Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Allen Wyler's "Deadly Errors"

Allen Wyler is an internationally renown neurosurgeon and author of the thrillers, Deadly Errors and Dead Head.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Deadly Errors, and came up with:
Page 99 starts in the middle of a conversation between two minor characters and doesn’t give the flavor of the story or the writing. So I’d rather tell you about the plot.

In my practice, ideas for stories hit me at the most bizarre times. This book, for example. While serving on a committee to select a computerized medical records system for our medical center, I started wondering what might happen if the software had a bug that intermittently corrupted patient information. Could this ultimately kill patients? Yeah, probably. So this became the story’s kernel.

The push to switch from paper to electronic medical records is for a very good reason: computerization cuts down errors. Which is not a trivial issue. A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, To Err Is Human: Building A Safer Health System, reported that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in hospitals each year from preventable medical errors. This makes preventable medical errors this country’s eighth leading cause of death — higher than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS. About 7,000 people per year are estimated to die from medication errors alone. Although computers can definitely lower such errors, are they infallible? Shortly after the hardcover of Errors was released, I was contacted by a lawyer who specializes in just such cases. Scary.

So, the story goes like this: after fingering his boss for bilking Medicare out of millions, neurosurgeon Tyler Matthews framed for drug abuse and forced to complete a mandatory drug rehab program. After leaving San Francisco, he start his career over at a Seattle hospital. There he begins to suspect that the medical center’s revolutionary computerized medical records system is causing errors that kill patients. When he brings his concerns to management, he is not only scorned, but his life is put in danger and another potential whistle-blower turns up dead.
Read an excerpt from Deadly Errors, and learn more about the author and his work at Allen Wyler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Head.

My Book, The Movie: Deadly Errors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bill Emmott's "Rivals"

Bill Emmott is a writer, speaker and consultant on global affairs, with an expertise in Asia. Until 2006 he was editor in chief of The Economist, where his thirteen-year tenure was marked by many awards. He has published eight books and writes regularly for several international publications.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, and reported the following:
One page cannot of course be representative of a book’s substance and argument, but page 99 of Rivals does give a good sense of the approach and style that I have tried to use. My belief is that you cannot understand a society and its politics without also understanding its history and its economics; and that to understand Asia’s super-achievers in China and India it is essential also to look at Japan and other East Asian success stories, for Japan pioneered the paths that China and India are now following.

Thus, page 99 identifies some common aspects in the way Japan and China have been, and are, governed, even though one is a democracy and the other an authoritarian, nominally communist, regime. Elsewhere, I ask a former Japanese foreign minister what I should make of the recurrent tensions between China and Japan and he responds with a laugh: “China and Japan have hated each other for a thousand years. Why should it be any different now?” And yet there is also a lot that they have in common: their bureaucratic systems, their economic models, their environmental experiences.

The overall argument of Rivals is that Asia now needs to be understood both as a hotbed of political and economic competition—this is the first time in history when it has had three great powers all at the same time—and as an increasingly integrated continent. Japan’s growth was the big story of the first 80 years of the 20th century; China’s emergence has been the big story of the past 25 years; but now India’s emergence, as a trading and manufacturing giant, looks likely to be the most important development of this decade and beyond. Not because it is going to overtake China, you understand. But rather because it sets up Asia’s new three-way power game, in which the United States will be a concerned but also active outside player.
Read an excerpt from Rivals, and learn more about the author and his work at Bill Emmott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Steven Heyman's "Free Speech and Human Dignity"

Steven J. Heyman is Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Free Speech and Human Dignity, and reported the following:
The problem I address in this book is how the law should approach conflicts between free speech and other values such as dignity, equality, privacy, and freedom from violence. Such conflicts lie at the heart of many recent debates, from hate speech and pornography to antiabortion protests and picketing at military funerals. As everyone knows, it’s almost impossible to find common ground in disputes like this. Instead, the two sides tend to talk past each other. One side argues that the speech causes serious harm to individuals, groups, or the community at large. The other side responds that our commitment to free speech is measured by our willingness to protect it even when it causes serious harm or offends our deepest values. Unfortunately, the debate rarely seems to move beyond this point. The underlying problem is that we have no coherent framework that would allow us to decide when speech should be protected, and when it can be regulated to protect other values. As a result, First Amendment controversies often seem irresolvable.

In the book, I seek to overcome this problem by developing a liberal humanist theory of the First Amendment. According to this view, freedom of speech is founded on respect for the autonomy and dignity of human beings. But these values also support other fundamental rights, ranging from personal security and privacy to citizenship and equality. Speech that invades these rights is subject to regulation through narrowly drawn laws, except in cases where the value of the speech is sufficient to justify the injuries it causes. This theory recognizes a strong, liberal right to free expression at the same time that it protects against the most serious forms of assaultive speech. In this way, the theory seeks to find some common ground between civil libertarianism and its critics.

In the section that ends on page 99, I address a somewhat different problem. How should the First Amendment apply when the government is not restricting speech, but is providing affirmative support for it (for example, by funding the arts)? Once again, I develop a centrist position on this issue: although the government should have substantial authority to determine how public funds are allocated, it must do so in a way that is fair in light of the purposes of the program, and that respects the liberty and equality of individuals who wish to participate in it.
Learn more about Free Speech and Human Dignity at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Steven Heyman's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 24, 2008

James O'Toole's "The Faithful"

James M. O’Toole is Clough Millennium Professor of History at Boston College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Faithful discusses the role of immigrants in the Catholic Church in the US in the 19th century. In many ways, the story of the church in this country has been the story of immigrants, and this is as true today as it was in the past. Then, Catholic immigrants were coming mostly from Europe; today, they are from all over the world: Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. The ways in which the church has helped in their acculturation to their new country and the ways in which they have changed the church itself are very much a part of the story this book tells.

I also hope, however, that the book complicates that story. In the past, historians have tended to divide American Catholic history neatly into 3 periods: the pre-immigrant, immigrant, and post-immigrant church. I argue that it's better to think of six, which I call the Priestless Church (of the colonial era); the Church in the Democratic Republic (in the years before the Civil War); the Immigrant Church; the Church of Catholic Action (the early 20th century); the Church of Vatican II (the later 20th century); and the Church in the Twenty-first Century. By focusing on the experience of lay people, rather than the hierarchy and institutions of the church, I try to outline the characteristics of each period. In light of the still-ongoing crisis caused by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, understanding this history is, I believe, the first step in moving forward.
Read an excerpt from The Faithful, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit James O'Toole's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blaize Clement's "Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues"

Blaize Clement is the author of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter and Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, the third book in the Dixie Hemingway mystery series, and reported the following:
When I went to page 99 of Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, I first thought, "No, Ford was wrong." But by the time I'd read it several times, I had decided the test works.

In the first sentence, Florida pet sitter Dixie Hemingway, no relation to you-know-who, wakes up unable to move. It's late at night, she's lying on the grounds of a mansion, and in dazed confusion realizes somebody has conked her on the head. By the end of the page, she understands that the gray swirls moving so artfully through the trees is smoke, and she is forcing herself to stand up and do whatever she can to avert a tragedy.

That scene pretty much sums up the quality of the entire Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series. A former deputy, Dixie went a little crazy three years ago when her husband and child were killed by a man who hit the gas pedal instead of the brake in a supermarket parking lot. Thinking that working with pets would provide escape from the pain humans cause one another, she left the sheriff's department and became a pet sitter.

Since it's a mystery series, people are murdered. And since it's a "pet mystery" series, the stories are full of lovable pets. But while the series points up the fact that the highest ideals of love and loyalty are more frequently shown by pets than by humans, the real story is about Dixie's ongoing struggle to overcome grief and live and love as a normal young woman. In each book in the series, she grows in strength and courage.

As Page 99 of the third book in the series shows, Dixie always gets up and does her best. Even if she gets banged on the head by an arsonist in the middle of the night, even if she's hallucinating and too woozy to walk, Dixie by god stands up.
Read an excerpt from Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and learn more about the author and her work at Blaize Clement's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2008

Robert Schlesinger's "White House Ghosts"

Robert Schlesinger is deputy assistant managing editor, opinion at U.S. News & World Report. Formerly political editor of the insider publication The Hill and a Washington correspondent for The Boston Globe, he has written for The Washington Monthly, Salon.com, The Weekly Standard, and People. He teaches political journalism at Boston University's Washington Journalism Center.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, and reported the following:
White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters traces the history of presidential speechwriting from FDR through Bush 43. On page 99 we pick up the story at the end of the Eisenhower presidency:

During the first week of December, [speechwriter Malcolm] Moos gave Eisenhower a draft of the speech. It warned against a "military-industrial-scientific complex," a formulation that was later shortened at the suggestion of scientific adviser James Killian. A later draft discussed a "military-industrial-congressional" complex, but Eisenhower decided it was inappropriate to lecture Congress and dropped the legislative reference. "I think you've got something here," Eisenhower told Moos, slipping it into his desk. On December 14, Ike received a call from Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, urging him to "give a 'farewell address' to the country ... reviewing your administration, telling of your hopes for the future. A great, sweeping document."

Addressing the nation at 8:30 pm three days before John F. Kennedy's inaugural, Eisenhower delivered his famous warning:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Eisenhower had told Moos that he was not interested in capturing headlines, and in that regard the speech was a success. While Walter Lippmann noted that Ike's speech "will be remembered and quoted in the days to come," it in fact went largely unremarked.

Things began to change months later. "There is an interesting development, Mr. President, involving your 'Farewell Address,'" [Bryce] Harlow wrote to Eisenhower on March 17, 1961...

In this case, the Page 99 Test works well -- White House Ghosts gives readers an inside portrait of presidents and how they approached the “bully pulpit.” Here we see Ike’s unwillingness to be seen as bullying Congress and lack of interest in saying something particularly flashy in his farewell.

And White House Ghosts also gives the back-story on famous presidential addresses (there’s more about Eisenhower’s farewell, but that’s on pages 97 and 98!), allowing readers to see the genesis and evolution of well-remembered phrases -- in this case "military-industrial complex."

Of course there’s so much more here: The book covers a dozen presidents -- I spoke to at least one speechwriter or other key aide from each administration, more than 90 in total -- and does so in what I think is a very readable, accessible manner. (Lesley Stahl said that the "book is fascinating. And funny. If you like reading American history, you’ll love this book.")

Read an excerpt from White House Ghosts, and learn more about the book and its author at Robert Schlesinger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2008

John A. Adam's "Mathematics in Nature"

John A. Adam is professor of mathematics at Old Dominion University. His new book, with Lawrence Weinstein, is Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin.

Adam applied the "Page 99 Test" to his award-winning book Mathematics in Nature: Modeling Patterns in the Natural World, and reported the following:
On page 99 of this book, the reader might be very distressed to find two very complicated-looking equations, in addition to several innocuous-looking ones. But reader, fear not: these equations are present 'merely' to illustrate some of the underlying mathematical features of one of nature's most beautiful (and common) sights: a 22-degree ice-crystal halo around the sun. Still puzzled? Well, allow me to explain. When those highest of all clouds are seen in an otherwise clear blue sky, a ring, tinged faintly red on the inside, may be noticed around the sun. Those whispy, feather-like clouds known as cirrus, or cirro-stratus, are composed entirely of ice crystals, and sunlight refracted through myriads of these crystals produces this beautiful sight. Similar halos also can been seen around the moon when conditions are favorable.

[Warning: never look directly at the sun - when looking for halos always block off the solar disk with your hand, someone's head, or a conveniently located chimney on a neighbor's house, before examining the region near the sun.]

But this book is not just about halos. From rainbows, river meanders, and shadows to spider webs, honeycombs, and the markings on animal coats, the visible world is full of patterns that can be described mathematically. Examining such readily observable phenomena, and this book is designed to introduce readers to the beauty of nature as revealed by mathematics and the beauty of mathematics as revealed in nature. Illustrated with many color photographs and line drawings, written in an informal style, and replete with examples from everyday life, Mathematics in Nature is an introduction to the ideas and methods of mathematical modeling. It illustrates how mathematics can be used to formulate and solve puzzles observed in nature and how to interpret the solutions. In the process, it teaches such topics as the art of estimation and 'the problem of scale', that is, what happens as things get bigger. Each chapter has a non-mathematical introduction to the topic at hand. I hope that as a result, readers will develop a deeper appreciation for such natural phenomena as cloud formations, halos and glories, tree heights and leaf patterns, butterfly and moth wings, and even puddles and mud cracks.
Read an excerpt from Mathematics in Nature, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Guesstimation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2008

David Ownby's "Falun Gong and the Future of China"

David Ownby is Professor of History and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the Université de Montréal, in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in Early and Mid-Qing China: The Origins of a Tradition, and the co-author, with Qin Baoqi and Susan J. Palmer, of The Millennium and the Turning of the Kalpa: The Historical Evolution of Apocalyptic Discourse in China and in the West.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Falun Gong and the Future of China, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Falun Gong and the Future of China discusses Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s teachings about the limitations of science as an adequate tool for understanding the meaning of life. While the conflict between the Falun Gong and the Chinese state has been much in the news, Li’s teachings and Falun Gong practices remain obscure, and one of the goals of my book is to explain the nature of Li’s ideas and what made them attractive to millions of Chinese. I argue that Falun Gong, and indeed the larger qigong movement which gave rise to Falun Gong, represent a recycling of traditional Chinese medical and spiritual concepts related to healing and wellness, repackaged as a “new and improved Chinese science” beginning in the 1980s, as Mao’s Communist revolution withered and died. Tens if not hundreds of millions of Chinese followed one charismatic master or another, doing qigong exercises, buying qigong manuals, drinking qigong tea…in a nation-wide craze which swept urban China. Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi emerged in 1992, toward the end of the qigong boom, and accentued the moral and religious elements already implicit other schools of qigong, demanding that his followers read and reread his scriptures (available free on the internet) and promising them that moral behavior would help reduce their “karmic debt.” Li quickly attracted a following of several million and became a major player in the qigong world.

Chinese authorities initially supported qigong and Falun Gong, and many high Party officials were qigong practitioners. These leaders appreciated qigong and Falun Gong’s nationalistic pride in China’s traditional heritage, and hoped that a healthier population resulting from widespread qigong practice would reduce health care costs and contribute to good governance. As time passed, however, these same leaders came to realize that they had facilitated the creation of organizations of millions of people under charismatic leadership, a worrisome problem for an authoritarian regime concerned about its legitimacy. The result of China’s attempt to rein in the qigong movement was the spectacular demonstration of April 25, 1999, when some 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners staged a peaceful protest outside the gates of Chinese Communist Party headquarters in Beijing. The ensuing campaign of suppression continues to this day.
Read more about Falun Gong and the Future of China at the Oxford University Press website, and visit David Ownby's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Elizabeth Zelvin's "Death Will Get You Sober"

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist who directed an alcoholism treatment program on the Bowery for more than six years. Death Will Get You Sober is her first mystery. A related story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” has been nominated for an Agatha award for Best Short Story. Another story, “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down,” won an honorable mention in the first annual CrimeSpace Short Story Competition.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Death Will Get You Sober and reported the following:
At the beginning of Death Will Get You Sober, Bruce Kohler wakes up in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day and realizes he needs to change his life. How? “Don’t drink, go to meetings, and investigate a murder.” When a detox buddy dies in the next bed, Bruce cares more than he expected to. It’s only a few stops on the subway to Park Avenue, where the victim’s dysfunctional family has more than its share of money and secrets. Two friends Bruce thought he’d lost help him stay sober and find the killer: his best friend Jimmy and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, the world’s most codependent addictions counselor.

Barbara loves to help and mind everybody’s business, so she’s a natural for the role of amateur sleuth. In early drafts of Death Will Get You Sober, she and Bruce were co-protagonists, alternating first-person chapters. Then the first editor at St. Martin’s who read the manuscript loved Bruce’s distinctive voice but thought Barbara would do better as a sidekick. So I rewrote the book.

Page 99 falls in the middle of one of the few chapters in which I used the third person to retain Barbara’s point of view. So if “the quality of the whole” hinges on the voice, which to a great extent it does, page 99 misses it completely. The page is also short on dialogue, another of the book’s strengths. The final paragraph describes in detail the appearance of the victim’s aristocratic sister, whom Barbara goes to interview, one of the few such passages in the book.

On the other hand, Barbara’s codependency is as important as Bruce’s alcoholism to the overall recovery theme of the book. In that sense, the page does contain hints of the essence of the story. And the writer’s voice, which is related but not identical to Bruce’s voice, comes through:

“Her well-sculpted legs were swathed in…near-invisible panty hose, her feet clad in black leather pumps that looked as if they would rather have died than become scuffed. Barbara marveled not only at the outfit, but that she had evidently put it on just to hang out at home. When Barbara hung out at home, she wore sweats and bunny slippers.”
Read an excerpt from Death Will Get You Sober, and learn more about the author and her work at Elizabeth Zelvin's website, her MySpace page, and the group blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lawrence Weinstein & John A. Adam's "Guesstimation"

Lawrence Weinstein is professor of physics at Old Dominion University; John A. Adam is professor of mathematics at Old Dominion University. Their new book is Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin.

Weinstein applied the "Page 99 Test" to Guesstimation and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a question, “What are the relative costs of fuel (per mile or per kilometer) of New York City bicycle rickshaws (human pedaled taxis) and of automobiles?” plus a few hints to help the reader answer the question. While this is not one of the world’s most pressing questions, the answer (rickshaw fuel [i.e., food] is about twice as expensive per mile as automobile fuel, explained in detail on pp. 100-101) does help show why the automobile is the dominant form of transportation in America.

This book is comprised of questions and their answers to help the reader figure out how to estimate the size of almost anything, from the silly to the serious (but never solemn) and from the simple to the complex. Questions include:
  • How many people are picking their nose at this instant?
  • How much coal or uranium is needed to fuel a power plant for one year?
  • How long is all of the DNA in your body?
  • How much space is needed to landfill all of America’s garbage for a century?
In order to make the questions answerable, we only try to get the answer to within a factor of ten. Since size by itself is meaningless, the book also shows readers how to make useful comparisons, such as between the energy storage capacity of batteries and gas tanks or between the risks of driving to the beach and getting bitten by a shark while swimming.
Read an excerpt from Guesstimation, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit the webpages of Lawrence Weinstein and John A. Adam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2008

R. Bartlett's "The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages"

Robert Bartlett is a Professor in the School of History at the University of St. Andrews. His books include The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages and England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages, and reported the following:
Page 99 concerns the medieval discussion of dog-headed people. Did they exist, and, if so, what kind of creature were they?

One author of the ninth century believed that the dog-heads lived in villages, practiced agriculture and had a moral sense (e.g. covering their genitals). So, even if they looked unusual, they were human.

In dealing with an alien belief, and attempting to show how medieval thinkers thought rationally even if their beliefs were different from our own, page 99 is a perfect example of the argument and the approach taken in the book.

Inside the Medieval Mind, BBC4, April 17 2008, is a television programme which is based on parts of the book, including the dog-head debate.
Read an excerpt from The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nicolas Rasmussen's "On Speed"

Nicolas Rasmussen is Senior Lecturer in the School of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine, and reported the following:
Page 99 of On Speed is fairly representative of the book in that it looks at the evolving place of the drug (amphetamine) in society from the perspective of the pharmaceutical company marketing it, the medical profession, and the user – in this case the recreational user. Such a detailed multi-perspective treatment is what makes the book unique, I believe, among all historical books on drugs. In the particular passages on page 99 the perspective of the legitimate medical amphetamine user is absent, although there is plenty of that elsewhere. Drug user experiences of the past are very hard for the historian to access, especially those of often-secretive recreational users, unless they are content with police records. However, in the case of the Benzedrine Inhaler, I was fortunate in having the Beat writers (who abused the product so much in the 1940s, having picked up the habit on the New York jazz scene) working as my medical anthropologists.

The book is ultimately about the parallel roles that medical and non-medical drug use play in modern society, addressing that general issue through the story of amphetamine and the fascination it has held for Americans in particular over the past 69 years. When a drug that has proven this dangerous again and again remains so popular, not only on the street but as a prescription medicine (e.g. Adderall), it says something deep about the culture that finds its effects so very indispensable. I find the conclusion inescapable that millions of Americans feel they -- and or/their kids -- are able to live up to the behavioral expectations of their culture only when drugged with speed. As present rates of amphetamine use in the US approach those at the peak of the first epidemic, just prior to the classification of these drugs as controlled substances in 1970, perhaps it is time for Americans to reconsider those expectations.
Read an excerpt from On Speed, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Nicolas Rasmussen's faculty webpage for more information about his research and other publications.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Matthew Stanley's "Practical Mystic"

Matthew Stanley is Assistant Professor in the Lyman Briggs College of Science and Department of History at Michigan State University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Practical Mystic: Religion, Science, and A. S. Eddington, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Practical Mystic functions as a nice microcosm for the major themes of the book. The situation being described – access to scientific journals during and after World War I – might seem mundane and straightforward. But once you scratch the surface, you find a deeply complicated story that questions many of our assumptions about how science works.

The scientific community normally prides itself on being transnational and above politics. After all, the pursuit of truth has nothing to do with lines on a map. But very soon after the outbreak of World War I, British scientists decided that their German colleagues must be held responsible for the actions of their government, and severed all scientific communication. Astronomical observations, experimental results, mathematical calculations – all the very lifeblood of science – were stopped at the trench lines. Scientists on each side declared that they could never work with their enemies again. Indeed, after the war the international scientific community restructured itself to explicitly exclude scientists from Germany and its allies. Access to journals, as the material instantiation of both scientific knowledge and the scientific community, became a clear symbol of the influence of nationalism on science.

The story I tell in Practical Mystic focuses on A.S. Eddington, a British astronomer and Quaker who was one of the few scientists willing to continue working with his German colleagues. This was extremely difficult and politically dangerous (Eddington nearly went to prison for his pacifism). But it was his Quaker-driven commitment to internationalism that drove him to push for an end to the wartime animosity within science, and on page 99 we see Eddington surreptitiously trying to send journals to former enemy countries. Eddington thought internationalism was not just essential to the functioning of science, but that is was also a commandment from God. Thus what might seem to be the most trivial of things – a subscription to a scientific journal – actually shows us both how science is definitely not above politics, and how religious values can overlap with scientific ones in interesting and productive ways.
Learn more about Practical Mystic at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lisa Appignanesi's "Mad, Bad and Sad"

Lisa Appignanesi is a novelist and writer who has been made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of her contribution to literature. She is president of English PEN.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, and reported the following:
What I do in this book is to provide a long view of the rise and rise of what I call the mind doctors – the specialists who initially termed themselves alienists and then became as the mental health professions grew, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, psychopharmacologists and so on. Alongside this I probe the various understandings and experiences of extreme emotional states and mental disorders.

Putting things side by side in a historical order doesn’t necessarily reveal the great march of progress. What it does show is that ‘every epoch has its own firm rules on how to behave when you’re crazy.’ And alongside that how ideas, a social moment, diagnoses and treatments feed into each other to produce certain fashions in illness and treatment.

Page 99 begins the section entitled ‘Nerves’ and is a pretty good sample of the way the book proceeds. We’re in the final quarter of the 19th century: commentators in Europe and America were adamant that life had taken on a clang, clamour and speed that acted as an irritant on the nerves. Sensations forced themselves on any and everyone, whether in real or fictional streets. The times themselves, it seemed were a shock to the nervous system, with their crowds and dirt and the inevitable “decadence” that followed. Trains (that new technology) chugged, smoked, crashed and produced the trauma of ‘railway spine’ as well as a spate of railway murders.

During this time, it became current to link a large strand of mental illness to nervous exhaustion or what became known as ‘neuresthenia’. The treatment was enforced and radical rest, particularly for woman whose nervous condition might show itself in everything from reading too many books or not being quite satisfied enough by their husbands. The equivalent in our own druggy age is to think in terms of chemical imbalance: depression is the name of our key mental ill – a diagnosis so pervasive that by 2010 the World Health Organization predicts it will have become the single largest public health problem after heart disease. The pharmaceutical companies are on hand to help the diagnosis along and, of course, to provide the kind of chemical quick fix we prefer.
Read more about Mad, Bad, and Sad at the publisher's webpage, and visit Lisa Appignanesi's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Louise Penny's "The Cruelest Month"

Louise Penny's first Three Pines mystery, Still Life, won the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the New Blood Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association. In the United States, it received the Dilys Award for the book that the members of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association most enjoyed selling over the past year.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Cruelest Month, the newly released (in the U.S.) third novel in the Three Pines mystery series, and reported the following:
What fun these tests are. In my latest book, The Cruelest Month, page 99 (sounds like Get Smart a little, doesn't it? Hello, Chief?) finds three women struggling with going into the old Hadley house. This is the sorrow on the hill, the house that literally casts a shadow over the gentle little village of Three Pines. A murder has happened there, in the middle of a seance intended to raise the dead and rid the place of whatever malevolent spirit has gripped it. Not really a very good idea.

I think the page 99 test works quite well for The Cruelest Month. It shows how Agent Lacoste (no, not Agent 99) came to be on Chief Inspector Gamache's team. She was in the process of being fired from the Surete, for being a little too 'out-there'. Specifically, she liked to talk to the dead, to do small and personal prayers by the site of the death. To reassure the dead they hadn't been forgotten. But just as her superior was about to fire her, Gamache arrived and invited her to join his team.

Working for Homicide, and specifically for Armand Gamache, is the elite of the Surete. She couldn't believe her luck.

But now she's faced with deciding how important her beliefs are, and how strong her resolve is. If she's to reassure this murder victim she'd have to go into this wretched house. She asks for help, in the form of two villagers, Clara Morrow and Myrna Landers.

We get to see a very personal and private side of Agent Lacoste, we get insight into how Gamache chooses his team and the qualities he admires and rewards, and we see the loving relationship between Clara and Myrna.

Frankly all you really need to read is page 99 - and perhaps 69. Then you're essentially done. Would you believe...
Read an excerpt from The Cruelest Month, and learn more about the book and its author at Louise Penny's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Walter A. McDougall's "Throes of Democracy"

Walter A. McDougall is Professor of History and the Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. His many books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age and Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877, and reported the following:
My Page 99 isn't bad, especially for an election season. It describes how the Whigs learned to campaign like Jacksonian Democrats in the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" race for Wm. Henry Harrison in 1840. Americans learned via Jackson especially that their politics were not really about republican virtue, empires of liberty, or a new order for the ages. The primary purpose of American politics was winning elections ... period. And the Democrats knew the best way to do that was to outdo your opponent in spending, scaring, promising, flattering, bribing, backroom dealing, mudslinging, demagoging, manipulating the media, rigging the rules, and if necessary and possible, controlling the ballot box.

That said, I hasten to add I am no cynic. Americans' penchant for pretense is what permits us to hold a huge, diverse, hustling democratic society together. The downside of it is our national habit of putting off pressing problems for as long as possible lest they interfere with our private pursuits of happiness. The upshot is usually a far larger crisis and far higher price to be paid down the road. That was the case with slavery and Reconstruction in the era described in my book, and (as Obama courageously notes) it has remained so ever since. Americans are still a house divided, as Lincoln warned, but remain humanity's last, best hope, as Lincoln urged.
Read an excerpt from Throes of Democracy and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Walter McDougall's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Susan Levine's "School Lunch Politics"

Susan Levine is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of Labor’s True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, Labor Reform in the Gilded Age (Temple University Press, 1984) and Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth Century Feminism (Temple University Press, 1995).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America's Favorite Welfare Program, and reported the following:
Page 99 nicely captures the heart of my argument in School Lunch Politics. The chart at the top of the page illustrates the fact that historically, public resources, whether local, state, or federal, only partially covered the cost of children’s meals and, more significantly, never covered the cost of free lunches for poor children. In this regard, I argue on p. 99, that “school lunch funding structures perpetuated America’s regional and racial inequalities. In order to encourage local buy-in for the school lunch program, congressional appropriations covered only a small fraction of the cost of children’s lunches…. Most states, rather than raise local taxes, decided to charge children a small amount for lunch and count those fees as their part of the match. Thus, until the early 1960s, the National School Lunch Program's financial base rested on families who were able to pay the cost of subsidized meals for their children.” The embarrassing truth was that, until the early 1970s, very few poor children in America had access to free school meals.

School Lunch Politics
traces the history of one of America’s most popular yet flawed social welfare programs from its origins in early twentieth-century nutrition science through the establishment of the National School Lunch Program in 1946, to the transformation of school meals in to a major poverty program during the 1970s. School Lunch Politics may surprise readers who assume that the School Lunch program was a liberal legacy of the New Deal. In fact, champions of publicly subsidized school meals ranged from the staunch segregationist senator from Georgia, Richard Russell to Republican President, Richard Nixon, who was responsible for dramatically expanding free lunches to poor children. Also surprising may be the fact that some liberal activists advocated public/private partnerships in school lunchrooms in order to subsidize free meals. Today the National School Lunch Program is the single most important source of nutrition for children from low-income families. Almost 60 percent of all school children nationwide get free school lunches each day. School Lunch Politics argues that fixing the school lunch program is not simply a matter of getting kids to eat healthy food. It is also, a matter of political choices and social justice.
Read the introduction and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Susan Levine's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue