?

On page 99, the reader will find a statement of one of the most important themes of my book:
Noncategorical norms and principles enable human societies to evolve social practices that, over time, can do a better job of equitably promoting life prospects than any system of categorical norms and principles would. No matter what system of ground-level norms or principles a human society may have, there is always a potential for improvement.
In most religious and cultural traditions, young people are taught that there are infallible, exceptionless (i.e., categorical) moral principles and rules (norms). Somehow, many of those who undergo the training acquire the ability to recognize at least some exceptions to those very norms. For example, Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables for an audience who had been taught that it is always wrong to steal. But for the novel to be successful, Hugo had to believe that he could persuade his readers to at least think that there might be an exception for Jean Valjean, a father who was stealing bread to save his children from starvation.

Throughout history, people have been ostracized and put to death for announcing that there are exceptions to the accepted moral norms, but that ability to recognize exceptions is the engine of moral progress. In Human Rights and Human Well-Being, I explain the development of human rights as a product of this process of moral improvement. I explain why it is a mistake to expect moral norms to be exceptionless. If we regard them as non-categorical (i.e., as containing exceptions), we can welcome the possibility of further improvements. Thus, it is a mistake to think that human rights (or anything else) depends on a grounding in self-evident truths.

Human Rights and Human Well-Being is the second of two volumes on human rights. My first volume was Which Rights Should Be Universal? (published in 2005). Each volume stands on its own.
Learn more about Human Rights and Human Well-Being at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Steven Lubet's "Fugitive Justice"

Steven Lubet is Williams Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Bartlit Center for Trial Strategy, Northwestern University School of Law.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial, and reported the following:
Early on the morning of September 11, 1851, a Maryland plantation owner named Edward Gorsuch led a small posse in search of four fugitive slaves who had escaped to the town of Christiana, Pennsylvania. Armed with a warrant issued under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Gorsuch expected little trouble when he and his men approached a stone cabin where he believed the runaways were hiding. Instead, he was met with a hail of gunfire. The fugitives had trumpeted an alarm, and soon the slavehunters were themselves surrounded by dozens of “armed Negroes” and a handful of unarmed white supporters. Gorsuch was killed in the ensuing battle and two of his men were badly wounded. All of the fugitives escaped. In the aftermath of the battle, 41 men – five whites and 37 blacks – were indicted for the capital offense of treason.

Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial tells the story of the Christiana prosecution – as well as the stories of other major trials under the Fugitive Slave Act, spanning the decade before the Civil War. It explains how courageous runaways resisted recapture, and how their defenders eventually developed the legal defense that we now call “civil disobedience.”

Page 99 of Fugitive Justice falls squarely in the middle of the Christiana trial. At the beginning of the page we see the racism of the lead prosecutor, whose fevered imagination led him to complain loudly that the black defendants were accompanied in court by “white females.” We then see how the defense attorneys – including the abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens – took advantage of the prosecutors’ “bullying and bravado” by leading them into a trap from which their case could never recover.

Stevens's brilliant advocacy won acquittals or dismissals for all of the Christiana defendants, but later fugitive slave trials did not end as successfully. Many fugitives were returned to the South in chains, and many (though far from all) rescuers were tried and convicted.

As the decade progressed, resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act continued and the tactics of the abolitionist lawyers became increasingly militant. The highly publicized trials eventually helped build the northern anti-slavery movement, while driving southern firebrands ever closer to secession.
Learn more about Fugitive Justice at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 1, 2010

Roberto González Echevarría's "Cuban Fiestas"

Roberto González Echevarría is Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature at Yale. He is author of The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, as well as major studies of Cervantes, Carpentier, García Márquez, and Sarduy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuban Fiestas, and reported the following:
I always tell my colleagues and dissertation students that a manuscript is not going to be a book or a thesis until the 100 page corner is turned. Once you have a hundred pages a manuscript has a density of its own and a momentum that will carry you to the end, however near or far that happens to be. So I am amused with Ford Madox Ford’s statement about page 99 in a book, though ninety-nine printed pages mean over one hundred and fifty of manuscript. On page 99 of Cuban Fiestas there is a transition, from the discussion of two paintings of the “Fiesta del Día de Reyes” by conventional artists to consideration of an image on a cigarette wrapper that is part of popular culture. I also explain the ascendancy of the tobacco industry in nineteenth-century Cuba and explain Fernando Ortiz’s theory about Cuban culture being a “counterpoint of tobacco and sugar.” The cigarette wrapper is a cultural artifact quite different from the paintings. Its depiction of the ritual is particularly poignant and revealing because it is intended for a male public and its humble nature allows the artist to be explicit about the sexual nature of the celebration, and the role of the white elite in the organization of the ritual. The wrapper leads me to interpret the Fiesta as an atonement ritual in which the whites punish themselves symbolically. It could be argued that in this playing off popular culture against high art and their providing a synthesis about Cuban fiestas, this page contains the gist of my entire book.
Learn more about Cuban Fiestas at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue