Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crais & Scully's "Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus"

Clifton Crais is professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of The Politics of Evil. Pamela Scully is associate professor of women's studies and African studies at Emory University. She is the author of Liberating the Family?

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography, and reported the following:
It just so happens that on page 99 Sara Baartman speaks to us during the middle of the court proceedings in London, 1811. This is serendipitous for the purposes of this discussion. The statement by Sara Baartman reveals at once the challenges of writing the biography of a woman about whom we know both so much, through her performance on the London and Parisian stages as the Hottentot Venus, and so little.

The world knows much more about a figment of the imagination-- the “Hottentot Venus” --than the woman who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and who was buried, finally, in South Africa nearly two centuries after her death in Paris. Our book is an attempt to acknowledge the impossibilities of knowledge, and yet to document what we can find out about people who lived on the margins of society, and thus often are recorded in the margins of History. Our book also speaks to the paradoxes we are left with as authors: that we can write a biography of an icon, but have been so much more challenged in writing of the woman called Sara Baartman.

And thus we come to page 99 [right, inset]. After talking of her life on the South African frontier and then in Cape Town, and detailing her life in London, we now come to the only time in the record where we hear Sara Baartman speak. We now prepare ourselves, as writers and also readers, we think, with some relief, to hear the truth.

But this page cautions us to hold our breaths, not to release our anxiety about what truths the archives can produce. As we discuss, the interview was conducted in Dutch, Sara’s second language, and in the presence of the man, the former surgeon of the Cape Slave Lodge, who had brought her to London to make money by displaying her body. Sara spoke, but she spoke in the context of myriad power dynamics. We cannot take her speech as transparent of her will, and we might also question whether the concept of will even made sense to her, coming from a colonial slave and genocidal frontier. Perhaps it did: she had lived in Cape Town as a bonded person, but with some independence of movement for over ten years before she came to London. But we cannot easily wrap up neatly the specific truths of her statement to the court. The meanings drift away from us, and our point is to acknowledge how little we can know, to recognize and perhaps embrace the illusive nature of history.

And yet, these documents also come down to us through history, and have meanings in the present still. In the twenty-first century, nearly two hundred years after Sara Baartman made her statement to the King’s Bench, “The case of the Hottentot Venus” was invoked in the controversies involving the Guantanamo Bay detainees in Washington D.C. before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Read an excerpt from Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus, and learn more about the book from the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brian Ladd's "Autophobia"

Brian Ladd is an independent historian who received his Ph.D. from Yale University. He has taught history at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is a research associate in the history department at the University of Albany, State University of New York. He is the author of The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age, and reported the following:
My page 99 is more than halfway through the text, and is far from rich in anecdote, but it marks a crucial transition to a deeper argument about the insidious effects of cars on us and our cities. Although I had fun compiling witty and occasionally profound expressions of outrage at the infernal machines, I really wanted to puzzle out how the growing fleet of cars (and the influence of their owners and associated interests) created pressure for more and more highways, which, in turn, have reshaped the space and time of our lives. That is why I open a chapter with a discussion of the well-known NIMBY phenomenon (“Not in My Backyard”). On page 99 I proceed to introduce its lesser-known corollary, the BANANA imperative (“Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything”), which has everything to do with cars:

There was of course nothing new about conflicts between neighbors or aversion to noisome activities: the deafening clatter of chariots had plagued imperial Rome, and medieval towns banished stinking tanneries beyond the walls. But the assumption that everyone would drive everywhere made it relatively easy for NIMBY to triumph in the form of BANANA. Most developments could be tolerated if they were a short drive away, out of sight and out of earshot. This kind of sprawl permitted suburbanites to hope they could keep a safe distance from all LULUs (“locally unwanted land uses”) and their odors, noises, sights, and people. It is striking how many of those unwanted disturbances came in the form of automobiles. People did not want to endure the ceaseless roar and exhaust plumes of highways. They did not want to face the dangers of fast-moving traffic in front of their homes. They did not want too many strangers driving through their neighborhoods. They did not want to live near tacky roadside businesses, with their garish lighted signs, grease-spewing exhaust fans, ugly parking lots, and–not least–ceaseless traffic. They did want easy driving access to the highways and the shops, preferably via a quiet lane. So the projects they wanted were roads, and the triumph of the automobile threatened to founder on the conflict between the growing need for roads and the growing damage they caused.

This leads to the beginning of my potted history of freeways and freeway revolts:

The NIMBY mentality has thrived in the suburban, automotive metropolis. But until the middle of the twentieth century, American cities (like most others) were densely populated and heterogeneous jumbles of industry, commerce, and many different kinds of housing, all in close proximity. It was not possible to build highways far away from everything. Not only did they cross backyards, they obliterated many homes and even entire neighborhoods, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Organized opposition to freeway construction, first in a few American cities, then around the world, foiled many ambitious plans to reconcile the automobile and the city. Although the freeway revolts did not, for the most part, grow directly out of earlier animosity to cars, their effect was the drive a wedge between lovers of cities and lovers of automobiles.
Read an excerpt from Autophobia and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brian DeLay's "War of a Thousand Deserts"

Brian DeLay is assistant professor of history, University of Colorado, Boulder.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, and reported the following:
[The German] traveler characterized him as “the genuine, unadulterated picture of a North American Indian.” Unlike his companions he wore no Euro-American textiles and sat naked above the waist with a bison hide around his hips. He had yellow copper rings around his arms, beads around his neck, long black hair hanging down, and “sat there with the earnest (to the European almost apathetic) expression of the North American savage.” The artist John Mix Stanley accompanied a U.S. delegation onto the southern plains in 1844 and painted Potsanaquahip’s portrait, but the work was destroyed along with another 199 of Stanley’s paintings in the Smithsonian fire of 1865.

At first glance, page 99 of my book War of a Thousand Deserts seemed to me an awkward fit for Ford Madox Ford’s test. That page concludes a section cobbling together the few surviving descriptions of two Comanche men (Pia Kusa and Postanaquahip) who were key figures on the southern plains in the 1830s and 1840s. We know very little about individual Comanches from this period, so the passage is quite unlike the rest of the book.

Upon reflection, though, I realized that in its very atypicality page 99 points to the book’s essential argument. For more than a 150 years, the story of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) has been a story about states. Whether Mexicans or Americans, whether writing in the 1850s or the 1990s, historians have crafted narratives of the war with virtually no conceptual space for non-state actors like Navajos, Apaches, and Comanches. But in the fifteen years prior to the U.S. invasion, these Indian peoples waged a little-known yet devastating war of their own against northern Mexicans. By the mid-1840s, mounted Indian raiders were laying waste to ranches and towns across nine Mexican states; killing thousands, enslaving hundreds, burning buildings, and stealing or slaughtering tens of thousands of domestic animals. These events remade the ground upon which Mexico and the United States would compete. Indian warriors ruined much of northern Mexico’s economy, depopulated its countryside, and left man-made “deserts” in place of thriving settlements. This vast interethnic war informed and emboldened U.S. arguments in favor of seizing Mexican territory while leaving northern Mexicans too divided, exhausted, and distracted to resist the American invasion and subsequent occupation.

Therefore the story of the U.S.-Mexican War, to which Mexico lost half of its national territory, has to be more than a story about states. And it would be insufficient to simply concede that Indian raids affected the international contest. What’s called for is a new narrative, one that takes the economic and political context of Indian raiding as seriously as the economic and political context of U.S. expansion. This is what War of a Thousand Deserts tries to do, devoting equal attention to indigenous polities and the nation-states surrounding them, and presenting an integrated narrative of their colliding histories. Page 99 marshals the meager evidence to put faces and names to two Indian men among thousands who did so much to reshape North America in the mid-19th century.
Read an excerpt from War of a Thousand Deserts, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Brian DeLay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thomas S. Kidd's "American Christians and Islam"

Thomas Kidd is associate professor of history at Baylor University and resident scholar at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America and The Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism, and reported the following:
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sharpened many Americans’ interest in Islam, but American engagement with Islam goes all the way back to the early colonial period. American Christians, particularly American evangelicals, have cultivated a long tradition of thought regarding Muslims. American Christians have often viewed Muslims as a religious and political threat, but have also dreamed of seeing them convert en masse to Christianity. Missionary memoirs of evangelistic work among Muslims have introduced a larger American audience to global Islamic cultures. And certain conservative Christians have always given Muslims a place in speculation about the events of the end times, and the lead-up to the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Other American Christians took a more positive view of Islam, and some even repudiated their Christian faith in favor of forms of Islam. Page 99 of my book American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism examines the ideas of Edward Wilmot Blyden, who became one of the earliest American blacks to promote Islam as a preferred choice over Christianity for African peoples:

Because Christianity had become so pervasive within the African-American population by the time of the American Civil War, black apologists for Islam had to frame their religion as a suitable alternative to the Christian faith. The first such apologist was, ironically, a Presbyterian missionary, Edward Wilmot Blyden. Originally from the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Blyden came to America to study at Rutgers Theological College, but was denied admission there because of his race. He arrived in the United States in 1850, the year that the Fugitive Slave Law passed, making it more dangerous for free blacks to remain in the North. Blyden jumped at a chance to go to West Africa with the American Colonization Society, and in 1851 he arrived in Liberia. Although the Colonization Society sought to bring Christian civilization to pagan Africa, Blyden’s work in Liberia exposed him to African Muslims, with whom he was favorably impressed. Although he never seems publicly to have repudiated Christianity, Blyden became convinced that Islam held more promise as a unifying pan-African religion. He made these views known in his book Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, published in London in 1887.

Blyden’s kind of Afro-centric interpretation of Islam flowered into an African-American defense of Islam in the twentieth century, best exemplified in the work of the Nation of Islam and its leaders, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

Many Anglo-American Christians, especially conservative Protestants, worried that the rise of Islam in America, through these domestic African-American movements and post-1965 Muslim immigration, might have brought the long-feared Islamic threat to their own shores. But widely-circulated missionary tracts, Christian exposés of the ostensible beliefs of Muslims, and speculation regarding the destruction of Islam in the last days, still helped assure American Christians regarding the ultimate triumph of their faith.
Read an excerpt from American Christians and Islam, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Thomas S. Kidd's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alex Beam's "A Great Idea at the Time"

Alex Beam is an award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe. His writing has also appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, the New York Times and many other magazines. He is the author of Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital and of two novels.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in a chapter entitled, "Faster, Pussycat! Sell! Sell!" (a play on the title of an old Russ Meyer movie, for those with peculiar memories). And yes, the excerpt cuts directly to the quick of the book, which is about selling the 52-volume Great Books of the Western World to a skeptical public. But before Mortimer Adler, Robert Hutchins and the Encyclopedia Britannica could go public, Adler tried selling his $500 "Founders Edition" of the GBWW door to door, to plutocrats, to raise badly needed money for the foundering Great Books scheme:

Late on a Friday afternoon, Adler secured an appointment with the taciturn Earl Puckett, chairman of Allied Stores, then the largest department store in America. Here's my idea, Adler said. Buy a set of the Great Books for each one of your eighty-five stores, and have them donate the books to the local public library for some free publicity. Puckett didn't answer, but buzzed his secretary for a list of his store locations. Without speaking, he placed check marks next to roughly half the store names and then rose to leave for the weekend. "We'll take forty-five sets," Puckett said.

Hutchins and Adler tried this same gambit with Conrad Hilton. They cornered him in a drawing room of the Twentieth Century Limited transcontinental train and proposed that he buy a set of Great Books for the lobby of each of his hotels. No sale.

Clare Booth Luce, Henry Luce's wife and also a big fan of the Western canon, secured Adler an appointment with Texas oilman H. L. Hunt, said to be the eighth-richest man in America. The right-wing Hunt was obsessed with the spread of "liberalism" in America and had been bankrolling various educational enterprises -- "ill-conceived efforts at propaganda," Adler later called them. Adler met him twice, but couldn't close the sale.

Two days later, he bumped into Sears Roebuck chairman General Robert Wood in Chicago.

"Were you in Texas recently?" Wood asked.

Yes, Adler replied. Wood had just received a phone call from Hunt, inquiring whether Adler was a member of the Communist Party. The Communist Manifesto was one of the Great Books, and Hunt wasn't buying.
Read an excerpt from A Great Idea at the Time, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Alex Beam's column archive at the Boston Globe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Steven Nadler's "The Best of All Possible Worlds"

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has been teaching since 1988. His books include Spinoza: A Life, winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2000, and Rembrandt’s Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil, and reported the following:
As it turns out, p. 99 is not the best place to look for what the book is really about, since it is right in the middle of something.

The Best of All Possible Worlds is about three philosophers – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Antoine Arnauld, and Nicolas Malebranche – who happened to be together in Paris in the 1670s, and their great debate over God, evil, and the meaning of life. The three were friends, at least until their intellectual and personal falling out, although they were very different personalities and came from very different national, religious, cultural and social backgrounds. Leibniz was a German Lutheran, a natural genius and polymath – with religious, scientific, mathematical, philosophical, political, and even engineering interests – and still a young man when he arrived in Paris on a diplomatic mission. Arnauld, a brilliant but very irascible theologian, was a Catholic priest. As the leading defender of the Jansenist reform movement in France, he was constantly in conflict with the ecclesiastic and political authorities; he eventually had to flee France and live the rest of his life in exile in the Netherlands. Malebranche, also a Catholic priest, was a kind and patient intellectual, somewhat slower than Arnauld both in intellect and in temper, but also the most important follower of Descartes’s philosophy in the latter half of the seventeenth-century. The debate on philosophical and theological matters between these three figures is a rich and fascinating one, giving us a glimpse into the intellectual life of early modern Europe and an understanding of why certain problems mattered so much at the time. Above all, Leibniz, Arnauld, and Malebranche disagreed on their solutions to the so-called “problem of evil.” Why is there sin, suffering, and other evils in a world supposedly created by a wise, just, and all-powerful God? Why are there droughts, floods, and other natural disasters that bring great suffering among many innocents? Why are there wars, murders, and other miseries brought about by human wickedness? Why do vicious people flourish while bad things happen to good people? A philosophical solution to this problem is called a “theodicy,” or explanation of God’s justice. These three thinkers disagreed not only on how best to account for divine justice but also, correspondingly, on the proper way to conceive of God and His manner of acting. Is God a rational being like us, a kind of “person” who always acts for the sake of some good and according to objective values? Or is God ultimately an arbitrary being on whose incomprehensible will alone everything depends and thus who is not bound by any objective values independent of what He wills? And what does this mean for the intelligibility of the universe itself? Is God’s creation the product of a rational activity guided by what is good, or is it, at its most fundamental level, an arbitrary product governed by divine fiat? In short, is this the best of all possible worlds?
Read more about The Best of All Possible Worlds at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Steven Nadler's teaching, research and publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thomas M. Truxes' "Defying Empire"

Thomas M. Truxes is a senior lecturer in the history department at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and a member of the Irish Studies faculty at New York University. His previous books include Irish American Trade, 1660-1783.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York, a British warship, HMS Cerberus, is desperately searching for a powerful French squadron loose somewhere in the western Caribbean. At that very moment (late summer 1759), the North American coast--from Charleston to Boston--has been stripped of its naval defense in order that the Royal Navy might give its full support to General James Wolfe’s assault against the French fortress at Quebec, the most important British military operation in the French and Indian War.

While looking for Admiral Bompar’s squadron, the captain of HMS Cerberus stumbles across a New York merchant vessel loaded with provisions and military supplies for the French enemy. The American ship is carrying documents issued by corrupt colonial officials granting it permission to enter French West Indian ports under a white flag of truce in order to conduct a prisoner-of-war exchanges. When news of this discovery reaches the commander of the British fleet in the Caribbean, he sends out his cruisers in an aggressive campaign to interdict American trading ships in the service of the enemy. In the weeks and month that follow, British seizures cause consternation in New York City, but they only embolden the most hardened participants in the trade.

Defying Empire tells the story of New York’s illicit wartime commerce with forward-moving action, vivid settings, and memorable characters. The trade involved the most powerful New York families in activities that brought prosperity to the city and made fortunes for the participants, among whom were signers of the Declaration of independence and other Founding Fathers of the United States. But there were consequences. The events associated with the British crackdown played a critical role in the early phase of the American Revolution.

The text below is most of page 99 from Defying Empire:

As the summer wore on, British cruisers in the Caribbean had trouble picking up the scent. Patrolling along the southern coast of Saint-Domingue in late July, HMS Cerberus received intelligence that Bompar had slipped into Port Saint Louis. On August 3, Captain Charles Webber sent his second lieutenant and a mate “to Orange Quay to reconnoiter the ships.” They learned that Bompar had come and gone. He was, in fact, at Cape François. Discovered, the men from the Cerberus “were fired upon by a Dutch armed sloop who took them prisoners and carried them to the governor of Port Louis.” The French accused the British officer of being a spy but returned the mate “on Captain Webber’s sending a boat.”

In the midst of all this, HMS Cerberus seized a New York flag-trucer coming into Port Saint Louis. Following Captain Webber’s return to Port Royal in mid-August--delayed by long days of “very little wind” along the south coast of Hispaniola--his report of the capture of the snow Hercules was an epiphany for Admiral Cotes.

The vessel carried a clearance from Connecticut and nearly seven hundred barrels of flour, which, the British admiral reported to London, “I have reason to believe ... was ordered for the supply of Monsieur Bompar’s squadron.” Cotes learned that New Yorkers were getting an exorbitant amount for flour and beef in the ports of Saint-Domingue at the very time a visitor at Port au Prince saw a Jamaican flag of truce “land quantities of gunpowder, which was disposed of at a very great price.”

“These trading flags must certainly be very lucky in escaping His Majesty’s ships,” editorialized the New-London Summary, “for we have not yet heard of so much as one of their number being seized and sent to Jamaica; the Monte Cristi men appear to be the only objects of their pursuits.” For the flag-trucers, the bubble was about to burst.
Read an excerpt from Defying Empire, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2008

Warren Hammond's "Ex-KOP"

Warren Hammond's first novel, KOP, was published in 2007 and is now available in paperback.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel, Ex-KOP, and reported the following:
It was more than a year ago that I did the page 99 test on my first book, KOP, and I found that page 99 wasn't very representative of the whole. So when I wrote my second book, Ex-KOP, I made sure to pack as much content as I could onto page 99 in anticipation of this this blog entry.

I'm teasing, of course.

Seriously, I was curious to see how the sequel would fare. I just read page 99 of Ex-KOP, and I think it did a little better. That page happens to present a good bit of sleuthing by the main characters, and since the book is truly a noir mystery, the content on page 99 nicely captures the mystery elements of the story.

But I wouldn't rate it as a complete success. Should somebody read nothing but page 99, they wouldn't have any idea that the story takes place in the far future on a failed colony world. And since the setting is such a big part of what makes these particular crime novels unique, I have a hard time saying that "the quality of the whole will be revealed."

Looks like we'll have to wait and see how next book in the KOP series does.
Read an excerpt from Ex-KOP, and learn more about the author and his work at Warren Hammond's website.

The Page 99 Test: KOP.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andrew Rimas & Evan Fraser's "Beef"

Andrew Rimas and Evan D. G. Fraser are the authors of Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World.

Rimas applied the “Page 99 Test” to Beef and reported the following:
Our page begins with what I think is a pretty fortunate sentence fragment:

"'…a toothbrush made from a branding iron!' Once again, the Masai turned expectantly to the clever boy.

"He puffed out his chest and said to them, 'Go and slaughter your steers, and then circumcise me. I am going to become a warrior!'"

I like the toothbrush bit. This passage has more exclamation marks than I’m accustomed to use, but since I’m quoting a legend being told by a Kenyan tribal elder, I figure I can dip into the emphatic. The story ends with a murderous denouement in which the Masai kill all their oppressors – it has a gory, retributive feel similar to Odysseus’s homecoming. Back outside the story, we leave the village, mulling over the connection between cows and bloodshed:

"We drove on, a shower of stones drumming on the undercarriage as we passed a boy stooping on the edge of his family’s field, watching for stray cows nosing at the crop. He waved at us with one hand, while the other held tight to a knotty stick. Then he vanished, swallowed by the bleached dust of the road."

So we’ve got a dramatic tribal myth followed by a metaphor for the ambivalence of progress – the boy half-clinging to a vanishing way of life, even while he’s helplessly enmeshed in a situation that rejects the traditions he loves. He’s literally stuck on a roadside nurturing a modern, commercial cash crop at the expense of his darling cattle. That pretty much sums up one of our main arguments. The history of cows is a descent from the mythic and whole to the
fragmented and dully material, and there are costs (dully material costs, even) to this debasement.

As random pages go, I’m pretty happy with the breadth of this one. It combines storytelling with travelogue with an elegiac meditation on our profound relationship with this animal. Add some recipes and agricultural science, and you’ve got our book.
Browse inside Beef, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Andrew Rimas's website and Dr. Evan Fraser's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2008

Scott Sigler's "Infected"

Scott Sigler's fiction podcasts have drawn a huge and devoted following. His serialized stories have held the number one position in all the podcast indexes, including iTunes. Sigler’s first hardcover release, Infected, was translated into a dozen languages and is being adapted for film by Random House Films/Rogue Pictures.

His response to “Page 99 Test” --i.e. Is Ford Madox Ford's statement "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," accurate for your latest book, Infected?:
Totally. I'd read this book based on page 99.

From page 99:

“Your theory sounds about as far-fetched as the Loch Ness monster,” Amos said.

“Well what about the coelacanth? People thought it was extinct for seventy million years until a fisherman caught one in 1938. Just because someone hasn’t seen it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, Amos.”

“Right,” Amos said. “And this thing happened to remain dormant for hundreds of years in areas of extreme population density? It would be one thing to find this deep in the Congo jungle, but quite another to find it in Detroit. This isn’t AIDS, where people just die, these are defined, triangular growths. In the communication age, something like this doesn’t go unreported. Pardon my brusqueness, but you’ll have to find another theory.”

Margaret nodded absently. Amos was right. The concept of a dormant human parasite didn’t wash. Whatever these things were, they were new.

Amos changed the subject: “Have Murray’s men found any connection amongst the victims?”

“Nothing yet. They’ve traced the travel of all victims and anyone the victims came in contact with. There’s no connection. Most of the victims hadn’t traveled anywhere. The only link is that Judy Washington and Gary Leeland, the two Detroit cases, happened within a week of each other and happened at the same retirement home. They checked that place out with a fine-toothed comb. No one else shows any signs of infection. They’ve run tests on the water, the food, the air – nothing out of the ordinary, although we’re still not sure what to look for so that doesn’t rule anything out.

“The two Toledo cases were weeks apart, but fairly close to each other, within a few blocks. There seems to be some proximity effect. The transmission vector is unknown, but Murray still thinks there’s a terrorist out there deliberately infecting random people.”

“That fits with our observations,” Amos said. “I’m more and more convinced that Brewbaker and the others may have been contaminated, but weren’t contagious. We’ve found nothing on him indicative of eggs, an embryonic form, or anything else that could be responsible for new parasites. Besides, Dew hasn’t shown any symptoms, nor has anyone who came in contact with Brewbaker’s body.”
Watch the video trailer for Infected, and learn more about the author and his work at Scott Sigler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Norman Housley's "Fighting for the Cross"

Norman Housley is professor of history and Head of the School of Historical Studies, University of Leicester. He is a world authority on the Middle Ages and on the Crusades in particular.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting for the Cross takes you to the anti-Jewish pogroms that happened in 1096 at places like Worms, Mainz and Cologne, right at the start of the First Crusade. Whether or not this passage indicates the book’s quality is for the reader to judge, but it certainly tells you a lot about what crusading meant for both participants and their contemporaries, Christian, Muslim and Jewish – and that’s what the book is all about. What did it mean to go on crusade, or to suffer at the hands of those that went? The ugliness of some crusading ideas, especially vendetta, is centre stage, but so too are the incredible demands that going on crusade posed – especially the financial ones, because there’s no doubt that the attacks on the Rhineland Jews came about in part because the crusaders wanted their wealth as a means of funding their journey to the Holy Land. ‘A day will surely arrive when my children will come and avenge my blood’. These words were attributed to Christ, and plate 11 in Fighting for the Cross shows the crusaders right at the end of their long journey, in July 1099, storming a Jerusalem at whose heart Christ is shown going through his Passion. It’s not a way of thinking or believing that we today find it easy to empathize with, but it’s endlessly fascinating. And nobody can doubt its historical significance.
Read an excerpt from Fighting for the Cross, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Learn more about Norman Housley's teaching and research at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jena Pincott's "Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?"

Jena Pincott has a background in biology and was a production assistant on science documentaries for PBS. She is a former senior editor at Random House, and is the author of Success: Advice for Achieving Your Goals from Remarkably Accomplished People and Healing: Advice for Recovering Your Strength and Spirit from the World's Most Famous Survivors.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains--The Science Behind Sex, Love, and Attraction, and reported the following:
Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is a question-and-answer book on the science of love and attraction, so I always welcome readers to flip to random pages or follow their prurient interests. If you happen to land on page ninety-nine you'll be splat in the middle of the answer to the question "Why do men like big breasts?"

The answer, in part:

...Full figured women are roughly three times as likely to get pregnant as women with other body types. (To qualify as big-breasted in the study, the circumference of your torso around your breasts would have to be at least 20 percent larger than it is under your breasts.)

....The symmetry of a woman's breasts also reveals something about her health. Because breasts develop so rapidly during puberty, they're especially sensitive to hormonal disruptions that could make one breast grow much larger than the other and also compromise fertility. Women with asymmetrical breasts have fewer babies on average than do women with symmetrical breasts.

The other hundred or so questions in the book cover a variety of topics: Why do some guys smell better to you than others? Does the Pill affect your taste in men? Can you tell people's sexual orientation by their smell? Why is blushing sexy? Why does creativity get men laid? How do the seasons affect your sex life?

What the big breast question on page ninety-nine has in common with all other questions in the book is one simple idea: To some extent, we all have built-in biases for certain qualities in a lover. Sometimes these preferences are conscious, such as (many) men's unabashed lust for big busts. Others are subtle and under the radar of awareness, such as attraction to a specific person's natural body odor or body language. What I attempt to do -- in a fun, playful way -- in Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is to uncover these subtle biases and the evolutionary reasons behind them. To what extent are your genes, hormones, and instincts influencing your love life? And what should you do about it?
For a sample of the text, a complete list of questions, and blog updates, please visit Jena Pincott's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 10, 2008

Phil Zuckerman's "Society Without God"

Phil Zuckerman is associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College. He is the author of Invitation to the Sociology of Religion and Strife in the Sanctuary: Religious Schism in a Jewish Community.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Society Without God: What the Least Religious Societies Can Tell us About Contentment, and reported the following:
If someone were to only read page 99 of my new book Society Without God: What the Least Religious Societies Can Tell us About Contentment, they would certainly get a main element of my book: that Denmark and Sweden are the least religious nations in the world today. However, they would also miss a great deal of what my book is all about and why I wrote it. Indeed, if someone were to only read page 99, I would feel quite disheartened as an author, and feel like several main ideas had been totally missed.

Ok, so here’s what they would get: a clear articulation of the nature of Scandinavian secularity. As I write on page 99: “For many or even most contemporary Danes and Swedes, religion is not something to be discussed or analyzed, nor is it something to be debated or debunked, nor is it something to be resisted or feared. Rather, it is something quite altogether different: a non-topic. And when religion becomes a non-topic for significant segments of a modern society, we are dealing with an extraordinary social reality: secularity, par excellence.”

That said, here are some key elements of my book that aren’t captured on page 99:

1. The conservative Christian right – along with most strongly religious folk — argue that if a nation doesn’t place God at its center, the result will be societal chaos and misery. The nations of Scandinavia prove this false: God-belief is very weak in Denmark and Sweden, and yet these nations are among the most secure, prosperous, humane, and moral nations on earth.

2. Many theorists have argued that all humans fear death and need existential answers to the meaning of life. And yet millions of relatively secular Danes and Swedes show that this isn’t necessarily true: it is possible to live a full, content life and still accept one’s mortality, and many people can have meaningful lives without religious interpretations of the Big Picture.

3. What is the worldview of men and women who live life without much religion? How do they understand morality, ethics, family life, work, religion, etc.?

4. Why are many European nations so secular, while the USA is so religious?

Points 1-4 are at the very heart of my book, and yet are not even marginally captured in page 99. Nor are the colorful, compelling voices of the many men and women I interviewed — it is their stories and words that make up a significant ingredient of my analysis.

But that said, if you only read page 99 — well, that’s better than nothing!
Read the introduction to Society Without God, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 9, 2008

William Sharpe's "New York Nocturne"

William Chapman Sharpe is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of Unreal Cities and the coeditor of Visions of the Modern City.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950, and reported the following:
On page 99 of New York Nocturne readers will find themselves not in New York, but London, discovering how James McNeill Whistler forever changed the way we look at the city at night. Though Whistler never saw modern Manhattan bedecked with the diamonds of a million electric lights, we feel the impact of his artistry every time we marvel at the sparkling skyline or the misty glow of a streetlight on a wet evening. His Nocturnes draped a veil of elusive allure over the body of the grimy urban landscape, influencing the way photographers, painters, and poets would depict Manhattan from the 1890s through to the present moment. As my book shows over the course of 400 pages and some 150 images, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Joseph Stella, Edward Hopper, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and many more all learned from Whistler. In turn they taught their audiences to feel wonder and delight at the spectacle of night falling in the artificially lit city. At a time when most people thought that the daytime city was ugly and the nighttime city was a hellish pit of crime and depravity, Whistler’s Nocturnes enabled viewers to see the city as a beautiful form clothed in darkness and bejewelled with light. For Whistler and those who followed, night in the city no longer represented moral danger, but rather an immensely exciting realm of personal and artistic exploration. I first got the idea of studying nocturnal New York from gazing at some Whistlers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, so page 99–though only a quarter of the way through the book–is at the heart of it.

Quote: "With their rivers and bridges, pleasure gardens and feux d’artifice, Whistler’s nocturnes occupy an eroticized border area between mastery and submission, such that the infernal chasms and cataclysms of the romantic sublime find their tamed yet tempting counterparts in enveloping mists and looming pylons. Night, as Whistler paints it, does not awe–it invites and embraces."
Read the introduction to New York Nocturne, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 7, 2008

William Conescu's "Being Written"

You start reading a blog entry on a first novel, Being Written by William Conescu, and it’s written in the second person, and you’re not sure how you feel about that. But you read the second sentence, and it occurs to you that there might be some reason the author made this choice. So you pick up Being Written – which, conveniently, sits beside you on your desk – and you look at page one, and you see that the opening is written in the second person. There’s a guy at a bar. He hears a scratching sound in the distance. It’s the scratching of “the author’s pencil.” Some woman across the room is “being written.”

Okay. You flip ahead to page 99 – you’re forever flipping to page 99 – but this section is not written in the second person. The font is even different. Like this:

“Does he deal drugs or something?”

“No, no. Definitely not.”

“Then what?”

Jon doesn’t want to go down this path. It’s been a long night already. He fishes two glasses out of the sink and sets them on the drying rack. “They’re getting past some things,” he says, but Daniel looks unsatisfied. So Jon adds, “You might be familiar with one of those things, hmm?”

It takes a moment for this to sink in, but then the color rises in Daniel’s freckled cheeks. His ears actually turn magenta. It’s amazing.

You skim the back of the book and see that Daniel is the only one who knows he’s a character in a book that’s being written. A minor character, in fact, if the jacket copy can be trusted. You read on:

“But,” Jon continues, “like I said, they’ll be fine. They always are. They’re good together, they really are. You should have seen them in school and when they had their act. It was like they could read each other’s minds.”

“So why do you think Graham doesn’t want to go on the auditions?” Daniel asks.

“Maybe he’s not ready,” Jon replies, returning to the sink. “I think he gets nervous being in front of other people. Truly performing. It’s not the same as backing up Delia.”

“Yeah,” Daniel says quietly, and then, “Do you miss acting?”

Jon eyes Daniel through the mirror behind the bar. “No,” he says. “It’s not an easy life.” Jon rinses out the martini shaker before a sigh escapes him and he turns back around. “You don’t need to help me, Daniel. I’m the happiest person in this little group.”

Daniel says nothing, but the color rises to his cheeks again.

“I hear Monty’s getting a promotion,” Jon adds.

“Is he?”

“How about that?”

Daniel sure blushes a lot. Seems like he’s worked his way into this social circle of artsy types who are being written, and he’s interfering with their lives to try to get himself a bigger part and make himself integral to their story. (You’re an extremely perceptive reader, by the way.) And here he is on page 99 in everyone’s business, so something must be going right. And wrong. There’s not a wealth of love coming from Jon. The book – a paperback original from Harper Perennial, how handy that it’s sitting here – alternates back and forth between chapters of “the book” written in the third person and Daniel’s second-person perception of being written into it.

You hold the book up to your nose and sniff. Smells like something between a literary thriller and a dark comedy. (You have an extremely active sense of smell.) Okay, you’re kind of curious. Plus it’s a new author who seems like a reasonably good guy. (You’re an extremely sensitive person.) You’ll give the guy a break and pick up his novel, maybe mention it to a friend if you enjoy it.
That's William Conescu’s take on the “Page 99 Test” applied to his new novel, Being Written.

Browse inside Being Written, and learn more about the book and author at William Conescu's website.

William Conescu was born in New York and raised in New Orleans. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. His short stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Green Mountains Review, and other publications.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Charlie Huston's "Every Last Drop"

Charlie Huston is the author of the Henry Thompson Trilogy (Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man) and a standalone, The Shotgun Rule. His first three Joe Pitt novels are Already Dead, No Dominion, and Half the Blood in Brooklyn.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest Joe Pitt novel, Every Last Drop, and reported the following:
Having applied the Page 69 Test to one of my previous Joe Pitt novels, I’ve returned to endure the trials of the Page 99 Test for the latest Joe Pitt: Every Last Drop.

Let’s take a quick look at what Mr. Ford has to say just so we’re clear on the nature of the test.

"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." --Ford Madox Ford

Seems pretty clear. The only part of Ford’s proposition that one might quibble over is just what he means by “quality.” Is he speaking of what Merriam Webster refers to in its primary definition as “peculiar and essential character” or the secondary “degree of excellence”? Which is to say, does he mean that page 99 will reveal the nature of the book we’re looking at, or that is will reveal whether or not the book is any damn good?

Let’s not bicker about it and all agree that he probably meant that page 99 will reveal a books “peculiar and essential character”. That has the added benefit of encompassing the “degree of excellence” as well. So, two birds, one stone.

Cutting to the chase, here’s page 99 of Every Last Drop.

ation, but that causes mutation. And mutation leads to adaptation over time. So, these guys, they’ve been using visible light pulses. And it works. It.

She holds up her cigarette, wiggles it, creating a jagged stream of smoke.

-It vibrates a virus, physically disrupts the virus shell, this thing called the capsid. It cripples the virus it affects. Virus can’t function, and dies. So.

Her eyes are big, staring a million miles.

-The Vyrus, your Vyrus, goes haywire when exposed to solar UVA, it mutates. But not adaptive mutations. Or not that we can see because it happens way too fast. But, but, maybe we can find a wave of radiation, a visible wavelength to shatter the Vyrus’ capsid? It’s so, it’s way outside the box, but the Vyrus isn’t in the box, so this is the kind of stuff we have to. I mean.

She stares further, going away from the room, deep inside some other place.

-It is so fucking cool.

She takes a big drag.

-It’s like, like being a pioneer. Like none of the rules apply and you can try anything. Anything. Nothing is out of bounds. And. Oh, and I said about computer models. The good thing about having too many people here, it gives us a really good pool to draw samples from. And, because the Vyrus, it does mutate. Radically. From person to person. I mean, we’ve got a couple people here who infected other people here. And even then, the same strain passing from host to host, it mutates. But within a range. I think. So we can draw samples. And like I said, the Vyrus is a total puss, and if you mishandle a specimen it croaks like that, but if you do it right we have time to log the mutation. So we’re creating a database of mutations. Like, we can look and see its favorite tricks. How it hides. How it defends itself. Maybe get an idea why some

So we got a lot of dialogue. Very common in my books. And they’re talking about the virus that causes vampirism in my mythology. Central to the series. Aaand… Well, that’s about it. It doesn’t deal with either of the major plot points of the book, involving Joe’s girl and a huge stockpile of blood. Nor does Joe, the protagonist and narrator, have a voice here. We don’t see any of the landscape of NYC, always a major component of these books. And Joe doesn’t hurt anyone. So, is the “peculiar and essential character” of the book revealed here?

No, not at all.

But the fault is not in the page, it’s in the test.

No single page in any book is ever going to reveal that book’s quality, however you choose to define that word or apply the test. What it may or may not tell you is if it’s a book you might want to read. The “peculiar and essential character” of anything will never be revealed in a fragment. You want to get at the heart of something, you’re going to have to get intimate with it.

But, if you’re looking for a quick test to find out if you think you might want to someday develop some intimacy with a book, you know, have a cup of coffee and chat and see if there’s a spark, you could start with the Page 99 Test. However, I’d recommend just beginning at the beginning and applying the Page 1 Test. If you turn to page 2, that generally means page 1 was at least pretty good. After that you can take it one page at a time until you’re ready to commit.
Read an excerpt from Every Last Drop, and learn more about the book and author at Charlie Huston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ellen Prager's "Chasing Science at Sea"

Ellen J. Prager is currently the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base, in the Florida Keys, and a freelance writer. Among her publications are The Oceans and Furious Earth: The Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis; a series of children’s books including Sand, Volcano, and Earthquakes with the National Geographic Society; and a children’s novel, Adventure on Dolphin Island.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Chasing Science at Sea: Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts, and reported the following:
With consideration to Ford Madox Ford's statement "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." My answer has to be a politically astute, yet aggravatingly vague answer, all to appropriate just before an election – Yes and No.

Okay, I’m going to cheat just a little bit and include one sentence from page 98 as well:

“Our experiences and what we have learned from them far outweigh any of the discomforts or frustrations that we have had to endure. And when those moments of wonder, discovery, or scientific enlightenment do happen, it makes all the obstacles we’ve dealt with seem inconsequential and simply fodder for funny stories over cocktails. But surely it is worth it, both personally and for the invaluable knowledge we gain about the sea.”

Actually, that is all there is on page 99 as it is at the end of the chapter entitled, Overcoming Obstacles. While it is not exactly illustrative of the whole (there are only two full sentences on the page after all), this passage does reflect in many ways what I have tried to do with the book.

Science is often described as a boring, methodical process devoid of fun, adventure, or humor. And the scientist is still widely thought of as that white-coated, gray haired stereotype whose personality must have been removed in conjunction with their obtaining a PhD. The stories in Chasing Science at Sea are from my own field experiences and those of my colleagues, and they are solid evidence to refute those last two statements!

It is in facing and overcoming obstacles that much of the humor, adventure, and wonder come into play in science, and in particular fieldwork. From equipment stealing sea lions to actual thieves along with hurricanes, sharks, dangerously bad decision-making, laughable predicaments, amazing animal life, and unexpected surprises, ocean science has it all. I hope readers of the book will come away with a feeling for why my colleagues and I love what we do (some might say it is an obsession), find the stories fun and engaging, while also learning about the wonders of the sea, how science really works, and the importance of experiencing nature firsthand.
Read an excerpt from Chasing Science at Sea, and learn more about the book and author at Ellen Prager's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 3, 2008

Christopher Fettweis' "Losing Hurts Twice as Bad"

Christopher J. Fettweis is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Tulane University. For the last three years, he taught strategy at the US Naval War College in Newport, RI.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Losing Hurts Twice as Bad: The Four Stages to Moving Beyond Iraq, and reported the following:
My book deals with the likely domestic and international consequences of the war in Iraq. Page 99 is in the section about the effect of the war on oil markets; here it is.

The day that the war started, the twentieth of March, 2003, was hectic for commodity traders. Investors were nervous, and their anxiety drove the price of oil up over thirty dollars a barrel before it finished the day at $28.61. Traders told New York Times reporters that they expected the price to settle “at $25 to $32 during – and perhaps after – the war.” That prediction, as it turns out, was a bit optimistic. In May 2008, the price of a barrel of crude oil broke $120 for the first time. Worldwide demand rose during those intervening five years, to be sure, but it hardly quadrupled. The remarkable rise in the price of oil is directly related to the war, which helped to weaken the dollar and caused serious instability in the market.

Oil is traded on the futures market, which means that its price today is in part a reflection of what investors think it will be worth tomorrow. The insecurity that the war has brought has both discouraged exploration for new supplies in the Middle East and added a “security premium” onto every barrel bought and sold. If there had been no invasion of Iraq, the price would more accurately reflect the forces of supply and demand, and would probably be about half of what it is today.

The implications of expensive oil for the global economy are likely to be profound. Petroleum producing states, many of which are not the world’s most democratic or friendly to U.S. interests, are making more money than ever before. The war has been a godsend for Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. For consuming nations, however, the news is grim. Historically speaking, U.S. economic performance has always been inversely related to the price of oil. As prices rise, productivity and growth fall. When prices are low, like in the mid-to-late 1990s, the U.S. economy expands. The next few years are likely to be very difficult economic times for the United States.

Americans may soon look back on the days when they were paying $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline with nostalgic fondness, because all projections have the price rising steadily over the next few years. If the war were to end quickly, much of that security premium would go away, and prices would probably fall to some degree. But they will never go back to where they were before this war boosted them through the roof.
Read more about Losing Hurts Twice as Bad at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Michael J. Agovino's "The Bookmaker"

Michael J. Agovino has written for a wide range of publications and online sites, including The New York Times, Esquire, GQ, Salon, Elle, and The New York Observer.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bookmaker: A Memoir of Money, Family, and Luck From the Utopian Outskirts of New York City, and reported the following:
Any time I hear rules about writing—or god help us, tests, especially tests—I tend to ignore them or do the opposite, all due respect to FMF. In fact, I was hoping that page 99 would be a photograph. This would have given me an opportunity to talk about my use of photography, which is quite different from most other memoirs I’d say. That will have to wait for another day.

Instead, page 99 in my book is only a half-page of text being it’s the last page of the chapter entitled “Westchester County, 1972.” But it does illustrate an important theme throughout the book: the dream of home ownership. That and dreams unfulfilled.

Two years before, my family moved into a socialist housing experiment on the periphery of New York City. Co-op City, it was called, the idea of the famous/infamous builder Robert Moses, one of his last, or as I call it, his last big mistake. It was made up of 35 skyscrapers, almost identical, and housed up to 60,000 people. It was the largest housing complex in America. It had been an American-history themed park called Freedomland, which was even larger than Disneyland.

My mother never wanted to move there. She thought, as many early critics did, that it was not only a visually depressing place but that its left-wing ideology was overbearing. My father, on the other hand, was a union man who earned a modest income for the New York City Department of Welfare, and it was he who controlled the purse strings. The price, of course, was ridiculously right. He told my mother at the time, “If we don’t like it we’ll move.” He worked a second job, my dad, as a bookie, and on top of that gambled on sports. He won money, and then he would lose money. Win, lose; win, lose. Money in, money out. So maybe there would be a lucky streak, a windfall, and we would be able to afford to move.

After two years of my mother hounding my father, telling him how much she hated this monstrosity of towers, he got fed up and said to her: “Then go find a house.” And sure enough she did, an English country house, not even that far away, in Mt. Vernon, Westchester County, my mother’s dream suburb.

But my father never wanted suburbia; it wasn’t his dream. This was part of their ongoing ideological battle throughout the book, and their lives: owning vs. renting, suburbia vs. city.

At the end of this chapter, on page 99, my mother gives up, at least temporarily, on this dream of the house. “Well,” she said, “at least let’s go to Italy.” And so on we went, from Eero Saarinen’s TWA Building, to the land of our roots.
Read an excerpt from The Bookmaker and watch Matt Lauer's interview with Michael J. Agovino.

Learn more about The Bookmaker at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue