Monday, February 28, 2011

Deb Olin Unferth's "Revolution"

Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the story collection Minor Robberies and the novel Vacation, winner of the 2009 Cabell First Novelist Award and a New York Times Book Review Critics' Choice. Her work has been featured in Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, The Believer, and the Boston Review. She has received two Pushcart Prizes and a 2009 Creative Capital grant for Innovative Literature.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, and reported the following:
Okay, so it was about time someone taught us to dance.

Revolution is a memoir about when I was 18 and dropped out of college and went to Nicaragua to join the Communist revolution with my boyfriend. Page 99 is the final page of a short chapter titled “Doctors,” which lists a few of the strange illnesses, bugs, and doctors we ran into.

In Nicaragua, during the Sandinista revolutionary government, there was free health care for all Nicaraguans, a lot of free clinics and Nicaraguan doctors, and a lot of foreign volunteer doctors. This page describes one doctor, a Canadian, whom we met.

I still remember him clearly, after all these years—his gentle manner, his alarm at our eating habits, his conviction that we would soon be very ill, maybe irrevocably so. Then out of nowhere he sighed and said, “Can you do the waltz at least?” Alas, not even that.

And by God, he may have come from his far-away land to right wrongs, save lives, change the world, and perhaps he hadn’t figured out how to do any of that yet, and maybe he would go home unsuccessful, but he could teach us the waltz at least, he could straighten this one asymmetrical thing, and he did.

One two three, one two three, one two three…
Read an excerpt from Revolution, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Edward Dolnick's "The Clockwork Universe"

Edward Dolnick's books include The Forger's Spell, the New York Times bestselling account of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, and The Rescue Artist, winner of the Edgar Award in 2006 for best non-fiction.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, and reported the following:
In the year 1600, an Italian philosopher and mystic named Giordano Bruno declared that the Earth was one of infinitely many planets. The Inquisition threw him in jail, then dragged him from his cell, paraded him through the streets, tied him to a stake, and set him on fire. To make sure that he didn’t manage to utter any final heresies, his captors drove a metal stake through his tongue.

Almost exactly a century later, in 1705, the Queen of England bestowed a knighthood on Isaac Newton. Sir Isaac had been born a farm boy; his father couldn’t sign his name, and his mother was scarcely more learned. When Newton died two decades later, dukes and earls carried his casket. Among the achievements that won Newton universal fame was this – he had convinced the world of the doctrine that had cost Bruno his life.

Sometime between those two events, at some impossible-to-pin-down point in the 1600s, the modern world was born. The Clockwork Universe is about that astonishing transformation. On page 99 we read about the bafflement and shock that the new scientific doctrines provoked. If Earth was only one planet among a multitude, were the other planets inhabited, too? By what sort of creatures? Did they have their own Adam and Eve?

One of my goals is to convey how strange the 1600s look to modern eyes. That strangeness – the towering piles of human waste blocking the streets, the criminals’ heads tacked up on stakes as a warning to others, the terror inspired by wave after wave of bubonic plague – is too often brushed aside. Just as important, most histories talk about Newton and Galileo and other geniuses of past centuries in what I feel is a deeply misleading way. These titans are often portrayed essentially as time-travelers – men of modern ideas who happened to live in the past. They were just like us, except they wore funny wigs.

They were not just like us.

Newton and all the other early scientists lived precariously between two worlds, the medieval one they had grown up in and a new one they had only glimpsed. These were brilliant, ambitious, confused, conflicted men. They believed in angels and alchemy and the devil, and they believed that the universe followed precise, mathematical laws.
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 25, 2011

Donald C. Jackson's "Life in a Shell"

Donald C. Jackson is Professor Emeritus of Medical Science, Brown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Life in a Shell: A Physiologist’s View of a Turtle, and reported the following:
My book Life in a Shell describes studies that I and others have conducted on turtles and is written in a personal style that tries to give the flavor of biological research. Many aspects of the turtle’s physiology are covered including a striking adaptation for which turtles are particularly well-known. This is their capacity to survive for long periods without oxygen, a trait that helps species like painted turtles survive winter months in frozen ponds. Page 99 is within the chapter where I discuss this trait. On that page I am completing the description of an experiment that a graduate student and I conducted in which we had painted turtles submerged for 3 months in cold water near the freezing point without being able to breathe and with no oxygen in the water. This sounds inhumane, but turtles in the temperate zone of North America can experience this every winter. In the experiment described on page 99, we have connected a tube that had previously been surgically implanted in an artery of one of these turtles and were attempting to measure its heart rate and blood pressure with appropriate instumentation. Once everything was hooked up, we watched the pen on the polygraph but it was a flat line and stayed that way for several minutes. We (and now I quote from page 99)
were starting to fear that the turtle had no blood pressure when slowly, very slowly, the pen began to move upward. It reached its highest level and then even more slowly began to descend toward the baseline. The turtle’s heart had finally produced a beat. We continued to record the pressure, and sure enough additional beats continued to occur at long intervals, the longest interval between beats being an astounding ten minutes! In a human heart at rest, the interval between beats is normally one second or less.
The slow heart rate of the cold anoxic turtle is associated with an incredibly low metabolic rate that is one of the key reasons that explains its ability to survive without oxygen. The rest of the book discusses other physiological features of this remarkable animal, many of which are influenced by its iconic anatomical feature, its shell.
Learn more about Life in a Shell at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 24, 2011

John Himmelman's "Cricket Radio"

John Himmelman is author and illustrator of nearly seventy books, most recently Guide to Night-Singing Insects of the Northeast and Discovering Amphibians: Frogs and Salamanders of the Northeast.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Nightsinging Insects, and reported the following:
Here’s what I wish was on page 99 (for the sake of the “Page 99 Test”):
The frosts have come and gone several times, a grim reaper harvesting the last of the year's insects. The chorus has been silenced. And then, I hear a trill. It's a lone Carolina Ground Cricket (Eunemobius carolinus) calling, feebly, and stuttering, from beneath a leaf in the side yard. The song lacks the vitality of its summer brethren, but those worn wings still move a’blur. There are no females left to answer. It doesn't matter. It is trilling because it has to, and it is giving it everything it's got. It is the violinist playing as the Titanic is sinking. It's what they do.

How can that not stir a soul?
This excerpt is from pages 28 and 29. It is what I believe best defines the character and purpose of Cricket Radio: Tuning In the Nightsinging Insects. On warm summer evenings, the crickets and katydids bring forth a whirring, chirping soundscape—a calming aural tapestry celebrated by poets and naturalists for millennia. But “cricket radio” is not broadcast for the easy-listening pleasure of humans. The nocturnal songs of insects are lures and warnings, full of risks and rewards for these tiny competitive performers. Why they have taken this route, and how, is as compelling as the effect their song has on the human psyche.

In order to round out our understanding of these insects, I felt it would be helpful to write about how they go about making new ones. It is, after all, the inspiration for their song. This excerpt describing the act of mating between two ground crickets gives you the gist of page ninety-nine:
Once a female is drawn to the caller, she moves in a little closer. The male’s call changes, and he rocks back and forth on his feet, a further act of enticement. He then turns and backs into the female, who, if impressed by what she sees and hears, climbs onto the male’s back. He stops calling and lifts one of his hind legs. It is held in a position to keep the female on his back while he inseminates her from beneath. The female bites the tip off of the highest spur on his tibia. This releases a secretion, upon which she feeds… This secretion no doubt has some compelling qualities to keep her in place. In fact, other females will sometimes take a nip at that elixir-giving spur, even though they have no intention of mating with the male. The male, in this case, is not willing to allow her to partake. Yes, human analogies come to mind.
Ford Madox Ford could make the argument that without the act described on page ninety-nine there would be no “cricket radio”, therefore defining this page as “the quality of the whole”. I’ll give it to him.
Learn more about Cricket Radio at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit John Himmelman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ariel Sabar's "Heart of the City"

Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns for the Christian Science Monitor and is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, Moment, Christianity Today and other publications.  His first book, My Father’s Paradise, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Sabar applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York, and reported the following:
You know the moment: You’ve just met someone new, and something deep in your gut tells you you want to be with this person. Your heart is thumping against your chest. The dopamine flooding your brain is so intense you feel high. Then, at some critical point — perhaps on your second date, perhaps later — chemistry gives way to caution. How well do I really know him? you ask. Can I really trust her? Will I get hurt?

The pivot point is particularly pronounced for couples — like those in my book — who have met by chance. They don’t share a circle of friends. They don’t work or go to school together. They don’t pray in the same synagogue or church or mosque. Their parents aren’t old friends. Nothing binds them but luck.

My new book, Heart of the City, tells the true stories of nine couples who married after meeting, by chance, in one of New York City’s iconic public places: Grand Central Terminal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington Square Park, the Empire State Building, the subway. The narratives unfold like short stories, and page 99 sets us at just such a pivot in one of the stories. Chesa Sy, a tourist fresh off a plane from the Philippines, comes to Manhattan to look for an old classmate who she is told lives in Chinatown. It’s near midnight, and at the subway station near JFK airport, she asks a stranger — Milton Jennings, a music reviewer from Brooklyn — for directions. They talk on the subway, and when she can’t find her friend the next day, she calls Milton in desperation. Milton worries he’s being set up for a con. But over his better judgment he meets Chesa for dinner to see if he can help. When she confesses she has nowhere to stay, he offers her the futon in his tiny living room.

They eventually marry. But Page 99 shows the doubts racing through their minds as the strangeness of their situation dawns on them.

First, Milton’s point of view:
The words came almost before his awareness of them. “I, you know, have a couch in my apartment,” he said. “It’s very uncomfortable. But you could sleep there for a night or two, if you needed to.”

Outside, a cold rain was falling. He bought an umbrella from a sidewalk vendor, and she moved under it to keep dry as they carried her bags through the rain. They rode the Q train to his apartment. As it crossed the East River, an arc of lights smudged against rain-streaked windows. “See the Brooklyn Bridge?” Milton
said. But when he turned toward the woman at his elbow, she was looking straight ahead. She was a total stranger. He raked his fingers across his beetled forehead and thought, I might just be the biggest sucker in the world.
Then Chesa’s:
As the door to Milton’s apartment clicked shut, Chesa felt unexpectedly vulnerable. She was no longer on a subway or in a restaurant—public places where people kept an eye on one another. She was in a man’s apartment, behind a locked door. She had called him because she feared for her safety. But now she was in close quarters with a six-foot-tall man about whom she realized she knew nothing, no matter how trustworthy he seemed. Was she really better off here?

She studied his hands as he jimmied the futon away from the wall, unhooked its latches and laid it flat. He pulled neatly folded sheets from a closet and spread them across the mattress, then returned from another room with a pillow.

He shrugged, as if perturbed or embarrassed. “It’s not the Hilton.”

“It’s okay.”

“Chesa, you’re welcome to sleep here for a few nights. But I just, well, I mean, I can’t give you a key.” When he left for work in the mornings, he told her, she’d have to clear out, too.

As I interviewed couples for the book, I saw that many of their stories had variations on just such a turning point. It’s a reminder, I think, that finding love requires us to take risks, to suspend a certain measure of caution. The downside is the hurt when the risks don’t pay off. But as I hope the stories of these nine couples show, you can’t win if you don’t play.
Learn more about the book and author at Ariel Sabar's website.

The Page 99 Test: My Father’s Paradise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Linda Layne, S. Vostral, and K. Boyer (eds), "Feminist Technology"

Linda L. Layne is Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer. She is the author Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America, and Home and Homeland: The Dialogics of Tribal and National Identities in Jordan and has edited two volumes on motherhood and consumption: Consuming Motherhood and Transformative Motherhood: On Giving and Getting in a Consumer Culture.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book Feminist Technology (edited with Vostral and Boyer), and reported the following:
To my surprise, the page 99 test worked. It falls in the middle of my chapter, “Why the Home Pregnancy Test Isn’t the Feminist Technology It’s Cracked Up to Be, and How To Make It Better.” In that chapter I use first person accounts of home pregnancy test use to examine whether this utterly pervasive reproductive technology actually benefits women. I take each of the purported benefits of this technology in turn. Page 99 addresses two of these— more privacy, and knowing sooner, so that the user can either “start taking care of herself” or have an early abortion. Women who care most about privacy are those who do not wish to be pregnant and they report ways that using these tests makes them vulnerable to exposure at time of purchase and when disposing of the test. On page 99, I also discuss how while many of the women who hope they are pregnant do not share these concerns, (one reports feeling proud to be seen in the store looking at the tests trying to decide which of the many brands was the best), some do. The page ends by introducing my concerns about the assumption that earlier “detection” actually benefits women. Brands that boast “results four days sooner than other leading brands” in fact have an accuracy rate of about 50% (i.e., the same as flipping a coin). I conclude that home pregnancy tests do not offer women the benefits they purport to and in some ways disempower women by deskilling them and enticing them to squander their buying power on frivolous consumer products. Despite this critique, I recognize that these information technologies do to offer some benefits to some women sometimes, and so the chapter ends, like all of the other case studies in the book (on menstrual suppressing birth control pills, tampons, breast pumps, Norplant, anti-fertility vaccines, and microbicides), by making concrete suggestions on how these technologies should be improved to better serve women.
Learn more about Feminist Technology by following the blog at the University of Illinois website.

Visit Linda L. Layne's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 21, 2011

Paul Giles's "The Global Remapping of American Literature"

Paul Giles is the Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney. His many books include Atlantic Republic and Virtual Americas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Global Remapping of American Literature, and reported the following:
The Global Remapping of American Literature is about ways in which conceptions of “American Literature” have fluctuated over space and time. My argument is that before about 1830 conceptions of America were highly amorphous, in the wake of the recent War of Independence, and that the contours of the country had not yet been clearly delineated. I find a parallel to the more recent period of American literature, after about 1980, when the forces of globalization and transnationalism have rendered the economic and cultural boundaries of the nation much more permeable. I contrast this with the period between the end of the U.S. Civil War and the Reagan era of the 1980s, when U.S. national formations, and consequently its literature, were more distinctively set apart and independently minded.

Page 99 of the book [inset left, click to enlarge] exemplifies this in its discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novels The Marble Faun (1850) and The Scarlet Letter (1860). Both of Hawthorne’s works of fiction look past towards the past—the Puritan world of the seventeenth century in the former, the legacy of classical Rome in the latter—and they map nineteenth-century America in relation to these historical antecedents. Throughout Hawthorne’s texts, there is a constant interrogation of what it means to appropriate the past, to annex previous historical eras as predecessors of the present era. Consequently, as page 99 suggests, a lot of Hawthorne’s “geospatial rhetoric” involves the mapping of time as well as space; writing, for him, becomes “a form of cartography, a way of mapping out identity by circumscribing space and . . . “ (the next word on page 100, as you might have guessed, is “time”!). Hawthorne’s narratives thus waver ambiguously between a transcendental recuperation of the past and an ironic recognition of how the past always remains fundamentally unknowable. For Hawthorne, as for other authors discussed in this book, the process of mapping tends to operate reflexively, as a comment on how human societies use geography as well as history to make sense of their world.
Read an excerpt from The Global Remapping of American Literature, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa's "Academically Adrift"

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses is co-authored by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

Roksa is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Academically Adrift and reported the following:
Page 99 of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses explores how students’ use of time is related to learning during their first two years of college. We find that activities associated with social engagement do not facilitate learning, and in some instances hinder it. Students who spent more time studying with peers and those who spent more time in fraternities and sororities showed diminishing growth on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA is a measure of general collegiate skills, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing). Other student activities, such as working on or off campus, participating in campus clubs/organizations or volunteering, were not related to learning. In contrast, the more time students spent studying alone, the greater their gains on the CLA. Other educational practices associated with academic rigor, such as taking courses that require more than 40 pages of reading per week and more than 20 pages of writing over the course of the semester, and having faculty who hold high expectations, were related to greater gains on the CLA. These patterns reflect one of the key findings of Academically Adrift: educational practices associated with academic rigor facilitate learning, while those associated with social engagement do not.

Although academic rigor is associated with learning, large numbers of four-year college students report that they experience only limited academic demands and invest only limited effort in their academic pursuits. In their sophomore year, students spent on average only 12 hours a week studying, a third of which was spent studying with peers in social settings that are generally not conductive to learning. Moreover, 50 percent of students in our sample reported that they had not taken a single course the prior semester that required more than twenty pages of writing. One-third of students did not take a course the prior semester that required on average even 40 pages of reading per week.

Given the limited academic engagement shown by many students, it is not surprising that the gains in student performance are disturbingly low. Forty-five percent of students did not demonstrate any significant improvement in their critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing skills (as measured by the CLA) during their first two years of college.
Read an excerpt from Academically Adrift, and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tomiko Brown-Nagin's "Courage to Dissent"

Tomiko Brown-Nagin is Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She holds a doctorate in history from Duke and a law degree from Yale, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement, and reported the following:
As it happens, of all the pages in Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and The Long History of the Civil Rights Movement, page 99 is a particularly revealing window into the essence of the book as a whole.

Courage to Dissent seeks to offer a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement. It does so by exploring the work of unsung civil rights lawyers and activists – people who, it turns out, sometimes pursued goals different from those pursued by national civil rights organizations. The work is set in Atlanta—home to leading civil rights organizations, but also home to a relatively large black middle class and to black ghettos ravaged by poverty.

Courage to Dissent discusses three waves of freedom fighters—styled dissenters from the status quo. Distinct priorities and tactics set the dissenters apart. The first wave of dissenters—the pragmatists of the 1940s and 1950s—sought to undermine Jim Crow incrementally and without destroying the social capital that middle-class blacks had managed to accrue under segregation. The second wave of dissenters—street demonstrators and “movement lawyers” of the 1960s—sought to end segregation once and for all through sit-ins and other protest tactics; they demanded full political and economic empowerment for black communities. The third wave of dissenters—the black poor themselves, including many welfare rights activists—attacked structural inequality in the economy, schools, and politics during the 1970s. Even as these three waves of activists battled the white power structure and racism, they also engaged in fierce debates about which approach to civil rights—pragmatism, public protest, or confronting structural inequality—should rule the day.

Upon turning to Page 99, the reader will find a revealing moment in Courage to Dissent when the pragmatists, whose complicated perspective on the merits of racial integration have typically been ignored or misunderstood, take a skeptical view of Brown v. Board of Education, the civil rights landmark In Brown, civil rights lawyers with the national NAACP directly attacked segregation in schools. The NAACP would no longer represent parents who sought greater resources for all-black schools. Page 99 quotes one leading pragmatist’s response to the NAACP’s stance:
C. A. Scott, the editor of the Atlanta Daily World and a leading force in black politics, topped the list of critics. He called equalization of segregated schools a “practically obtainable” and “just” goal. … He rejected the idea that equality under segregation was impossible.
Justice motivated the pragmatists, but so did something much more tangible: dollars. Separate schools provided employment opportunities for black teachers—a majority of the black middle class. In turn, such employment opportunities provided other benefits: self-determination, status, and the ability to shape each new generation within the black community.

The class divide cited on page 99 reverberates throughout Courage to Dissent. For it turns out that the three waves of dissenters often disagreed about whether the interests of the black middle- or working-class should take priority in fights over equality in housing, public accommodations, politics, and schools.

Ultimately, the book’s exploration of this broad array of activists’ struggles raises difficult questions that still resonate today. Who is qualified to speak for a community? How much does race matter in representation? And what constitutes educational equality—equality of resources, community control, racial integration, or something else? Perhaps Courage to Dissent’s excavation of the past can shed light on these ongoing controversies.
Learn more about Courage to Dissent at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ben Tarnoff's "Moneymakers"

Ben Tarnoff is the author of Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters. He has worked at Lapham's Quarterly and graduated from Harvard in 2007.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Moneymakers and reported the following:
On page 99 of Moneymakers, a counterfeiter's life is spared. It's October 13, 1812, and the United States and the United Kingdom are at war. Shortly before daybreak, American batteries begin shelling positions in British Canada across the Niagara River. This is covering fire for an American invasion force paddling furiously across the river to the town of Queenston, in modern-day Ontario. The subsequent Battle of Queenston Heights is a victory for the British, who succeed in repelling the American attack. But during the fighting the British commander, Isaac Brock, is killed. Brock had promised to execute a counterfeiter held in his custody, David Lewis. Fortunately for Lewis, Brock didn't live to fulfill his promise. The battle that killed Canada's greatest general also saved Lewis's life. Lewis sat behind bars until mid-November, when another stroke of luck set him free. An American bombardment of the fort where he was imprisoned did enough damage to the walls of the jail to enable his escape.

On page 99, the life of a single counterfeiter connects to the story of America as a whole. This kind of connection happens throughout the book. Big-picture history, of the sort that belongs in textbooks, impacts life at the ground level. Big-picture history enables the careers of individual counterfeiters. In this example, the War of 1812 spares Lewis's life and allows his escape. But Lewis would owe his later success as a counterfeiter to the financial evolution of early America--more specifically, to the explosion of note-issuing banks in Pennsylvania in the first decades of the 19th century. This "bancomania" created new opportunities for counterfeiting by flooding the nation with a diverse variety of paper bills. Counterfeiters like Lewis weren't just passive beneficiaries of American history. They were canny manipulators of their environment, men and women who pinpointed and exploited the vulnerabilities that made America a haven for counterfeiters for hundreds of years.
Read an excerpt from Moneymakers, and learn more about the book and author at Ben Tarnoff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Philip Lambert's "To Broadway, To Life!"

Philip Lambert has published widely on twentieth-century music of diverse styles and traditions. His books include The Music of Charles Ives (1997), Ives Studies (1997), and Inside the Music of Brian Wilson (2007). He is Professor of Music at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest new book, To Broadway, To Life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick, and reported the following:
Page 99 of To Broadway, To Life! does and doesn’t open a revealing window into the theatrical songwriting of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It does because its discussion of their musical Tenderloin highlights exactly what’s so great about a Bock-Harnick show: the music. Reviewers of the opening-night performance found the songs “charming” and “fetching” and “splendidly sassy” and “the best excuse for Tenderloin.” On the 376 other pages of the book, readers may find many other examples of the musical magic Bock and Harnick created on Broadway stages and elsewhere, before, during, and after their fourteen years of collaboration in the late 1950s and 1960s.

It doesn’t because Tenderloin was one of their least successful Broadway ventures, and much of page 99 is charged with surveying the damage. The problem was that audiences were asked to sympathize with a stolid clergyman who is on a mission to eliminate vice in 1890s New York, and yet the victims of this crusade are the ones having all the fun. As Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, “Maurice Evans has an extremely unsympathetic part.... He plays a crusading minister who wants to eliminate the production numbers.”

Almost all of the other Bock and Harnick shows, explored in the other chapters of the book, were received much better and continue to prosper on stages everywhere. Fiorello!, the show they wrote just before Tenderloin, won three Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The show they wrote next, She Loves Me, is one of the most beloved love stories in the history of Broadway, often described as the “perfect musical.” Their last two efforts, The Apple Tree and The Rothschilds, also sparkle with charm and originality.

Bock and Harnick’s crowning achievement, Fiddler on the Roof, set records with a Broadway run of almost eight years between 1964 and 1972 and won nine Tonys. Fiddler has been revived three times on Broadway and performed in countless venues around the world. It features a witty adaptation by Joseph Stein of Sholem Aleichem’s stories, brilliant choreography by Jerome Robbins, and one of the musical theater’s greatest leading roles, Tevye the milkman. And yes, like Tenderloin, the best part of Fiddler is the music.
Read more about To Broadway, To Life! at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter"

Peggy Orenstein's books include the New York Times best-selling memoir, Waiting for Daisy; Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love and Life in a Half-Changed World; and the best-selling SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, and reported the following:
I don’t know that page 99 is ever so reflective of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s one of the few places in the book where I take a step back and think about boys: specifically, whether play violence (guns and such) ought to be banned by parents. I talk about the difference between open-ended play violence, which was common when I was a kid, and the kind of scripted, rote play violence that kids indulge in now. The former is fine and healthy; the latter not so much. And I suppose, to the extent it is representative, that’s how I feel about princesses, too. When many of today’s parents were little, play, whether princesses or something else, was not defined by licensed products. What is new, and what I’m exploring in the book, is the unprecedented way that girls are encouraged at ever earlier ages—2, 3, 4, 5, 6--to define themselves through beauty, diva-hood and play sexiness. And how, as a parent and a journalist, I struggle to understand and approach that trend while raising a daughter. People often ask me about boys. And here, perhaps, I indicate what I believe to be true: Boys have their own set of issues, their own marketing push, and their own struggles to define masculinity in a healthy way. But that was not my book to write, this one was!

The other way page 99 may be less representative is that the book is often both personal and funny. This section is more sociological. That’s critical to the underpinning of the book, but the style and tone are not really well-represented here. And that personal, amused tone was very important to me. I don’t want to sound like a scold or like my book tells parents the “right” way to raise their girls. I’m a fellow traveller on this journey, a mom trying to do her best, working it out as I go along--sometimes right, sometimes wrong--and that’s who I am and how I wrote this book.
Learn more about the book and author at Peggy Orenstein's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kenneth Slawenski's "J. D. Salinger: A Life"

Kenneth Slawenski is the creator of, a website founded in 2004 and recommended by the New York Times.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, J. D. Salinger: A Life, and reported the following:
When I opened my book to page 99, I groaned. Here, I had written a 450 page biography of J.D. Salinger and found myself staring at perhaps the only page that barely mentions him. Page 100, of course, is wonderful. It contains Salinger’s euphoric description of the liberation of Paris during World War II and his meeting with Ernest Hemingway. Page 99 seemed dull in contrast: an explanation of troop placements and of a general strike that convinced the Germans to surrender the city without a fight.

To some, such details might seem sleepy, but there is a very good reason for page 99.

The Germans had every intention of defending Paris to the last man. In fact, Hitler is reported to have telephoned his commander there demanding that the city be burned to the ground. The carnage would have been enormous, and just as Salinger was approaching the city gates. If the events of page 99 had not taken place there would be no page l00. It is possible that Salinger would have died during the ensuing battle; and the character of Holden Caulfield would have perished with him.

I think that deserves a page.
Visit Kenneth Slawenski's Dead Caulfields website, and read more about J. D. Salinger: A Life at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Kenneth Slawenski.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Carl F. Cranor's "Legally Poisoned"

Carl F. Cranor is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and member of the faculty Environmental Toxicology Graduate Program at the University of California, Riverside.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants, and reported the following:
Legally Poisoned addresses the contamination of the public with industrial chemicals, pesticides and other substances, many toxic; health consequences that can result (revealed by research called “the developmental origins of disease”); and the implications for protecting the public. Because we are all contaminated and because our children from the moment of conception forward are both contaminated and much more susceptible to diseases and dysfunctions than adults from toxic insults, the only way to protect them from toxicants is to try to screen out the toxicants before they enter our bodies. Existing law permits this contamination, putting them at risk; it also holds the solution. We will need legally required testing for industrial chemicals before they enter commerce and subsequently contaminate our bodies. This change must be made if we wish to protect our children from toxicant-induced diseases that can arise during development.

Page 99 is in the chapter “Caveat Parens”--“parent beware” partway through a discussion of the biology and toxicology of various diseases that arise from contamination in the womb or immediately postnatally. It is the core of the book. Scientists trace some diseases or their predispositions to early life exposures, often to “epigenetic influences” on the genome that change its functioning. Developing children tend to have greater exposures in utero and in early childhood than adults. Their organ systems are more sensitive to toxicants than adults’. They have lesser defenses and more years of future life for diseases to develop. Genetic variability can add to the susceptibility.

Lead, mercury, diethylstilbestrol (DES), thalidomide, pesticides, anti-convulsive drugs, sedatives, arsenic, tobacco smoke, alcohol and radiation, among others, are known developmental toxicants. Other human neurotoxicants add to the list. These contaminations can result in cancers, neurological problems, reproductive dysfunctions, behavioral control problems, heart disease, obesity, strokes, and predispositions to Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Experimental animal studies point to more worrisome contaminants, including brominated fire retardants, bisphenol A, phthalates, additional pesticides and cosmetic ingredients. Specifically page 99 closes the discussion of the sensitivity of developing organ systems to toxicants and begins consideration of problems posed by genetic variability. The following three chapters discuss the legal implications of the science.

End of p. 98:
If [children] play on the floor and are exposed to toxic molecules such as polybrominated fire re-

(p. 99):

tardants or the pesticide chlorpyrifos, these compounds would more easily penetrate their skin than that of adults.

The ability of the body’s blood proteins to bind to toxicants and assist in their elimination is lower in newborns than in adults. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is a breakdown product of trichloroethylene (TCE), a common solvent and degreaser, probable human carcinogen, and suspected neurotoxicant. TCA seems to be less able to bind to blood proteins and to be eliminated from the bodies of newborns than from adults. Thus, Miller and others report, TCA would have “greater potential for toxicity” because it remains in the body longer. TCE, a common contaminant, is in the drinking water that infants and young children ingest, in principle they would seem to be at greater risk than would adults.

The kidneys have an important function in eliminating toxicants and other waste from the body. The more slowly risky substances are eliminated from the body, the longer time they have to contribute to disease or dysfunction. Studies conducted on a large body of drugs found that a majority of them are eliminated more slowly by neonates and newborn infants than by adults. This research also found that methylmercury has a longer half-life in neonates than in adults.

Not all aspects of children’s defenses or sensitivity to toxicants are more worrisome than those of adults, however. Children can tolerate some pharmaceuticals better. Children also have some repair mechanisms that are more effective than adults’ (and these would provide better defenses to toxicants than adults’ would). Also, as noted above, since children’s enzyme system may not be as well developed as adults’ for substances that require enzymes to increase their toxicity, children are better protected.

Genetic Variation

Up to this point we have considered general or typical biological tendencies in developing mammals in utero, as neonates, or as youngsters. However, individual people can be more or less susceptible to toxic effects as a result of genetic variability and diversity.

For example, Frederica Perera and others found that environmental exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), including those from sidestream and secondhand tobacco smoke, cross the placenta and create adducts on DNA. When a substance forms adducts on DNA, it is bound to the DNA, altering its function and often causing mutations or incorrect repair, which lead to cancers or other diseases.
Learn more about Legally Poisoned at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jill Kargman's "Sometimes I Feel Like A Nut"

Jill Kargman is the author of teen books Bittersweet Sixteen, Summer Intern, and Jet Set, plus some excellent grown-up books.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is actually sweet-- way the hell sweeter than I really am. It's part of an ode to my former life o' squalor called "A Letter To My Crappy One Bedroom," but captures not the roaches or coke-snorting neighbor or the lonely nights of shitty blind dates or sobbing atop piles of unopened boxes dropped there by the Hot Israeli Movers. By Page 99 I have reached the denouement of my personal Hades-- coming through the three years post- broken engagement and on the other side, away from horror show job, breakups, and a step closer to Happily Ever After. But the point of this chapter, and in fact the book as a whole, is that it's the bumpy parts that make us who we are, and that Harry my husband who carried me over the threshold didn't save me-- that shittyass apartment did. It was in those exposed brick walls that I found myself again, dancing alone to my blared weird music, staying up late twisting the phone cord around my fingers as I stressed to my best friends about the future while contemplating using it as a noose (joking), and began to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Page 99 is also miraculously devoid of profanity; one review said the F word and I are BFFs. And to that I say, Fuck yeah! If Chris Rock can say it why the fuck can't a honky mom of three? I mean, it's not like I say it front of the nuggets or anything. Unless they spill milk. Just kidding. Anyway I hope you all dig page 99 but know there's a much edgier side to the book that's not as sugary and tired with a happy ending bow; like in life there are many pitfalls and the humor of my friends and family dug me out again and again. I hope peeps enjoy this mini roller coaster of adventures and see some of their own chapters reflected. Happy reading and thank you so much!
Learn more about the book and author at Jill Kargman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Philip Freeman's "Alexander the Great"

Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. His books include St. Patrick of Ireland and Julius Caesar.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alexander the Great, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Alexander the Great, Alexander has just led the Macedonian army through the snows of Asia Minor to a camp on the southern coast of modern Turkey. He had defeated the Persian army along the Aegean and was now doing the unthinkable by conducting a winter campaign in the mountains. This flouting of the rules of war was typical of Alexander and would be a hallmark of his march across Asia and Africa over the next twelve years. His audacity would lead him to defeat armies twice his size and take on challenges impossible for others.

This page also introduces one of the first political intrigues against the king. He receives a warning from his oldest general Parmenion saying that one of his officers, another man named Alexander from the province of Lyncestis, was going to betray the king. The problem was that Alexander the ruler didn’t really trust Parmenion since he represented the old guard of the Macedonian nobility who had never really liked him and because he was a likely candidate for the throne himself. Was Parmenion trying to stir up mistrust among the king’s men to his own advantage or was Alexander of Lyncestis a genuine threat? As bold as Alexander was in war, he was cautious in politics. Most kings would have executed a potential threat, but Alexander told Parmenion to do nothing except keep an eye on the man. He would deal with both of them later.

In my biography of Alexander, I try to present him in all his complexity as a brilliant military leader and flawed character with a relentless drive to rule the world. At the start of his reign in his early 20’s, he controlled most of the Balkans. By the end, he reigned all the way to the Indus River. The legacy he left behind is still with us today.
Learn more about the book and author at Philip Freeman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

John Woestendiek's "Dog, Inc."

Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter John Woestendiek is a 33-year newspaper veteran. Most recently, he worked as the features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes and produces the popular dog website ohmidog! which gets over 1,000 hits a day.

Woestendiek applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dog, Inc: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man's Best Friend, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend contains a revelation, acknowledges a hero who has stayed in the shadows, and provides an answer to the question that the last survivor of 9/11 has been asking in the nearly ten years since she was pulled from the rubble.

Wait a minute, you’re saying, isn’t this book about cloning dogs? Yes, but it’s also a book about humans, human nature, heroes true and false, legacies, love and loss, cheating death, resurrecting the past, denial, delusion, wishful thinking, dogs of course, and having something to hold onto.

It’s the nuances of those things – more so than the scientific complexities of cloning – that are at the book’s heart. It’s labeled a “science” book. It’s really not that at all.

Page 99 of Dog, Inc. comes seven pages into Chapter 9, which recounts the story of a retired police dog, a German shepherd named Trakr, whose human partner, a police officer at the time in Halifax, Nova Scotia, named James Symington, claims his dog pinpointed the location of Genelle Guzman, the fourth and final survivor to be rescued in the days after the attack on the World Trade Center.

As the chapter points out, the aftermath of 9/11 showcased the best and worst of humanity – from the selfless toil of firefighters and volunteer searchers and rescuers to blatant acts of self promotion and fraud.

On 9/11, Genelle Guzman, a 32-year-old immigrant from Trinidad who worked as a clerk for the Port Authority of New York, was at work on the 64th floor of the North Tower when she felt the impact. She had taken the stairs to the 13th floor when blackness descended and the tower collapsed. When she came to, she was trapped under a mountain of debris.

For 26 hours, lapsing in and out of consciousness, she prayed, asking God for a second chance at life.

When a hand finally reached through the rubble she was buried beneath, she grabbed it and held on tightly. She asked her rescuer his name. “Paul,” he said. Thirty minutes later she was freed and passed on a stretcher down a line of rescuers. In the hospital, and several times since, she’d try to find out who Paul was. Paul – her angel, she called him -- never stepped forward. But others would, including two volunteer firefighters from Massachusetts who would be “reunited” with Guzman by CNN. She didn’t recognize them. And again, she asked about Paul.

Page 99 of Dog, Inc. reveals that the man who found Guzman and held her hand until she was freed was Paul Somin, a lieutenant in the New York Fire Department’s Rescue 2.

True to form, Somin declined to be interviewed for the book. According to his co-workers, who confirmed the story, stepping into the spotlight is not the FDNY way – what they do, they do as a team, and seeking, or even accepting, individual glory is frowned upon.

Not everyone who descended on Ground Zero held that same philosophy, including Scott Shields, who showed up with Bear, an aging golden retriever he claimed was a search and rescue dog and in whose name Shields had established a search and rescue dog foundation. Shields, lacking any credentials, was sent away the first day by police. But that didn’t stop him from promoting his foundation, raising funds and making appearances. In at least one of those, he claimed Bear made more “live finds” at Ground Zero than any other dog. Later he’d be convicted of a different 9/11-related fraud and sent to prison.

New York police officials say dogs made no live finds at Ground Zero, and say there is no official record of Halifax police officer Symington and his dog Trakr registering at the scene. Then again, the scene was chaotic, and lots of volunteers, like Symington, just showed up and went straight to work.

By Symington’s account, he, a friend and Trakr rushed to New York from Nova Scotia and immediately began navigating through the rubble. At one spot, Trakr gave a mild alert, pawing and sniffing atop a pile of debris in a way that indicated to his handler that someone might be buried beneath.

Sources say a second dog was called over and gave a mild alert as well, but amid warnings that the pile they were on was unstable, the dogs and handlers moved on, continuing their search elsewhere.

The next day, Symington says, he was informed by firefighters that a woman had been found alive in that precise spot where Trakr had alerted. The story of Trakr’s involvement in Guzman’s rescue never made it to the big newspapers, but Symington appeared on TV, an act that led to his firing back home. He hadn’t been authorized by his department to go to Ground Zero and his actions there, his supervisors said, showed he was not incapable of working. Symington was out on sick leave from the department at the time.

Later, Symington and Trakr would receive an award for their work at Ground Zero, presented by Jane Goodall. The “Extraordinary Service to Humanity Award,” as it was called, came from The Bear Search and Rescue Dog Foundation, Scott Shields’ dubious organization.

Still, you might be asking, what does this have to do with cloning?

Trakr, as it turned out, would become one of the first cloned dogs to arrive in America.

Based on an essay by Symington, recounting Trakr’s police career, his work at 911 and his Extraordinary Service to Humanity Award, Trakr was chosen as winner of “The Golden Clone Giveaway.”

Bio Arts, a California company that in its first incarnation called itself Genetic Savings & Clone, was behind the contest. In addition to holding an online eBay style auction for five dog clonings, the company decided to offer one free one – to the dog that, based on essays, the judges chose the most “cloneworthy” in America.

Trakr won easily. His cells were sent to South Korea, and in June of 2009, several months after Trakr had died, his clones were delivered, five of them, named Solace, Valor, Prodigy, Trustt and Déjà Vu.
Visit the official Dog, Inc. website, and learn more about the book and author at John Woestendiek's website and blog.

Writers Read: John Woestendiek.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson's "Spousonomics"

Paula Szuchman is co-author, with Jenny Anderson, of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes. Szuchman is an editor at The Wall Street Journal, and Anderson is a reporter at the New York Times.

Szuchman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Spousonomics, their first book, and reported the following:
Turn to page 99 of Spousonomics and you won’t find a single reference to marriage. Pepto-Bismol, yes. Out-of-pocket insurance expenses, yes. Moral hazard, yes. But no marriage. No wedded bliss. No suggestions for improving your love quotient.

This says a lot about the book, mainly that it’s not your typical relationship book. Jenny and I do promise you practical solutions to some common marriage problems, but we don’t go about it in the usual way. Each chapter is tied to a different economic principle, and begins with one of the more engaging econ “lessons” you’ll ever read.

The one that starts on page 98 is called “Moral Hazard: Or, The Too-Big-To-Fail Marriage.” Moral hazard means that people will take greater risks when there are no repercussions. (Thus the out-of-pocket insurance expenses, which insurance companies use to deter people from taking advantage of their coverage and going to the doctor every time they sneeze.) Moral hazard helped drive the U.S. economy into the gutter, with giant financial firms like Citigroup and AIG taking crazy risks because they knew that if anything went wrong, Uncle Sam would bail them out.

As we say on page 99, moral hazard, in plain English, means simply: “Give an inch, take a mile. Bet the house, wait for a bailout. Go directly to jail, get out of jail free.”

All of which actually has plenty to do with your marriage, as we make clear once you get to page 102. Marriage can act a bit like insurance, which is fine if it means we feel safe and secure in our partners’ arms. But things go haywire when we take these same partners for granted, assuming they’ll be there no matter how we behave—if we stop going to the gym, get too lazy to have sex and are always too distracted to say the occasional “I love you.”

But there’s a way out of the moral-hazard trap. If you read past page 99, you’ll see how three couples overcame moral hazard in their own marriages—without paying anywhere near $25 billion.
Learn more about Spousonomics and its authors, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, at their website, their Amazon page, and on Twitter @spousonomics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jonathan Hafetz's "Habeas Corpus after 9/11"

Jonathan Hafetz is a professor at Seton Hall Law School and has litigated numerous landmark habeas corpus detention cases. His publications include The Guantnamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law, co-edited with Mark Denbeaux.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Habeas Corpus after 9/11: Confronting America’s New Global Detention System, and reported the following:
The book examines the shift in U.S. detention policy after 9/11. As the book explains, Guantanamo is part of larger detention system created in the “war on terror.” The book thus discusses Guantanamo in the context of other off-shore prisons such as Bagram in Afghanistan and secret CIA “black sites” created to operate without judicial oversight and outside the law.

Page 99 discusses Hirota v. MacArthur, a 1948 Supreme Court decision that rejected a habeas corpus challenge to an international tribunal that had tried various Japanese officials and military officers for war crimes. (Habeas corpus is a centuries-old writ used to challenge unlawful detention). The Court rejected the challenge in Hirota, concluding that a U.S. court had “no power or authority to review, to affirm, set aside, or annul the judgments” of an international tribunal.

After 9/11, the Bush administration seized on Hirota for the more sweeping proposition that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction to hear challenges by prisoners held by the United States whenever the U.S. was acting as part of an international force, even if the prisoners were under the sole control of the United States. Under the government’s theory, the executive could invoke a U.N. Security Council resolution to shield any U.S. detention from judicial scrutiny (An ironic claim for an administration that spurned international legal obligations in its treatment of prisoners held as “enemy combatants”).

In its 2008 decision in Munaf v. Geren, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s theory in a habeas corpus case involving two American citizens imprisoned in Iraq. Since the prisoners remained under U.S. control, the Court ruled, the courts had jurisdiction over their petitions, even though the U.S. was operating in Iraq as part of a multinational force. The Court nonetheless dismissed the cases, holding that federal judges could not afford relief where the U.S. held a prisoner in another country for crimes allegedly committed in that country (one petitioner in Munaf was held on allegations of kidnapping; the other for associating with terrorists). Both men presented evidence that they would be tortured if handed over to Iraqi authorities. The U.S. government now reads Munaf broadly to extinguish judicial review over any extraterritorial prisoner transfer by the executive—even where the detainee asserts a fear of likely torture in violation of U.S. and international law. The book explains how the government’s position represents a threat to habeas corpus and the effective enforcement of human rights.
Read an excerpt from Habeas Corpus after 9/11, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oren Izenberg's "Being Numerous"

Oren Izenberg is a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life, his first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life discusses a poet, George Oppen, best known for his silences: for the austerity and fragmentation of his poems and for the 25 year period in which he wrote no poetry while working to reconcile the conflicting commitments of art and politics.

Quoting “Psalm,” written after Oppen’s return to writing—
In the small beauty of the forest

The wild deer bedding down—

That they are there!
—I describe how Oppen steers his readers away from the “small” sensual particulars so central to art’s appeal, seeking instead to bring to mind a large and difficult abstraction. The idea that something (or someone) not ourselves exists is, of course, one of the deepest occasions for skepticism. It is a conclusion that cannot follow of necessity from the evidence of our senses. Thus even as the poem confidently, joyfully, proclaims “that they are there,” it is silent (“—“) about the path that leads from its observed scene to its metaphysical certainty.

Oppen’s silence—his willingness to sacrifice his poetry in the interest of a greater knowledge—exemplifies the central question in Being Numerous: What happens when one of the traditional achievements of poetry—its ability to make another mind or voice vividly present to us through the scoring of sound and sense—comes into conflict with one of its traditional obligations: to assert and preserve the value of persons against the inevitability of forgetting or loss? These poetic triumphs and tasks have always had an uneasy economic relation; for every poem that limns a human ideal, there is a human who falls short of meeting it. Every poetic success at opening our eyes to the presence of a person produces a concomitant blindness to the existence (and perhaps the suffering) of whole classes of persons of whom no one has thought to sing. Under the pressures of a century of disasters (world war, and genocide, but also the levelings of capitalist culture), the poets I discuss come to feel this exchange to be an intolerable one. To them, the idea that (as Hannah Arendt would claim) “nothing and nobody exists in the world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator”—that persons, like poems, must be perceived in order to be valued—subjects persons to unbearable risks of inattention and failures of perception.

As the consequences of our ordinary failures to perceive and value the presence of persons comes to seem catastrophic or total, these poets are driven to turn away from the sensual richness of their strongest poems, to undermine the particularity of their imaginative or moral visions, and to reject the consolation of shared experience or sympathetic understanding—all in an effort to bring to mind concepts of personhood (“Being”) that are at once minimal, placing as few restrictions as possible upon the legitimate forms a person can take, and universal (“Numerous”), tolerating no exemptions or exclusions.
Read an excerpt from Being Numerous, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 4, 2011

Minsoo Kang's "Sublime Dreams of Living Machines"

Minsoo Kang is an associate professor of European history at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. He is also a fiction writer and the author of the short story collection Of Tales and Enigmas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sublime Dreams of Living Machine: The Automaton in the European Imagination, and reported the following:
In my book Sublime Dreams of Living Machine, I trace the millennia-long fascination in the West with the self-moving machine that mimics a living creature that is best known today as the robot. While I look at the technological aspects of the object from the ancient Greek works of the first century CE engineer Hero of Alexandria, to the clockwork masterpieces of the Enlightenment and contemporary breakthroughs in robotics, my primary interest in the book is on how intellectuals, creative writers, and artists used the very idea of the life-imitating machine as a symbol and a conceptual tool to think about the nature of humanity. Looking at page ninety nine of the book reminded me how at one point I seriously considered putting the word ‘robot’ in the title since many people who were unfamiliar with the word ‘automaton’ asked me to define it. But I quickly decided against this: it offended my sensibilities as a historian to commit such an act of anachronism since ‘robot’ was not coined until the 1920s (by the Czech artist and writer Josef Čapek who allowed his brother Karel to use it for his science-fiction play R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots). In fact, the definitions of words that denote autonomous machines is an important part of my book since I point out that ‘automaton’ itself underwent a number of changes in significance in the course of the many centuries since it was first used by ancient Greeks to denote any entity that is self-moving. Page ninety-nine features a very nice illustration of one ancient automaton designed by Hero – a figure of Heracles aiming an arrow at a serpent coiled around a tree (an apple lies between them which, when touched, releases the arrow). In the text below is a definition of yet another term for the object:
The origin of the word “android,” defined as an automaton that is specifically in the shape of a human being (as opposed to other living creatures), is obscure, but it is a medieval coinage from Greek roots (“andros,” man, and “eides,” species) and is commonly linked to Albertus Magnus.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the exact origin of the word, finding the earliest use of it in a sixteenth-century history book with a reference to the legend of the medieval philosopher Albertus Magnus constructing a moving statue that he employed as a servant. And so my research and obsession with automaton goes on.
Read more about Sublime Dreams of Living Machines at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Shamus Rahman Khan's "Privilege"

Shamus Rahman Khan is assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is an alumnus and former faculty member of St. Paul's School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School, and reported the following:
In Privilege, I return to my alma mater, St. Paul’s School, to provide an account of one the nation’s most elite private boarding schools – a place with 500 students, 100s of millions of dollars at its disposal, and a stepping stone to positions of national influence. Yet in the text I argue that things have changed at places like St. Paul’s. Elite schools are now diverse. In positioning themselves to lead they have adapted to the moral codes of today: merit, hard work, talents, and individual capacity. In short, I argue that there is a new elite who are not an entitled group of boys who rely on family wealth and slide through trust-funded lives. The new elite feel their heritage is not sufficient to guarantee a seat at the top of the social hierarchy, nor should their lives require the exclusion of others. Instead, in certain fundamental ways they are like the rest of twenty-first-century America: they firmly believe in the importance of the hard work required to achieve their position at a place like St. Paul’s and the continued hard work it will take to maintain their advantaged position. Like new immigrants and middle-class Americans, they believe that anyone can achieve what they have, that upward mobility is a perpetual American possibility.

Whereas elites of the past were entitled—building their worlds around the “right” breeding, connections, and culture—new elites develop privilege: a sense of self and a mode of interaction that advantage them. The old entitled elites constituted a class that worked to construct moats and walls around the resources that advantaged them. The new elite think of themselves as far more individualized, supposing that their position is a product of what they have done. They deemphasize refined tastes and “who you know” and instead highlight how you act in and approach the world. This is a very particular approach to being an elite, a fascinating combination of contemporary cultural mores and classic American values. It harnesses a twenty-first-century global outlook, absorbing and extracting value from anything and everything, always savvy to what’s happening at the present moment. Part of the way in which institutions like St. Paul’s and the Ivy League tell their story is to look less and less like an exclusive yacht club and more and more like a microcosm of our diverse social world—albeit a microcosm with very particular social rules. Privilege takes us into the world of St. Paul’s School to outline this idea of privilege, and how it helps form a new elite.

On pp. 99, in talking about thread counts on shirts, I seek to show how exclusive cultural knowledge is no longer the mark of our social elites:
Harrison then moved to the care of such a tailored shirt. “The problem here is that there’s no place to wash them. I mean, you can’t put them in the laundry, and the dry cleaners ruin them. It’s a real problem. I’m doing them in the sink now. I guess it works. Hand washing is the best. But it really is a problem here. Something I didn’t think of.”

I didn’t know this. I had never thought of hand washing one of my own shirts. I didn’t realize I was ruining them—but I soon remembered they weren’t much to ruin. Though my brother had lived in London for the previous ten years, and I had visited him often, I still had no idea what Savile Row was or that the street was famous for quality tailors. It was clear that none of the other young students did either. As Harrison took his shirt off and let the other students touch it, I could not help but join in the ritual, appreciating the softness of the shirt. I was seduced by the moment. I was watching, so I thought, the training of the new elite.

The following Sunday, I drove the house seniors, James, Peter, and Ed, into Boston for dim sum. During the ride, they brought up the interaction that Harrison had had with the younger students.

“I heard you were on duty Tuesday when Harrison was talking to the newbs about clothes or something.”

“Yes. It was interesting.”

Almost before I could finish my sentence, Ed interrupted, “It was bullshit, is what it was.”

I was honestly shocked.

“I mean, who owns shirts like that?” Peter asked, rhetorically.

“Not even my dad,” James decided to answer. I knew James and Peter to be from fairly wealthy families. Paying what they did for St. Paul’s, their parents could also have bought them shirts like the one Harrison was wearing.

“I know. I mean, maybe Larry.”

Thinking perhaps my seniors were not like other seniors, I asked who Larry was.

Peter answered, “Oh, those guys from Hong Kong. They have crazy clothes.”

But so as to emphasize that this was unique to Hong Kong, and not St. Paul’s, James told me, “Yeah. But no one here does. Harrison doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

After Harrison’s conversation with the new students, Ed had some of them come to his room and ask him about it. The new students were…
Read an excerpt from Privilege, and learn more about the book and author at the Princeton University Press website and Shamus Rahman Khan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Russell K. Schutt's "Homelessness, Housing and Mental Illness"

Russell K. Schutt is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts and Lecturer on Sociology in the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. His books include: Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research; Organization in a Changing Environment; and Responding to the Homeless: Policy and Practice.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book (with Stephen M. Goldfinger), Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness, and reported the following:
Page 99 passes the test with flying colors. Homelessness, Housing and Mental Illness tells the story of homeless persons with severe mental illness who moved into housing as part of a federal research demonstration project and attempted to rebuild their lives. Anyone who has moved into a first home knows what an empowering experience that can be; you can imagine how that psychological effect would be magnified for persons who have been living for years in shelters and on the streets.

So empowerment in this context is a shift in psychological orientation as well as a change in physical location. It has served for years as a vision of what recovery from mental illness should look like and as an endpoint for the process of deinstitutionalizing psychiatric care.

On page 99 the empowerment process is in full swing in one of the homes, as “more tenants participated in tenant meetings and expressed their opinions more freely.” The project “empowerment coordinator” opens a house meeting by explaining “consensus thinking… we decide what a problem is…and we discuss all the sides.” The meeting is friendly and supportive, as tenants respectfully share their opinions and shoulder the responsibilities of house management.

If only the story could have remained on that page forever. But life is not so simple and social relations are not so easy and so one page is not the whole story. By the book’s end, page 99’s glowing description of empowerment seems almost like a mirage, shimmering in the distance but never quite attained.

What page 99 does not reveal is that the empowerment process encountered frequent obstacles due to drug and alcohol abuse, symptoms of psychiatric illness, functional impairments, and some discordant agency rules. Instead of turning the house keys over to an empowered group of tenants, house staff had to reassert their authority over critical house functions.

Also missing on page 99 is the other half of the story. Half of the initially homeless participants In our experiment were assigned to live in independent apartments rather than in group homes. The independent apartment tenants were to become empowered by living in the community like others, in their own home rather than as part of a group.

So the question addressed by our team of researchers was whether empowerment could best be achieved by living in a group home with others or by living on one’s own. Would there be any lasting value to the social engagement described so movingly on page 99? The answer awaits those who continue reading beyond that page.
Learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

David Sehat's "The Myth of American Religious Freedom"

David Sehat, Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State University, is a cultural and intellectual historian of the United States. His work focuses on the role of religion in law and politics from the First Amendment to the present.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Myth of American Religious Freedom captures one of the central themes of the book. I argue that much of our understanding of the American religious history is shrouded in myth. Rather than a happy past of religious freedom, my book shows that the United States was long controlled by Protestant Christians who sponsored a coercive and exclusionary moral regime. Dissenters from this regime—who included abolitionists, women’s rights activists, labor organizers, educational reformers, and more—were particularly acute in their criticism of the coercive arrangements of the past, so I rely upon them to point out the nature and extent of these connections of religion and state.

On page 99, I discuss Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader of women’s rights, fierce opponent of religion in public life, and organizer of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which sought to advance women’s rights in the United States. Stanton had first attended the 1840 convention of the world antislavery societies in London, where she met the radical William Lloyd Garrison. She would later say that Garrison helped to free her from the chains of “spiritual bondage.” Once freed, she came to the conclusion that women had been oppressed in American law by an improper connection of religion and the state. This connection installed Christian patriarchy into law, putting the full force of the state behind Christian gender ideals. At the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, Stanton led the other delegates in rejecting the oppression of women in law and calling for their “immediate admission to all the rights and privileges .... as citizens of these United States.” This claim of equal and individual rights in the face of religious oppression was a common one by dissenters, who argued that the Protestant Christian control over the United States had unfairly excluded them.
Learn more about The Myth of American Religious Freedom at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue