Monday, June 30, 2008

Rick Shenkman's "Just How Stupid Are We?"

Rick Shenkman is the editor and founder of George Mason University's History News Network, and author of the recently released Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book and reported the following:
My book flunks the p. 99 test. All readers will get by dipping into the book on that page is a discussion of the shallowness of TV. This is not breaking news. What is, then? My book argues that we are ignoring a 10 alarm fire: the gross of ignorance of millions of Americans about politics, best summed up by the fact that a majority believed on the eve of the Iraq War that Saddam was behind 9-11. (50 % continued to believe this even after the 9-11 Commission definitively reported that he was not.) How can you have a healthy democracy when a majority are so ill-informed about the central issue of our time?
Watch a video and read more about the book and author at the Just How Stupid Are We? blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christina Thompson's "Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All"

Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review. Her essays and articles have appeared in numerous journals, including American Scholar, the Journal of Pacific History, Australian Literary Studies, and in the 1999, 2000, and 2006 editions of Best Australian Essays.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story, and reported the following:
Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All is the story of two peoples: New Zealand’s indigenous Polynesians (the Maori) and the Europeans (principally British) who colonized them. But it is also the story of two individuals, one Maori and one American, whose experience both mocks and mirrors the history of encounters between these two groups. The key to the book is the oscillation between these two subjects, and on page 99 we find one of the many shifts between past and present that are intended to illuminate this relationship.

My husband (who is Maori) and I have just arrived in America, and I am seeing him for the first time in the context of my parents’ house.

I had never seen Seven before in an environment like this, dressed in his suit or a charcoal sweater, his hair now long and tied back in a ponytail, his skin a dusky brown from the summer we had just left. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of him against the plum-colored linen velvet of my mother’s sofa, the corner of a saffron cushion peeking out from behind his back, the big red Japanese painting on the wall behind him, and think, my God, it’s an Ingres.

The chapter examines one of the most persistent ideas about Polynesians, i.e., that they were a species of Noble Savage. And it was prompted by certain (to me humorous) similarities between my husband’s initial experience of America and that of Omai, a Raiatean native from the Society Islands (now French Polynesia), who was brought to England by Captain Furneaux in the late 18th century.

There was some initial anxiety that I might be misconstrued as representing the man I married as a sort of elegant, genial “natural gentleman.” But my point was rather that this was an astonishingly easy thing to do—even for someone like me who knew better. It was not simply that my husband manifested many of the same qualities as Omai (good humor, politeness, modesty, charm), but that everyone who met him was so ready to see him in this light. And the question was, therefore, not so much what this said about him as what it said about us.
Read excerpts from the book, and learn more about the author and her work at Christina Thompson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marek Kohn's "Trust"

Marek Kohn is a fellow in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex and in the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton. His books include Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground, As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind, and A Reason For Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination.

He summarized the applicability of “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good--"I wouldn't start from p99 to explain what Trust is all about!"--and reported the following:
Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good (Oxford University Press) proceeds from basics – what trust is, how it arises, what it implies – to civics, society and the common good. On page 99 it’s in transit, taking the reader into a chapter, The Goodwill of the People, about trust between states and citizens. The introductory example is that of a Czechoslovak jazz musicians’ organisation which emerged in the aftermath of the Soviet-led invasion of 1968, subverting the communist authorities’ attempts to keep civil society as small and over-controlled as possible. Although this particular group made the most of its opportunities, the suppression of civil society by Soviet-bloc regimes has left a morbid legacy of distrust. Similar legacies can be seen in other societies which have been ruled in the past by regimes which distrust the people, or seek to maintain their power by sowing division among their subjects. Under such circumstances, trust is often confined within families, creating clannish societies in which community is hobbled by suspicion. It often seems that if the state will not trust the people, the people will not trust each other.

They may also not trust each other if they feel they are different from each other. As the political scientist Robert Putnam acknowledges, and has found in his own studies, research tends to show that diversity inhibits trust. But that isn’t a law of human nature. If people decide that it is in their interests to co-operate, and they manage to do so successfully, they will come to trust one another. As trust develops, so does community. People achieve more together, and they gain more quiet enjoyment from their everyday encounters with each other. But where there are differences among them, they may have to work to create a new shared culture. And they have to want a diverse society to work – unlike, it seems, many of those who seize upon evidence that resolving difference can be difficult to claim that there is no point in trying. Whoever said human relationships are easy?

Page 99 of Trust:

the goodwill of the people 99

supposed to be channels through which the Communist Party could organize, discipline, and shape the people. They were part of the state apparatus, whose purpose was to ‘build socialism’. The difficulties experienced in this project led, however, to a brief period in which many of the tenets of the Leninist system were thrown open to question, offering the vision of ‘socialism with a human face’. After five months of this ‘Prague Spring’, Soviet-led forces crushed the reform movement in August 1968.

Attempting to restore the status quo ante, the new satellite regime decided that Czechoslovak social organizations had become too independent-minded to be brought to heel, so it disbanded them and set up new ones. In 1971, a group of jazz enthusiasts applied to the Ministry of the Interior for permission to form a jazz musicians’ union. The ministry officials turned them down, but recommended that they join the new Czech Musicians’ Union. Two crucial lapses gave them a degree of associational freedom markedly greater than they were supposed to enjoy. First, the Musicians’ Union misinterpreted the Ministry, which had intended that the jazz musicians join as individuals, and allowed them to set up their own Jazz Section. Second, the Ministry was not given the power which it normally exercised over social organizations to appoint the Section’s chair.2 The authorities did, however, impose a limit on the number of people who could enter the association, as if it were a bus.

The new Jazz Section set to work exploiting the limited trust placed in social organizations by the state. Since such associations’ interests were assumed not to be of wider interest...
Read an excerpt from Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good, and learn more about the book and author at the Oxford University Press webpage and Marek Kohn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ekaterina Sedia's "The Alchemy of Stone"

Ekaterina Sedia's is the author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret History of Moscow.

In her new novel, The Alchemy of Stone, "Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets-secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. However, this doesn't sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart ... literally."

Sedia applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book and reported the following:
This is page 99 of the ARC of The Alchemy of Stone. It is shockingly representative of the book, because this paragraph serves to illuminate the ambivalent relationship between Mattie, the intelligent automaton, and her creator Loharri. Here it is, in a nutshell:

She realized that her feet, of their own volition, were taking her to Loharri’s house. It was only natural, she supposed—she passed this market so many times, up the slight incline of the ancient hill eroded almost to nothing, to the white house almost hidden by overgrown rose bushes. Loharri paid little mind to the plants now that Mattie who had planted them wasn’t there to take care of the succulent green growth that seemed to become more audacious with every passing year. Ten years since she first planted the roses, and now they were taking over, erecting themselves into a formidable hedge. The first pale and red blooms studded the thorny branches,
a decoy of beauty hiding their murderous intentions. Mattie imagined that one day the plants would take over the house and bury Loharri within ... she could almost live with this thought, if it weren’t for the key he wore around his neck.
Learn more about the book and author at Ekaterina Sedia's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mark Choate's "Emigrant Nation"

Mark Choate is a history professor at Brigham Young University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad, and reported the following:
I’m honored to submit to the 99th-page test, because I’d known about it before my book was published. I decided, this will work out, I just need to make that page really great! But I quickly found that through formatting and page corrections, page 99 is really a random slice of the book. This is a test you can’t prepare for.

As it happens, Page 99 of Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad is the next-to-last page of Chapter 3 (“Migration and Money”). Other chapters in the book deal with ethnicity, language, culture, diplomacy, imperialism, and contemporary comparisons. Page 99 discusses in detail how emigrants chose their destinations, and how the Italian government and the Catholic Church attempted to influence them and steer them in different directions. Here I’m getting into how Italian emigration worked in its peak years (1880-1915), not just as the influx of Italian immigrants into the United States with which Americans are familiar, but as Italians choosing where to go and what to do upon arrival. The Italian government had a vested interest in return migration and remittances, and invested a great deal in the statistical collection and analysis of emigration. Data on charity cases in the early twentieth century revealed

“that the richer and healthier Italian emigrants chose to go to North America instead of South America. Many migrants who would have been rejected by United States inspectors emigrated to South American ports instead, only to find more miserable economic opportunities than back in Italy. They eventually returned home, broken and disgraced.”

Italy’s Liberal government had taken a laissez-faire approach to emigration, while improving emigrants’ status abroad through diplomatic channels and a wide range of subsidies. Because of its mixed results, this policy was controversial in Italy and abroad:

“Critics reasoned that if migration to the Americas had infected and ruined so many lives, without providing the wealth which emigrants sought, surely emigration itself represented a national disaster. Emigrants’ best interests, and Italy’s best strategic interests, were vehemently debated. The Catholic group Italica Gens hoped to steer emigrants toward Brazil and Latin America because of greater possibilities for Italian political influence, even when the United States offered more opportunities for workers. Some imperialists still hoped to limit American migration to help the development of Eritrea and Somalia.”

The anti-emigrant campaign in Italy overlapped with the anti-immigrant campaign in the United States. For example, Adolfo Rossi, himself a former emigrant and a Liberal anti-imperialist, tried to balance domestic and international political pressures in his work as Italian consul:

“Another controversy, which pitted emigrants’ economic interests against foreign policy, was the debate over rural or urban colonization. Emigrants made higher wages in cities and in mines or factories, gathered together in tightly-knit communities; but was this in their best interest? American politicians railed against the crowding of foreigners in big cities and called for immigrants to settle and cultivate the Great Plains. Adolfo Rossi, as inspector for the Emigration Commissariat and later as Italian consul in Denver, Colorado, obliged American authorities by encouraging Italians to settle in the West rather than on the eastern seaboard. In 1905 and 1906, during an official tour, Rossi emphasized to the American press that Italy did not encourage emigration, did not advise Italians to congregate in cities, and did not oppose emigrants’ Americanization. Rossi personally believed this to be the best policy, and it was certainly what Americans wanted to hear.”

And this is why the choice of destination was so politically sensitive, in addition to economic and social ramifications. More than half of Italian emigrants returned to Italy, so their experience abroad affected Italy directly. If emigrants settled in neighborhoods or “colonies” in big cities (New York, Boston, Buenos Aires) they could form a large and powerful group, but might adopt urban vices. If they settled in rural “colonies,” supposedly they would maintain rural values, religiosity, and loyalties.

“Some Italians cited the colony of Tontitown, Arkansas, as a model Italian settlement under the leadership of Father Bandini, a Scalabrinian priest. Far from the evils of urban tenements, filled with disease and immorality, here Italians worked the fields under the watchful care of their parish priest. Most emigrants ignored this official advice and settled in Italian American urban communities, rallying together against religious and ethnic prejudice. In the long run, this was a wise economic decision.”

In truth page 99 is fairly representative of my book’s tone, approach, and subject. I’ve performed the random sample test on Ford and other writers – he passed, and some have failed.
Read an excerpt from Emigrant Nation, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press webpage and Mark Choate's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 23, 2008

Barry Siegel's "Claim of Privilege"

Barry Siegel, a Pulitzer-Prize winning former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, directs the literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of six books, including three volumes of narrative nonfiction and three novels of legal suspense.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets, and reported the following:
My book, Claim of Privilege, chronicles how the deaths of three civilian engineers in a mysterious 1948 Air Force plane crash led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing the “state secrets” privilege. What drew me to this story were, in part, the important national issues: This state secrets privilege now gives the government unbridled powers—whenever it invokes national security concerns—to conceal conduct, withhold documents, block litigation, wiretap and jail people without due process claims. Yet what equally attracted me were the personal tales about ordinary citizens whose lives intersected for a time with those of the country’s most powerful leaders. The meshing of the private and public: Here was history writ both small and large.

On p. 99 of Claim of Privilege, we see the personal up close. Patricia Reynolds, just 20, has lost her husband of two years, Bob Reynolds, in the plane crash—he was one of the three civilian engineers. In shock, she has retreated to her mother’s home in Indianapolis. She is about to stir, about to seek redress, about to launch the litigation that would lead to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, U.S. v Reynolds. But not yet. She remains, on p. 99, in a fog.

Patricia Reynolds could recall nothing about the first few days after the crash. Phoning her mom, meeting at the Georgia airport, contacting Bob’s family—she had blacked it all out. Pat remembered being in a hotel room the first night. The next thing she remembered was the funeral in Springfield, Massachusetts.
That funeral. Yes…Pat recalled standing with Bob’s brother Dick and her cousin Jim. They were on the veranda. Talking and laughing. Pat was saying, I can’t believe we’re laughing...I can’t believe there’s still laughter in us….

Pat had [another] memory of that day: up on the hill, the cemetery. Trees, lush foliage—a beautiful sight. For a girl from Indiana, hills were incredible.

Pat could not recall retrieving Bob’s possessions. What had happened to Bob’s trombone…?

On the next page in my book, a lawyer from Philadelphia will call Pat. She will resist at first, then agree to join a lawsuit against the government charging negligence. During discovery, the government will refuse to hand over the Air Force accident report about the plane crash. A federal district judge and an appellate panel will side with Pat and the other widows, but then the Supreme Court, in March 1953, will reverse those judges, ruling that the government need not turn over the accident report. So came formal recognition of the state secrets privilege—with profound consequences ever since for our country.

Yes, the meshing of the private and public, that’s what drew me to this story. That, and the chance to evoke a time and place in our country’s history that seemed to resonate today. I wanted to set my particular tale against the context of the time, as a way to understand what happened back then—and what was happening now. By evoking the past, I aim to illuminate the present.
Read an excerpt from Claim of Privilege, and learn more about the book and author at Barry Siegel’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Jonathan Santlofer's "The Murder Notebook"

Jonathan Santlofer is the author of several novels and a highly respected artist whose work has been written about and reviewed in the New York Times, Art in America, Artforum, and Arts, and appears in many public, private, and corporate collections.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Murder Notebook, and reported the following:
In this case, Ford Madox Ford may be right. Page 99 in The Murder Notebook is the first page of Chapter 16. Not many chapters open with one of my sketches, but this one does: a man, dead on the floor, gun in hand, blood pooled around his head. My police sketch artist, Nate Rodriguez, has just discovered the body, accompanied by a rush of emotions: shock, guilt, and suspicion. He'd been tailing the guy for a few days, but now he's too late. The scene suggests suicide, but Nate's not sure. The one thing he is sure of is that the two murder cases he's been investigating are linked - something the police department does not want to hear. Trying to prove that connection is going to set Nate on a circuitous path which will bring him up against the NYPD, the FBI, and finally the U.S. government. In other words, big trouble for Nate!
Read an excerpt from The Murder Notebook, and learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Santlofer's website. View the video trailer for The Murder Notebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ted Botha's "The Girl with the Crooked Nose"

Ted Botha's first book, Apartheid in my Rucksack, was a personal account of discovering Africa as a white African. His book Mongo, Adventures in Trash deals with the people in New York City who collect what others consider garbage. With Jenni Baxter, he wrote The Expat Confessions, about the trials and tribulations of South Africans who live abroad.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Girl with the Crooked Nose: A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry, and reported the following:
On page 99, we meet the girl with the shattered head. She's been killed with a blast from a shotgun to the face, and Frank Bender has to piece together the 300 bits of her skull before he can start sculpting a face onto it. He's never done anything like this before – gluing together the puzzle of a skull - but he knows that if he doesn't do it no one else will. This is America of the ’80s, and forensics is a young science. Who, if anyone, puts skulls back together again? Frank, as in everything else he does in forensics, feels and intuits his way with this case, first reconstructing the skull, then putting a face on it. For him, getting an identification of a victim is the main reason he became an amateur sleuth to begin with – to see justice done, a victim ID’d, a murderer caught. The girl with the shattered head is as good a case as any in the book - and I deal with many cases that Frank has gotten involved in since 1977 - to show the kind of intuition, artistry, and sense of the macabre that it takes for him to imagine the faces of murder victims or of fugitives who've been on the run for decades. Moreover, these are all his training for the big case of his career, in 2003 – the murders of the women in Juarez, Mexico.
Read an excerpt from The Girl with the Crooked Nose, and learn more about the book and author at Ted Botha's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walter Nugent's "Habits of Empire"

Walter Nugent is Tackes Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion, and reported the following:
Habits of Empire has a very simple thesis: that our relatively easy and astonishingly rapid acquiring of a continental empire from Atlantic to Pacific between 1782 and 1848 instilled in us, as a people, the bad habit of empire-building. After we acquired California and Oregon in 1848, we kept on going across the Pacific and around the Caribbean, creating our second, offshore empire, and since 1945 we’ve been building a third one, military and economic, around the world. The book focuses chiefly on constructing the first, continental, empire, when in successive episodes the U.S. gained title to land, then removed or repressed the previous occupants, and finally settled it. It’s the historical foundation of our present imperialism.

Page 99, early in my discussion of how we acquired Florida, is very representative of that process. Florida was the third of our continental acquisitions (the first and second were Transappalachia in 1782 and Louisiana in 1803). How we acquired it from Spain, then prostrate and powerless from Napoleon’s invasion, involved filibusters in both West and East Florida covertly supported by the Madison White House; demographic invasion of Americans from neighboring slave states; military conquest (without a declaration of war) by Andrew Jackson, “the American Bonaparte;” and unparalleled chutzpah from Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in his defense of Jackson and in negotiations with Spanish envoy Luis de Onís. The Adams-Onís Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 gave the United States not only the Floridas but also a boundary line along the 42nd parallel all the way to the Pacific, for the first time. Spain’s grip began weakening in 1795 thanks to incompetent rulers in Madrid disregarding the pleas of Spanish governors on the ground. American uprisings began in what is now the Louisiana Panhandle in 1810, extended along the Gulf coast and East Florida from 1811 on, and along the way brought about the defeat and dismemberment of the Creek nation.

The chapter (#4) which includes page 99 is entitled “Florida, 1810-1819: Southward Aggression I” (II being California and New Mexico, discussed later). Page 99 includes a subtitle, “The First Nibble: West Florida, 1810-1813,” and from there the page reads as follows:

By 1810, the Louisiana Purchase was seven years old, and Anglo-Americans clearly dominated the government, commerce, and population of New Orleans, St. Louis, and the riverine settlements in between. The U.S. Census in that year found 77,000 diverse people in the Territory of Orleans (soon to become the state of Louisiana). Thousands of white, free black, and slave refugees from war-shredded Haiti and Santo Domingo swelled the city and the land around the great river as far north at Natchez and beyond. In adjacent parts of the United States, the 1810 census counted 262,000 in Tennessee, 407,000 in Kentucky, 252,000 in Georgia, and 40,000 in the Mississippi Territory, which included present Alabama – and none of these figures included Indians. The Creeks alone numbered over 15,000, most of them living along the Alabama and Chattahoochee Rivers.

The whites and blacks, moreover, were newcomers. Georgia and the Mississippi Territory, Tennessee and Kentucky, and, west of the river, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri were all places where slavery flourished and where the influx of settlers multiplied state populations by three, six, even twelve times in a decade. These were frontiers of settlement, southern-style, filling up with new people unknown in Europe since the Middle Ages, if ever. Whoever was already there was under severe pressure to get out of the way. There was no time for assimilation and in any case it was not wanted, since the “whoevers” were Indians and free blacks, and, in the Floridas, the Spanish.

The governors and garrisons of Spanish Florida had been aware of this population onslaught since at least the 1780s……
Read an excerpt from Habits of Empire, and learn more about the book at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jen Bryant's "Ringside, 1925"

Jen Bryant teaches Children’s Literature at West Chester University and lives in Pennsylvania. She has published poetry, biographies for young readers, and picture books.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial, and reported the following:
At a poetry reading I attended several years ago, Robert Pinsky observed that “real life is much more interesting than anything I could ever make up.” As a poet, biographer and author of historical novels, I couldn’t agree more. Human behavior remains endlessly fascinating and human history chock full of the ironies, tensions and contradictions that make up the core of great stories.

In my latest novel Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial (Knopf, 2008, ages 12 to adult) I blend real historical events and personalities with fictional ones to place the reader inside the courtroom during one of the most famous and controversial trials in American history—the Scopes “Monkey” trial. As in my previous book, The Trial (Knopf 2004) which focuses on the 1935 Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder trial, I wrote the book in free verse poetry and did extensive research into the facts and history of the case. Readers learn, for example, that getting the Scopes trial to be held in Dayton was the brainchild of five Dayton businessmen, who hatched their plan in the local drugstore, hoping to bolster the failing local economy. They also learn that John T. Scopes, the popular first-year science teacher who was “arrested” and accused of teaching evolution in a public school classroom, remained a silent spectator at the trial as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow faced off over the science vs. religion issue before the media and a sea of curious on-lookers.

Because Ringside’s nine narrators differ in age, gender, ethnicity, religious background, social class, and education, the reader experiences the events of the trial through several distinct voices. For this reason alone, my initial reaction to the “page 99 test” was “no way that one page can be a lens into the larger story.” But guess what? Ford Madox Ford and Marshal Zeringue are onto something here. Below is the complete text of page 99, as well as a little from the next page (I felt it only fair, since this particular narrator speaks in very, very short lines!) in which Jimmy Lee Davis, a local high school student, talks about the things he loves. While there’s nothing about the trial here, Jimmy’s vernacular speech and his preoccupation with baseball and church (and his rather astute comparison of the two) do, indeed, suggest a time and a place where a trial over the evolution controversy certainly could—and did—occur.

Jimmy Lee Davis

Next to God

& fishing, I love

baseball best.


the Yankees.

I never been

to New York,

(heck, I been no

farther than

Morgan Springs)

but I root for

the Yanks

on account of

Lou Gehrig.

This year

their manager

put Gehrig

at first base

to replace

Wally Pipp

& so far he’s

batting .428

& he’s aiming

for .450 or I’m

a catfish!!

It’s heaven when

I’m sitting at the

soda fountain,

listening to the

crack of Gehrig’s

bat, the roar

of the crowd

on the radio.

I imagine going

to the games

is a lot like

going to church:

people get

dressed up, leave

their homes

& come together

in one big place--

they do a lot of

standing up,

sitting down

& when their

team’s behind,

they do some

praying, too.

There’s even

organ music!

Ringside 1925 entertains as it invites readers to ponder the science vs. religion debate that remains alive even today.
Read an excerpt from Ringside, 1925. For educators and book groups, both the author and the publisher provide additional reading suggestions and websites as well as a downloadable discussion guide.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kasia Boddy's "Boxing: A Cultural History"

Kasia Boddy teaches in the English Department at University College London and has published widely on British and American literature and film.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Boxing: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
As its title suggests, Boxing: A Cultural History explores the interface between boxing and culture in a broad sense, from classical Greece to present-day America.

Boxing, it seems, has been around forever. The first evidence of the sport can be found in Mesopotamian stone reliefs from the end of the 4th millennium. Since then there has hardly been a time in which young men, and sometimes women, did not raise their gloved or ungloved fists to one other. Throughout this history, potters, painters, poets, novelists, cartoonists, song-writers, photographers and film-makers have been there to make sense of the bruising, bloody confrontation and to create complex icons. From Daniel Mendoza to Jack Dempsey to Mike Tyson, boxers have embodied and enacted our anxieties about race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

This is not just a study of the usual suspects (Hemingway, Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates); Boxing ranges from neo-classical poetry to hip-hop, exploring the history of mass media (from cinema to radio to pay-per-view), and offers new interpretations of figures such as James Joyce and Philip Roth who are not usually associated with sport.

Page 99 comes from the chapter on boxing in Victorian culture. Although the golden age of English boxing was over by 1830, the sport continued to hold sway over the popular imagination throughout the nineteenth century. The chapter considers the divide between (dangerous, illegal) prize fighting and (honourable, Muscular Christian) sparring in the Victorian era. The shift in the cultural meanings of boxing during this time is nowhere better reflected than in a body of work which began in the 1830s and ended in the 1870s - the novels of Charles Dickens. What Dickens terms ‘fistic phraseology’ proves remarkably versatile, and his relish in its use is palpable.

Page 99:

Dickens enjoyed the language of boxing as much as he did boxers, and nowhere more than in Dombey and Son (1846-8); indeed he stole the name (but little else) of a real prize-fighter, ‘The Game Chicken’ (Henry - ‘Hen’ - Pearce) for one of its characters. After coming into his inheritance, Mr Toots, a Corinathian past his sell-by-date, devotes himself to learning ‘those gentle arts which refine and humanise existence, his chief instructor in which was an interesting character called the Game Chicken, who was always heard of at the bar of the Black Badger, wore a shaggy great-coat in the warmest weather, and knocked Mr. Toots about the head three times a week, for the small consideration of ten and six per visit.’ We learn about the Game Chickens’s past exploits, his glory against the Nobby Shropshire One, and his defeat (‘he was severely fibbed . . . heavily grassed’) by the Larkey Boy. When Mr Toots despairs of winning the love of Florence Dombey against the wishes of her father, the Chicken reassures him that ‘it is within the resources of Science to double him up, with one blow in the waistcoat.’

When, in Bleak House (1852-3), Mr Snagsby comments that ‘when a time is named for tea, it’s better to come up to it’, his wife is appalled.

‘To come up to it!’ Mrs Snasgby repeats with severity. ‘Up to it! As if Mr Snagsby was a fighter!’

‘Not at all, my dear,’ says Mr. Snagsby.

Mrs Snagsby views the use of boxing jargon as a sign of vulgarity, which must be avoided at all costs. Dickens, though, had no such qualms. A boxing pun may even be intended in the title of the opening chapter of Bleak House, ‘In Chancery’. The O.E.D. gives as the slang meaning of the term, ‘the position of the head when held under the opponent’s left arm to be pommelled severely, the victim meanwhile being unable to retaliate effectively.’ The meaning derives, the Dictionary adds, ‘from the tenacity and absolute control with which the Court of Chancery holds anything.’ This legal metaphor was frequently used in boxing slang, and, with the new meaning attached, occasionally reapplied to law. In August 1841, Punch enjoyed a typical joke on ‘legal pugilism’:

The Chancery bar has been lately occupied with a question relating to a patent for pins’ heads. . . The lawyers are the best boxers, after all. Only let them get a head in chancery, even a pin’s, and see how they make the proprietor bleed.

Dickens used the phrase himself in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) when the Reverend Crisparkle affectionately takes on his mother and ‘wound up by getting the old lady’s head into Chancery, a technical term used in scientific circles, with a lightness of touch that hardly stirred the lightest lavender or cherry riband in it’. In Bleak House, he may have wanted the phrase’s additional meaning to reinforce the novel’s emphasis on deadlock of various kinds.
Learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and Kasia Boddy's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 12, 2008

David Day's "Conquest"

David Day has written widely on Australian history and the history of the Second World War. His recent books include The Politics of War, the prize-winning biographies Chifley and John Curtin: A Life, and the best-selling history of Australia, Claiming a Continent.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, and reported the following:
In writing Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, I wanted to explore the methods that societies use when they try to claim territory that is already occupied by others. I put forward the notion of 'supplanting societies' as a new and fruitful way of understanding the history of the world, and contrasting it with traditional ideas about colonialism. I particularly wanted to emphasise the very long-term and multi-layered nature of this process, as the supplanting society tries to establish a territorial claim that will be superior to the claim of the pre-existing people. A moment's thought will reveal that most, if not all, societies have experienced this process and have had their histories shaped by it. The United States is just one of many societies whose history continues to be shaped by this centuries-long process.

Page 99 explores the way in which the notion of conquest is used to buttress the claim of the supplanting society. I describe how the Spanish in America and the Dutch in southern Africa pointed to their conquest of the native people as giving them the right to claim those land as their own. I contrast this with Thomas Jefferson, who used arguments about conquest as a means of denying Britain's control of the north American colonies. In Jefferson's view, it was the colonists, rather than the British government, who had done the conquering and who therefore deserved to control the colonies.

While Jefferson deployed arguments about conquest to justify the colonists' push for independence from Britain, I go on to show how he was more reticent about using such arguments to justify the dispossession of native Americans. Instead, he preferred to argue that native Americans had mostly given up their lands of their own free will, rather than having had the lands taken forcibly from them. In other chapters, I explore the various other means, from map-making to massacres and story-telling to immigration, that societies have used to buttress their claims of ownership.
Learn more about Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others and the author at the Oxford University Press website and David Day's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

T. McGarity & W. Wagner's "Bending Science"

Thomas O. McGarity & Wendy E. Wagner are professors at the University of Texas School of Law.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research, and reported the following:
In a 400 page book teeming with reports of the misappropriation of science by corporations, attorneys, interest groups, and even the federal government, it is not terribly surprising to find that page 99 cuts right to the center of one of the more expanded illustrations of these battles over regulatory research. Unlike many of the other examples in the book, however, the account on page 99 is both more familiar (the scientist’s travails formed the basis for John le Carre’s book, The Constant Gardener) and also more complex than most of its companions in this and other chapters.

Here, the researcher – Dr. Olivieri – discovers that a drug used to treat a terrible childrens’ disease, thalassemia, may not be effective. When she communicates the preliminary results to some of her patients, the drug company sponsoring the research pulls their funding and threatens to sue her. After publishing additional preliminary research that suggests that the drug might also be causing liver scarring in patients, Olivieri is dismissed as “nuts” by some scientists and revered as a hero by others.

Ultimately, Dr. Olivieri’s story reveals the power that the sponsors can have over research, the contentious nature of applied regulatory research, and the high stakes involved for scientists who decide they “will not be bullied” and proceed to conduct research that is unwelcome by sponsors. But, unlike some other examples of regulatory science, this story doesn’t have a clear ending. Dr. Olivieri feels victimized and is certain that the drug makes patients worse off. However, the truth about the drug remains shrouded in mystery to this day, even while doctors in twenty-five countries prescribe it (the drug is not approved for use in the U.S. or Canada).

A reader that continues past page 99 will find that the Olivieri case is only the tip of the iceberg. The types of pressures – both legal and economic – that sponsors and others place on research used for regulation are immense and surely have an impact on the types of scientific findings that emerge, as well as on the researchers themselves. Yet, these problems that afflict regulatory research are not necessarily intractable. The last three chapters of Bending Science offer a range of proposals for legal reform, building in part on the approaches developed informally from within the scientific community. These reforms are only a start, but at least they will limit the role that sponsors can play in controlling regulatory research and should help bring respected scientists to the government table to assist regulators in sorting out reliable studies from the rest.
Read an excerpt from Bending Science, and learn more about the book and its authors at the Harvard University Press website and the book's University of Texas School of Law website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sam Gosling's "Snoop"

Sam Gosling is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Snoop cuts to the core of what the book is about but at the same time it is grossly misleading about what a super snooper should do. The book, which is largely based on my research, examines what we can learn about others and ourselves from the environments we craft and inhabit. I use a very broad definition of environment, going well beyond physical spaces (like bedrooms and offices) to aural spaces (like music collections), virtual spaces (like facebook profiles), and even extending to the clothes we wear. On p. 99 I present one my of snooping field guides--in this case looking at the features of appearance that people use when they form impressions of others and the features that are actually valid indicators of what someone is like. The guide shows that people who look disorganized, messy, and unconventional are perceived to be high on the trait of openness and actually are high on this trait. The guide also shows that people who appear attractive, neat, relaxed, and conventional are thought to be high on the trait of conscientiousness but in this case the cues are misleading, causing people to form false impressions. In showing how our personalities are (and are not) manifested in appearance, these guides do touch on an important element of Snoop. However, just looking at page 99 alone might lead the reader to thinking snooping is a straightforward affair where clues can act as simple keys to traits. But Snoop shows that things are more complex than that. Instead of drawing on single clues, the expert snooper constructs a case on what someone is like; the snooper completes a personality puzzle by drawing pieces from a broad array of sources, like the way someone shakes your hand, or signs off their email, or walks down the street. Thus the very exercise of looking at the contents of page 99 confirms one of the core snooping lessons--that drawing on a single snapshot to get a read on something as multifaceted as a book (or a person) can be both revealing and misleading.
Read an excerpt from Snoop, and learn more about the book and author at Sam Gosling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Timothy Lytton's "Holding Bishops Accountable"

Timothy D. Lytton is Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse, and reported the following:
Holding Bishops Accountable tells the story of how lawsuits uncovered the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Litigation focused attention on the need for institutional reform, and it spurred Church officials, law enforcement, and state governments into action. Lawsuits were an effective means of addressing the crisis because they dramatized the issue in a way that attracted media attention.

On page 99, I discuss two ways in which this dramatization occurred. First, the litigation itself was a dramatic contest—often compared to a battle—between victims and Church officials. I point out that media “coverage…played up the drama of litigation. CNN anchor Bonnie Anderson characterized the filing of a countersuit for defamation against a plaintiff as ‘just the start of the Archdiocese counterattack.’” Second, the ongoing litigation that engulfed the Church starting in 1984 gave media coverage continuity, which made news stories about the crisis especially attractive to media audiences. Clergy sexual abuse litigation became a recurrent “news theme” that drew in media audiences, much like a soap opera or a serialized television program.

Looking beyond page 99, the book recounts the dramatic highlights of several high profile cases involving serial child molesters and the Church officials who covered up their crimes. The book also explains how these cases helped the Church ultimately confront the problem, and it examines the broader implications of the crisis for addressing child sexual abuse in other institutional settings, like schools and youth programs.
Read an excerpt from Holding Bishops Accountable, and learn more about the book at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 6, 2008

Elvin T. Lim's "The Anti-intellectual Presidency"

Elvin T. Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Anti-intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, and reported the following:

Democrats have harped about how Bush allegedly misled the nation with his 2003 State of the Union address, but what is interesting for our purposes is why their criticisms have had little traction. Legitimate or not, contemporary presidents, operating in a thicker and delegated speechwriting environment, are no longer held fully responsible for their public utterances—not even for a misstatement in the most important speech a president gives every year. Thus, the merry-go-round of blame shifting allowed fellow partisans to dismiss Bush’s infraction. House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) described the misstatement as “one little flaw.” The error was trivial because it was a result of human error, not malicious intent. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) described the issue as “nothing but an absurd, media-driven, diversionary tactic.” These partisan defenses of the president appeared plausible only because it is now public knowledge that presidential speeches are collaboratively drafted and the president cannot be wholly accountable for his public (mis)statements.

On page 98 of the book (page 99 consists of a single concluding paragraph to Chapter 5), I probe the institutional basis of presidential “dumbing down,” pinning the blame on the delegated speechwriting environment which has allowed presidents to pass the buck down the writing and vetting chain when they utter something untoward. Such was, notoriously, the case when President Bush made misleading clams about Iraq obtaining uranium from Niger in his 2003 State of the Union address. Incredibly, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet took the fall for his failure to vet the speech even though barely anyone in Washington doubted that President Bush and his Vice President knew exactly what they were doing: craft a statement ambiguous enough to mislead but not erroneous enough to be accused of lying. Bush got away with this rhetorical sleight of hand only because the pre-existing institutional arrangement gave him an out: in an era when delegated speechwriting has become a matter of course, it is not the president but his minions who are to be blamed for his rhetorical infractions.

The page 98 test passes muster in my case because the page fortuitously addresses a central contemporary instantiation of the serious costs assumed by a republic that treats words with cynicism and disrespect. In 2003, no one took on the president for disingenuously passing blame on to Tenet precisely because public address in our nation and in our time has become “mere rhetoric.” Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had to go through the circuitous and ultimately fruitless route that ended with the commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence when in a different, perhaps ideal, but certainly simpler world, a president would simply be taken to task for his words.
Read an excerpt from The Anti-intellectual Presidency, and learn more about the book and author at Elvin Lim's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Martin Edwards' "Waterloo Sunset"

The first of Martin Edwards' eight Liverpool novels, All the Lonely People, introduced lawyer Harry Devlin. It went on to be nominated for the CWA's John Creasey Memorial Dagger.

Edwards applied the “Page 99 Test” to the eighth and latest novel in the series, Waterloo Sunset, and reported the following:
On page 99 of the US edition of Waterloo Sunset, published by Poisoned Pen Press, lawyer Harry Devlin is talking to Carmel Sutcliffe about the murders of two young women in Liverpool. Carmel works for the Liverpool Police Authority and has plenty of contacts in the local police force. Harry wants to find out what she knows about the case. His curiosity is insatiable anyway, but he has met a friend of one of the murder victims, and knowing a little about the dead girl, Lee Welch, makes him all the more desperate to understand what is going on.

On page 99, Harry learns a crucial fact about the victims, and also figures out the murder method, which the police have been keeping secret. The clue was given to him by an enigmatic character called Barney Eagleson, who embalmed the body of one of the dead girls.

So page 99 advances the plot considerably – but it is not the main plot of the book. That involves a series of warnings that Harry has received, suggesting that he will die suddenly in a few days’ time, on Midsummer’s Eve. The main plot and the sub-plot are closely interwoven and reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic have commented on the complexity of the story-line. This was deliberate; my aim was to offer whodunit fans a couple of elaborate mysteries to solve, but to add to the mix a range of interesting characters, plenty of humour, and an up-to-the-minute portrayal of a city which is in the throes of change, just as Harry’s own life is in a state of transition. There’s more about Liverpool’s status as European Capital of Culture 2008 on my blog, 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?'.

Waterloo Sunset is the eighth book in the Devlin series, but the first to have been published for nine years. Returning to the character after such a long break was enormous fun. And, although the book has a dark and serious side, I like to think that the light, jokey dialogue on page 99 is in tune with the book’s purpose – to provide rewarding entertainment for lovers of the complex contemporary mystery.
Learn more about the author and his books at Martin Edwards' website and his blog, 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?'.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nan Mooney's "(Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents"

Nan Mooney is the author of I Can’t Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work and My Racing Heart: The Passionate World of Thoroughbreds and the Track. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, The Daily News, Utne Reader, and other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Class, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book broaches one of the many financial pressures faced by today’s professional middle class — the rising cost of child care.

“’It’s been a nightmare,’ says Allegra, a freelance copy editor earning $30,000 a year, about finding decent, affordable care for her two children both of whom have been in day care since they were a few months old.”

Child care today costs between $4,000 and $14,000 a year. Add that to the escalating costs of student loans, health care, and housing and the fact that middle class wages have remained stagnant for the past five years, and you understand why so many of us are struggling. It’s no longer enough to have gone to college or even graduate school, to have worked hard in a career that we hope has some meaning beyond just a paycheck.

With raising kids, as with most everything else, the government — despite trumpeting its support for family values — doesn’t lend much help. Back to page 99:

“Though they’ve certainly created this middle-class time and money crunch, neither the government nor private employers have stepped in to help relieve it. For the most part today’s families still have the same social support and protection designed for single-income, dual-parent households of the ‘50s, programs that assume one parent is at home to tend to illnesses or other emergency situations or to jump into the workplace in a pinch.”

Unlike nearly every other industrialized country, the United States guarantees no paid parental leave. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act grants 12 week unpaid leave to those who working at companies with fifty or more employees. If there are pregnancy complications or health complications with the baby, if childcare arrangements fall through, we risk losing our jobs – and health benefits – in order to protect our families. Surely that’s not a choice any civilized country asks its citizens to make.

In writing (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Class I spoke to over a hundred individuals and families. Many of them feared they wouldn’t be as financially comfortable as their middle class and even working class parents. They knew any unexpected financial blow, from job loss to a medical crisis, could tip them over the edge. They were confused and scared.

To them and to everyone else in a similar position, I have two messages. First, you’re not alone. And second, you have a choice. Start pressing for change. Vote, campaign, teach your children about money and teach them to value other things more. We have a right to reject this value system that has embraced our country, the one that says the rich get richer and everyone else is left to tough it out on their own.
Learn more about the book and author at Nan Mooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue