Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ian Roulstone & John Norbury's "Invisible in the Storm"

Ian Roulstone is professor of mathematics at the University of Surrey. John Norbury is a fellow in applied mathematics at Lincoln College, University of Oxford. They are the coeditors of Large-Scale Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather, and reported the following:
On page 99 we announce the result of the first weather forecast to be produced using arithmetic and the laws of physics. The calculation had taken Lewis Fry Richardson, one of the most enigmatic of British scientists, over two years to complete during the First World War, and the answer was disastrously wrong. But Richardson made at least two major breakthroughs, as we recount later in the chapter. First, his method for converting the laws of physics, which are usually expressed in terms of calculus and are essentially impossible to solve using pencil and paper, into a form that facilitates explicit computation, lies at the heart of modern weather and climate prediction models. Second, Richardson went on to diagnose the problem with his calculation and showed us that we need more than just data, the laws of physics, and a machine (human or electronic) for number-crunching our way to predicting the weather for tomorrow: we need mathematics. Today, if all we did was to feed millions of observations from around the world into our supercomputer-based forecasting systems, the result would be rubbish. We actually need math to understand what orchestrates the myriad of local interactions between water, air, heat and wind, to produce coherent swirling cyclones, or even superstorms such as Hurricane Sandy.

State-of-the-art mathematics helps us to sort out the predictable from the unpredictable aspects of weather, and this means we can produce forecasts that are useful for almost everything – from deciding whether to wear a raincoat, to working out what flood defences are needed to protect communities in decades to come.
Learn more about Invisible in the Storm at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Zoltan J. Acs's "Why Philanthropy Matters"

Zoltan J. Acs is University Professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. He is the coauthor of Entrepreneurship, Geography, and American Economic Growth.

Acs applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Why Philanthropy Matters: How the Wealthy Give, and What It Means for Our Economic Well-Being, and reported the following:
Philanthropy has long been a distinctive feature of American culture, but its crucial role in the economic well-being of the nation has remained largely unexplored. Why Philanthropy Matters takes an in-depth look at philanthropy as an underappreciated force in capitalism, measures its critical influence on the free-market system, and demonstrates how American philanthropy could serve as a model for other countries. Philanthropy has helped address America's problem of wealth by serving two basic functions. It releases the concentration of wealth at the top of society while building institutions that support opportunity for future Americans.

On page 99, much to my surprise, we find that credit for the American invention of philanthropy should be given to the influential and successful Baltimore investor George Peabody, a descendent of Massachusetts Puritans who was born in 1795.
Despite the mark he made on finance in Baltimore, Peabody's most enduring influence lies in the precedents and policies established by the Peabody Education Fund trustees. This fund innovated the operational patterns of later major foundations, including John D. Rockefeller's Education Board, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation. According to Peabody's biographer, Franklin Parker, "George Peabody was in fact the originator of that system of endowed foundations for public purposes which has reached its highest development in the United States.... It is interesting to consider the many ways in which the example set by [George Peabody] has been followed by visioned men of means in the United States.... In a sense the Peabody Fund was not the only monument to George Peabody, for the example he set has been followed by a host of other Americans."
Philanthropy gives an edge to capitalism by promoting vital forces, like university research, necessary for technological innovation, economic equality and economic security.
Learn more about Why Philanthropy Matters at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Barry Siegel's "Manifest Injustice"

Barry Siegel is a Pulitzer Prize winning former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and he directs the literary journalism program at UC Irvine where he is a professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Shades of Gray and Claim of Privilege.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom, and reported the following:
My book, Manifest Injustice, chronicles the wrenching, decades-long saga of Bill Macumber, imprisoned 38 years for a double homicide he denies committing. It chronicles as well the ceaseless, quixotic campaign by a dedicated team of lawyers to free him. What drew me to the story was the mystery of it all—a young couple shot to death in a lovers’ lane on an isolated stretch of Arizona desert; the multiple confessions by Ernest Valenzuela, a man whom jurors never learned about; Macumber’s arrest twelve years later, after his estranged wife told deputies he’d confessed to her; a respected judge, haunted by the confessions he’d heard from Valenzuela, trying to get Macumber’s case re-opened. Yet what equally attracted me were the moving personal tales: lawyers at the Arizona Justice Project heeding the siren call of a seemingly impossible obsession; Macumber’s cousin, Jackie Kelley, writing letter after letter from her remote New Mexico ranch, urging the lawyers on; Macumber’s son, Ron, reaching out to a father he hadn’t seen for nearly thirty years. Most of all, there was the story of Bill Macumber himself, who over nearly four decades in the Arizona state prison system became a legendary folk hero of sorts, much revered by guards and inmates for his teachings and leadership.

On page 99 of Manifest Injustice, we see Bill Macumber as he first begins his “career in prison” after being convicted of the double murder. He has lost his final habeas corpus appeal. He has seemingly come to the end of the line. Scared and depressed, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. The conditions are awful.
At Florence…the conditions felt like a dungeon to him—dirty, unsanitary, cold in winter, withering heat in summer, rats and roaches everywhere. The first winter…he nearly froze to death…. Prison officials removed half the roof for repairs, but they didn’t replace it until the next June. Snow fell into the cellblock. Reaching out from his cell, Macumber could catch snowflakes…
Soon after, though, the prison warden transfers Macumber to a far more comfortable medium-security annex. His life is about to change.
Macumber was shocked as the guard drove him through the gates leading into the annex. Everything was green, with flowers all over the place. The annex had no cells; the inmates lived in three dorms. The guard stopped the van at Dorm 3, Macumber’s new home…. Macumber dropped his possessions on his bunk…. He began to unpack, keeping a wary eye on the dorm’s inmates. A slender man in his early thirties had the bed next to his. After half an hour, he turned to Bill and introduced himself. He went by the nickname Coyote. “You shouldn’t worry here,” he told Macumber. ”We all make a point of getting along because it’s such a small unit.”
This moment on Page 99 would become a turning point for Bill Macumber. He resigns himself to his fate and throws himself into creating a meaningful life inside of prison. He vows to maintain a cheerful attitude. In his journal, he writes: “I never again want to cast shadows.”

Yes, the mystery and the personal tales—that’s what drew me to this story.
Learn more about the book and author at Barry Siegel’s website.

The Page 99 Test: Claim of Privilege.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jenny White's "Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks"

Jenny White is associate professor of anthropology at Boston University. She is the author of Islamist Mobilization in Turkey and Money Makes Us Relatives: Women's Labor in Urban Turkey.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, and reported the following:
This is a page that surprised me and upended some assumptions that I'm sure I shared with others observing Turkish society because it shows the surprising political and social conservatism of Turkey's young people. I give some statistics and the results of national polls that show that in 2002 a large majority of young people supported joining the EU, but that this declined over the next few years. However, even in 2002 young people (high school seniors) that supported joining the EU feared it at the same time. What did they fear? Surprisingly, they were afraid that Turkish society would become morally degenerate, that they'd lose Turkish customs and values, most of all that they'd lose their "honor" before the community, a term that seems so archaic in the West, but is bred deep even in the youngest and most urban Turks. They were particularly concerned that the authority of the father in the family would be undermined and that relations between men and women would degenerate, becoming too familiar. And they feared that joining the EU would open the door to foreign interference. This is Turkey's youth -- like their parents, deeply committed to traditional, conservative family values.

Another surprise was that most upper class secularists were against EU membership. This doesn't bear any resemblance to the Turkey represented in the western media -- the fashion-forward artsy Istanbul crowd in clubs, cafes, trendy restaurants and art galleries. Well, that's just the thinnest slice of a thin slice of the Turkish population. It seems there are millions of young people who share their elders' views about morality and properly distant relations between men and women, and suspicion of the West. Actually, they may well be the same young people photographed in the Beyoglu clubs -- after all, they're not yet married and not yet expected to uphold communal norms. They're sowing their oats, and when the time comes to reap, they'll be out there in their inherited moral harness.
Learn more about the book and author at the Princeton University Press website and Jenny White's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Aya Hirata Kimura's "Hidden Hunger"

Aya Hirata Kimura is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hidden Hunger: Gender and the Politics of Smarter Foods, and reported the following:
Hidden Hunger examines the rise of fortified (vitamin/mineral-added) food as the face of anti-hunger projects in the developing countries since the 1990s. As a sociologist and gender scholar, I was interested in social and historical forces that pushed for such shifts in the prevailing understanding of the “global food problem” from the lack of food (quantity) to the lack of nutritious food (quality), and from hunger to “hidden” hunger (micronutrient deficiencies). This changing understanding of the food problem also shaped the “solutions” in the form of bio/fortification.

You have probably heard of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that is supposed to combat Vitamin A deficiency- an example of biofortification. But have you heard about fortified yoghurt by Grameen Bank, a well-known pioneer in microfinance, and a major multinational food producer, Dannon? The book tries to make sense of these things together as a part of the global fascination with hidden hunger under neoliberalism, the privatized notion of food security, and gendered practices of nutrition projects.

Page 99 is in the middle of chapter 5 entitled “building a healthy Indonesia with flour, MSG, and instant noodles” and talks about efforts to combat hidden hunger with fortified MSG (monosodium glutamate) and instant noodles in Indonesia. They did not become a public policy due to industry opposition, but these cases are exemplary of experts’ fascination with what I call charismatic nutrients and nutritional fixes. Why were MSG and instant noodles able to garner expert support as an essential part of citizens’ diet? These projects, along with fortified baby food, fortified wheat flour and Golden Rice that I examine in the book, illuminate what has become obfuscated in a highly reductionist view of the global food problem.
Learn more about Hidden Hunger at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 22, 2013

John M. Marzluff and Colleen Marzluff's "Dog Days, Raven Nights"

John M. Marzluff is professor of wildlife science, College of the Environment, University of Washington. Colleen Marzluff is an expert in the raising and training of sled dogs and herding dogs.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their book, Dog Days, Raven Nights, and reported the following:
Dog Days, Raven Nights is a book about rural life in Maine with sled dogs, relationships and the winter ecology of ravens. We were a young couple embarking on an adventure that required the acquisition of many new skills in all of these areas. Page 99 falls at the end of the chapter entitled “Torment on the Trail” which is one of two chapters devoted to dogs out of 12 total chapters. This page doesn’t represent the entire book, but it does reflect one of the main themes of our book: learning. We learned many new skills and ideas during our tenure in western Maine, particularly about dog sledding as discussed on page 99. In that passage, we reflect on our first season of dog sled racing. We tell about the final race of the year, where we picked up our new puppy and learned how to make a dog go to the bathroom before a race. We were also in the process of making our own dog sled.

Page 99 does not capture all there is in the book. The first thing that you see on page 99 is a cute picture of two Siberian Husky puppies. Who wouldn’t want to read about cute puppies? But our adventures with puppies is only a small part of our story. Then there are the words “stimulate bowel movement” and while that certainly isn’t what the book is about, it may make the reader curious to read on, especially since it is a funny dog story.

Our book is about the dogs, yes, but it is also about raven behavior, mentoring, doing science and learning new things. Most of that is missed on page 99. Even more of a loss is the fact that no linocut illustrations appear on page 99. It would be a shame for a reader to miss the beautiful linocut illustrations by Evon Zerbetz that enliven our story.
John Marzluff's books include In the Company of Crows and Ravens and Gifts of the Crow.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Colleen and John Marzluff & Reese, Digit and Bellatrix.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jeffrey Frank's "Ike and Dick"

Jeffrey Frank was a senior editor at The New Yorker and the deputy editor of the Washington Post’s Outlook section and is the author of four novels, including the “Washington Trilogy”—The Columnist, Bad Publicity, and Trudy Hopedale.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage, and reported the following:
Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage examines the personal and political relationship of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon as it evolved over nearly twenty years--from their first meeting, in 1950, at the Bohemian Grove until Eisenhower's death, in March, 1969. The two men, both of whom became American presidents, were far more complex than their popular images suggest. Ike--“General Ike”-- was widely regarded as warm and transparently honest, but he could be chilly and cunning at times; Nixon--“Tricky Dick” to his critics--was often regarded as paranoid and vicious, but he could be kind and empathetic.

You can see both sides of Nixon on Page 99 of Ike and Dick, which picks up in the middle of the 1954 midterm elections-- a particularly interesting moment for Vice President Nixon, demonstrating both the rock-em, sock-em campaigner and the early champion of civil rights.

Nixon that year was sent out to thirty states and nearly a hundred cities, during which he urged voters to support a Republican Congress “that will assure our children the right to grow up under American prosperity and not socialism.” It was an exhausting campaign--he traveled some 25,000 miles in a United Airlines Convair--and journalists noted the difference between the statesmanlike man who’d toured the world a year earlier and made a generally good impression and this over-the-top partisan, who at one point seemed to suggest that the Democratic Party was more accommodating to Communists than the Republican Party. (Democrats later installed a Hall of Smears to commemorate the campaign year.)

But then, quoting from the book, “There were occasional glimpses of another, temperate Nixon, as when he talked with approval” about the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, issue in May of 1954, which overturned state laws establishing separate schools for black and white students. “There are six hundred million people in the world who hold the balance of power, and who are not white,” he said, and added, “One of the factors that would be tremendously helpful is for us here in the United States to show by example, by word and deed that the dream of equality--equality of opportunity, of education, and of employment and the like--is coming true.”

Those impromptu remarks, delivered at an airport in Wilmington, Delaware, where residents were resisting the idea of school integration, so impressed a New York Times reporter who was present that he wrote to Nixon, expressing admiration and regretting that his account was truncated in the edition that most Times readers got.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeffrey Frank's website.

Writers Read: Jeffrey Frank (December 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rose Corrigan's "Up Against a Wall"

Rose Corrigan is associate professor of law and politics at Drexel University. In addition to holding degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Rutgers University—New Brunswick, she was a direct service provider in the fields of sexual and domestic violence for more than ten years.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success, and reported the following:
Page 99 is provides a fair snapshot of the book as a whole. The page comes in a chapter that describes how law enforcement officials and medical providers respond to victims’ reports of sexual assault. I conducted interviews with over 150 rape care advocates (individuals working at local organizations which provide supportive services to individuals in the wake of sexual assault and abuse) across six different US states. First, I wanted to understand how implementation of rape law is shaped by factors unique to each state (such as specific criminal laws and funding sources). Second, I wanted to see whether there were similarities in law enforcement and medical responses in communities that were legally, geographically, and politically different.

The central argument of the chapter is that victims who seek to report violence against them may be met with unsympathetic responses from legal and medical personnel—ranging from indifference to outright hostility—that force victims out of the rape reporting “pipeline.” Page 99 provides two quotations from advocates who explain the attitudes of prosecutors toward sexual assault cases. In one Washington city, prosecutors were unlikely to move forward with cases involving children, adolescents, people with mental health issues, and individuals engaged in prostitution. In very similar language, an advocate in rural Michigan reported that their local prosecutors were unlikely to lay charges if the victim’s behavior is deemed suspect for any reason:
“if there’s any question of credibility … it’s not going to be prosecuted. God forbid the person [was] drinking or a prostitute or whatever. Even if there is serious injuries it’s not going to be prosecuted. It’s very frustrating.”
Page 99 highlights a major theme of the book: that despite widespread perceptions of the success of rape reform efforts, in many communities of all types—rural and urban, liberal and conservative—the institutions responsible for investigating sexual assault and caring for victims do not take rape very seriously. This discussion lays the groundwork for subsequent chapters that explore how recent policy innovations (such as rape kits, emergency contraception for rape victims, and sex offender registration laws) intersect with these medical and law enforcement practices to produce unintended consequences that may undermine victims’ access to fair, equitable, and compassionate responses in the wake of sexual assault.
Learn more about Up Against a Wall at the New York University Press website, and visit Rose Corrigan's Sexual Assault & Public Policy Project website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adam Lankford's "The Myth of Martyrdom"

Adam Lankford is a criminal justice professor at The University of Alabama. He has written for the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Wired, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and numerous peer-reviewed journals. His research has been featured by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, BBC World Radio, CBS Radio, The Boston Globe, and many other national and international outlets.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, and reported the following:
The test works! Like the rest of my book, page 99 is written in a very clear and accessible style, with no academic jargon or elitist language, because I believe good writers and good thinkers must be able to make sophisticated ideas easily comprehensible.

Both my book, and this page, tackle a fundamental question: are suicide attackers committing suicide or making a sacrifice? Are they driven by the desire to escape a debilitating psychological crisis, or by the duty to do whatever it takes to protect the people they care about?

Remarkably, terrorist leaders, Islamic scholars, and Western experts have spent decades agreeing with each other that there’s essentially no psychological difference between the sacrificial motives of a suicide bomber—on the one hand—and those of a Secret Service agent who takes a bullet for the president, or a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his comrades—on the other. This is the myth of martyrdom, and simply by reading page 99, we can see it begin to unravel.

Tim McCarthy actually took a bullet to protect the president, and Ross McGinnis, Leroy Petry, and Matthew Croucher all jumped on grenades that were thrown in their direction, instead of running for cover. Because three of these men were lucky enough to survive, we can find out exactly what was going through their heads in those fateful moments—and precisely how they differed from suicide attackers, on a psychological level.

Ultimately, this knowledge leads to a new understanding of suicide bombers, rampage shooters, and other self-destructive killers—and will empower us to devise better and bolder strategies for preventing their attacks.

From page 99:
On the other hand, the sacrificial decisions made by McCarthy, McGinnis, Petry, and Croucher were in the heat of the moment. These individuals had no plans to throw themselves in harm’s way and potentially die that day. And unlike the suicide terrorists, they did not have days, weeks, months, or years to weigh the options and look for a better solution. These sacrificial acts were split-second responses to unexpected threats that suddenly appeared before them. As McCarthy recalls, he barely had the chance to think before jumping in front of Reagan: “Quite frankly, it probably had little to do with bravery and an awful lot to do with the reaction based upon the training,” he humbly insists.

Difference #2: Intention of dying.

Now think back to the definition of suicide from Chapter 1. For an act to constitute a completed suicide, it requires the (1) death of the actor, (2) intention of dying, and (3) self-orchestration of that death. It is the second and third factors that are most relevant here.

Suicide bombers who blow themselves up and suicide terrorists who deliberately crash hijacked jets into buildings clearly intend to die. Although some bomb vests malfunction and some suicide terrorists are arrested before they can strike, it’s not clear that any of those who attempt their attacks actually expect to survive. In fact, they often explicitly clarify their intention of dying in suicide notes and “martyrdom” videos.

Commentators often assume that the Secret Service agent who takes a bullet for the president or the soldier who jumps on a grenade similarly intends to die. But that’s actually not true. In fact, Secret Service agents specifically wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves in the extremely unlikely event that they do get shot.

And we know that Petry did not intend to die, because he tried to throw the grenade back. But things could have turned out very differently. If the insurgent had waited another second between pulling the pin and throwing the grenade, Petry would have taken the full blast with his body as he lunged toward it. He would have been killed in action—just like PFC Ross McGinnis.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Lankford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 18, 2013

Maria Konnikova's "Mastermind"

Maria Konnikova writes the weekly “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American, where she explores the intersection of literature and psychology, and formerly wrote the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Observer, Scientific American MIND, and Scientific American, among other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
We derive actual, measurable hedonic value from the strength of our active involvement in and attention to an activity, even if the activity is as boring as sorting through stacks of mail. If we have a reason to do it, a reason that engages us and makes us involved, we will both do it better and feel happier as a result. The principle holds true even if we have to expand significant mental effort—say, in solving difficult puzzles. Despite the exertion, we will still feel happier, more satisfied, and more in the zone, so to speak.

What’s more, engagement and flow tend to prompt a virtuous cycle of sorts: we become more motivated and aroused overall, and, consequently, more likely to be productive and create something of value. We even become less likely to commit some of the most fundamental errors of observation (such as mistaking a person’s outward appearance for factual detail of his personality) that can threaten to throw off even the best-laid plans of the aspiring Holmesian observer. In other words, engagement stimulates System Holmes. It makes it more likely that System Holmes will step up, look over System Watson’s shoulder, place a reassuring hand on it, and say, just as its about to leap into action, Hold off a minute. I think we should look at this more closely before we act.
Those are the first words that greet the reader who, acting on some bizarre impulse, flips my book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, straight to page 99. Perhaps even more bizarre is how accurate a reflection these two paragraphs provide of one of the book’s central messages: the importance of motivation.

To me, the character of Sherlock Holmes embodies something that I call, early in the book, the Two Ms: Mindfulness and Motivation. These are the two sine qua nons of what it takes to think more in line with the great fictional detective—and a bit less like his, while quite intelligent and worthy, slightly less, well thoughtful sidekick, Dr. Watson.

Mindfulness is the idea of allowing your mind to focus on the present moment, of resisting distraction and learning to concentrate instead on the world around you and within your own head. It is what allows Holmes to truly observe, to be someone who notices what others miss and note what no one else does. Motivation, on the other hand, is the desire toward mindfulness than makes it more likely that you will employ it at any given moment. To be ever-mindful can be difficult. It takes more cognitive resources than the alternative: the mindless flitting from stimulus to stimulus of your average multitasking brain. But add motivation, and it becomes far more accessible. Holmes wants, actively, to think the way he does. And that desire, coupled of course with practice and training, is the key to his success. Absent the desire? It would be a long slog, indeed.

A mind that is both mindful and motivated is a mind most likely to succeed in thinking like Sherlock Holmes, to not merely see but both see and observe the world—and in so doing, to be more in control of that world and its role in it.
Learn more about the book and author at Maria Konnikova's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Daniela Stockmann’s "Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China"

Daniela Stockmann is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Leiden University. Since her first time to China in 1997 she has been fascinated with the rapid political transformation China is undergoing. Ten years of contemplating the role of media and public opinion in China’s political process resulted in Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China – a book that explores the introduction of market forces in Chinese media, linking censorship among journalists with patterns of media consumption and the media's effects on public opinion.

Stockmann applied the “Page 99 Test” to Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China and reported the following:
Nationalism seems to be on the rise in China. Since the late 1990s nationalist protests have taken place almost annually. As evident during the recent 2012 Senkaku / Diaoyu island disputes in the East China Sea, anti-foreign protests have been primarily directed against Japan, but also the United States. It is widely believed that this rise of Chinese nationalism is mainly a result of propaganda initiated by the state to boost the stability of the Chinese Communist Party.

In contrast to these common beliefs, page 99 reveals that the Chinese government has been trying to “massage” anti-foreign sentiment in recent years. Without exception, all forty-six editors and journalists I interviewed believed that Propaganda authorities demanded a positive spin on stories about the United States. Instructions by propaganda authorities asked journalists to report positively and omit controversial topics as potential sources of tension.

These state demands to tone down news reporting run counter to audience demands for more criticism of American politics, particularly foreign policy. Consider, for instance, the following comment by an editor-in-chief of a newspaper, on pages 101-102: “Ordinary people, especially netizens and young people, have very strong opinions about foreign policy toward the United States,... they criticize the government for being too soft. So the media cannot completely represent the government’s opinion and also not the citizens’ strong views.” Most of the time, media practitioners experience restrictions on news reporting by the state as attempts to constraint expression of negativity toward the United States demanded by Chinese audiences. In periods of crisis, audience demands for critical news reporting may overlap with a tougher stance taken by the government, and the absence of state restrictions and allowing media to freely follow market demands can produce highly negative reporting towards foreign countries.

This example taken from the production of news regarding the United States in Chinese media reveals how the interaction between demands by the market and the state can produce roughly one-sided political messages in the news, without always openly enforcing state demands on journalists. Journalists in China feel free to report about many stories in any way they like, but the Chinese state is able to synchronize news content by means of a sophisticated institutional framework within media remain embedded. If the state retains the institutional capacity to restrict news reporting when audience demands conflict with the state, market-based media promote regime stability, rather than destabilize authoritarianism or bring about democracy. A comparison with over thirty countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the post-Soviet region reveals that market influences in media are unlikely to undermine the Chinese Communist Party in the near future.
Learn more about the book and author at Daniela Stockmann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2013

Christine Bold's "The Frontier Club"

Christine Bold is Professor of English at the University of Guelph. Her books include U.S. Popular Print Culture, 1860-1920; Selling the Wild West: Popular Western Fiction, 1860-1960; Writers, Plumbers, and Anarchists: The WPA Writers' Project in Massachusetts; and The WPA Guides: Mapping America.

She applied the “Page 99 Test”--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 book?--to her latest book, The Frontier Club: Popular Westerns and Cultural Power, 1880-1924, and reported the following:
Absolutely. Page 99 addresses the women in the frontier club—the wives, mothers, daughters, and mentors of the more famous frontier clubmen. Without these women, the modern western as we know it would not exist, yet they never get their due. Recovering their contributions is central to the book’s project: to crack open the one-man-genre narrative by which Owen Wister is credited with single-handedly creating the modern western. (It’s often said that, with The Virginian in 1902, “the modern Western was born,” but critics must imagine a kind of male parthenogenesis because women do not typically figure in the process.) The book reconstructs the network of influential easterners who consolidated the western formula, thereby advancing their own self-interest as well as larger systems of privilege and exclusion. A certain class of women was fundamental to this process, reinforcing the biological and social circle, working their cultural connections, and contributing their literary nous.

Much of page 99 documents the influence of women on Silas Weir Mitchell. A best-selling novelist and elder statesman of the frontier club, Mitchell was the Philadelphia physician famous for “the Mitchell cure” for neurasthenia and infamous for his treatment of women—see Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s excoriating portrait in “The Yellow Wall-paper.” His injunction against women writing is particularly ironic in light of his confessed dependence on “cultivated women”: his closest literary advisers included the actor Fanny Kemble; her saloniste daughter Sarah Butler Wister; first Dean of Radcliffe, Agnes Irwin; and his society wife, Mary Cadwalader—writers all. More hidden histories are excavated in the book, especially in terms of figures who lay beyond the pale (literally) of the frontier club. There were many popularizers of the West—African American authors, Indigenous performers, non-elite white women—who worked from very different positions, with very different results, and were elbowed aside by the powerful clubmen. Their voices close the book and point to my next project...
Learn more about The Frontier Club at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jim Cullen's "Sensing the Past"

Jim Cullen teaches history at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City. He is the author of The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition, and other books. Cullen is also a book review editor at the History News Network.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sensing the Past has a photograph of Meryl Streep with the following caption:
UNEASY EMBRACE: Streep as Joanna Kramer, reuniting with her son Billy even as she looks back at her ex-husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). “If there’s anything that runs through all my work, all my characters, it’s that I have a relationship with them where I feel I have to defend them,” she said of her feelings for the character.
My book looks at the way versions of American history are embedded in the careers of movie stars. It surveys the careers of six actors and how each body of work as a whole offers a coherent vision of U.S. history. These versions are not necessarily conscious, are never incontestable, and indeed may be marked by any number of internal tensions. But they reflect collective understandings that are quite powerful. One chapter, “Tending to the Flock,” traces the surprising strain of Jeffersonian-styled communitarianism that runs through Clint Eastwood’s apparently individualistic corpus. Another, “Shooting Star,” explores the way Daniel Day-Lewis reconfigures Frederick Jackson Turner’s vision of the frontier. A third, “Rising Sons,” focuses on Denzel Washington’s recurrent choice of roles involving parenting and mentoring in the context of African American history (a motif with an often religious subtext). A fourth, “Team Player,” looks at Lincolnian accents in the movies of Tom Hanks, the generational heir of Jimmy Stewart. Other chapters trace the careers of Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster. These are all people with considerable power to choose their roles, and thus to register patterns that would be otherwise difficult to trace among more workaday actors. The generational thread that connects these people, all born in the middle third of the twentieth century, is the climate of institutional skepticism that has dominated American life in the decades since they came of age.

There are thus three concentric circles of argument in the project: one about specific actors and the often surprising cohesion in their bodies of work; one about the generational tenor of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries; and one about the way a notion of history – defined here as a belief, rooted in perceptions of collective experience, about the way society changes – that threads through the work of people who are often thinking about other things, an existential condition that applies to many of us.

The caption in question is part of a larger arc I’m trying to trace: In Meryl Streep’s earlier career, her feminism has a private cast: her characters are trying to attain personal freedom. I go on to show that her more recent work has a more public one in which her characters grasp the levers of power. They’re not always pleasant, but they’re still admirable – just the way we’ve always felt about a lot of powerful men.
Learn more about Sensing the Past at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Jim Cullen's American History Now blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frank J. Wetta's "The Louisiana Scalawags"

Frank J. Wetta is Senior Fellow in the Department of History at Kean University and a former Leverhulme Fellow at Keele University, UK.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism in the Civil War and Reconstruction, and reported the following:
Reconstruction began early in Louisiana following the federal occupation of New Orleans in 1862. The “scalawags” were white Southern unionists who collaborated with the Union army of occupation and allied with the Republican Party in an attempt to reestablish a loyal state government. Page 99 finds the reader at an event that occurred two years after the arrival of the Yankees that would transform state and national politics, the New Orleans Riot of 1866. The chapter is entitled “What the Hell Is Your Hide Worth Today.” Page ninety-nine meets the test: It captures the essential theme of the book – the volatile mix of politics, race, and violence in the contest over the political future of Louisiana. Who would rule the state—the unionist (scalawags) and their black allies or the ex-rebels and other conservatives? Vilified by their political enemies, the scalawags were subjected to social ostracism, intimidation, and violence. The riot illustrates the point. In an attempt to rewrite the state constitution to enfranchise black voters and disfranchise former Confederates, the unionists attempted to hold a meeting (a “rump” convention) at Mechanics Hall on July 30. The result was a bloody confrontation that left approximately thirty-four blacks and three scalawags dead. Page ninety-nine deals with the causes of the riot based on scalawag testimony at the Congressional investigation of the event. The ex-rebels and their Democratic supporters charged that the scalawags had conspired with Republicans in Washington to change the constitution illegally and, further, that the scalawags had incited violence in public speeches before black audiences. The scalawags denied the charges, but admitted that, “the sentiments uttered … were radical; that cannot be disputed.” Though the riot fatally weakened scalawag leadership, it did not result in conservative control of the state (at least not yet); rather, the riot led to the rise of the “carpetbaggers” in Louisiana politics.
Learn more about The Louisiana Scalawags at the the Louisiana State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

David S. Jones's "Broken Hearts"

David S. Jones is the A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine at Harvard University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Broken Hearts: The Tangled History of Cardiac Care, and reported the following:
How do doctors and patients make medical decisions? For anyone facing a serious illness, such as heart disease or cancer, this can be a question of life or death. Much of our faith in modern medicine assumes that doctors have accumulated substantial data about the safety and effectiveness of their treatments and that they apply this knowledge rationally to medical decisions, a practice known as evidence-based medicine. But this is only part of the story. Patients, doctors, and researchers know too well that countless other factors influence medical decisions.

Broken Hearts explores these questions by tracing the history of two of the most important treatments in medicine today: coronary artery bypass surgery and coronary angioplasty. Open the book to page 99 and you will find a discussion of the psychology of interventional cardiologists. When asked about their enthusiasm for angioplasty, two Swiss doctors explained that coronary stents “have a great future -- they give excellent predictive results in angiography, are clinically safe, and, most of all, calm the interventional cardiologist.” A Boston cardiologist, in contrast, emphasized not the calming satisfaction of a successful treatment, but the thrill of the procedure itself: “This adrenaline rush is why people like me go into cardiology.” Critics have pointed out that “the financial rush is also sweet, since the median salary for invasive cardiologists is roughly half-a-million dollars.” This leaves patients in a difficult spot. When a doctor recommends a particular treatment, what mix of evidence, psychology, and financial interest is in play? It can be difficult to know.

One of the most important messages of Broken Hearts is that medical practice is far more complicated than patients -- and even doctors -- realize. Medical knowledge is imperfect. What causes heart attacks? Doctors argued for sixty years before settling on the current consensus in the 1990s. Does bypass surgery pose a substantial threat to the brain? Despite a half century of research, experts still disagree. It is essential that patients understand the limits of medical knowledge and the wide range of interests that influence physicians’ thinking. Only then will they be equipped to make the best decisions.
Learn more about Broken Hearts at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ted Kerasote's "Pukka's Promise"

Ted Kerasote is the author of several books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. His essays and photographs have appeared in Audubon, Outside, and the New York Times, among others. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Kerasote applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, and reported the following:
Page 99 recounts my driving away from the Minnesota kennel where I met Pukka. As in many of the book’s other chapters, I relate the ongoing conversation between my dog and me, a conversation that is part spoken words, part gesture, and part observation of a dog’s body language. By filling the book with such conversations, I hope that people will pay more attention to what their dogs are trying to tell them, even when, as in the section below, the dog is still a puppy:
As the farmhouse disappeared behind a windbreak of trees, his face took on a look of surprise, then worry, then shock. A second later, he began to cry, yelping plaintively and turning to me with a look of despair. A stab of guilt went through me: I was taking him from his family to come live with me.

“Oh, Little Sir,” I said softly, trying to comfort him. “It’ll be fine.” I reached over and held my palm against his chest. “Just you wait and see. You’re going to Wyoming where you’ll have room to roam.”

He gave me a skeptical look: “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” I replied.

Nonetheless, he came over to me and settled on the console between the two front seats, giving an anxious yawn before putting his head on his paws and dozing. A few moments later, he opened his eyes, looked around, and let out a whine that sounded like, “Oh my goodness, where am I going?”

“You’re going to the big mountains, with lots of snow, and skiing, and elk to eat. Mmm-mmm-mmm,” I hummed. “And rivers to swim in, so many dog friends to play with, and people who will love you.”

He followed everything I was saying, looking directly into my eyes. Apparently satisfied with my happy tone of voice, he crawled into my lap and put his chin on my left wrist. As we drove along, he slept, awakening now and then to cry out, “Oh, where am I going?” Then he’d close his eyes and begin to dream, paws twitching.
Learn more about Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.

Visit Ted Kerasote's website and follow him on Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Merle's Door.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Michael P. Jeffries's "Paint the White House Black"

Michael P. Jeffries is assistant professor of American studies at Wellesley College. His first book is Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Paint the White House Black is a great place to start. The book is about the inadequacy of racial language and the power of race as a force that takes over the meaning of other words and ideas. The only way to get past all the loudness and silence of race is to make sure we are constantly thinking about race in concert with other discourses, like class and gender. On page 99, I point out that Obama's landmark speech on race was given during what was called a "postracial" campaign. Think about how crazy this is - the language of race is so insufficient and misleading that a speech on the topic of race is trumpeted as an example of "postracialism." That chapter goes to unpack the interplay of race and class as the driving factors behind the myth of postracialism and the changing performances of prominent black politicians. Technological changes are indispensable to this story, as we're living in an age where the old means of organizing and communicating have undone previous conceptions of racial safety and political separatism.

The rest of Paint the White House Black takes a similar approach, looking at the pitfalls and misunderstandings that grow from racial silence and racial loudness, and correcting them with attention to what academics call "intersectionality" - race in combination with other ideas. The book is not a pseudo-analysis of Obama's psyche or a dissection of his every word and move. It's about using the president as a point of departure and common ground, because his rise is an experience we all witnessed and shared in.
Learn more about Paint the White House Black at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Thug Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 8, 2013

Carl Rollyson's "Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews"

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published by University Press of Mississippi in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

Rollyson applied the “Page 99 Test” to Hollywood Enigma and reported the following:
Chapter 8 of my biography begins on page 99 and is titled "Goldwyn." This period begins Dana's Hollywood career, and, as usual, his recollection of what it was like to work with the legendary producer does not quite square with what others in Goldwyn's employ have said. Much has been made of "the Goldwyn touch," by which is meant his good taste or his go-it-alone mentality. Dana describes a studio mogul whose operation was far more hit and miss: "He asks everybody, from the hairdresser on the set to the head of the business department, what they think about little things like hairdos, or whether a man's clothes fit properly, or questions about his personality. A lot of people say, 'Goldwyn asks everybody what they think and then does what he thinks.' But I think what he thinks is made up to some extent (or influenced, certainly) by what he hears from various people."

The more I learned about Goldwyn, the more I think Dana was right. Goldwyn would have his screenwriters, one by one, tell him the story of a picture until Goldwyn himself had mastered all the elements and figured out what worked best. Unlike many of his fellow stars, Dana kept an aloof distance from the glamour and hype of Hollywood and, therefore, saw more clearly than others exactly how the business was run. In talking about Goldwyn, in other words, Dana was expressing precisely the sensibility that pervades every aspect of his years in Hollywood.
View the video trailer for Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, and learn more about the book and author at Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 7, 2013

James O'Brien's "The Scientific Sherlock Holmes"

Jim O'Brien is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University. A lifelong fan of Holmes, O'Brien presented his paper "What Kind of Chemist Was Sherlock Holmes" at the 1992 national American Chemical Society meeting, which resulted in an invitation to write a chapter on Holmes the chemist in the book Chemistry and Science Fiction. O'Brien has since given over 120 lectures on Holmes and science.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics, and reported the following:
How distressing! The Scientific Sherlock Holmes fails the page 99 test. On that page a figure takes up so much space that there is room for only four full sentences and a partial one. So I am proposing an update to Ford Madox Ford’s dictum. Read nine page nines and then decide about a book.

In my book page 9 compares the author of the Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to the writer who influenced him most, Edgar Allan Poe. Conan Doyle “borrowed” plots from Poe’s detective tales.

Page 19 shows the deductive Holmes at his best. He amazes the recently arrived John Hector McFarlane with these words:
“You mentioned your name as if I should recognize it, but I assure you, that beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you.”
On page 29 we see how differently Holmes and Watson view women. Here are their descriptions of her in The Second Stain.
Watson: “the most lovely woman in London; a queenly figure.”

Holmes: “Think of her appearance Watson – her manner, her suppressed excitement, her restlessness, her tenacity in asking questions.”
Page 49 gives us a glimpse of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older, indolent brother. The strange Mycroft is so unsociable that he is a founding member of the Diogenes Club, where no speaking is allowed.

Page 59 finds Holmes brilliantly using footprint evidence around Boscombe Pool to solve the murder.

Three famous cases of the twentieth century have been called the crime of the century. On page 69 we learn that they are the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932, the Alger Hiss espionage case of 1950, and the O. J. Simpson case of 1994.

Once again on page 79 we see the influence of Poe on Conan Doyle. This time it is his use of cryptograms in The Gold Bug. Conan Doyle himself stated that “all cryptogram solving yarns trace back to” Poe’s story. Holmes deals with a similar code in The Dancing Men.

Finally, on page 89 we learn that the brilliant Holmes is ignorant of basic facts of astronomy.

If Ford Madox Ford read only page 99 of The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, he probably would not have read the whole book. But I think he would have enjoyed it if he did.
Learn more about The Scientific Sherlock Holmes at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

David Menconi's "Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown"

David Menconi is a music critic and arts reporter at the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., which gave him a front-row seat to the early days of singer/songwriter Ryan Adams’ career with the mid-’90s insurgent-country band Whiskeytown. Reportage and observations from that period’s great “alternative country scare” in Raleigh and elsewhere form the backbone of his recently published biography, Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown. In applying the “Page 99 Test” to the book, he reported the following:
“Maybe I just drank the whiskey, but I really did think Strangers Almanac was going to be enormous…”

So begins Chapter 9 of my book Losering – which, as it happens, starts on page 99 and goes on to describe the songs I thought would be breakout hits, quoting a Rolling Stone magazine review positing Whiskeytown as candidate for alternative-country’s Nirvana equivalent. It’s a perfect summation of the Whiskeytown faithful’s outlandish expectations circa 1997, doomed to linger unrequited. At the height of the go-go ’90s, Whiskeytown seemed like the best and brightest of its generation, and the band’s big-league debut Strangers Almanac felt like the right album at the right time. Believing as I did that artistic validation required mainstream acceptance, I yearned for that breakthrough to happen. As Losering details from page 99 on, it didn’t.

But if the past 15 years have taught nothing else, it’s that there is no common-ground mainstream that we can agree on anymore, just an endless number of micro-niches servicing narrow-cast audiences. Viewed in that light, Strangers Almanac was ahead of its time. It’s the rare artifact that actually improves the more details you know about it, a deeply personal album that offers a revealing glimpse inside young Adams’ head if you know what to look for. That inspired Chapter 8 of Losering, written as a song-by-song dissection of Strangers played out as a narrative of a tragicomic night on the town in Raleigh – an unconventional gambit that earned reviewer reactions from ecstatic to scathing. I don’t care, it’s still my favorite part of the book. I even turned it into a radio play.

After the peak of Strangers, page 99 is where harsh reality interjects, and Whiskeytown begins unraveling. But even though Strangers didn’t break Whiskeytown through to the masses, it was instrumental in creating The Cult Of Ryan, which is the basis of the solo career Adams has today. He’s a latterday romantic poet in denim and flannel, performing for hushed, adoring throngs hanging on his every word. No, he never had the big hit record. But Ryan Adams won the game anyway.
Learn more about Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown at the author’s blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Carl Rollyson's "American Isis"

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

Rollyson applied the “Page 99 Test” to American Isis and reported the following:
Discussing Plath's letters from Cambridge during her Fulbright year, I say that she enjoyed creating a sensation. She describes a horseback riding incident in which her mount, Sam, forsakes the sedate pleasures of a country ride and plunges Plath into a busy city intersection. Chaos ensues with women and children screaming as Sam bolts onto sidewalks and only slows when fatigue overcomes him. Plath loved this sort of drama.

Plath expected to lead a life that would be full of public attention, and that is the Plath I wanted write about when I turned in my proposal into publishers. There are writers who want to be known for themselves, and not just for their work. Sylvia Plath was one of them. In The Bell Jar, in her journals, in her stories, and in much of her poetry, her art and her life suffuse each other.

When Plath travels to Marseille in a break from her Cambridge studies, as I describe it on page 99, she is actually fulfilling the dreams of her childhood, when in the sixth grade she mapped her imagination with an image of Marseille. From a very early age, she seemed to be gearing herself to enter the world's imagination.
View the video trailer for American Isis, and learn more about the book and author at Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lesley Hazleton's "The First Muslim"

Lesley Hazleton reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years, and has written for Time, the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, and reported the following:
Can I make it the page 89 test? It's the year 610, and Muhammad has just received the first revelation of the Quran -- five brief verses -- on a mountain just outside Mecca. Chapter Seven explores what happened on that mountain. Chapter Eight starts with these two paragraphs:
Then, for two years, nothing. Instead of the steady flow of revelation that one might expect -- the familiar cliches of the floodgates opened, of the life-giving waters of inspiration pouring out of him -- there were two years of silence, a frustratingly fallow period in which Muhammad struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him.

Inevitably, as a man doubly orphaned early in life, he experienced these two years as abandonment. The effects of such a childhood can never be altogether conquered. That sense of being cut off never disappears; it may be pushed deeper inside, but it is always there. A gate had been opened wide in the most momentous night of his life, but had then slammed tightly shut again. What had been granted him was now being withheld, and he felt a terrible loneliness, a despair of ever being able to connect again with that voice.
Learn more about the book and author at The First Muslim website and The Accidental Theologist blog.

Hazelton's last book, After the Prophet, was a finalist for the PEN-USA book award.

The Page 99 Test: After the Prophet.

Writers Read: Lesley Hazleton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Stephen Davies's "The Artful Species"

Stephen Davies teaches philosophy at The University of Auckland. He writes mainly about aesthetics and the philosophy of art, and has written extensively on the definition of art, the ontological character of artworks, cross-cultural aesthetics, the expression of emotion in art, and the interpretation and evaluation of art. His books include Musical Works and Performances, Themes in the Philosophy of Music, The Philosophy of Art, Philosophical Perspectives on Art, and Musical Understandings.

Davies applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution, and reported the following:
My book The Artful Species examines views seeking a connection between our evolved human nature and both our interest in the beautiful or awesome (our aesthetic sense) and our predilection for behaving artistically.

The section on the aesthetic covers the many forms of humans' aesthetic appreciation of non-human animals, landscape aesthetics, and the prickly subject of human beauty, a topic that unfortunately is often reduced to the discussion of youthful female sexual attractiveness. Page 99 falls in the chapter on landscape. To this point I have allowed that their aesthetic tastes probably were instrumental in guiding our ancestors to congenial habitats. And that we inherit many of those preferences: enjoyment of habitats with lakes or streams, with natural vegetation and animals, and with sites offering prospect and refuge. But I reject the more specific thesis that we retain a vestigial preference for savanna, the environment of our African forebears.

Page 99 sets out the ongoing course of the argument: "In this section I will outline three alternative stories about our taste in landscape: that its basis is purely cultural, that we've adapted at different times to multiple habitats, and that, rather than being adapted to one or more habitats, we are adapted to respond flexibly to the affordances that a variety of habitats offer. I reject the first two in favor of the third." Among other things, the ensuing discussion compares human behavior with that of deer mice, mentions adaptations in humans to extremes of temperature and altitude, and provides information about ancient climate instability and how this affected our hominid forerunners.

The later section on art, which construes that notion broadly, examines whether the arts, either as a group or singly, were (and remain) adaptive in allowing our ancestors to reproduce more successfully than those who lacked them. Or if they were incidental by-products of other propensities that happened to be adaptive. Or, alternatively, if they were so far removed from biology as to be purely cultural in their explanation and effects. I conclude that artistic behaviors (creating, performing, appreciating) are rooted in our human nature. They are universal and are costly in skill, time, and effort to master. They provide subtle, complex, and variegated measures of many qualities that are relevant to mutual assessments of biological fitness.
Learn more about the book and author at The Artful Species blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 1, 2013

Keith O'Brien's "Outside Shot"

Keith O’Brien is a former reporter for the Boston Globe.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Outside Shot: Big Dreams, Hard Times, and One County's Quest for Basketball Greatness, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Outside Shot, one of my narrative’s main characters, Will Schu, has come to a crossroads. He’s physically injured and mentally broken and he’s considering the previously unthinkable: quitting the Scott County High School basketball team, the team he had dreamed of playing for ever since he was a boy.

To understand Will’s predicament is to understand one of the main narrative threads of Outside Shot. Will was a true county boy, born and raised, a native of the bluegrass hills, just north of Lexington, Ky. He’d grown up idolizing Scott County head coach Billy Hicks, cheering him on to two state titles, and following the players who donned the Cardinal red. Will knew them by name; he’d been to all their games. And of course, Will Schu would follow in their footsteps. He was, after all, not just tall and lean, perfectly built for basketball; he was the grandson and namesake of a former University of Kentucky basketball legend, Wilbur Schu. Yes, young Will was going places, all right. Just look at those long legs and broad shoulders. No doubt about it, folks believed. Will would be a basketball star.

But just before Will’s junior year at Scott County, the outsiders -- talented basketball players, all -- moved into the county. Some alleged that Hicks had recruited them. Others liked to say that the town’s Toyota factory had done the dirty work, giving good jobs to the new basketball players’ parents. The Toyota allegations were particularly ludicrous -- just idle talk in an idle town. And there was no proof of any official recruiting.

But it didn’t matter. The new basketball players were there to stay. Will got passed over, moved to the bench. And then, in anger, he broke his hand. A really bad decision, which on page 99 leaves the boy at that crossroads, waffling between quitting the team and abandoning the only dream he ever had, or pushing on, alone, against impossible odds. “It’s such a hard decision,” Will tells his mother on page 99. “Probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
View the video trailer for Outside Shot, and visit Keith O'Brien's website.

--Marshal Zeringue