Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chris Turney's "Ice, Mud and Blood"

Chris Turney is a Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Exeter and author of Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past, and reported the following:
In Ice, Mud and Blood I'm looking at what lessons we can learn from the past for future climate change. On page 99, I'm showing how large sea level changes can get. During the last ice age (yesterday, geologically speaking) there was a vast ice sheet over North America that would periodically collapse and fall into the North Atlantic, driving up the world's sea levels. Known as Heinrich events, these unsettling occurrences give us a real insight into what we can expect if the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets do disintegrate in a warming world.

From page 99:

Probably one of the best known places for ancient coral reefs is the Huon Peninsula on the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea. These fringing reefs have been worked on since the 1960s, most prominently by John Chappell at the Australian National University in Canberra. The Huon Peninsula is in one of those rather special parts of the world where the conditions are ideal for tropical coral reefs to grow, but at the same time is on the edge of a plate boundary. Stretching back at least 250,000 years, the Huon Peninsula has been rising to the tune of 3 metres per thousand years. The result is that any corals that grow on the submerged shoreline of the Peninsula eventually get thrust up into the air where they’re saved for a scientist to come fossicking about. Seen from above, the Peninsula look like an enormous set of vegetated steps; the fossil coral terraces appear to stretch away forever, preserving ancient lagoons and barriers that formed during rises in sea level.

John has undertaken a vast amount of work on the Huon Peninsula. Over the years, he has led a team that has measured, prodded and analyzed most of this ancient seascape. In 2002, he reported a study which showed that when a correction had been made for the rising land, the large reef terraces grew in sea levels that jumped 10 to 15 metres during Heinrich events; the deepening water gave the corals head-space to grow at pace with the rate of rise. After the sea level had shot up, the Huon Peninsula continued its inexorable rise, preserving a record of the big changes that had taken place. As the ice sheets subsequently reformed, the water was sucked back out of the ocean and the tide fell. Intriguingly, no sea level jumps were detected at the Huon Peninsula for the smaller stadials that happened between the Heinrich events. The collapse of the smaller ice sheets might have caused sea level changes of less than 3 metres; probably beyond what the coral reefs on the Huon Peninsula can detect. Worryingly, more recent reconstructions imply these estimates may be conservative. Work in the Red Sea suggests that sea level changes of up to 35 metres might have taken place during the Heinrich events. These are gargantuan changes.
Learn more about Ice, Mud and Blood and its author at Chris Turney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Peter D. Norton's "Fighting Traffic"

Peter D. Norton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, and reported the following:
Ford's doctrine is a species of bibliomancy that is new to me. Testing it on my own book, Fighting Traffic, I am tempted to declare him a minor prophet. Then I recall something I once heard about sample sizes.

My case is that the automotive city was not the product of highway engineers or city planners, but of an earlier redefinition of what a street is for. A hundred years ago a city street was something like a city park: open to all comers on condition that no one needlessly obstruct or endanger others. This definition made cars and their drivers unwelcome intruders. Page 99 captures the moment when champions of the automobile first perceived that the traditional conception of the street was a threat to the car's urban future, and began to work together to reinvent the street as a motor thoroughfare.

In 1923, when the people of Cincinnati were distressed by the number of pedestrians (especially children) who were struck by cars, their response was NOT like ours would be today. Living in the motor age, we would discourage jaywalking and increase safety education in schools. But in 1923 all blame was directed at motorists, and the result was a petition--signed by 42,000 people--to install speed governors on all cars in the city. The governor would shut the engine off if the car reached 25 mph. This solution was logical to those who defined streets as public spaces, but it would also have deprived motorists of their cars' chief advantage--their speed. So it was in Cincinnati in 1923--and exactly on p. 99 of the book--that automobile dealers, clubs and manufacturers first organized to redefine streets as motor thoroughfares, where pedestrians (and especially children) do not belong.
Read an excerpt from Fighting Traffic, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Peter D. Norton's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brendan I. Koerner's "Now the Hell Will Start"

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor and columnist at Wired magazine, and his work appears regularly in the New York Times and Slate ("The Green Lantern").

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II, and reported the following:
Per the jacket copy, Now the Hell Will Start is a “true story of murder, love, and headhunters.” How many of these themes crop up on page 99?

There is, in fact, a wanton decapitation that occurs midway down the page. The perpetrator is a Japanese sniper, concealed in toxic jungles of northwest Burma. The killing is witnessed by Mahon East, a United States Army sergeant who’d miraculously survived an earlier bombing (though the fire scorched the skin off half his face):

East remembers a curious friend who wasn’t so lucky. During a later bombing raid, this young man peeked his head over the embankment behind which he and East had taken cover. “He wanted to see what [a Japanese plane] looked like,” says East. “He’s standing up and looking, and a sniper just cut his head right off, just like you took a knife to it. So, we lost him.

And with those chilling words, one section ends and a new one begins. The action moves to the White House, where President Roosevelt is awaiting the arrival of the serpentine Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Is this where the love comes in? Alas, no—FDR loathed the wife of China’s despot, thinking her rude and conniving.

So let’s say that page 99 of Now the Hell Will Start has a batting average of .667—check on the mayhem, but ixnay on the romance. But I’m certain that Ford Madox Ford would keep turning the pages, eager to follow the saga of Pvt. Herman Perry, the book’s starcrossed protagonist. At this point in the story, Perry is losing his mind in the Indo-Burmese wilderness, where he’s been sent to build the Ledo Road—a Sisyphean task if there ever was one. Monsoons, malaria, and tigers exact a lethal toil on the Road’s builders, the majority of whom are African-Americans assigned to segregated units. Jim Crow is their constant bane.

Soon enough, Perry will start smoking opium and ganja to ease his sorrow. This risky pastime contribute to the book’s central event: an emotionally shattered Perry shoots an unarmed officer to death, then flees into Burmese jungle.

It is there, amid a tribe of ornately tattooed headhunters, that Herman Perry will find bliss—and will marry the chief’s fourteen-year-old daughter.

Ford was an avowed fan of Heart of Darkness, so I believe he’d relish my tale of a real-life Mr. Kurtz.
Visit the Now the Hell Will Start website and Brendan I. Koerner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Robert Zimmerman's "The Universe in a Mirror"

Robert Zimmerman is an award-winning science writer and historian whose work has appeared in Natural History, the Wall Street Journal, and Astronomy, among other leading publications. His books include Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel and Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It, and reported the following:
I approached the 99-page test with great skepticism, a skepticism that was in many ways confirmed when I looked at page 99 of The Universe in a Mirror. The book tells the epic and sometimes heart-breaking tale of the Hubble Space Telescope and the men and women who risked their careers and family lives to build and fix what has undoubtedly been the most successful and important scientific instrument ever put into space. Not only has Hubble reshaped the field of astronomy, it has completely changed the human perception of the universe.

The events described on page 99, the change from one project manager to another early in Hubble's construction and the problems that change caused, seems at first glance to be relatively unexciting. As with all history, the context that surrounds such an event is what will give the event its life and energy. Thus, reading this single page, out of context, leaves the reader somewhat high and dry, lacking the background necessary to understand the human difficulties of the situation.

Page 99 does contain a single phrase, however, that does encapsulate the context of the situation and helps explain the many problems that plagued the entire history of the Hubble Space Telescope. That phrase is "penny wise and pound foolish."

Repeatedly in Hubble's history the telescope was crippled by foolish attempts by numerous individuals to try to save a few dollars by either reducing the scope of the telescope or simply not doing the work necessary to make sure the telescope was built correctly. For example, in 1972 NASA's administrator arbitrarily limited the telescope's budget to approximately $300 million, a number picked out of the air with no connection to actual cost, in order to please the budget counters in Congress. It was this artificial number that ultimately caused the difficulties in construction, contributing more than anything to the error that eventually left the telescope's mirror deformed.

Similarly, in 2004 the last shuttle servicing mission to Hubble was cancelled for many of the same "penny-wise" reasons, requiring a political battle and the eventual resignation of the man who made that decision in order to reinstate the mission, now scheduled for the fall of 2008.

To me, writing good history means writing the story of ordinary human beings struggling to make difficult decisions with limited knowledge. The consequences of those decisions is what determines the history, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. In the case of the Hubble Space Telescope, the telescope's intrinsic potential for unveiling the unknown repeatedly forced the right decisions on everyone involved, and the result has been images of the heavens that are often so beautiful and revealing that it is difficult for words to describe them.
Read an excerpt from The Universe in a Mirror, and learn more about the book and author at the Princeton University Press website and Robert Zimmerman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 23, 2008

Benjamin N. Schiff’s "Building the International Criminal Court"

Benjamin N. Schiff’s Building the International Criminal Court is the first book to combine a history of the development of this new international organization with legal, internal and international political, and operational details that present a theoretically informed and accurate, but highly readable, introduction and analysis of the Court and the challenges that face it.

Schiff applied the “Page 99 Test” to the book and reported the following:
Chapter 3 examines the Court’s founding document, the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Appendix 3B contains the Statute’s definitions of the crimes over which the Court has jurisdiction, and page 99 includes part of Article 8, detailing War Crimes. Since this is part of a negotiated international treaty text, it gives no idea about the style, argument, or breadth of the book, which is more a political and operational analysis than a dry legal exposition.

The main point of Appendix 3B is to show how in international law and in the Statute, the concepts of war crimes in international and internal conflicts have converged with each other. The main point of the book is that the International Criminal Court has a very broad mandate, represents an amalgamation of contrasting legal traditions, embodies some serious organizational contradictions and has rather little power, but is at the forefront of the institutional development of international efforts to respond to humanity’s most heinous crimes.
Read an excerpt from Building the International Criminal Court, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Benjamin N. Schiff is Professor of Politics, Oberlin College.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Julie Salamon's "Hospital"

Julie Salamon, author of seven books including The Devil's Candy and Rambam's Ladder, was a reporter and critic for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Here are her thoughts on the “Page 99 Test” and her most recent book, Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids:
Since the genesis of my book Hospital is rooted in serendipity, I was intrigued by the Wheel of Fortune aspect of the Page 99 test. I found Maimonides Medical Center through chance, and was lucky enough to be granted amazing access for an entire year to this big, urban hospital. What intrigued me was the complexity of a modern hospital, given an added charge by its Brooklyn location, a center of immigration. More than 60 languages are spoken at Maimonides.

The book’s subtitle is Man Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids. Page 99 takes place in a chapter that looks at the complications involved in moving patients through the system, the “red tape” and “money” part of health care. It fairly represents crucial aspects of the book if not the entire landscape.

I’ve tried throughout the book to mingle personal stories with larger social and medical issues as these issues play out on the ground. On Page 99, Douglas Jablon, the exuberant head of patient relations, describes Sondra Olendorf, the head of nursing, with characteristic hyperbole: “I feel she dropped from heaven, and I don’t even think she got hurt.”

Olendorf has to deal with the realities of delayed lab work, nursing shortages, low morale. On Page 99 she designates a nurse to be a “bed manager,” someone whose entire job is to help get patients out of the hospital faster. “Being a bed manager took Romanelli (the bed manager) outside her zone in the hospital and sparked a kind of existential awakening. She had never thought about her unit in relation to the rest, apart from maybe housekeeping and pharmacy. Who has time to reflect on all the links in any chain…”
Learn more about the book and author at Julie Salamon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

W. Patrick McCray's "Keep Watching the Skies!"

W. Patrick McCray is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology and Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age, and reported the following:
When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, thousands of ordinary people across the globe seized the opportunity to participate in the start of the Space Age. Known as the “Moonwatchers,” these largely forgotten citizen-scientists helped professional astronomers by providing critical and otherwise unavailable information about the first satellites. Using homemade telescopes and other gadgets, Moonwatchers witnessed firsthand the astonishing beginning of the Space Age. In the process, these amateur scientists organized themselves into a worldwide program of satellite spotters that lasted until 1975.

When I flipped to page 99 of my new book on Moonwatch, I found myself caught in the story of Nunz Addabbo, a professional engineer living in Terre Haute, Indiana, who organized and led one of the world’s best Moonwatch teams. Addabbo’s tale points to how Moonwatch in the United States drew upon three different “Cold War cultures.”

One was a culture of vigilance. In the 1950s, many Americans feared a nuclear strike delivered by the Soviet aircraft. In response, hundreds of thousands of Americans – the patriotic and the paranoid alike – joined the Ground Observer Corps and maintained alertness against a Soviet bomber attack. The Corps combined watchfulness with strong elements of civic participation and, in some cases, a fair helping of Cold War suspicion. The appearance of Soviet satellites in American skies extended the general public’s fear of invasion into outer space. Addabbo, a new arrival in Terre Haute, experienced some this paranoia himself when he tried to start his Moonwatch team and found that his unusual name and itinerant professional experience aroused initial suspicion in the local civil defense office.

Moonwatch also drew strength from the vibrant and active amateur science community. Enthusiasts read about science, saw it depicted in movies and television shows, and bought toys and hobby kits with science themes. Like automobile tailfins and hula hoops, the resurgence of citizen-scientists reflected America’s postwar economic prosperity. Budding investigators used their disposable income to buy telescopes, ham radio gear and other instruments manufactured by one of the many companies that sprang up in the 1950s. The growth of amateur science clubs was part of the 1950s era pattern of civic engagement when membership in groups like Rotary and the Kiwanis Club peaked.

Amateur science activities also held a special attraction for children and teenagers. Before the surprise of Sputnik, toy companies produced a wide range of science kits that helped stimulate scientific curiosity among children. Science fiction movies and the UFO craze of the early 1950s help stimulate their interest. Think of the huge popularity of Mr. Wizard…over 100,000 kids claimed membership in one of the 5,000 Mr. Wizard Science Clubs that sprang up in North America. The fact that his “assistants” were precocious children added to the show’s long-lived popularity.

Together, these three groups – vigilant citizens, amateur scientists, and science-oriented teens – became the basis for Moonwatch. Page 99 of Keep Watching the Skies shows how civic duty, the virtue of vigilance, intense public interest in science and space, and the long tradition of amateur science in the U.S. were all strands in the Cold War cultural tapestry of the 1950s. Taken together, they helped create the cloth from which Moonwatch was fashioned.
Read the Introduction to Keep Watching the Skies!, and learn more about the book and the author at W. Patrick McCray's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 19, 2008

Charles Benoit's "Noble Lies"

Charles Benoit is the author of Relative Danger, Out of Order, and Noble Lies, a nominee for ForeWord Magazine's Mystery of the Year award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Noble Lies and reported the following:
Most of Noble Lies is told in a limited third-person point of view that follows the hero, but scattered throughout the book are short chapters that let you know what’s going on from the perspective of some minor, reoccurring characters. Page 99 falls in one of those chapters.

On this page, we’re following a petty Thai thug-wannabe as he follows the book’s hero through Krabi, a coastal town in southern Thailand. On page 98, the thug was remembering the things he saw the day the tsunami hit Phuket, and at the top of page 99, he remembers how he used to be sad all the time. But he shrugs off these memories, noting that now that most everything was back to the way it was before the wave hit, “he didn’t feel as sad anymore.”

The thug does not like ferangs – foreigners – and has little good to say about people in general, so if this is the only page you read you might think the book was filled with misanthropes and complainers. But in the middle of the page, as he’s recalling how “the big American and his girlfriend” arrived in Krabi, the thug hints at something more interesting:

“Yesterday he had watched them as they climbed out of the long-tail at Chao Fa Pier, these two, Jarin’s whore Pim, an old man and a boy.”

A couple ferangs, another man’s ‘whore’ and a pair of innocents all arriving at an exotic location in a Thai-style motorboat, being watched by a man who no one seems to notice – not the plot of the book, but yeah, a good sense of what it’s about.
Watch the video trailer for Noble Lies, and learn more about the author and his work at Charles Benoit's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tom Boellstorff's "Coming of Age in Second Life"

Tom Boellstorff is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, and reported the following:
Coming of Age in Second Life is an ethnography of the virtual world Second Life. The book explores a range of issues in Second Life and also, as is typical of most ethnographic work, thinks outward from these issues to pose broader questions about human life online. Page 99 of Coming of Age in Second Life includes the following:

Because objects could have permanence only on property, residents without property were largely excluded from building, an important dimension of Second Life sociality. Such residents often termed themselves “homeless.” Some residents were homeless because they did not like building or saw no benefit in owning property; others were homeless because they could not afford to own virtual land […] Fundamental to Second Life culture during my fieldwork was that textures, scripts, prims, and even entire builds could be sold; Second Life was a commodity economy.

This passage is representative of Coming of Age in Second Life in that it emphasizes that questions of inequality do not disappear when we go online. Virtual worlds hold great promise for human sociality, a promise as dimly understood at present as was the potential of the Internet in its early years. However, there can certainly be negative aspects to virtual worlds. I think it is crucial that we find a language with which to discuss such issues without sliding into a pessimism wherein we dismiss virtual worlds as the exclusive provenance of either “alienated geeks” or a mass culture that is, Matrix-like, cut off from its own reality.

The questions about property and commodification raised in the passage above are part of a larger argument in Coming of Age in Second Life in regard to what I term “creationist capitalism.” I define this on page 206 as “a mode of capitalism in which labor is understood in terms of creativity, so that production is understood as creation.” There is no inevitable reason why virtual worlds must be structured around capitalist principles, but for good or ill it seems that the vast majority of them to date are predicated on a specific understanding of capitalism linked to creativity, customization, and modification. One thing that I (and many others) will be watching in the years to come is how forms of inequality continue to be reproduced but also challenged by all those engaged in the design and everyday social life of virtual worlds.
Read an excerpt from Coming of Age in Second Life, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Tom Boellstorff's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cathy Pickens' "Hush My Mouth"

Cathy Pickens is the author of the Southern Fried Mystery series featuring Avery Andrews.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest book in the series, Hush My Mouth, and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 99:

“Some of us were out one night, after a football game or some such. Telling ghost stories. Must’a been near Halloween. We drove across the bridge and stopped to see if we could hear the baby crying.” He shook his head, smiling at the memory. “Ol’ Campbell decided he’d impress his girlfriend, so he got out to walk back across it.”

“What baby?”

“You never heard tell of the crybaby? Suppose to hear a baby crying if you walk across the bridge at midnight under a full moon.” He snorted.

“I take it you didn’t hear any crying.”

“Only crying I heard was that dumbass Campbell.” He smiled broadly. “Jennie Lee was sitting in the front seat of that old Plymouth I used to have. I got out to watch Campbell, she slid over to the driver’s seat and put that sucker in gear. I barely got the back door open. She was moving when I jumped in. But not before I heard it.”

He laughed out loud, one of his contagious belly laughs.

“Not that baby,” I said.

“Naw. Campbell. Screaming like a girl. He must’a run a good half mile, chasing us and yelling before she stopped the car.”

On page 99 of Hush My Mouth – a traditional murder mystery with a Southern flavor – attorney Avery Andrews is eating in the local meat-and-three-vegetables restaurant with Chief Deputy Rudy Mellin. They’ve been comparing notes on a two mysterious deaths in small-town Dacus, South Carolina.

Avery and Rudy knew each other in high school – not close friends, just that “sort of know” that happens in small towns. Avery went away to become a lawyer, then reluctantly came home after losing her temper with a lying witness in a high-profile trial and, as a result, losing her job. Rudy worked himself up to chief deputy while she was gone.

Their renewed friendship represents both the warmth and frustration of familiarity.

My close-knit, small-town upbringing prompts me to speculate about knowing people at different stages of their lives. Would I have liked my husband had I known him in high school? (Maybe not.) What was my dad like as a boss? Would my mother and I have been friends if we’d been contemporaries? (I like to think so.)

Page 99 also shows the role of humor in these mysteries. Even in tragic or scary situations, humor provides leavening.

Avery, who fought returning home, is showing signs of settling in, of becoming a part of the town, someone townspeople turn to when they’re in trouble. And she’s putting together her past and her present, with old friends made new and with a completeness she couldn’t know without the help of friends and laughter and a sense of continuity.
Read an excerpt from Hush My Mouth, and learn more about the author and her books at Cathy Pickens' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gilbert King's "The Execution of Willie Francis"

Gilbert King is the author of Woman, Child For Sale: The New Slave Trade in the 21st Century, which was selected by the Detroit Free Press as one of its ten notable books of 2004. In addition, King has contributed articles to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Ring Magazine, Playboy, and the San Diego Union.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, we learn the background of Father Maurice Rousseve, the Creole priest in St. Martinville, Louisiana who counsels seventeen-year-old African-American Willie Francis in the months leading up to, and, surprisingly, just after Willie's botched execution at the hands of two drunken executioners in 1946. In some ways, Father Rousseve's story forms the heart of my book, as Rousseve was born and raised in the Seventh Ward--the quintessential Creole section of New Orleans, where his parents encouraged music, religion and education above all else. His parents were very successful in this indoctrination as Maurice and his brothers and sisters became writers, professors, architects, teachers and nuns, respectively.

In contrast to the opportunities the Rousseves enjoyed while living in New Orleans, the blacks of rural St. Martinville were stifled and forced into a life of plantation work. There were no schools for blacks beyond sixth grade, and Willie Francis only made it as far as third. So when Father Rousseve arrives in St. Martinville to run the Catholic church for blacks in town, he is continually frustrated that the opportunities for blacks are severely restricted by whites. Yet, ironically, Rousseve chooses a white priest as his assistant.

Father Rousseve strongly believed that Willie Francis was purposely tortured in the chair by the drunken executioners, who lowered the voltage so that Willie would not lose consciousness during his electrocution. He was also convinced, as were many in town, both black and white, that a Cajun deputy sheriff named August Fuselier, whose gun was found at the scene of the murder Willie was convicted of, was responsible for the death of Andrew Thomas, the popular Cajun pharmacist in town. At the same time, Rousseve has a great deal of respect for Bertrand DeBlanc, the young Cajun lawyer who comes to Willie's legal aid following the botched execution.

Page 99 of my book captures the complexity of heritage and race in 1940s Louisiana, which is so important to this story. So I'd say Ford's statement holds up pretty well in this case.
Read an excerpt from The Execution of Willie Francis, and learn more about the book and author at Gilbert King's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Barbara Fister's "In the Wind"

Barbara Fister is the author of two mysteries, On Edge, and the newly released In the Wind.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to In the Wind and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 99:

The man I recognized as an undercover cop held up one of the flyers. “Why is this college providing a forum for a right-wing hate group?” He looked around for support, and a rumble of agreement came from the protestors. The provost opened his mouth to respond, but Folkstone interrupted.

“That’s not true. We’re not a hate group.” His voice was high-pitched and a little jittery with earnestness. “On the contrary, we applaud the efforts of native peoples who struggle to maintain their identity in the face of one-world globalism. All we’re asking for is the same right to our racial identity. It’s the law that is racist. Repatriation rights are limited to non-Europeans.” That caused an irritated reaction from the crowd, and he seemed to gain momentum from it. “The fact is, Europeans reached these shores long before Columbus. Those bones have been identified by scientists as being of Caucasian ancestry. The government wants to deny the historical facts by burying the evidence. This is a pattern—” He was drowned out by boos.

“How are these remains being handled?” a woman called out, her voice angry and accusatory. “Are they being treated as objects of study, pawed over by scientists?”

The provost looked at Nancy, who seemed to shrink for a moment before she climbed up two steps and announced firmly, “No on both counts. We’ve handled them with the respect they deserve. Until we receive the court’s decision, they are being kept under lock and key.”

This exchange would give Ford Madox Ford a feel for the book’s themes. In the Wind explores the parallels between threats to civil liberties in the name of security during the Vietnam war era and today. The story focuses on the hunt for a Native American who once belonged to a radical group and is accused of killing an FBI agent in 1972. Anni Koskinen, a former cop, ends up working for the woman’s defense team at the request of the dead agent’s son, a close friend who has grown disillusioned with the Bureau and the politicized way the investigation is being handled.

In this scene, the plot thickens as a White Supremacist group holds a press conference to lay claim to recently-discovered Native American remains in order to publicize their eccentric beliefs. Supporters of the accused fugitive use the event to draw attention to their cause. As Anni arrives, she recognizes one of the protesters: an undercover cop. He has been reassigned from narcotics to surveillance of dissidents - which has been known to happen. It’s not the main storyline, but is consistent with a common theme: how our fears shape our response to issues.

Ironically, the crime fiction genre draws on our anxiety, just as policy makers do, but fiction can give our fears a nuanced meaning that is often more truthful than what we hear on the news.
Read an excerpt from In the Wind, and learn more about the author and her work at Barbara Fister's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 9, 2008

Katherine Howell's "The Darkest Hour"

Katherine Howell's first book, Frantic, was released by Pan Macmillan in May 2007 in Australia, with publication slated for 2008/09 in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the UK.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new novel, The Darkest Hour, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

Ella had to get out of bed again to find the phone book and look up the hospital switch number. They put her through to her mother's room.

'Hi, Mum.'

'Ella! Are you okay?'

'Actually I'm exhausted,' she said, the phone between the pillow and her ear. 'I've been up since yesterday morning.'

'They shouldn't work you so hard.'

'It was my choice to stay, it's a big case.' Ella said, her eyes closed. 'How's your infection?'

'Fine, good, all gone.'


'Did you ask about holidays?'

'I can't, Mum, with this case.'

'They don't need everyone on it, do they?'

Ella yawned hugely. She could feel sleep creeping up on her again. 'I'm really sorry but I have to go.'

'Well, if you have to.'

'I'm sorry, Mum. I'll talk to you tomorrow.'

She dropped the phone onto the floor and snuggled deeper under the covers. At last, a big case, I have my big case ...

Joe had the ambulance running when Lauren rushed up minutes before six. She jumped in and slammed the door and Joe accelerated out of the station.

'We're backing up day shift at a burns case in Darlo. Everyone else is tied up.' He roared down George Street. 'Night's going to be shit if the start's any indication.'

Lauren tried to clear her mind. She wouldn't be able to talk to Joe until the job was over. 'Is it a bad one?'

Joe nodded. 'Attempted suicide.' He braked hard as a pedestrian ran across the street in front of them. 'Guy tipped petrol on himself and lit it. He's in an eighth-floor penthouse and the lift's stuffed.'

Lauren took a deep breath. The case would take an hour at least. Then they might have to come back to the station and shower and change. Bad burns left crews smelling like cooked meat, and not in a good way.

So we won't get to talk for a while. Put it to the back of your mind, try not to stew.

As if that was even remotely possible.

Page 99 of The Darkest Hour is a little more than a quarter into the book, and by this point paramedic Lauren Yates is struggling with a bunch of problems. First she found her sister's ex, Thomas Werner, covered in blood beside a murdered man and was threatened into silence, and then she and her colleague Joe fought to save a stabbing victim who told her with his last breaths that Werner attacked him too.

Detective Ella Marconi is thrilled to land this stabbing murder case, and believes Lauren to be the perfect witness because she can testify to the dead man's words.

On this page we see how Ella's also a little stressed by family pressures, and how Lauren is planning to tell Joe that Werner has made new threats. Events conspire to send these plans awry, however, and instead, the following day sees Lauren at the homicide office, begging, to Ella's horror, to take back her statement.

I believe Ford's Page 99 test is applicable here as the pressure is slowly increasing on the characters on this page and the decisions they make while under that pressure lead to further problems. Both these qualities are true of the whole book.
Read an excerpt from The Darkest Hour, and learn more about the author and her work at Katherine Howell's website.

The Page 69 Test: Frantic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Benjamin Wallace's "The Billionaire’s Vinegar"

Benjamin Wallace has written for GQ, Details, Food & Wine, Salon, and the Washington Post. In 2002, the Columbia Journalism Review named him one of “ten young writers on the rise.”

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, and reported the following:
The Billionaire’s Vinegar tells the true story of the longest-running mystery in the modern wine world: the origin of a famous cache of extremely rare wine known as the Jefferson bottles. Supposedly discovered in a bricked-up cellar in Paris in the mid-1980s, they were said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson before being lost for 200 years. The story embraces an international cast of larger-than-life characters, a subterranean laboratory where cutting-edge technology is used to date wine (think of it as CSI: Bordeaux), and the eccentric world of the very rich and wine-obsessed. Page 99 does contain many of the book’s essential elements: from pop-science narration of how wine ages and why it can improve over time, to a bit of the history of Thomas Jefferson’s well-documented connoisseurship, to the ratcheting up of the 21st-century mystery at the heart of the book, which ultimately leads to a far-flung investigation by ex-FBI and Scotland Yard agents. And three of the story’s principal characters appear on the page: Kip Forbes, the publishing heir who bought one of the bottles for a record-setting price ($156,000!); Michael Broadbent, the bicycle-riding English auctioneer who vouched for the bottles’ provenance; and Hardy Rodenstock, the shadowy German dealer who “found” the bottles. Out of curiosity, I looked to see whether I could make the “representative-page” case just as well for 98 or 100, and I actually could not. So, for this book at least, the test passes.
Read an excerpt from The Billionaire’s Vinegar, and learn more about the book and author at Benjamin Wallace's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kristie Macrakis' "Seduced by Secrets"

Kristie Macrakis is a history professor at Michigan State University and a visiting professor in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi's Spy-Tech World, and reported the following:
I smiled when I opened my book to p. 99: not only was it a page I liked, but it was also representative of the style and content of the book. The page comes out of a chapter profiling two American servicemen -- code-named "Kid" and "Paul" -- who spied for the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS or Stasi) during the 1980s in Berlin.

The chapter compares and contrasts their very different motives for spying as well as including their damage to American national security. Unlike his more senior counter-part James Hall ("Paul"), the very young Jeff Carney ("Kid") spied because of his unstable psychological state related to his homosexuality.

After a short six months from the time he crossed the Berlin border during a Berlin pub tour, Carney returned to the Air Force Base in Texas as an instructor. Rumors spread that Carney found his lover dead in a bathtub and therefore decided to defect to East Germany.

The last paragraph on p. 99 describes the exfiltration:

A plan was soon hatched as to how to get Carney back to East Germany. The nearby Cubans had proven to be loyal friends of the East Germans and they gladly agreed to help. Carney was smuggled out through a laundry chute and flown to Cuba in a Cubana Airliner where he stayed for a week at a safe house in Varo Dero. The Cubans rolled out the red carpet and their hospitality. Fidel Castro said hello. Carney felt important.
Read an excerpt from the book, and visit the Seduced by Secrets website and Kristie Macrakis' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gregory Levey's "Shut Up, I’m Talking"

Gregory Levey served as a speechwriter and delegate for the Israeli government at the United Nations and as Senior Foreign Communications Coordinator for Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. He is on the faculty of Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book and reported the following:
I open my new memoir, Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, with some trepidation. I’m skeptical of the Page 99 Test.

My book is about my experience as a North American thrown headfirst into Middle East diplomacy. At twenty-five-years-old, I applied for an internship at the Israeli consulate in New York and was instead offered a fulltime job as a speechwriter, first at the UN Mission and later in the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel.

I flip through the book in search of page 99, with no idea what I’ll find there. At first glance, in fact, it’s an odd page. The top is the tail end of one scene and the rest is the beginning of something else entirely.

But after a moment I see that there might be something to the idea. The section that ends at the top has me moving from my first office in the UN Mission to my second. In the scene I’m delighted to note that my new office has a doorknob. In my first office, where I was writing speeches about terrorism for the UN Security Council, I was always annoyed by the fact that my door was missing a doorknob. Things in the Israeli government are often a bit improvisational.

The second half of the page has a passing reference to Ariel Sharon. At this point in the book, he is just a distant presence in Israel, but later on, his staff will offer me a job as his English Speechwriter in Jerusalem – an even more surreal turn of events that plunged me deeper into the bizarre world that is the Middle East.

So maybe it’s all there on page 99, after all. The United Nations and the Israeli Government. New York and Jerusalem. And a bewildered twenty-five-year-old flailing about amidst it all – unsure how he even got there in the first place.
Read an excerpt from Shut Up, I’m Talking, and learn more about the book and its author at Gregory Levey's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I. Dowbiggin's "The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century"

Ian R. Dowbiggin is Professor of History and Chair, Department of History, University of Prince Edward Island. He is the author of Inheriting Madness: Professionalization and Psychiatric Knowledge in 19th C. France (1991), Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880-1940 (1997), Suspicious Minds: The Triumph of Paranoia in Everyday Life (1999) and A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America (2003).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
If you turn to page 99 of my new book you go back in time to the 1950s when America was in the midst of a baby boom and birth control advocates were feverishly working on the oral contraceptive Pill. In a few short years activists like Margaret Sanger and John Rock would be celebrating the Pill as the solution to the perennial problem facing women and their partners: how to plan parenthood.

Little did they know that in no time at all the glamor of the Pill would wear off and the favorite form of contraception would be sterilization--vasectomy for men and tubal ligation for women. My book documents how that revolution in human reproductive behavior was launched and how it helped change the course of history. As governments grapple with the consequences of aging societies, the product of decades of mass contraception, policy-makers might be wondering: how did this all happen? Where have all the babies gone?

My book provides the answer. It tells the story of the men and women who convinced the world that sterilization was the best means of contraception for a planet wracked by an unprecedented population explosion. I also argue that the international community needs to reassess its approach to reproductive health issues in the 21st century. If not, depopulation could prove to be as big a problem as global warming to governments in the coming years.
Learn more about The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue