Friday, December 31, 2010

J. P. Singh's "Globalized Arts"

J. P. Singh is associate professor in the communication, culture, and technology program at Georgetown University. His books include UNESCO: Creating Norms in a Complex World; International Cultural Policies and Power; Negotiation and the Global Information Economy; Information Technologies and Global Politics (with James N. Rosenau); and Leapfrogging Development? The Political Economy of Telecommunications Restructuring.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Globalized Arts: The Entertainment Economy and Cultural Identity, and reported the following:
Behind every piece of art is a policy – an emperor’s wish, a city’s museum, or a nation’s film. Sometimes the policies are indirect; Florentine Renaissance gained from the Medici family patronage but also from that of the Church and a general encouragement given to creative enterprise.

Globalized Arts displays policies that give people a cultural voice, which emancipates or liberates, but also policies that only reflect some elite notion of culture. Page 99 of the book describes how the post-colonial governments in the developing world did not care much for any kind of cultural policies when they ousted their European rulers. Culture connoted something ‘backward’ while a Nehru’s India or a Vargas’ Brazil sought to ‘modernize’ and ‘progress’ through science and technology. We have come around a full circle now as we celebrate telenovelas and Bollywood and an India or a Brazil takes ownership of these symbolic expressions and crafts policies to encourage them. P. 99 and the other pages in the book describe the cultural politics of our times that prioritize certain types of expressions from arts and entertainment while demoting others.

Symbolic expressions or Globalized Arts also give rise to deep-seated anxieties among people about losses to their ‘local’ ways of life. Often the cultural policies seek to protect, not encourage, certain expressions from invasive ‘foreign’ ones. For example, just about every country has domestic content laws governing television programming, which decree that the domestic TV studios must produce local content allowing the nation to view its own images. The term Hollywood (incidentally part of the book’s cover design) often invokes cries of cultural homogenization. In fact, headline grabbing cultural fights at the global level pit commerce against culture, Hollywood against ‘art’, World Trade Organization against UNESCO, a global North against South, and Europe against the United States.

Globalized Arts begins with the cultural anxieties of our times and ends with the politics and policies at the global or the national level that address our discomforts about our evolving collective identities. These politics can be deliberative and democratic, but quite often they are not. The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai notes that the book’s “global context of culture policy” is situated between “critique and celebration.” Economist Tyler Cowen points out that the book deals with both the benefits and the drawbacks of cultural globalization. I provide many a betwixt answer to argue for creativity, cultural voice, and art.
Read an excerpt from Globalized Arts, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ian Coller's "Arab France"

Ian Coller is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Arab France is quite characteristic of the book: it arises out of a chance encounter in the National Archives in Paris. On a small slip of paper, loosely inserted in the police file on an Egyptian intellectual called Ellious Bocthor, dated July 1811, the Police Minister instructed the Prefect of the Fourth Arrondissement of Paris to maintain surveillance of “this foreigner”. There was no further mention of Bocthor by the police, perhaps because there was nothing to report. It would have been easy, therefore, to dismiss this fragment. Napoleon’s secret police was famous for its network of spies across France. But this niggled with me, and I couldn’t just leave it alone.

Ellious Bocthor was a Coptic Christian who had arrived in France with Napoleon’s troops after the evacuation of Egypt (occupied by France from 1798 to 1801) along with hundreds of other Egyptians and Syrians. If anyone might be presumed to be a Bonapartist, it was this Arab who had crossed the seas to follow Napoleon. Bocthor had never shown any political opposition to the regime: he had lived in Marseille for 10 years, devoting his time to the preparation of an Arabic-French dictionary. By all reports, he was prematurely infirm. Why waste precious police resources on surveillance of such an individual? This puzzle plays a key role in the chapter that page 99 opens. This episode provoked for me larger questions about the role of intellectuals in Napoleonic France, and about the place of Orientalism in that system. Bocthor’s predicament challenged the binary thinking about East and West in the modern world: rather than an “Oriental” figure mistrusted by French bureaucrats, I came to see him as an Arab intellectual bearing many of the values of the French Revolution in a France which was now a province of a vast Napoleonic empire.

Arab France is primarily about people and place, about the transformations wrought by mobility, and the struggle to articulate a form of belonging. But in the process it touches on larger questions about French history, modernity, and the relationship between Europe and Islam that helped structure our contemporary world.
Learn more about Arab France at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anne Marshall's "Creating a Confederate Kentucky"

Anne E. Marshall is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State, and reported the following:
“Despite the dominance of reconcilliationist memory that white Kentuckians cultivated, they were not able to claim sole possession of public memory in the state.”

On page 99 of Creating a Confederate Kentucky, I do what I sought to do (and what I wish I had been able to do more of) throughout the whole book, which is to describe the counter-hegemonic voices of African Americans and other former Unionists who challenged Kentucky’s burgeoning Confederate Civil War identity. As I began researching this project, it was easy to find evidence of how conservative Kentucky whites used Confederate rhetoric and symbolism to not only remember a more stable past, but to buttress their contemporary conservative political and social aims. In the interest of doing so, they erected Confederate monuments, joined Confederate veterans organizations, and produced Lost Cause literature in spades. They did this by appealing to and enlisting the support of many white Kentuckians—not just former Confederates. It was harder, however, to locate alternate interpretations of Civil War history and meaning— those that might have been held by African Americans and radical Unionists—that focused on the conflict as the source of emancipation, and as the springboard to equality for all Americans.

On page 99, I begin an account of a convention of over 300 African American activists, which met in Louisville in 1883. Led by Frederick Douglass, these people came together in order to highlight the unfulfilled promises of the Civil War and Reconstruction when it came to black rights and equality. In a stirring speech, Douglass reminded his audience that African American freedom had come “not by gentle accord from either section,” but rather had been “born of battle and blood.” He struck a blow at reconciliationist tendencies of whites by reminding people of both the sectional animosities and the racial consequences of the war.

The voices of Frederick Douglass and the other black activists at the Louisville convention are all but forgotten today, at least in public memory, because they don’t continue to exist in the form of monuments or other tangible symbols. Rhetoric of this kind, which highlighted Kentucky’s and, more broadly, white America’s selective remembering and forgetting, is an important part of the memorial context that I was trying to retrieve and highlight in Creating a Confederate Kentucky.
Learn more about Creating a Confederate Kentucky at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Colleen Murphy's "A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation"

Colleen Murphy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, and reported the following:
Political reconciliation involves rebuilding damaged relationships among citizens and officials. Since the end of World War II, politicians and human rights activists have called for political reconciliation in dozens of countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iraq, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. Political reconciliation remains one of the most important and controversial challenges for societies attempting to transition to democracy after an extended period of conflict and/or repression. It is important because achieving some degree of reconciliation is critical for global peacemaking. Yet, it is also controversial. The morality of pursuing political reconciliation remains unclear (e.g., some consider the promotion of reconciliation by a state to be fundamentally unjustified) and there is significant disagreement about what kinds of processes (e.g., amnesty, criminal trials, truth commissions) actually promote political reconciliation.

A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation offers a new account of what the pursuit of political reconciliation entails and explains why its pursuit matters morally. Page 99 discusses a central idea in the book: the importance of respecting agency. To respect agency is to recognize the freedom of individuals to determine for themselves how their lives will go and to hold individuals responsible for the choices they make. I argue that conflict and repression damage political relationships by undermining these two requirements. Processes of political reconciliation rebuild political relationships by promoting and reestablishing them.

Chapter 3, where p. 99 falls, examines how conflict and repression diminish agency by eroding the opportunity of individuals to participate in economic, political, and social institutions. Consider violence, a defining feature of civil conflict and repression. The physical effects of violence may foreclose areas of employment. Violence characteristically traumatizes victims, undermining their trust in others and willingness to engage in the social world. When violence is directed against political opponents, it creates a strong incentive for individuals to avoid politics in particular or the public realm in general, or to cease supporting an opposition movement or regime. Violence incentivizes members of oppressed groups to passively accept tyranny, injustice, or defeat in a conflict. In each of these ways, violence is designed to diminish the freedom of citizens to decide for themselves whether, and in what way, they will participate in the economic, political, and social life of their community. Furthermore, perpetrators of such violence routinely are not held responsible for their wrongdoing.
Read an excerpt from A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 24, 2010

Michael Jones' "The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat"

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History, and has taught at the University of South West England, Glasgow University, and Winchester College. The author of Stalingrad: How the Red Army Survived the German Onslaught and Leningrad: State of Siege, Jones has conducted battlefield tours of the Eastern Front for several years.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat, and reported the following:
The Retreat is about the battle for Moscow in World War Two, and the terrible German retreat from the Russian capital, in temperatures that dropped below -35 degrees Celsius. The book focuses on a relatively short time-frame – from December 1941 to February 1942 - but those three months had major consequences for world history. If Hitler had taken Moscow, the Nazi’s hegemony in Europe would have been powerfully consolidated. Instead, the Führer’s invincible army plunged to its first defeat in savage winter fighting against a resurgent Red Army.

The book poses a broader question – why do we keep repeating the same mistakes? History is littered with grim warnings that went unheeded. In 1941 every German general knew about the ghastly fate of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1812, whose soldiers froze to death in a retreat from Moscow in atrocious weather. Yet incredibly they contrived to fight for the Russian capital without issuing their soldiers proper winter clothing and equipment. And this is where page 99 comes in. Most of the page gives a personal portrait of the German commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who masterminded the assault on Moscow. It tells that alongside his military skill and experience lay a darker trait, a ruthless fanaticism.

Bock’s nickname was ‘Der Sterber’, ‘the Grim Reaper’, and page 99 quotes Time Magazine’s portrait of his great offensive:
In the winter of 1812 Napoleon retreated from Moscow, but in the winter of 1941 von Bock expects to take the city. Furiously determined, “Der Sterber” is disdainful of hardships. Bock looks like a man dying through some mysterious process of internal combustion. He is gaunt, and his eyes have the baleful stare of windows in a bombed-out house. A highly competent general, he believes with an aggressive religiosity in dying, if necessary, for the honour of the Fatherland.
Bock’s fanaticism mirrored Hitler’s own – and it was no accident that the German leader chose him to lead the Moscow offensive. But in savage winter fighting at the gates of the Russian capital, that fanaticism met its first rebuff. Von Bock’s assault ground to a halt with some German units so close to Moscow they could see the spires of the Kremlin gleaming in the winter sunlight – and his army was plunged into terrible retreat. It was Hitler’s first defeat.
Learn more about The Retreat at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dyan deNapoli's "The Great Penguin Rescue"

Dyan deNapoli is a penguin expert, educator and author of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill and the Inspiring Story of the World’s Largest Animal Rescue. The book has been favorably reviewed by The New York Review of Books, The Daily Beast and The New York Post, who put it on their required reading list, calling it “a real-life eco-thriller with a happy ending.” In her work as The Penguin Lady, deNapoli has traveled to many exotic locations, including Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands, to observe and teach about penguins.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Great Penguin Rescue and reported the following:
The Great Penguin Rescue chronicles the remarkable rescue of 40,000 penguins from an oil spill after a ship named the Treasure sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa in June of 2000. This monumental effort still stands as the largest and most successful rescue of animals ever undertaken – including the one that took place following the horrific BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the Treasure oil spill, I was working as a Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium and, along with seven other penguin specialists from zoos and aquariums across the US, I flew to Cape Town to help train and supervise more than 12,500 inexperienced volunteers who had come to help save the oiled birds. With so many penguins’ lives at stake, and with so few experienced animal experts there, no one knew what the outcome would be. In the last large-scale rescue effort following the sinking of the Apollo Sea six years earlier, half of the 10,000 oiled penguins had perished, and we now had twice as many oiled penguins on our hands. In addition to these oiled birds, another 19,500 penguins had to be removed from their breeding grounds before the oil slick hit the shores of their islands.

Our team was there for the first few weeks of the three-month rescue and, in the ten years since, I’ve read dozens of scientific papers about the effort and have given many lectures about the experience. However, the story that falls on page 99 is one that even I had not known about until interviewing Mariette Hopley while researching the book. Ms. Hopley is a former air-force captain who oversaw the creation of a massive temporary holding facility, called the Salt River Penguin Rescue Centre, that housed 16,000 of the 19,000 oiled birds. (The other 3,000 oiled penguins were at SANCCOB, the local seabird rescue center.) The story that Mariette shared with me reinforced how tenuous the situation truly was.
Ensuring there was enough fish for the penguins presented a challenge in itself. Once the rehabilitation effort was up and running, the penguins at Salt River consumed approximately 5 tons of pilchards every day, and during parts of the rescue, they were eating up to 10 tons daily. (That’s 50,000 to 100,000 individual fish every single day.) In addition to the pilchards eaten by the birds at Salt River, the penguins at SANCCOB were downing between 1 and 2 tons of fish every day. During the first two months of the rescue effort, the penguins consumed 400 tons of pilchards—that’s approximately 4 million fish! But this soon became a problem. One month into the rescue effort, just after Heather and I left South Africa, the fish vendors ran out of their stocks of frozen pilchards and the local fishermen had reached their daily quotas of how many fish they could legally catch. They were already delivering all of the fresh pilchards they caught to Salt River and SANCCOB. Because of the dramatic decline in the pilchard population in the Western Cape area, local fishing restrictions had previously been put into place in an attempt to increase the numbers of these fish. Originally established in an effort to help save the African penguin, these restrictions could now harm the very animals they were intended to help. The situation at the two rescue centers had become desperate. Without fish, the penguins would quickly starve to death, and all of our efforts would have been wasted.

Faced with this new crisis, the rescue directors called for a meeting with the minister of environment and tourism Mohammed Valli Moosa and informed him of their urgent need for more pilchards. Once made aware of the huge numbers of penguins that could die as a result of this food shortage, Valli Moosa agreed to temporarily lift the restrictions on the pilchard catch. Deeply concerned about the survival of South Africa’s beloved penguins, he granted special provisional permits that allowed local fishermen to catch as many pilchards as they could, with the explicit understanding that they could not sell the surplus catch.
Fortunately, due to the immediate response to this unforeseen crisis, enough food was caught and delivered to the rescue centers for the next few months to keep the penguins from starving. This was just one example of how the compassion and commitment of the South African people saved the penguins during this tremendous environmental disaster.
Learn more about the book and author at The Penguin Lady website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jonathan Harris' "The End of Byzantium"

Jonathan Harris is Reader in Byzantine History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The End of Byzantium, and reported the following:
The Byzantine Empire or Byzantium had been one of the great powers of the Mediterranean in the early Middle Ages but by 1400 the glory days were long gone. Most of the empire’s territories had been lost to the rising power of the region, the Ottoman Turks, and there was little left apart from the capital city of Constantinople and a few parcels of land in Greece and the Balkans. The Greek-speaking inhabitants of Constantinople thus found themselves living in an uneasy limbo between their great past and a very uncertain future. Page 99 is largely devoted to just one of them. His name was Manuel Chrysoloras and he had been born in Constantinople in about 1355. During his childhood and youth he would have seen the power of the Ottomans growing in the Balkans and he came to the conclusion that the only way that they could be stopped would be for the Byzantines to align themselves with their fellow Christians in Western Europe and make common cause against the Muslim Turks. That, however, was easier said than done because the two halves of the Christian world were divided by a schism: the Byzantines were Orthodox while the West was Catholic, a split that made co-operation very difficult. Nevertheless, Chrysoloras persevered in his belief. He learned Latin to a high standard, converted to Catholicism and became the chief ambassador of the Byzantine emperor to Western Europe. Between 1396 and 1415 he was constantly on the move, visiting Italy, France, Spain and England in an attempt to persuade their rulers to come to the rescue of Constantinople and the Byzantines. He died at Constance in 1415, shortly before he was due to address a Church council on the same theme. Not everyone in Constantinople agreed with Chrysoloras: many felt that accommodation with the Ottomans was preferable to an alliance with the Catholic West. The clash between pro-Ottoman and pro-Western views was to divide the Byzantines right up to the moment of catastrophe in 1453 when the Ottomans finally took Constantinople by storm.
Learn more about The End of Byzantium at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Liza Bakewell's "Madre"

Liza Bakewell is a linguistic anthropologist at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Madre, friends have come for dinner to teach me, the author, about albures, a form of verbal basketball played in Mexico by men. On occasion women play, too, but those women have a certain reputation, unless, like me, they plead: “But I’m an Anthropologist!” I write in this chapter, Food Fight, that my dinner guests have come to teach me about sex in Mexico, because albures are a formalized, yet creative, way to talk and joke about sex, without ever mentioning the word sex. Page 99 begins:
So albures are composed of puns, and puns are a kind of bilingualism. One may be fluent in Spanish, but inside an albur, every word you thought you knew has another meaning, not listed in the dictionary. You can talk and talk and talk about sex and never mention vagina and penis because, well, how vulgar of you. People will hear you. You’ll be found out. They’ll look down on you. It’s low class to talk that way. But in an albur, no one will know what you are saying. Except those who know. And they are most likely your friends. Or Mexicans, anyway. Because Mexicans, that is Mexican men, who are worth their chili pepper are bilingual in that way.
Albures require double entendres, which then involve winners and losers, victors and vanquished, laughter and sometimes fist fights. Men in Mexico learn how to alburear when they are young boys, perfecting the craft in adolescence and adulthood. There is not a man in Spanish-speaking Mexico who does not know about albures. Page 99 continues:
“It happens inside a normal conversation.” [David said]

You either see it--I mean hear it--or you don’t. A tacit agreement to step into the looking glass for a minute or two with another person, using another language.

“…cucumbers, bananas, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn-on-the-cob, sausage,” Tony continues with his list. “These all mean penis.”

Forks, spoons and knives plunged into the huitlacoche egg rolls, black fungus oozed out into the mango, a viscous evening cloud into a pulpy sunset.
Ironically, however, page 99 and the chapter in which it finds itself are about a style of speaking that discourages any reference to one’s or another’s madre (mother), and Madre, the book, is about madre, the word. In this case, perhaps, page 99 does reveal the essence of the book (sex, men-talk), yet all in the form of an exception (sex, men-talk, without madre-isms). Page 99 goes on:
“There’s no methodology, per se,” David and Tony explained, “except albures must have rhythm and rhyme.”

And, synonyms and homonyms, prefixes and affixes, metaphors and metonyms, food and clothing, roots and branches, trunks and canopy.

“And speed.” David added.
Albures are revelatory, as exceptions often are, for in all the other chapters, the use of madre is predicated on a machismo that is complicated, the way a ball of yarn after the cat had it is complicated, and is, more often than not, hidden from view (well, from my view as a woman, anyway, taking place behind closed office doors, in bars where only men go, on the street after dark, although, the times they are a changin’ a bit and young women more and more use the madre-isms), not to mention deeply sequestered in histories and political geographies. Page 99 ends this way:
Be quick with your words and actions. Alburear, a game of wit like arm wrestling. A poetic entanglement. The Mexican tango.

And, then, a curved ball.

Because the albur is not just any sexual joke. It’s not like jokes you hear in Argentina or Colombia or Puerto Rico or Cuba. Or anywhere else in the world, because of course they are everywhere.
The machismo of the other chapters finds itself out in the open, more playful and jocular, here on page 99 and in the Food Fight chapter, generally. Well, out in the open, yes, but within the linguistic, tongue-twisting duels of the albur.

The rest of Madre, the book, focuses on the expressions with the word “madre” in them, and in Mexico in particular there are hundreds, almost all of them are profane, expressions that you wouldn’t use in public. Not if you know better, not if you have any madre in you. Qué padre, on the other hand, literally translates as “what a father,” meaning “that’s fabulous,” and you can use it anytime in public. Indeed it boosts you up, it adds authenticity to your voice, if you use it in Mexico. (If you use it in Chile, they’ll know you learned it in Mexico. Or that you are Mexican.) But none of padre’s success is true for madre. Take me vale madre. Literally it means, “it’s worth a mother,” figuratively, “it’s worthless”). That expression, along with all the other madres, just about, you don’t want to use in public. It would not be a good idea if you are trying to appear cultured, educated, knowledgeable of the culture, the place, the linguistic rules. No. No. No.
Learn more about the book and author at Liza Bakewell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 17, 2010

Alice Eve Cohen's "What I Thought I Knew"

Alice Eve Cohen is a solo theatre artist, playwright, and memoirist. Her memoir, What I Thought I Knew won Elle's Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Nonfiction, it was selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer, and has been optioned for a television movie by Lifetime.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to What I Thought I Knew and reported the following:
What do you know! Page 99 is absolutely representative of my memoir about my unexpected and terrifying pregnancy. It falls right in the middle of the book, just before a major turning point. The page encompasses the book’s central themes and its two parallel stories.

It starts out with a scene from my Solo Theater Class:
“After the rehearsal is over, I ask my students ‘Why do people make theatre? Why do you want to perform, and for whom?’

Dani: ‘My performance is a gift for the class.’

Miriam: ‘I’m going to invite my extended family over for dinner and make them watch my solo show about my two grandmothers arguing over tea in heaven. After I perform, I won’t let them out till everybody puts this dumb feud to rest.’

Kayla: ‘I want to perform my piece for inner city black teens and for rich suburban white teens at the same time—Yeah, right. In my dreams.’

Jeremiah: ‘I’ll perform this everywhere, for everyone who will listen to me.’”
Parallel to the story of my pregnancy is the story of my solo theatre class; in particular, a student named Dani, a choreographer my age who is dying of cancer. As I try to make sense of my terrifying predicament, I gain courage and insight from my students. In this passage, I ask them why we make art, why we tell stories—a question that preoccupied me while I was writing the book. In this class, the dress rehearsal before the student performance, I was very pregnant. I’d been on bed rest for three months, only permitted to get out of bed to teach my class once a week. (Coincidentally, I still teach this solo theater course. Last night was the student performance, and just a week ago, I told my class about Miriam’s unusual reason for creating her solo theater piece.)
“At Dr. Rosenbloom’s insistence, I switch to a new doctor she recommended, at New York Hospital’s obstetrics clinic. ‘If the baby has medical problems, your insurance won’t cover it unless your doctor is in-network. You could incur costs you would never be able to pay off in your entire life.’”
Medical and health insurance travails are core subjects in the book. Medical malpractice was the cause of my nearly disastrous pregnancy—which several doctors failed to discover, until I was raced to an emergency CAT scan for an abdominal tumor, only to find out that I was six months pregnant. I was trapped in an inadequate insurance plan, tripped up again and again by our dysfunctional health care system. While desperately trying to undo the damage that had already been done to the developing fetus, I went deeper and deeper into debt.
“I like my new, in-network doctor, Barbara. I don’t have to tell her the whole story. She treats me like a regular pregnant woman, with no extra drama. She’s warm, confident. She speaks about my baby with great affection. I feel safe with her.

‘It’s getting close to your due date, and you haven’t begun to dilate. We should be seeing some action down there. I want you to get out of bed and walk. Have sex if you want. Get things moving. This is it, the final stretch.’

I cup my left hand underneath my huge belly to support it, so it will hurt less. Walking a block feels like running a marathon.”
Among the many doctors in my book, there are good guys and bad guys. Barbara is one of the good guys. Page 99 is, to quote Barbara, “the final stretch.” On page 101, I go into labor. The next section begins with a new baby…and unfathomable new complications.
Read an excerpt from What I Thought I Knew, and learn more about the book and author at Alice Eve Cohen's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Latha Varadarajan's "The Domestic Abroad"

Latha Varadarajan is an Associate Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Domestic Abroad: Diasporas in International Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book opens to a heated debate between the government of the day and opposition members in the Indian parliament. The debate took place in 1983, and was at least superficially about a very specific set of economic proposals – the “NRI Portfolio scheme.” However, the issues raised on p. 99 are strangely enough quite central to the argument of the book.

The Domestic Abroad focuses on a relatively straightforward question: in the past few decades, why have a large number of states adopted policies and initiatives aimed at institutionalizing their relationship with their diasporas? In other words, why are states hailing their diasporas as part of a larger “global” nation that is connected to, and has claims on the institutional structures of the state? In answering this question, the book demonstrates how the visible surface of the phenomenon, (i.e., re-mapping the imagined boundaries of the nation to include those who immigrated to other parts of the world), is intrinsically connected to the political-economic transformation of the state that is typically characterized as “neoliberalism.” To illustrate the argument, the latter part of the book traces the complex history and the political logic of the remarkable transition from the Indian state’s guarded indifference to its diaspora in the period after independence, to its current celebration of the “global Indian nation.”

Page 99 falls right in the middle of this narrative of the production of the Indian domestic abroad. It is 1983, and the Indian government has just adopted a major set of economic reforms at the “suggestion” of the IMF. Part of these reforms is opening up the Indian economy to foreign investors, who are not quite “foreign” since they belong to a category called “non-resident Indians.” This emphasis is crucial, given the nature of the anti-colonial nationalist movement (explained in the preceding chapter) and ensuing distrust of foreign economic intervention. It is also novel because the Indian government, for the first time since independence, characterizes members of the Indian diaspora as being members of the larger Indian nation. Neither claim goes down smoothly, with opposition members warning against the growing power of overseas investors and questioning the essential “Indian-ness” of those who immigrated voluntarily. P.99 thus provides a quick look at the way in which the political and economic dimensions of the domestic abroad are intrinsically related.
Learn more about The Domestic Abroad at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Craig A. Monson's "Nuns Behaving Badly"

Craig A. Monson is professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Disembodied Voices: Music and Culture in an Early Modern Italian Convent.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99:
[the women's father] ... acted as papal representative to the courts of France, Spain, and Vienna, where he covered himself with glory. Noble and decorated as he was, their father was almost eclipsed by the nuns' illustrious mother, Vittoria, daughter of Antonio, count of Collalto and San Salvatore and brother to Rambaldo di Collalto, knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, who had been victorious in the imperial takeover of Mantua in 1601. And nobody at Santa Maria Nuova would ever be allowed to forget the Malvezzi nuns' high station.

The family's seventeenth-century connections with Santa Maria Nuova began inauspiciously, to say the least. Maria Vinciguerra's sister, Anna Maria, might have joined her sisters at Santa Maria Nuova too. But when she had been taken to visit the convent at age three, a careless nun had dropped her out of an upstairs window. Her parents therefore decided to enroll her elsewhere, among the Discalced Carmelites of San Gabriele, across town.

Donna Maria Vinciguerra, the donor and prime mover in the lavish rebuilding and decoration of the convent church, is more difficult to identify than her sisters among Giacomo and Vittoria Collalto Malvezzi's offspring. Her name in religion does not appear in the exhaustive genealogy of the Malvezzi family, for example. But probably she is identical with Maria Carola Malvezzi, born to them in 1610 and therefore about the right age. In contrast, we know considerably more about her sister, Donna Maria Vittoria Felice Malvezzi, born in 1605, who professed at Santa Maria Nuova in 1621 shortly after their father's death.

For nuns, the choice of a religious name represented a modest opportunity for a bit of creativity. Newly professed nuns commonly “remade” the name of a deceased mother or aunt as part of their name in religion, combined with the inevitable “Maria.” Maria Vittoria Felice's selection obviously honored her mother the countess, still very much alive. Since “Vittoria Felice” also implies “happy victory,” perhaps she was also trying to acknowledge the Mantuan successes of her illustrious uncle, to whom she remained close, as we shall see.

Maria Vinciguerra's choice is much more unusual, perhaps even startling for a nun. “Mary Victorious in Battle” might encompass some play on “Madonna della Vittoria.” Since the Madonna of the...
Page 99 is quieter than readers might expect, given the book's cover, but its qualities are typical. In telling tales out of archives one is challenged to recreate “ordinary” people (especially difficult when they were “dead to the world”) and to understand what led them to extraordinary acts. Page 99 does contain a life-defining incident that sounds made up, of a sort that crops up surprisingly often in the book: without a butter fingered nun's momentary lapse, there would have been three powerful Malvezzi sisters at Santa Maria Nuova, not two. Typically, the page also teases out modest clues to explain why life (for want of a better word) happens as it does. After all, in convent tales the devil is in the details.

We might call it “A Tale of Two Sisters,” for its chief players are Maria Vittoria Felice and Maria Vinciguerra, from Bologna's preeminent Malvezzi family. The Church recognized such good breeding as a red flag in societies emphasizing humility (hence, prelates forbade nuns to hang their cardinal brothers' portraits in chapel or to embroider the family coat-of-arms on door hangings). Being well born and knowing one's own (and others') place will be overriding issues here.

“What's in a name?” The sisters' names in religion foretell quite a lot. Maria Vittoria Felice “remakes” the name of her mother (who will build a palace near the convent to look after her daughter when a mysterious psychological illness strikes her down) and possibly refers to her uncle (who will enlist the pope to affect a cure). Restored to health, Maria Vittoria Felice (well integrated within family and convent community) is elected prioress 3 times. Why would Maria Vinciguerra (who is much harder to find in Malvezzi family histories) make such an exceptional, determinedly combative name choice, and what does it say about her? An answer would require a page turn. To chronicle how Maria Vinciguerra lived up to that name (forcing gifts worth a large fortune on the convent-whether the other nuns wanted them or not-and even tearing down, ripping up and burning a convent rival's chapel donation) requires a dozen further page turns.
Learn more about the book and author at the University of Chicago Press website and Craig A. Monson's homepage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 13, 2010

George C. Rable's "God's Almost Chosen Peoples"

George C. Rable holds the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. He is author of Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won the Lincoln Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, and reported the following:
From page 99:
On rare occasions, officers issued orders to curb swearing. At least twice Oliver Otis Howard who was widely known as a Christian general admonished the troops under his command. As late as March 1865 Howard still maintained that “every insult to Him [God] is a scourge to ourselves and invites disaster to our noble cause.” In one Union company the rule was that any man caught using profanity would have to read a chapter from the Bible aloud. An especially impious fellow in a short time had finished Genesis and Exodus and was well into Leviticus, perhaps not the best example of the policy’s deterrent effect. … Both Federals and Confederates told and retold stories of men who had been killed on the battlefield or even struck dead in their tents with vile blasphemies on their lips.
These passages on page 99 and especially General Howard's comment connect to the major themes of God's Almost Chosen Peoples. Popular understandings of how the Almighty shaped the destinies of individuals and nations may not have always been profound, but such beliefs were pervasive. Northerners and southerners, blacks and whites often spoke in remarkably similar ways. References to God’s will filled diaries, letters, conversations, and presumably many people’s thoughts. Powerful beliefs about divine providence, human sinfulness, and the righteous punishment for both nations and individuals deeply shaped how countless Americans interpreted the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War. Exultation followed in the wake of battlefield victories as both Federals and Confederates claimed to discern divine favor in the war's course. Defeats of course reflected divine wrath, but in either case, the great Jehovah was the god of battles. Countless Federals and Confederates would interpret the outcome of each engagement (and eventually the war itself) as a judgment of the Lord. In short, the American Civil War became for a many a "holy war."
Learn more about God's Almost Chosen Peoples at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Suzanne Loebl's "America’s Medicis"

Suzanne Loebl's first book, Fighting The Unseen: The Story of Viruses, earned her a Sloan Science Writing Fellowship at the School of Journalism, Columbia University. Since then, she has written fourteen books. Her America's Art Museum's: A Travelers' Guide to Great Collections Large and Small prompted some people to tour America in search of art.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, America's Medicis: The Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of America’s Medicis deals with the construction of Rockefeller Center, a time when “‘modern’ architecture had not yet completely arrived. Many skyscrapers were still overly tall houses whose walls rose from the ground in overly straight planes…. Junior hoped that the architecture of his Center would reflect his favorite Gothic style…” but he was talked out of it. During most of its construction period (1929-39) the architectural community derided the novel building complex that combined office space with shops, restaurants and theaters—a forerunner of the future shopping mall, but in the end it was universally acclaimed urban masterpiece of Art Deco. Even Jane Jacobs, the crusader for livable cities, approved of it.

America’s Medicis is the history of the cultural donations of two generations of Rockefellers, which unlike the family’s philanthropic gifts were not carefully planned. Therefore they are much more representational of the personal tastes of the donors as well as of the opportunities that came their way. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—Junior—built The Cloisters because George Grey Barnard had shipped the remnants of destroyed and neglected medieval ruins from Europe to America. His wife Abby co-founded MoMA in part because she wanted to help struggling, contemporary artists, Like many Americans the Rockefellers became entranced with Asian art and we have their collections, at the Asia Society, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Maine, Chinese porcelains and religious art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Japanese prints at the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Philadelphia Museum. John D. Rockefeller III was asked to chair the development of the controversial Lincoln Center and fifteen years later New York city had a performance Center. The Rockefellers were good at choosing the collaborators: Alfred Barr, James Rorimer, Sherman Lee, and many others who helped to shape their gifts into influential, and or beautiful institutions.
Learn more about the book and author at Suzanne Loebl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sarah Bakewell's "How to Live"

Sarah Bakewell was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, and reported the following:
My book How to Live is about the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, and page 99 tells the story of an occasion on which he kept changing his mind about something.

It was 1580, and his great book of personal reflections and anecdotes, Essais, was about to be published. The question was whether to include some sonnets and a politically radical treatise written by his best friend Etienne de La Boétie. La Boétie was dead – he had died of the plague some years earlier - and Montaigne wanted to commemorate him by making him a sort of centrepiece to his own work. But he was uncertain. Would La Boétie have wanted this? Might it be politically dangerous to print the treatise – which was daringly radical, exploring ways of resisting tyranny? As for the sonnets, they were now published elsewhere, so would it be right to include them?

First Montaigne put the pieces in, then he took them out. Then he put the sonnets in, but left the treatise out. Then he took the sonnets out too, and left only a brief note of his own about La Boétie and how wonderful he was.

I think Montaigne probably made the right decision, and I find his note about La Boétie’s brilliance moving, for his friend’s death had really broken his heart. Montaigne’s indecision reflects this grief, as well as a certain nervousness about his own artistic choices – something any first-time author can relate to.

Is this strange story typical of How to Live? I mostly avoid discussions of bibliographic history or textual scholarship, since I’m more interested in the living and breathing Montaigne and all the other living, breathing people who have responded to his writing. So maybe not. But in other ways it’s spot on. My book is about a man who mourned his lost friend all his life, but who used this loss to help drive his own literary energies. So it’s a story about reading and writing, and about emotion. And it’s about indecision. As Montaigne wrote, ‘Truly man is a marvelously vain, diverse, and undulating object.’ It is never easy to make up your mind about anything, especially the things that touch your deepest feelings.

I’m a believer in the page-99 theory, by the way, and I use it myself in bookstores – though I tend to go for page 37 for some reason. It’s rarely let me down. The page might tell a story untypical of the book, but the voice and spirit of the author will be there – and with that you can’t go wrong.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Bakewell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Larry Bennett's "The Third City"

Larry Bennett is professor of political science at DePaul University. He is the author and coauthor of numerous books, including Fragments of Cities: The New American Downtowns and Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Politics: Chicago and Sheffield, and It’s Hardly Sportin’: Stadiums, Neighborhoods, and the New Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism, and reported the following:
When you open The Third City on p. 99 you find a discussion of Richard M. Daley and the role he has played in Chicago’s reinvention during the past two decades. Most accounts of Richard M. Daley place him at the end of a Chicago mayoral chronology, often likening him (in many ways) to his larger-than-life father, Mayor Richard J. Daley (1955-1976), more rarely linking him to policy innovations associated with Mayor Harold Washington (1983-1987). I have taken a different approach to Richard M. Daley. In part, this is accomplished by noting how his approach to office has reflected the tactics of several “peer” mayors—notably, Rudolph Giuliani, Ed Rendell, and Richard Riordan—who during the 1990s in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, respectively, scaled back constituent expectations, blurred partisan political boundaries, and adopted willfully pragmatic policy positions. At a deeper level, in sections of the book both preceding and following the chapter devoted to Mayor Daley, my exploration of contemporary Chicago seeks to break through the log jam of received (even if iconic) opinion on what fundamentally shapes this city, and in turn, describes the particular forces that have fundamentally reshaped the city since the middle of the 20th century. I seek to identify what is unique in Chicago’s contemporary character but also connect what is driving contemporary Chicago to the forces driving cities across the United States in the early 21st century. It is my aim, when you finish reading The Third City, that you will want to walk outside and observe your own city—it may well be Chicago, but THAT isn’t necessary—with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of what makes cities such a crucial part of our world.
Learn more about The Third City at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2010

Erin Blakemore's "The Heroine's Bookshelf"

Erin Blakemore is a writer, entrepreneur, and inveterate bookworm.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her debut book, The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and reported the following:
Page 99 doesn't give a good picture of my book at all; it only contains the end material of a chapter. Interestingly, though, the end material I decided to include for each heroine/author pair (read this book when... and a list of a few of the heroine's literary sisters) has been one of the most successful aspects of the book. I think it's because it adds some context to an otherwise isolated story. Hopefully it reminds readers that even if an author only wrote one book, her heroine likely is in very good company. And that really gets to the heart of why I love reading so much...that treasure hunt trail from one book to another is almost as much fun as the reading itself.

I must admit that I love this point of the book. It is a short book, so Page 99 is very near the middle. Somewhere near this point is when I started feeling like it truly was a coherent book and not just a collection of essays. It's where I started to hit my stride. To me, there's a bittersweetness to the middle of a're just far enough along to be in it, but drawn to the conclusion. And you can't help but notice the number of pages left is dwindling.
Visit Erin Blakemore's website and the official The Heroine's Bookshelf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Adrian Goldsworthy's "Antony and Cleopatra"

Adrian Goldsworthy is a preeminent historian of the ancient world. The author of many books, including How Rome Fell, Caesar, The Roman Army at War, and In the Name of Rome, he lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Antony and Cleopatra, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Antony and Cleopatra gives a good flavour of the book, in spite of the fact that it does not actually mention Cleopatra, because it reveals just how difficult and dangerous it was for a woman to rule Egypt. In 58 BC a palace coup chased her father, King Ptolemy XII, out of the kingdom and replaced him with his eldest daughter Berenice. The system made it impossible for a queen to rule without a male consort, and this prompted a desperate search for a husband among the decayed Hellenistic dynasties, for Cleopatra's family was Greek, both ethnically and culturally.
Finally, a man with the prestigious name of Seleucus and a very loose claim to royalty was brought to Alexandria and married to the queen. The robust Alexandrian sense of humour quickly nicknamed him ‘Salt-fish seller’. Berenice was equally unimpressed, and tolerated her new husband’s crude manner for just a few days before having him strangled. As a replacement her ministers now located a certain Archelaus, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Mithridates of Pontus, but was actually the child of one of his generals. He too had been living in the Roman province of Syria, but was able to get away and went to Egypt. The new consort proved acceptable to Berenice.
In 56 BC Ptolemy XII's bribed a Roman governor to restore him to his throne by military force. Berenice was executed by her father. The most dangerous enemies for the Ptolemaic dynasty came from their own murderous family. Cleopatra had one brother killed by Caesar, poisoned her other brother, and persuaded Mark Antony to execute her last remaining sibling, a younger sister called Arsinoe. Only a member of the Ptolemaic family could rule their kingdom, but this also meant that any relation was a real or potential threat. Cleopatra was driven into exile in 49 BC, and would have remained there or been killed in her early twenties had Caesar not arrived.

Cleopatra and all her family relied on Roman support to keep them in power. Rome dominated the Mediterranean World, and Cleopatra never contemplated fighting against Rome. Her career was based around securing Roman backing, and it was no coincidence that her lovers were Caesar and Antony - in each case the most powerful man in the Roman Republic. The problem was that power at Rome kept shifting, and in the end Cleopatra fell when Antony was defeated. It was convenient for Octavian to portray this as a way against the 'evil' and eastern Cleopatra, but it was never anything other than a Roman civil war.

At the bottom of the page we read of Antony's first military experience at the age of twenty-six - very old for a Roman. Antony is remembered as a great soldier, and that was how his own propaganda portrayed him. The truth was very different. He spent little time with the army, and rose more through political opportunism and the prestige of his family. Antony was a poor general, and the failure of his attack on Parthia doomed him politically.
Read the Introduction to Antony and Cleopatra, and learn more about the book and author at Adrian Goldsworthy's website.

The Page 99 Test: How Rome Fell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stanley Harrold's "Border War"

Stanley Harrold is professor of history at South Carolina State University. Among his recent books are Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C. 1828-1865 and The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War, and reported the following:
Until I was asked to write this essay, I had never heard of Ford Madox Ford’s theory that reading page ninety-nine of any book will “reveal the quality of the whole.” But I am pleased to report that this is true of my book Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War.

The book is about the struggle over slavery along the North-South border during the century prior to the American Civil War. On one side of the border were the free-labor states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. On the other side were the slave-labor states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. Slaveholders, hired slave catchers, those who kidnapped free African-Americans into slavery, and some law officers fought on behalf of slavery. Slaves, free African Americans, other law officers, and increasing numbers of sympathetic white northerners fought for freedom. I portray the violent cross-border incidents that resulted and analyze how they contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

On page ninety-nine I discuss two aspects of this conflict. The first is the price paid by those northern law officers who helped slave catchers. In October 1841, for example, Pittsburgh police helped two Virginians recapture three fugitive slaves. In response, the Western Press, of Mercer, Pennsylvania, called the officers “the ... northern abettors, the sneaking jackals of slavery, the hireling whippers in of the man thieves of the South.” The Press demanded that they be “marked by the virtuous community.” In March 1846 one Ohio justice of the peace found himself not only marked but in jail because he had issued an arrest warrant for an alleged fugitive slave.

The second aspect is the attitude of abolitionists concerning forceful resistance to slavery’s defenders. Historians often portray abolitionists as nonviolent. But when mobs in the Lower North attacked masters, kidnappers, and legal authorities, even Quaker abolitionists justified the mobs’ actions. In some cases, abolitionists along the sectional border relaxed their commitment to pacifism. In other cases, they embraced traditional Christian endorsement of defensive violence.

Even though page ninety-nine deals with reactions to violence rather than the violence itself, it reflects Border War’s major theme and reveals its impact.
Read more about Border War at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catherine Gildiner's "After the Falls"

Catherine Gildiner wrote her doctoral thesis on the influence of Darwin on Freud, and has been a clinical psychologist in private practice for several years. She also writes a psychological advice column for Chatelaine magazine and has written numerous newspaper articles.

Her first book, the memoir Too Close to the Falls, was published in Canada, the US and the UK to wide acclaim. It is followed by After the Falls which covers her life from the ages of 13-21.

Gildiner applied the “Page 99 Test” to After the Falls and reported the following:
The 99 page test is uncanny! On page 99 of my memoir After the Falls you find a microcosm of the macrocosm. You find me at age 14, having lied and told my employer I was 16. I work at a donut store and factory and I am the only employee to have made it in during a big Buffalo blizzard. The Puerto Rican donut maker, named Jesus, called from his home where he was stuck in the driveway and he told me to make twelve rows of twelve donuts in the fryer called the Beetle.( It looked like a Volkswagen Beetle). He told me the dough was already made and in the fridge and all I had to do was drop it in the fryer and then I should frost the donuts with chocolate syrup. I followed his instructions to the letter. However, I had no idea that you have to put the frosting on after you fry the donuts. After I finished placing them in the fryer with the chocolate syrup on the top.I went into the ladies room to clean up and get all the chocolate off of my hands and arms. When I re-entered the factory the entire room was on fire with orange flame acrobats scuttling along the wires on the ceiling. It was a three alarm fire. Oops.

The small vignette on this page really describes what my entire teenage life was like and it explores the incongruities of my character. I was very resourceful and knew how to get a job at fourteen and I also knew how to get through any snowstorm since I had worked with Roy, the black delivery car driver since I was four. We delivered medicine from my father's drug store and we had to get there no matter the weather. While I was brave and strong and ahead of my time in so many ways, I was remarkably clueless in others. As the fireman said to me in bewilderment,"Haven't you ever seen your mother frost a cake?" I had never seen my mother make a meal --ever. We had no food in our house and we always ate out. So while 99% of girls at that age would have known that the frosting went on later, I did not. This page and the book points out how much I tried to figure out the universe and be independent, yet I usually missed one or two ingredients that resulted in mayhem around me. The book is about learning to grow up and all of the false paths taken along the way.
Visit Catherine Gildiner's website and blog.

Writers Read: Catherine Gildiner.

--Marshal Zeringue