Friday, May 31, 2013

Robert C. Fuller's "The Body of Faith"

Robert C. Fuller is the Caterpillar Professor of Religious Studies at Bradley University. He has published a dozen books, including Spiritual, But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality, and Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience.

Fuller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Body of Faith: A Biological History of Religion in America, and reported the following:
Even the best rules have exceptions. Page 99 of The Body of Faith reads like most any history of American religion. It tells about the cultural background of John Muir’s career as a proponent of unchurched spirituality. Indeed, The Body of Faith does chronicle some of the social and cultural factors influencing Americans’ religious life. But this is not its provocative contribution to understanding why humans think or behave religiously as they do. It is a biological history of religion in America. Its focus is the biological body’s role in shaping religiosity.

Many of us were taught to think of humans as blank slates awaiting the outer environment to etch our particular personalities. There is one little problem with this view, however. It isn’t true. We are born with a host of genetically evolved systems that provide particular dispositions toward how we will think, feel, or behave. Biological factors typically account for between 15 and 50 percent of the variance in different human attributes. It is thus important to remember that the environment is ordinarily the most important factor in explaining something as complex as religion. Yet for too long historians have neglected the biological sources of religion. This book hopes to enrich the way we go about understanding the varieties of American spirituality.

Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University offers a succinct summary of what I tried to accomplish: “What would a history of American religion look like if it were grounded in a shared human biology, in the genetics, hormones, sexual organs, bilateral structures, and sensorium of the human body? This is precisely what Robert C. Fuller gives us in The Body of Faith. I was deeply inspired and moved by it.”

The body is replete with sensory mechanisms that fund human experience. We vary in our sensory predispositions and this variance helps us understand why some of us become religious liberals and others of us become religious conservatives. Bodily postures such as kneeling, diverting our gaze, or swaying in a choir all activate sensori-motor systems that shape our basic understanding of the forces upon which we are dependent. Sexual desires motivate us to seek union with an “admired other,” providing the somatic substrates of spiritual devotion to gods and goddesses. Altering the brain’s neurochemistry through ecstatic dance or intoxicating substances produces sensations of ecstasy and transcendence. Attention to these and other biological phenomena enrich and complicate what we thought we knew about such recurring themes in American religion as revivalism, apocalypticism, spiritual seeking, and sectarian formation.

Readers beware. This call for a fully interdisciplinary and naturalistic approach to history will challenge the assumptions of religious believers and secular postmodernists alike.
Learn more about The Body of Faith at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lisa Breglia's "Living with Oil"

Lisa Breglia is Director of Global Affairs and Global Interdisciplinary Programs at George Mason University and is the author of Monumental Ambivalence: the Politics of Heritage. She lives in Washington, DC.

Breglia applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Living with Oil: Promises, Peaks, and Declines on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, and reported the following:
If I had to identify a single particularly fascinating and revelatory moment of my anthropological research that captures the tensions, ambiguities and anxieties of living in oil-affected areas of Mexico’s Gulf coast, it is the strange episode I relate on page 99 of Living with Oil.

One morning while traveling the 40 kilometers across the Island of Carmen from my fieldsite in the fishing community of Isla Aguada to Ciudad del Carmen, headquarters of Mexico’s intensive offshore oil operations for the past 30 years, I spotted an oil platform less than 5 km offshore. I was shocked. My mind raced as I grabbed my camera. Was I so deeply mired in the rumors circulating amongst Isla Aguada’s fishermen that the state-owned oil company, Pemex, had plans to newly open these waters to oil drilling that I was hallucinating? No. And I knew that the platform had no business sitting that close to the island’s shore.

Installations dedicated to oil extraction in the world’s largest offshore complex, Cantarell, were supposed to be confined to an area some 80 km off Campeche’s beaches. Oil production on land and within an offshore buffer-zone production was prohibited in this region—one of Mexico’s largest federally protected areas. Yet my interviews and conversations with residents of Isla Aguada demonstrated a growing anxiety over the encroachment of oil operations closer to home. Local fishermen were experiencing a severe decline in their ability to sustain a livelihood and they attributed this to the intensification of offshore oil production.

Page 99 relates the bizarre conversation I subsequently engaged in with the protected area’s site director over whether or not the oil installation was actually “there” or not—as he claimed that it wasn’t really there (!) given the legal prohibitions on its presence. I was so glad to have seen and captured that image of the oil platform that morning as it connects to many of the themes and lessons of Living with Oil, both for my study and for the everyday lived realities for people who experience the impacts of fossil fuel extraction. The presence of the offshore oil industry necessitates a search for a new way of making a living on Mexico’s Gulf coast. But alternative livelihoods also require a sustainable natural environment. No wonder the sight of an oil platform from the pretty, white sand beach is an ominous sight indeed.
To see the photo of the platform and other pictures and updates of Living with Oil, visit Lisa Breglia's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sabine Heinlein's "Among Murderers"

Sabine Heinlein is the author of the narrative nonfiction book Among Murderers: Life After Prison (University of California Press, 2013). She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Margolis Award, an American Literary Review Award and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell and NYFA. Her work can be found in German, American and British publications, among them The Idler, Tablet Magazine, Epiphany, Die Zeit, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, The Iowa Review, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. She has spoken and read at NYU, the New School, University of East Anglia, Universität Lüneburg, and at the Bowery Poetry Club. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from NYU and a master’s in art history from Universität Hamburg.

Heinlein applied the “Page 99 Test” to Among Murderers and reported the following:
When I first opened Among Murderers to page 99 [inset below left, click to enlarge], I was disappointed; it mentions my main subjects only in passing. Re-reading the page, though, I noticed that it encompasses some of the book’s most important themes. In the chapter “Prisoners Still,” I had come to the halfway house to hang out with my book’s protagonists. But Angel (who had just been released from prison after serving 29 years for strangling a young girl) was off to a welfare appointment and Adam (who had served 31 years for organizing a robbery that cost two men their lives) had to go to Grand Central to exchange a train ticket. Unexpectedly ending up at the halfway house by myself, I decided to wait and see what happened. I knew that situations like these taught me things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

This is how I fell into the hands of Aazim and his wife Mahdiya. Aazim is the halfway house’s blind cook and, like Angel and Adam, he had spent large parts of his life locked up. I never found out what Aazim’s crime was, but unlike Angel and Adam he made me uncomfortable. That I felt so differently towards my characters illustrates an important point: no two ex-cons are alike, and each person deserves individual attention and care.

I was shocked to learn how unprepared most ex-cons I spoke to were for life outside of prison, and Aazim was not an exception. Prison offers few rehabilitative programs to help offenders see their errors and put them on the right track. For the most part rehabilitation is up to the individual, and as a result, many turn to religion to find support and redemption.

Both Aazim and Mahdiya had converted to Islam while incarcerated. Islam is an uncomplicated religion with strict gender roles, they told me. Mahdiya, who had been abused as a child and had grown up without boundaries, emphasized the structure and security Islam provided. Aazim liked that Islam allowed polygamy, and, to my surprise, Mahdiya agreed with him. “It might help at times,” she said. “You don’t feel like having sex when you are pregnant. I’d rather have my husband sleep with a legitimate person than with a stranger.”

Aazim and Mahdiya’s relationship illustrates another important fact: Insecure about their new world and afraid of society’s judgment, ex-prisoners often feel out of place among people who have never been to prison. For the most part, they don’t talk about their crimes, yet they silently share a particular code.

Among Murderers, on page 99 in particular, offers glimpses of a world unfamiliar to most of us and offers the opportunity to begin an honest dialogue about crime, rehabilitation, and reentry.
Learn more about the book and author at Sabine Heinlein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.'s "Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era"

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His books include Soft Power, The Powers to Lead, and The Future of Power. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, and reported the following:
During the 20th century, the United States went from being a second rate power to becoming the world's sole superpower. Why? Was it all in the cards because of structural factors like geography and economy, or did leaders make a difference? I answer that question in Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era. In about half the cases I examined, the presidents mattered, but not necessarily those that one might expect. Leadership experts distinguish transformational leaders with broad visions and an inspirational style (such as Woodrow Wilson or Ronald Reagan) from transactional leaders (like Dwight Eisenhower or George H.W. Bush) who have modest vision and a managerial style. The experts and editorialists generally prefer transformational leaders and consider them both more effective and more ethical. But in this book, I reached the counter conventional conclusion that this preference for transformational leaders is not justified. Regarding effectiveness, I do a counterfactual history of the century that asks what would have happened if a given leader had not been president and the next most likely candidate had been instead. And regarding ethics, I set up scorecards to judge the ethics of the major leaders who presided over the creation of the American era. Page 99 lays out my criteria for judging ethical foreign policy leadership before I go on to apply them in case studies of eight presidents. So it is not a bad place to start!
Learn more about Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era at the Princeton University Press website.

Also see: Joseph Nye's top five books on global power.

Writers Read: Joseph S. Nye (August 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Patrick Bishop's "The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship"

Patrick Bishop was born in London and went to Wimbledon College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Before joining the Telegraph he worked on the Evening Standard, the Observer and the Sunday Times and in television as a reporter on Channel Four News. He is the author with John Witherow of Battle for the Falklands based on their own experiences and with Eamon Mallie of The Provisional IRA which was praised as the first authoritative account of the modern IRA. He also wrote a memoir of the first Gulf War, Famous Victory and a history of the Irish diaspora The Irish Empire, based on the TV series which he devised.

Bishop applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Hunt for Hitler’s Warship, and reported the following:
My book would probably fail the page 99 test as it describes what was essentially a sideshow in the Tirpitz story. It rounds off the chapter telling the story of the commando raid in 1942 on the French Atlantic port of St Nazaire. Tirpitz was not in the harbour at the time. The operation which cost the lives of 169 of the 611 men who took part was mounted to destroy the giant dry dock there just in case Tirpitz ever decided to put in there for repairs. As she was now tucked snugly inside a fjord in Norway with every appearance of staying there for the duration, this seemed rather unlikely. However the episode was an example of the spell that Tirpitz cast over the Allied planners, and demonstrated the lengths they were prepared to go to destroy her or at least thwart her. As such it supports one of the themes of the book. As well as telling the many amazing stories of the many attacks on the battleship, I am endeavouring to say something about the peculiar dynamics of war when logic often flies out of the window to be replaced by more basic and atavistic considerations. The commandos lives would have been better spent trying to sabotage the submarine berths from where U-boats sallied out to lay waste to the Atlantic convoys.

I write:
The St Nazaire raid demonstrated imagination and cunning, great intelligence in the way that difficulties were foreseen and overcome, patience and thoroughness in the preparations and ruthless determination to see the plan through. The question was whether the target was worth it. As far as the Germans were concerned the [dry] dock was of secondary value. Their chief concern was the submarine pens, and on the morning of 28 March they stood unscathed.
Learn more about the book and author at Patrick Bishop's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mark S. Hamm's "The Spectacular Few"

Mark S. Hamm is a former prison warden from Arizona and currently Professor of Criminology at Indiana State University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Terrorism Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. His books include Terrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond, and In Bad Company: America's Terrorist Underground. He is the recipient of the Frederick Milton Thrasher Award for Outstanding Gang Scholarship, and the Critical Criminologist of the Year Award from the American Society of Criminology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat, and reported the following:
Some very smart people in the intelligence community argue that the greatest incubator for terrorism is the failed state. I contend that another incubator for recruiting terrorists is the failed prison. By their very nature, prisons are intended to induce transformative experiences among inmates. Today’s prisons are hotbeds for personal transformation due to the increasingly chaotic nature of prison life caused by mass incarceration. Mass incarceration has increased the social marginalization of inmates and their desire for bonding, group identity, and spiritual guidance. These changes make prisons a better place to foment terrorism than almost any other social setting.

When applied to the book, the Page 99 Test renders a split decision. On one hand, the page does not refer to the mountain of evidence used in the book. These sources include historical case studies of prisoner radicalization reaching from Gandhi, to Malcolm X, to Bobby Sands and the detainees of Guantanamo Bay; contemporary archival research including a database of terrorism cases; and interviews with intelligence officers and prisoners who were radicalized through a recruitment process of one-on-one proselyting by charismatic leaders.

On the other hand, page 99 does refer to major themes of the work.

Excerpt from page 99 of The Spectacular Few:
There is for Americans, however, an even more compelling case to be made about the global reach of prisoner radicalization. Osama bin Laden’s chosen biographer has described Ayman al-Zawahiri—radicalized not in a U.S. prison but in an Egyptian prison—as the “real brains” behind al-Qaeda, an analysis that appeared in numerous post-9/11 accounts. Some twenty years elapsed between Zawahiri’s torture in Egyptian custody and his terrorist campaign against America. This significant time lag is not a cause to dismiss Zawahiri’s three years in Egypt’s notorious prisons. To the contrary, it only confirms Sampson and Laub’s argument that the criminogenic effect of confinement is a “cumulative process” that reproduces itself over time. For ex-convicts, the prison experience lingers for the rest of their lives.


But that was al-Qaeda of old and today the West faces another kind of enemy—the lone-wolf terrorist, an unaffiliated individual who nevertheless often draws on beliefs and ideologies of validation generated and transmitted by extremist groups. “The biggest concern we have right now,” said President Obama in an interview shortly after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, “is the lone wolf terrorist.”
The excerpt alludes to the book’s subtitle—an Evolving Terrorist Threat and indeed the threats have continued to evolve as witnessed in the Boston Marathon bombing. Even though the alleged perpetrators of that crime had never been to prison, it is becoming increasingly apparent that one of them may have been radicalized by al-Qaeda sympathizers in the failed state of Kazakhstan. The evolving terrorist threat is global in its reach.

The overwhelming majority of prisoners do not pose a terrorist threat of any kind. Yet a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of prisoners—some of them freshly converted to Islamic extremism behind bars and others, like Zawahiri, the victims of torture—turn radical beliefs into terrorist action. They are the spectacular few.
Learn more about The Spectacular Few at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Christina M. Greer's "Black Ethnics"

Christina M Greer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Fordham University. She makes frequent appearances on television and in print media, discussing issues of race and ethnicity, immigration, campaigns and elections, and local and national politics.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and reported the following:
This is such a fantastic intellectual exercise, I wish I had known about it before writing my book, I would have made sure page 99 was the crown jewel of the entire book. I turned to my page 99 and saw that, although it does not summarize the entire book, it does touch on the important topic of fair treatment of black Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. In that, it analyzes data pertaining to whether or not black ethnic groups feel they are treated well once in the US. The data suggest initial clues in the distinct attitudes of black ethnic, white, and Latino respondents. My page 99 does echo the larger theme of Black Ethnics, which is a complex tension between the shared racial and distinct ethnic identity for black American, Afro-Caribbean, and African groups living in the US.

Race in America is an amalgamation of historical contexts, modern-day experiences, and projections of group dynamics. Therefore, this particular struggle between unified phenotypic racial identity versus cultural and ethnic distinction affects intra-racial relationships among blacks and also exposes a different picture of modern-day race relations involving black interactions with white and other nonblack members of society.

Who exactly is African American in the twenty-first century, and how are we defining this individual? Blacks are not a monolithic group, they have expanded beyond the civil rights generation narrative, where everyone is a descendant of US slavery, the South, and the black Baptist tradition. Black Ethnics takes a snapshot of the steadily increasing and diversifying black population, which has over 5 million foreign-born blacks from throughout the Caribbean and across the continent of Africa. Given the interactions of the “old” blacks versus the “new” blacks, we must ask what the future holds for these groups as they continue to compete for resources, negotiate descriptive and substantive representation, and pursue the promises of the polity.

To be very clear, Black Ethnics is not about determining which black ethnic group works hardest, nor is it about which black group is most likely to succeed. It does aim, however, to present the complexity of race and ethnicity for both native-born and foreign-born blacks living in America and to ascertain the possibilities for political coalitions in specific policy areas. Black Ethnics presents a multilayered identity for foreign-born and native-born blacks and examines how racial and ethnic identity directly affects foreign-born blacks’ concepts of group racial identity. It also shows how Afro-Caribbean and African black populations impact black Americans and their perceptions of race, ethnic identity, a collective future, and fulfillment of the American Dream.
Read more about Black Ethnics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lise Namikas's "Battleground Africa"

Lise Namikas is an adjunct instructor at Louisiana State University and helped to organize the Wilson Center's Congo Crisis Oral History Conference in 2004.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Battleground Africa: Cold War in the Congo, 1960-1965, and reported the following:
Battleground Africa is about the Congo in 1960, set free from formal Belgian control, and still struggling to find real freedom. The book is about the superpower tug-of-war to pull Africa into the Western or communist camps. Even in the ashes of the Cold War, the story is compelling because of the layers of politics that swathed the Congo. The government itself was wracked by division, and virtually every state in the world took a side in the dispute. The interconnectedness comes close to our own day of multiple cross-boundary networks, only to show how hard it is to restore peace to a broken state.

Page 99 is a reflection of these networks in operation. The page details the very precarious position of the only democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, tottering between success and the ultimate failure. In September 1960 he was dismissed by the figure-head president Joseph Kasavubu; but with popular support, Lumumba struggled to resume his duties as prime minister. He doggedly continued to organize his offensive against the renegade province of Katanga, knowing that anyone who re-united the country and acquired control over its fabulous resources could never be dismissed or ignored. Unaware of the impossibilities of what he was doing, pitted for the moment against the twin behemoths of the United States and the United Nations, Lumumba gambled high. He took Soviet aid sent by Nikita Khrushchev through Egypt, where the firebrand Gamal Abdel Nasser chose to side with him. He also tried to match Chinese aid to his cause. Always weak and weak-kneed in Africa, it hardly made a difference, except to those feigning fear of a communist monolith.

Eisenhower was savvy enough to see through a “bloc” of communism, but he was determined to stop communist influence at all costs. His first option, to limit the crisis through the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), failed by its own breach of neutrality. Page 99 continues: “The president now clearly took the position that the United States would never have a secure place in the Congo so long as Patrice Lumumba was active.” The following chapters tell the story of the ongoing assassination plots developed separately by the CIA, the Belgian security forces and Lumumba’s own Congolese enemies. In their mind Lumumba was the only thing that stood in the way of a western-oriented Congo, that is, at least until he crumpled under the hail of bullets. America and ONUC were ascendant, but found themselves equally frustrated with the multiplicity of divisions in the Congo itself. There were many chances to change the Congo and bring democracy back, but none truly stuck. That is the crux of the story in Battleground Africa. Ever so gradually promises of progress found themselves submerged by those who wearied or wanted nothing more to do with the crisis or, for that matter, the Cold War in Africa. In the end, the Congo was seized by Mobutu Sese Seko who allied with the West, only so he could grab more of its riches for himself.
Learn more about Battleground Africa at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Charlene Mires's "Capital of the World"

Charlene Mires is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden. She is the author of Independence Hall in American Memory, editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, and a co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, and reported the following:
At the end of World War II, Americans in at least 249 communities in the United States jumped into a surprising, dramatic, and sometimes comic race for the honor of becoming the Capital of the World. As the new United Nations organization looked for a location for its headquarters, some campaigns promoted major cities, such as Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, and San Francisco. But others focused on seemingly isolated locations, as we find on Page 99 of Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations.

This page truly taps into the heart of the book, because deals with the stories of two competitors that seem very unlikely—Tuskahoma and Claremore, Oklahoma. Through them, we get a glimpse into how and why Americans perceived themselves as connected to the world at the end of World War II. Tuskahoma, for example, had been the capital of the Choctaw Nation, and a member of that nation promoted it to the UN as a location that would also be a statement of social justice. In the case of Claremore, interest in becoming the Capital of the World grew from affection for locally born Will Rogers, who gained a reputation as “ambassador to the world” prior to his death in a plane crash in 1938. Like other Americans, the promoters of Tuskahoma and Claremore had experienced two world wars in a lifetime, and they had a heightened sense of responsibility and connection to world affairs.

Time after time, I discovered that world capital suggestions that seemed comical in retrospect were perfectly reasonable to the civic boosters of 1945. The race among cities and towns to attract the UN’s attention is a fun story—and it was fun to follow the trail. But along with the fun comes an understanding of connections between local, national, and global experience at a pivotal moment in history. The United Nations headquarters site in New York City, secured with a gift of $8.5 million from John D. Rockefeller Jr., seems like such a natural location that we have forgotten a time when so many other cities and towns could imagine themselves on the world stage.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Capital of the World website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brent Hendricks's "A Long Day at the End of the World"

Brent Hendricks is a graduate of The University of Virginia, Harvard Law School and the M.F.A. program at The University of Arizona. He is the author of a nonfiction book, A Long Day at the End of the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013), as well as a book of poems, Thaumatrope (Action Books 2007). He has published in such places as Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Conjunctions, The Southern Review, and Bomb Magazine. Married to the writer Kate Bernheimer, he lives in Tucson.

Hendricks applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Long Day at the End of the World and reported the following:
In his dictum that “the quality of the whole will be revealed to you,” Ford Madox Ford offers a kind of magic trick. By why not go one better? Why not believe that a particular page has the power to tell the future.

To foster my belief, allow me to employ the cradenza, a little known rhetorical maneuver ... a sleight of hand, if you will. The delicate cradenza (suggesting “a bookcase without legs”) should be kept separate in the mind from the blunt object credenza (which, by definition, is “a strong belief that supernatural powers control human destiny”). What’s the trick in relying on a belief to create a belief? I refuse to be a cheater when it comes to magic.

As typically applied, the subtle cradenza involves three steps.

1) The etymological linkage: Note that Ford uses the prophetic word “reveal” in his statement. Ha! Did you know that “apocalypse” means “revelation” in ancient Greek? As foretold in Ford’s own phrase, then, the trace (and thus the opportunity) for apocalypse exists on every page 99.

2) The cryptic aphorism: Recall that Walter Benjamin says that each moment may be “the small door through which the Messiah enters.” Therefore, building on #1 above, any moment on an author’s page 99 could be the moment in which the end of the world enters a particular book. In fact, to stretch the same point (an entirely acceptable play in the cradenza), doesn’t it follow that every moment, every page 99, contains the potential end of history?

3) The crescendo of the cradenza, or, the argument piled impossibly high without legs: To accomplish this feat, practitioners generally develop a concrete example--

Okay, so my book concerns the Tri-State Crematory Incident, the largest mass desecration in modern American history, and my father’s body was one of 339 bodies abandoned at the crematory site. While detailing that horrific desecration -- bodies piled up in pits, bodies in metal vaults, bodies scattered through the thick brush of the rural crematory -- the narrative moves through family history, Southern history and environmental degradation, ultimately culminating in thoughts of apocalypse. And that last phase, the final one, begins on page 99! The end of the world begins on my page 99 with a “hallucinogenic” “commingling of images.”

See for yourself -- trick or no trick, the future lies just a page away.

Excerpt (from page 99 of A Long Day at the End of the World):
But my bemusement widened to surprise when a strange commingling of images reflected back from the case: the Stars and Stripes, the Confederate Battle Flag with soldiers, a camera, a photograph, and me. The effect was hallucinogenic and the too-quick reality fracture suggested more breakage to come. Here I was, in my sudden corridor of collapsed meaning — the dislocated son of a dislocated father — floating above a plastic battle flag and soldiers that together hovered over a disarranged and thus dishonored American flag. For a few moments I drifted inside that image, or images, bewildered at my point of reference. If only I’d carried two (or three) cameras around like my father, I could have clicked the chorus of images together, holding a machine in both hands.
Learn more about the book and author at Brent Hendricks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Glen Weldon's "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography"

Glen Weldon is a freelance writer, book critic and movie reviewer.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and reported the following:
Turns out page 99 is all about Fredric Wertham's 1950s public crusade against comic books in general and Superman in particular. Which does line up with FMF's maxim, as the central thesis of the book is that Superman reflects the cultural shifts that take place around him -- that each generation gets the Superman it deserves. And Wertham's crusade precipitated one such shift that changed how Superman was perceived for decades afterwards.

Wertham was a powerful guy whose belief that reading comics caused juvenile delinquency helped launch community crackdowns on comics and, ultimately, congressional investigations as well. He might have had a point about crime comics, many of which were crazy, violent, and crazily violent, but his repeated accusations that Superman was a Nazi, for example, were nothing short of hysterical (and I bet they caused the Man of Steel's Jewish writers and editors no small amount of tsuris.)

Violent crime comics largely disappeared, and superhero comics made several changes to allay public fears about violence. Superman's adventures became more broadly cartoonish and whimsical. Interestingly, it's at this point in Superman's history that the provenance for his amazing abilities changes. From now on, it's the Earth's yellow sun that bestows upon him his super-powers. His creators original concept -- namely, that Kryptonians are a mighty and genetically perfect "super-race" -- quietly disappears from the chronicles. So at least one sense, Wertham's Nazi accusations must have stung.
Learn more about the book and author at Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2013

Don Herzog"s "Household Politics"

Don Herzog is the Edson R. Sunderland Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Household Politics: Conflict in Early Modern England, and reported the following:
Today, dear reader, we turn to early modern England for our ominous bedtime story. Once upon a time, men ruled their families – and their authority was unquestioned. People thought it was natural or necessary, part of the woodwork of the world. Indeed men’s authority was invisible, thanks to the public/private distinction: women and the family were private, and nothing private is political. So people staggered through life in a big sleep: that’s how ideology works. Good night and sleep tight.

That’s the fairy tale that I cheerfully demolish in Household Politics. Sure, you can line up centuries-old sermons and fancy works of political theory that preach the subordination of women. But these texts were blather. There’s no point insisting that women are inferior, that men ought to rule, unless other people deny it. And plenty of men and women alike did deny it. They rolled their eyes in caustic disdain at the putative wisdom of the sermons and political theorists. They knew that the authority of men was contingent and political, that members of their household were locked in conflict. I look at diaries, handbills, jokes (more than a few about excrement), letters, newspapers, novels, pamphlets, parliamentary debates, periodicals, plays, proverbs, servants’ manuals, songs, trials…. And I deliberately blur or ignore the distinction between intellectual and social history. I’m not interested in any contrast between “discourse” and “material reality.” I’m trying to reconstruct a social world that’s funny, ornery, nauseating, and lethal.

Page 99 finds me scrutinizing some eighteenth-century dictionary entries on public and private and beginning to canvass claims that the household is a “little commonwealth” or that a husband is a “Monarch for life.” Not as fun as the poop jokes, I guess. But not as bloodcurdling as the husband who beat his wife to death for not dutifully succumbing to Scripture, or as the women who murdered their servant girl and made their servant boy eat shit, either.
Learn more about Household Politics at the Yale University Press: website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thane Rosenbaum's "Payback: The Case for Revenge"

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, and law professor. He is the author of The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right, as well as four novels, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, and the novel for young adults, The Stranger within Sarah Stein. His articles, reviews, and essays appear frequently in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Huffington Post, among others. He lives in New York, where he is the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Fordham Law School and directs the Forum on Law, Culture, and Society.

Rosenbaum applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Payback: The Case for Revenge, and reported the following:
The tale behind (or should it be tail?) Payback: The Case for Revenge is very nicely encapsulated on its 99th page, the middle of a chapter entitled The Science of Mad. It is there that otherwise skeptical readers—those who have always been told to “turn the other cheek” and that an “eye for an eye” leads to blindness—come face-to-face with their worst nightmare: Human beings are hardwired for vengeance. It’s who we are—embedded in our genes, imprinted in our DNA. Indeed, our evolutionary history has very much depended on the certainty of deserved payback for both our moral and physical survival. Despite what religions have preached and what states have legislated, we can’t live without our revenge, nor should we have to.

In examining the human brain under conditions where cheaters are exposed and very much deserving of their comeuppances, through brain scans and clever neuroscientific experiments, scientists have determined that human beings simply have no tolerance for wrongdoers, and will often gladly give something up of themselves in order to ensure that the wrong is righted and payback is received. This is the world of the “altruistic punisher,” he or she who avenges out of pure altruism alone—think Batman and Dexter—the one who otherwise has no personal stake in the matter but can’t live knowing that someone has gone unpunished.

Our brains react both to situations where unfairness is made visible (a cheater is caught in the act), and the anticipation of just deserts (retaliation is on the way), which, somewhat ironically, triggers the same neural sensations, and in the same location of the human brain, as the anticipation of a sweet dessert. Conclusion: Homer, Lord Byron and Shakespeare were all intuitively correct—revenge is, indeed, sweet.
Learn more about Payback at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dale R. Herspring's "Civil-Military Relations and Shared Responsibility"

Dale R. Herspring is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He is the author of numerous books, including Rumsfeld's Wars: The Arrogance of Power.

Herspring applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Civil-Military Relations and Shared Responsibility: A Four-Nation Study, and reported the following:
Page 99 deals with civil-military relations in Germany. In particular, it focuses on Helmut Schmidt's role in working to overcome the mistrust of the "Captains from Unna" vis-v-vis the political leadership. It also begins a new section on additional problems faced by the German military at that time.

This book takes issue with the approach advocated by analysts such as Samuel Huntington and Michael Desch who dichotomize civil-military relations. It argues that focus on political control in the four, stable countries analyzed in this book, misses the point. All four armed forces (the US, Canada, Germany and Russia) are under control. The officers of all polities accept civilian supremacy and took an oath of allegiance.

Since the civilians are always in charge, it is up to them to decide on the nature of the relationship. In those countries where the civilian leaders respect military culture, the relationship will be more positive and the military leaders will be more useful to civilians if they interact in a non-confrontational manner. Indeed, the optimal form of civil-military relations is one of shared responsibility between the two groups.

Failure on the part of the political leadership to respect the military leadership and its culture will antagonize senior military officials who will feel less free to express their views. Such a situation will deprive senior civilian officials, most of whom have no military experience, of the expert advice of those most capable of assessing the far-reaching forms of violence.
Learn more about Civil-Military Relations and Shared Responsibility at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gary Steiner's "Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism"

Gary Steiner is John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University. He is the author of Descartes as a Moral Thinker: Christianity, Technology, Nihilism; Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy; and Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship.

Steiner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, and reported the following:
In recent years there has been a great profusion of writing, both popular and scholarly, about the moral status of animals. In academic circles much of this writing has been "postmodern" in character, which is to say that it focuses on the irreducible multiplicity and elusiveness of our experience of animal others, and it roundly criticizes traditional efforts to define animals, human beings, and the human-animal boundary in clear and unequivocal terms. Postmodern writers allege that traditional humanistic claims about the supposed moral superiority of human beings over nonhuman animals are based on reductive oversimplifications of both human and animal experience, and that these oversimplifications do violence to the irreducible richness of our experience of sentient life. Many postmodern writers have sought to show that humanistic notions such as agency, individuality, and responsibility not only distort the multiplicity of experiential phenomena, but that these distortions conceal efforts to exclude marginal others from full moral consideration. Where postmodern writers have focused on the marginalization of human others such as women and people of color, some of these writers have more recently sought to extend this critique
Page 99 -- click to enlarge
to the dominion that human beings have long exercised over nonhuman animals. Thus Derrida and others have sought to open us to the possibility that many nonhuman animals participate in logos (reason or language), even if they do not participate in specifically human logos. Nonhuman animals, like human beings, have a share in suffering and mortality, and this is sufficient for acknowledging that animals merit moral consideration considerably greater than human beings have accorded them in the history of Western culture. And yet postmodern thinkers assert no clear and categorical commitments about what we owe to animals; these thinkers rest satisfied with what I call "feel-good ethics," ethical commitments that permit us to express abhorrence at moral injustices but which do not push us out of our comfort zones by requiring us to do anything concrete to counter the injustices that we so abhor. Thus postmodernism is as morally impotent as it is rhetorically seductive; in fact, as I argue in Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, postmodernism simply legitimizes and reinforces, if only implicitly and against its own intention, the very violence against animals and other marginalized others that it purports to reject as pernicious.
Learn more about Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2013

Al Cambronne's "Deerland"

Al Cambronne is a writer from northern Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Canoe & Kayak, Cooking Wild, Deer & Deer Hunting, Meatpaper, Sierra, and The Washington Post. His new book, Deerland: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness, was published in April 2013 by Lyons Press.

Cambronne applied the “Page 99 Test” to Deerland and reported the following:
Deerland explores the major role of deer in the environment and in American culture; in both cases that role is much larger than most of us realize. The U.S. now has about 30 million deer, a hundred times more than just a century ago. They routinely disrupt entire ecosystems. They ravage our gardens and suburban landscaping, and every year they kill and injure hundreds of us on our highways. No wild animal larger than a skunk or raccoon is anywhere near so numerous and widespread.

Still, deer are magical. Their mere existence makes the woods feel wilder. They signify far more to us than just meat, antlers, or a graceful, mysterious creature slipping through the shadows. In our collective imaginations they’ve become an archetypal symbol of the wilderness experience—or at least of a gentrified country lifestyle.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us want to see more deer. What’s surprising is the things we’ll do to make that happen. Page 99 of Deerland comes about halfway through Chapter 4, “Feeders, Baiters, and Plotters.” In that chapter, I tell about three different practices: feeding deer recreationally, hunting deer over bait, and planting small “food plots” with crops specifically chosen to please the palates of deer—deer that may themselves be harvested as they’re harvesting their very last mouthful.

All three of these practices have one thing in common: someone is spending time and money to manipulate the diets and behavior of deer. As different as their motives might seem, they all want the same thing. Millions of Americans have become feeders, baiters, and plotters because they want to see more deer. It’s a simple enough desire, and a very natural one. Its consequences, however, are not.

Within that chapter, page 99 comes in a passage about “the Great Bait Debate, and a Mysterious Thing Called Fair Chase.” The gear, tactics, and values of American hunters have changed dramatically over just a single generation, and hunting deer over bait is a big part of that story. Hunters often wax philosophical about a rather nebulous concept they call “fair chase.” As well they should. Fundamentally, fair chase is about more than just the ethics and esthetics of shooting deer over a pile of corn; it’s about the meaning of hunting, the essence of wildness, and the very nature of nature.

In the first full paragraph on page 99, I attempt to explain all this more simply:
As much as hunters enjoy a beautiful day in the woods, and as much as they claim it doesn’t really matter whether they get a deer, they tend to make these statements with less conviction after they’ve experienced a certain number of deerless days in a row. Still, if deer invariably showed up on cue precisely three minutes after hunters loaded their rifles and stepped into the woods, then that wouldn’t feel quite right, either. Not too hard, not too easy. Just right.
But hunting is just one part of the story I tell in Deerland. After an insider’s tour of America’s Deer-Industrial Complex and a peek inside subcultures that are unfamiliar even to most hunters, it’s time for the “consequences” part of our story. To learn more about the ecological impacts of overabundant deer, I head back out into the woods—but this time with botanists, ecologists, and foresters. Next, I venture out into the field—literally—with USDA wildlife specialists to get a first-hand look at how hungry deer can make farming even more of a gamble than it already was.

To learn more about deer-vehicle crashes, I ride along with a state trooper for an entire eight-hour shift. Along the way, I learn about a lot more than roadkill. Then, to better understand the aftermath of these crashes, I visit a backwoods body shop that owes over 60% of its business to deer. When business is slow, the owner goes fishing and tells his wife to stop worrying. Someone will hit a deer soon.

Then, as I talk with experts to learn more about the problems associated with overabundant deer in America’s cities and suburbs, I learn that once again there are plenty of tough questions, but no easy answers. All too often, balance remains elusive.
Learn more about Deerland at Al Cambronne’s website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Erin G. Carlston's "Double Agents"

Erin G. Carlston is associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she serves on the Board of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and has directed the Program in Sexuality Studies. Her publications include Thinking Fascism: Sapphic Modernism and Fascist Modernity and articles in Modern Fiction Studies, American Literary History, Aztlán, and Romanic Review.

Carlston applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Double Agents: Espionage, Literature, and Liminal Citizens, and reported the following:
Double Agents investigates the associations that have been drawn, in both literary works and other media, among male homosexuals, Jews, and Communists as “invisible others.” In particular, I argue that such people evoke anxieties about the cohesion and security of the nation-state that are often expressed by representing them as traitors and spies, “double agents” who appear to be citizens but are actually operating as moles, subversives. In illustrating this claim I consider genres, countries, texts and historical periods that include the Dreyfus Affair in France; Marcel Proust’s massive novel In Search of Lost Time; the early poetry of W.H. Auden; the Burgess-Maclean scandal in Britain; the Cold War, Red Scare and Lavender Panic; the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg “atomic espionage” trial in the U.S.; and Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America.

Page 99 of Double Agents is about Sodom and Gomorrah, Volume IV of In Search of Lost Time. I discuss the way homosexuality and Jewishness are presented in In Search of Lost Time as opaque sign systems that the straight, Catholic narrator has to learn to decipher, and I argue that the novel itself is a “decoding device.” I’m especially interested in the way that Proust uses the Dreyfus Affair—an 1894 spy scandal in which a Jewish army officer was accused of selling military secrets to a bisexual German diplomat—to bring sexuality and Jewishness together and to teach his audience to read history and social relationships from the perspective of these “secret” identities. As I write on p. 99,
...part of the novel’s project is to involve the putatively heterosexual, Gentile reader in the unveiling of the mysteries of inversion and Jewishness, so that she can piece together the proleptic fragments of information in the earlier volumes and reinsert them into a coherent narrative later on. This requires that the reader, like Marcel, take on the identity of a spy herself, peering in at these presumably alien beings and learning to decipher their codes.... Furthermore, if we accept Hannah Arendt’s argument that Proust’s own identity as a (partially) closeted homosexual and (largely) assimilated Jew positioned him particularly well as an observer of—a spy on—salon society (80), we might figure Proust’s relationship to the world he describes in terms of espionage as well.

Espionage is, in fact, a productive metaphor not only for the relationship of both the writer and the reader to the text, but for all the human relationships within the text.
While p. 99 is about just one novel, it’s nicely representative of the major themes and methodology of Double Agents: it demonstrates how I use close readings to explain both literary texts and historical documents, and indicates what the idea of “espionage” can tell us not only about literature, but also about periods of crisis in political and cultural history.
Learn more about Double Agents at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2013

Michael Suk-Young Chwe's "Jane Austen, Game Theorist"

Michael Suk-Young Chwe is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Jane Austen, Game Theorist, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses a favorite, and most revealing, episode in Austen's Mansfield Park. Fanny Price, a young and seemingly powerless girl adopted into the Bertram family, must make a decision. She has an amber cross ornament, a gift from her beloved brother William, but has nothing to wear it with for the upcoming ball. Mary Crawford, the sister of Henry Crawford, a young man who may be toying with Fanny, gives Fanny a gold necklace. Edmund Bertram, the caring young man whom Fanny really likes, gives Fanny a gold chain. Fanny must now choose between Mary's necklace and Edmund's chain.

This choice is difficult because Edmund likes Mary and even perhaps intends to marry her, and thus Edmund asks Fanny to wear Mary's necklace in order to show her gratitude toward Mary. But Fanny would much rather wear Edmund's chain.

Fanny is relieved to find that "upon trial the one given her by Miss Crawford would by no means go through the ring of the cross. She had, to oblige Edmund, resolved to wear it—but it was too large for the purpose. His therefore must be worn; and having, with delightful feelings, joined the chain and the cross, those memorials of the two most beloved of her heart . . . she was able, without an effort, to resolve on wearing Miss Crawford's necklace too" (Mansfield Park, chapter 27).

My book argues that Jane Austen anticipated many ideas now considered to be part of game theory, the mathematical analysis of strategic thinking. Game theory explains people's behavior in terms of their choices. A favorite game theory result is that sometimes not having a choice can be better. Fanny choosing between necklace and chain is Austen's illustration of this result: by not being able to choose, Fanny can wear Edmund's chain blamelessly. But Austen, who is committed to the "power of choice," is not content to leave it at this: she has Fanny choose to wear Mary's necklace too. As my book notes on page 99, "Even when it seems better not to have to make a choice, Austen shows that another choice can make things better still."
Learn more about the book and author at the Jane Austen, Game Theorist website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anna Sun's "Confucianism as a World Religion"

Anna Sun is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Asian Studies at Kenyon College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities, and reported the following:
What an intriguing idea to make books take the “Page 99 Test”! I opened my book to page 99, and what I found is a section entitled “Confucianism as a World Religion in Today’s Popular Books and Textbooks.” Indeed, if you have ever heard about Confucianism, you probably already know that it is one of the “great world religions.” On page 99 I show that the majority of popular books on world religions today, such as the best-selling ones on, include Confucianism.

But as a matter of fact, most Chinese people do not consider Confucianism a religion. Ask a Chinese friend you know, and see how the person answers the question. Your friend might begin by saying: “Well, it is not! But it is complicated. Where should I start?” For instance, Confucianism is not included in the Chinese government official classification of the “Five Major Religions” of China, which includes Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

Why this discrepancy? Whose knowledge can we trust in our search for the answer to the question “Is Confucianism a world Religion”? For me, the research was almost like a detective story. It first took me back in time to late nineteenth century Oxford, where the new academic discipline of comparative religion emerged at the same time the new discourse of world religions was being invented. It was Friedrich Max Müller, a founder of comparative religion, and James Legge, a former Scottish missionary to China, who first cast Confucianism as a world religion in the larger context of colonial knowledge production about the East.

But is Confucianism a religion in China today? My research then led me to Confucius temples around China, where I observed the fascinating recent revival of Confucian rituals. The Chinese government has been consciously promoting Confucianism in the past ten years, staging ceremonies honoring Confucius as well as using his name for the ever-expanding fleet of Chinese language institutions abroad, the Confucius Institutes. What will be the future of the Confucianism? We are the ones who are now witnessing its thrilling developments and transformations.
Learn more about Confucianism as a World Religion at Anna Sun’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

David Farber's "Everybody Ought to be Rich"

David Farber is Professor of History at Temple University. He is the author of The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism; Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam; and Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Everybody Ought to Be Rich: The Life and Times of John J. Raskob, Capitalist, and reported the following:
On page 99 we meet Billy Durant, the erratic founder of General Motors. Durant is one of the co-stars of my biography of John Raskob, the “organizing genius” of early 20th century capitalism. Raskob, as head of finances at GM, teamed up with Durant in the 1910s to re-capitalize and restructure GM in a bid to move the fledgling company past industry leader, Ford. As I write on page 99, they had a beautiful partnership right until Raskob “came to understand that Billy, though a lovable, charming, spectacularly shrewd business visionary, had to go.” The history of capitalism, as page 99 suggests, is not a story filled with sweetness and light.

Throughout his life, Raskob had a gift for partnering up with extraordinary men, including Pierre du Pont, Alfred Sloan, Al Smith, and Cardinal Francis Spellman. Raskob was a master of finance and made his first millions at Du Pont and then GM. He envisioned, built, and held a controlling interest in the Empire State Building. He ran Al Smith’s 1928 presidential campaign and then headed the Democratic National Committee until Roosevelt and his boys deposed him. Raskob then helped invent modern American conservatism by founding the American Liberty League, an anti-New Deal “Super-Pac” funded by super-wealthy men.

Raskob, a devout Catholic who donated tens of millions to his Church, believed that capitalism could be made to work for everyone. He helped establish modern consumer credit by institutionalizing auto loans at GM and by promoting employee stock ownership plans and mass investment trusts. Raskob insisted that under a capitalist system, “Everybody Ought to be Rich.” Unfortunately, the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression got in the way of his vision of a free market wonderland.

My biography of Raskob is intended to be an empathic account of one of America’s least well known but influential capitalists. It is also a story of a man who believed too much in his own hype; Raskob was an extraordinarily talented and driven man who never much understood how the great majority of Americans made their way through the stormy seas of modern capitalism.

From page 99:
... Between 1915 and 1918, Raskob moved in stages from DuPont to GM and from Pierre’s ablest lieutenant to his own man. As his investments in GM increased, and even as he convinced Pierre to invest more of his own money in GM, and then as he won over the DuPont Company Executive Committee to sink tens of millions of dollars into GM stock, Raskob remained almost completely under the spell of GM’s founder, Billy Durant. At the same time, though, Raskob gradually came to understand that Billy, though a lovable, charming, spectacularly shrewd business visionary, had to go.

General Motors was the brainchild of William Crapo Durant, known to his legion of friends and admirers as Billy. Durant was a spectacular entrepreneur, a capitalist risk-taker of the first order, a man who could, in the near legendary words of his onetime employee Walter Chrysler, charm a bird out of a tree. He had been born at the end of 1861, making him a generation older than Raskob, and his upbringing could not have been more different than Raskob’s. Durant’s maternal grandfather had been a successful businessman, railroad president, and then the governor of Michigan; his uncle was a US congressman. The family was full of hard workers, men and women of integrity who had made good and served their communities honorably. At the same time, Billy’s father, also a great charmer, proved himself to everyone’s satisfaction to be a ne’er do well, a something-for-nothing stock-market plunger, and a drunk. Durant’s father came and went during Billy’s early years, finally disappearing before Billy turned ten.His mother returned to live with her well-to-do and ultra-respectable family in Flint, Michigan. Fatherless, young Billy Durant, in the words of his biographer, “was buried under waves of maternal cosseting ... garbed like a little prince.”8 Durant saw it much the same way, telling a journalist, with tears in his eyes, that his mother “always thought I was a wonderful boy. And I have tried not to disappoint her.”9

Billy Durant, child of a scandalous marriage and spoiled by his adoring mother, grew up to be man of uncanny confidence with little sense of limits. He was blessed with a talent—too much a talent, it turned out—for business risk and financial improvisation as great as any person alive in the early years of the twentieth century. A salesman of prodigious ability, by his late thirties he had mastered the world of business by creating the largest horse-drawn cart business in the United States and Canada, overseeing sixteen factories and a spectacularly successful sales operation. But in the very first years of the twentieth century, Durant left the horse-drawn cart behind. He had seen the future in the automobile before almost anyone else, and though without mechanical knowledge or aptitude he made himself one of the avatars of the brand new industry.
Learn more about Everybody Ought to Be Rich at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Vivien Gornitz’s “Rising Seas: Past Present, and Future”

Vivien Gornitz is a Special Research Scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rising Seas: Past, Present, Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Rising Seas: Past Present, and Future features the astronomical theory of the ice ages proposed by Milutin Milankovitch (1879-1958), a Serbian mathematician and geophysicist. Ice ages begin with a low Earth axial tilt angle (obliquity), a highly elongated orbit around the Sun (eccentricity), and greatest Earth-Sun distance on June 21 (Northern Hemisphere summer solstice; precession), and vice-versa. The theory was widely accepted, after scientists in the 1970s discovered 100,000, 42,000, and 23,000 year oscillations in oxygen isotopes ratios of tiny marine organisms, which correspond to the orbital cycles. What connection (if any) exists between ice ages and changing sea levels—this book’s main theme? Plenty!

Tiny gas bubbles trapped in polar ice cores revealed that greenhouse gases also varied in sync with the ice age cycles. Carbon dioxide and methane played key roles in past climate changes, roles they still play at present and most likely will in the future, as well. At least eight times during the last million years, vast ice sheets blanketed much of the Northern Hemisphere and subsequently retreated. Sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations both rose and fell in tune with the ice sheets.

Climate skeptics point to such past climate and sea level swings as proof that we are merely experiencing another natural variation. However, anthropogenic atmospheric greenhouse gases are climbing. Carbon dioxide (394 parts per million in 2012) approaches levels last experienced in the balmier Pliocene epoch, around 3 million years ago, when sea levels reached over 66 feet (20 meters) above present. Temperatures now stand 1.0EF (0.6EC) above the mid-20th century average, with the nine warmest years in the 132-year instrumental record occurring since 2000.

The pace of sea level rise has quickened since the late 19th century, averaging around 1.7-1.8 mm/yr over most of the 20th century, going to 3 mm/yr since 1993, closely paralleling the rising trajectory of carbon dioxide and global temperature. Sea level is likely to rise even higher as the Earth’s climate warms, potentially threatening the coasts with more frequent and severe flooding, increased beach erosion, and saltwater encroachment into coastal lagoons, streams, and aquifers.

Rising Seas: Past Present, Future addresses the causes and consequences of sea level rise. Recent climate and sea level trends reinforce the book’s conclusions that we are moving toward an increasingly warmer and, quite likely, a more aquatic planet. We would do well to take heed and begin preparations to stem the oncoming tide.
Learn more about Rising Seas at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2013

David A. Nibert's "Animal Oppression and Human Violence"

David A. Nibert worked as a tenant organizer and community activist before becoming a professor of sociology at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. He teaches Animals & Society, Global Change, Social Stratification, Minority Groups, and Law and Society. He is the author of Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation and Hitting the Lottery Jackpot: State Governments and the Taxing of Dreams.

Nibert applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s contention certainly cannot be disproved by a review of page 99 of Animal Oppression and Human Violence. The brutal oppression of Native Americans by the U.S. military that opened the Great Plains to profitable ranching enterprises, as glimpsed on page 99, is reflective of the ways in which the exploitation of other animals has been entangled with human oppression in the past, into the present and very possibly into the future.

Early human societies, the way in which humans lived for most of our time on the earth, were relatively peaceful and egalitarian but became hierarchical and violent with the advent of organized hunting of other animals. This conflict and division became even more pronounced when other animals were captured and exploited as food and laborers (a practice referred to in the book as domesecration). Their possession constituted wealth and power, and elite males regarded them as personal property – a view they extended to women and people they enslaved.

The exploitation of horses, cows and other large animals in early Eurasia made possible the rise of highly aggressive nomadic pastoralist societies. In a constant search for fresh pastures and water sources, tyrants like Chinggis Khan led murderous rampages that destroyed countless communities and entire societies while embedding violent, predatory traditions into the core of human societal development. What is more, the crowding together of large numbers of oppressed animals led to the emergence of deadly diseases – such as smallpox – that caused the deaths of millions. Such entangled oppression of humans and other animals also promoted and enabled deadly imperialist aggression, from the Roman Empire to the European colonizers who plundered the world.

The entangled oppression of other animals, especially for use as food, has continued into the present and is directly linked to the rapid depletion of vital finite resources (especially fresh water), environmental destruction, climate change, world hunger, global land grabs, chronic disease, and the rising threat of a new global pandemic. Today, it is positioning the planet for a calamitous future of widespread deprivation and resource wars.

Page 99 of the book provides a glimpse of how the expropriation of land and water to oppress animals for profit and to protect against perceived threats to valuable “stock” was a primary cause of the deadly wars against Native Americans. The treatment of humans and other animals seen here may well portend – unless there is a transition to a global plant-based diet for humans – the manner in which countless devalued people around the world will be treated as the oppression of other animals for food expands.

Excerpt from page 99 of Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism and Global Conflict:
Growing numbers of cows and sheep on the Great Plains led to the same types of conflicts between Native Americans and Anglos that occurred in the East in the early colonial era. And the “cavalries” of the U.S. military — which were provided rations consisting primarily of “poor quality salt or fresh beef or pork ” — continued the violence against Native Americans that “Mad” Anthony Wayne demonstrated in Ohio. For instance, in 1854 a cow being marched along the Oregon Trail escaped and wandered close to a Sioux village, where he was killed and eaten. A complaint was made to the army unit stationed at Fort Laramie that Native Americans had stolen the cow, and an army lieutenant “launched an impulsive punitive attack” on the Sioux village. A number of U.S. soldiers were killed in the battle, and the Sioux fled the area. In retaliation a year later, General W. S. Harvey made a surprise attack on a Sioux encampment at Blue Water Creek in eastern Wyoming. Harvey’s forces fired blindly into caves where numerous children and women sought refuge, and many were killed.

Increasingly, the ranchers’ expropriation of land and water sources led to violent conflict. For instance, ranchers largely were responsible for the displacement of the Nez Percé peoples. In 1855, as miners and ranchers poured into their territory, the U.S. territorial governor pressured the Nez Percé to give up fifteen million acres of their Idaho homeland. In 1863, gold was discovered in the land afforded to the Native Americans by the 1855 treaty, and they were compelled to give up nearly 80 percent of their remaining territory. Ranchers flooded into the area to serve the mining centers. By the 1870s, ranchers coveted the lush Wallowa Valley in Oregon, lands inhabited by the Nez Percé led by Chief Joseph, and pressured the federal government for their removal to a reservation. Angered by their impending displacement, four young Nez Percé men killed four Anglos believed to have slain several tribe elders, forcing the entire group to flee the wrath of the U.S. military. After a valiant effort to reach Canada, the group was caught forty miles short of the border. The Nez Percé surrendered on the condition that they be returned to the designated reservation in Idaho. Instead, they were imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Learn more about Animal Oppression and Human Violence at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bob Harris's "The International Bank of Bob"

Bob Harris's books include Who Hates Whom (2007), a pocket guide to global conflict; Beyond Caprica (2010), a mock travel guide to the 12 colonies of the Caprica/Battlestar Galactica universe; Prisoner of Trebekistan (2006), a memoir of 13 Jeopardy! games over 10 years; and the recently released The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to The International Bank of Bob and reported the following:
Interesting. The International Bank of Bob is all about my travels to meet mom-and-pop business clients whose loans I'd invested in all over the world — but more, it's really about crossing boundaries and barriers, connecting with people whom I never would have met otherwise. It's one thing to want to help the poor; it's quite another to finally get on a damn plane and go to Rwanda and Cambodia and Nepal.

Not to give away too much, but what I found was glorious — in country after country, people who were superficially so different — languages, religions, skin colors, hats, and so on — turned out to all just be trying to work hard, put food on the table, and make a better life for their kids. No matter where I went — the Philippines, Kenya, Lebanon, Bosnia, you name it — I just kept meeting my own mom and dad, really, with differences that were usually no deeper than cosmetic. Many of the days I spent visiting clients now rank among my most memorable days on this earth.

On page 99, I'm in Cusco, Peru, on my very first trip into the field. Page 99 is where I cross the very first threshold, overcoming my own reluctance, physically entering the new world—specifically, the office of a local microlender, bustling with local men, women, and children. Many were in work clothes, most of them were small and thin, and all of them there in hopes of building a better life. On that first day, I was secretly nervous, suffering under the naive, mistaken impression that these people — and people in more than a dozen other countries I planned to visit — might be so different from me that I might have trouble telling their stories and understanding their hopes. But by the end of page 99 — seriously, look it up — a new friend I'm just meeting is smiling at me, and an amazing adventure has begun.

Well. Dang. Ford Madox Ford had it right.

The bottom of page 99 is a footnote about Quechua, which bears no resemblance to any language you probably speak, but words from which you nonetheless use all the time — puma, jerky, condor, llama, the coca in "Coca-Cola," and so on. I do this throughout the book to demonstrate a constant proof of our interconnectedness that comes out of our mouths every day.
Learn more about the book and author at Bob Harris's website.

The Page 69 Test: Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Writers Read: Bob Harris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 3, 2013

Michael Lundblad's "The Birth of a Jungle"

Michael Lundblad is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Animality Studies at Colorado State University. He is the coeditor, with Marianne DeKoven, of Species Matters: Humane Advocacy and Cultural Theory.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Birth of a Jungle: Animality in Progressive-Era U.S. Literature and Culture, and reported the following:
I’m going to cheat a little, because I think page 99 is not necessarily representative of my new book as a whole (and it’s probably pretty boring, unless you’re a fan of Frank Norris’s The Octopus). A few pages before would give readers a better sense of the kinds of claims I make in this book:
The Octopus explores four rather distinct representations of instincts through four different kinds of violence.... [including] the “instinctual” slaughter of thousands of rabbits by Spanish-Mexican workers... [and] the armed battle between middle-class ranch owners and agents of the railroad-octopus. While not often analyzed in juxtaposition with each other, these sites of violence together illustrate the ways that animality comes to define not only the nature of violence but also the nature of class identity at the turn of the century. In each, the privileged can resist animal instincts (or “the beast within”) or refuse to be defined by them, often with the help of Christian ideology, while working-class, racial, and animal “Others” are essentialized as creatures who can act only according to violent, survival-of-the-fittest instincts. (97).
What I’m interested in here, ultimately, is the fact that texts like The Octopus from the turn of the twentieth century simultaneously reinforce and resist new ways of linking animality—in both human and nonhuman animals—with what I call the discourse of the jungle. In the case of The Octopus, contrary to traditional readings of it, we haven’t moved completely away from Christian discourses (with an evil beast within the human) and into a Darwinist-Freudian discourse (in which human instincts are equated with animal behavior in the jungle). Instead, we see both discourses overlapping while also defining class difference in new ways.

In other chapters, I explore how the characteristics and imagery of wild animals were evoked to explore a wide range of human behaviors at the turn of the century, including homosexuality and the lynching of African Americans. According to the law of the jungle, humans could be seen as naturally violent in the name of survival and heterosexual in the name of reproduction. Despite reigning critical interpretations, though, these constructions of animality were often contested rather than reinforced in Progressive-Era texts, including the work of Henry James, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, William James, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as cases such as Topsy, a circus elephant publicly electrocuted at Coney Island, Ota Benga, an African man displayed in the Monkey House of the Bronx Zoo, and the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. With jungle discourse continuing to be used to justify racism, labor exploitation, homophobia, and various other kinds of oppression today, my hope is that alternative formulations of animality at the turn of the century might help us to see why it’s important to avoid thinking of either human or nonhuman animals as “beasts in the jungle.”
Learn more about The Birth of a Jungle at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Solon Simmons' "The Eclipse of Equality"

Solon Simmons is Associate Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He makes frequent appearances on radio, television, and in print media, discussing issues of politics and group conflict, and his work has been discussed on most of the major national news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Good Morning America, National Public Radio, and Meet the Press itself. He blogs about U.S. politics and culture on Confrontations.

Simmons applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Eclipse of Equality enters the arc of the larger story of the book at an oblique angle. The streamlined argument of the book is that American elites have become progressively less concerned with moral arguments about property and equality on both left and right, supplanted with a focus on prejudice and diversity on the left and personal freedom and anti-statism on the right. Eclipse of equality in this sense represents a temporary (perhaps) atrophy of a canonical category of the moral imagination. How I demonstrate this process of elite opinion change is by analyzing their Sunday morning conversations on Meet the Press—thought of as an extended collection of interviews and focus groups on the dominant topics of the day from 1945 to the our own time.

Page 99 picks up this story with an extended excerpt from a Meet the Press interview from October 18, 1959 with a corporate leader and then rising star of the Republican Party named Charles Percy. As with all the excerpts in the book, this extended passage says less about Percy and the mid-century Republican Party than it does about the arguments that were circulating in elite circles at the time and the ideals they embodied.

The work Percy does for the argument is to highlight the moment of transition in political party emphases when Democrats and Republicans were far closer in their economic arguments than they are today. What I wanted the reader to see was John Kennedy represented in the words of this idea man of “dynamic conservatism.” This would make it easier to see how important the Kennedy moment was in initiating the flight in moral emphasis in Democratic Party rhetoric from class to culture. Among other things, Percy calls for a moon landing by 1970, missile superiority and a “strong, efficient central government.” If you close your eyes and ignore the Midwestern accent, Percy sounds a lot like Jack Kennedy. From our vantage, Kennedy comes off, in context, as a progressive Republican.

This ideological convergence in 1959 is relevant for us in 2013 in that it marks the beginning of the end of the rhetoric of class struggle and the vilification of wealth. It also marks the last days before the return to Republican vilification of the federal bureaucracy that had emerged with the rise of professional corporate management prior to the Great Depression and the New Deal.

As Democrats after Kennedy came to recognize the electoral force of the anti-supremacist arguments given dramatic form in the Civil Rights Movement and Republicans exploited the racial anxieties of once loyally Democratic white ethnics to fuel their neoliberal rocket, the economic red lines of the New Deal faded into pink. Today, even to flirt with the virulent language of a Senator Paul Douglas, the Fair Deal economist and Senator who would lose his Illinois seat to Percy in 1966, is to mark one’s self as outside of the rhetorical mainstream. This is what it means to have lived through the eclipse of equality and helps explain why we have seen so little in the way of aggressive class politics from the Democratic administration that governed through this lesser depression we suffer through today.
Learn more about the book and author at Solon Simmons's website.

--Marshal Zeringue