Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alex Sayf Cummings's "Democracy of Sound"

Alex Sayf Cummings is an assistant professor of History at Georgia State University, and co-editor of the blog Tropics of Meta.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
Democracy of Sound is the story of all the jazzbos, Deadheads, DJs, pirates, politicians, and radicals who helped shape copyright law into what it is today.  I first became intrigued by the subject when Napster began to transform the ways people listened to music. I soon discovered that Congress did not provide copyright protection for sound recordings until 1971; it seemed bizarre to me that copyright law could have been so limited just a few decades ago, especially given how expansive and restrictive it is today.  To figure out why, I embarked on a project that uncovered a much longer history of piracy and bootlegging than I expected to find—reaching all the way to the wax cylinder era of the 1890s.

Page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge] is a really representative sample of the book.  It features an image of a bootleg recording of the San Francisco band It’s a Beautiful Day, and it points out the similarity between the pirate LPs of the late 1960s and the burnt CDs of the last decade or so.  The passage also discusses Great White Wonder, a Dylan bootleg that sparked an explosion of piracy in 1969:
These earliest rock bootlegs were minimalist by default, with plain white covers that gave little or no indication of what was contained inside…The blank design of the early Wonders recalled what became known as the Beatles’ White Album, released the year before. Designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton, the 1968 record originally featured a plain white cover, the lack of adornment mirroring its simple title: The Beatles.
Democracy of Sound is not just about law and technology, but very much about pop culture and the creativity of people who copy music outside the bounds of the law.  It’s also about the idea that bootleg culture has its own aesthetic—the fuzziness of a lo-fi copy, the simplicity of a Xeroxed cover, and the creative stamp that pirates put on music as they remix, reproduce, and recirculate it. (This is an idea I borrowed from one of my mentors, the anthropologist Brian Larkin.)  In this sense, piracy creates its own sort of folk or vernacular culture, whether it’s a Jelly Roll Morton LP in the 1940s, a Grateful Dead bootleg in the 1970s, or a DJ Clue mixtape in the 1990s.
Learn more about Democracy of Sound at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Anne A. Latowsky's "Emperor of the World"

Anne Latowsky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages at the University of South Florida.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Emperor of the World: Charlemagne and the Construction of Imperial Authority, 800-1229, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Emperor of the World is the first page of Chapter 3, entitled “Benzo of Alba’s Parallel Signs.” This was probably the chapter I most enjoyed writing because Benzo is such a colorful character. He wrote a lengthy verse panegyric to the German Emperor Henry IV, a work which contains some of the medieval world’s most famous anti-papal invective. Did anyone else refer to the pope as an ass in a stable or to the dining hall of the Lateran palace, the triclinium, as a dung heap, a sterquilinium?
In colorful, poetic, and sometimes foul language, Benzo of Alba promoted the Salian inheritance of the Roman Empire on behalf of Henry IV in his virulently anti-Gregorian Libri ad Heinricum IV Imperatorem. Throughout his voluminous work, Benzo composed multiple versions of the foreign embassy motif in a variety of forms and rhetorical contexts, including a version of the Last Emperor prophecy, an eerie visitation by the voice of Charlemagne to explain the prophecy, fabricated diplomatic communiqués, and lofty panegyric verse. More so than anyone before him, Benzo reveals his recognition of the encomiastic function of Charlemagne’s symbolic conquest of the East. He began his endeavor during the precarious period of Henry’s minority in the early 1060s, and finally completed the project in 1085, after Henry’s long-delayed imperial coronation.”
In this book I contend that we have long misunderstand the influential, yet apocryphal, story of Charlemagne’s peaceful encounters with Byzantium and the Holy Land, a prominent tradition too often erroneously tied to the Crusading movement. In six chapters that consider works written in Latin from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, I lay out the case for seeing the evolution of the memory of Charlemagne and the East as the product of centuries of deliberate rewriting of a single episode in the emperor’s imagined life. That episode was based on a commonplace of imperial praise that proclaimed universal imperial authority by describing foreign nations peacefully surrendering to the victorious Roman emperor.

In the conversation that Benzo imagines between the ninth-century emperor Charlemagne and the eleventh–century Henry IV, the voice of Charlemagne promises Henry future victory over all of his enemies. The Carolingian emperor urges the Salian king to recognize the signs that have allowed him to predict his coming universal victory. These signs are none other than the similar diplomatic encounters that the two men have had with the East. Benzo’s parallel signs thus reveal a Charlemagne whose bloodless conquest of the East had nothing to do with the incipient Crusading movement, and everything to do with the battle to define imperial authority during the Investiture Contest that pitted empire against papacy in the late eleventh century.
Learn more about Emperor of the World at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 29, 2013

Stuart Banner's "The Baseball Trust"

Stuart Banner is Norman Abrams Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. A noted legal historian, he is the author of many books, including American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own; Who Owns the Sky? The Struggle to Control Airspace from the Wright Brothers On; and Possessing the Pacific: Land, Settlers, and Indigenous People from Australia to Alaska.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption, and reported the following:
The Baseball Trust is about one of the oddest features of our legal system, the near-complete exemption of baseball from antitrust law. Every other sport, like virtually every other sort of business, is governed by the antitrust laws. Why not baseball?

The answer lies in a chain of court opinions beginning with Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League (1922), in which the Supreme Court held that baseball was not a form of interstate commerce. The decision was uncontroversial at the time, because “interstate commerce” was a term of art with a much narrower meaning than it has today. Soon after, however, the prevailing professional understanding of interstate commerce expanded dramatically. And that raised the question whether, given the new legal climate, the Federal Baseball Club case should be overruled.

The first court to confront this question was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, in a 1948 case called Gardella v. Chandler. On page 99 of The Baseball Trust, Judge Jerome Frank, one of the most well known judges of the era, responds to the opinion of his colleague Harrie Chase, who argued that a lower court has no authority to overrule a Supreme Court opinion:
Judge Jerome Frank took the opposite view. “There is nothing new about a lower court announcing that a Supreme Court decision is dead,” he observed. He mentioned some examples, including a celebrated case from just a few years before, in which a district judge correctly predicted that the Supreme Court would overrule one of its own prior cases and decide that the First Amendment bars a school district from requiring children to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Frank concluded that there was no reason to wait for the Supreme Court to say that baseball was interstate commerce, when the Court of Appeals could say so for itself. He also concluded, however, that there was no need to predict that Federal Baseball Club would be overruled. The Court of Appeals could also find Federal Baseball Club inapplicable to Gardella’s case, on the ground that even if baseball was not interstate commerce in 1922, it had become so by 1948. Back in 1922, Frank noted, there had been no broadcasting of baseball games, but in 1948 the games were broadcast on interstate radio networks, and were just beginning to be shown on interstate television networks as well. That was enough, in Frank’s view, to bring baseball within the definition of interstate commerce. The weakness in this argument, as Frank acknowledged, was that accounts of baseball games had been transmitted by interstate telegraph in 1922. The only difference between the two cases was the presence or absence of a wire. To draw a distinction on that ground, Chase responded, “seems just silly.”
Learn more about The Baseball Trust at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Who Owns the Sky?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marcus Anthony Hunter's "Black Citymakers"

Marcus Anthony Hunter is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Black Citymakers: How "The Philadelphia Negro" Changed Urban America, and reported the following:
Black Citymakers revisits the Black Seventh Ward of W.E.B. DuBois's The Philadelphia Negro (1899), documenting a century of banking and tenement collapses, housing activism, black-led anti-urban renewal mobilization, and post-Civil Rights political change from the perspective of the Black Seventh Warders. Drawing on historical, political, and sociological research, I argue that black Philadelphians were not merely victims forced from their homes - they were citymakers and agents of urban change.

On Page 99, we find ourselves in the midst of the one of the most dramatic stories in the book. The year is 1937 and it is just months after a tenement collapse killed a young black widow Lucy Spease, and her three children Bernice (age 13), Samuel (age 6), and Helen (age 5). By February of 1937 the mayor razed dilapidated housing in the Black Seventh Ward near and around the site of the tenement collapse. Placing “Condemned, Unfit for Habitation” signs on the many properties where Black Seventh Warders were currently living. “Deploying the memory of the Spease family and others who were affected the by tenement collapse,” black political groups such as the National Negro Congress ignited “working-class blacks using housing reform as a means of generating a new generation of black political leadership that would be rooted in the Democratic Party.” In addition, “the response of black residents forced” the mayor of Philadelphia “to develop broader policies on housing reform. Realizing the scope of the problem and the need for a formal city entity to supervise housing reform, city officials under Wilson’s leadership formed the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). The PHA, created in August 1937, was charged with the mission of clearing, reconstructing, and replanning ‘the areas in which slums exist’ and of providing ‘safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations for persons of low income’.”

“The funding for the PHA came from the Wagner-Steagall Act. The Wagner-Steagall Act, passed in 1937, was the federal law that created the United States Housing Administration (USHA) and contained a provision for low-interest loans that local authorities could use to cover up to ninety percent of costs associated with slum clearance and building housing projects.” That same year, the trial of the landlord of the tenement that collapsed, Abraham Samson, “was under way.” It was discovered during the trial that a black resident, Raymond Blackwell, “had complained to Samson just hours before the collapse, and his cousin Alberta Richardson testified at the trail.”
Learn more about Black Citymakers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monte Reel's "Between Man and Beast"

Monte Reel is a former South America correspondent for the Washington Post, and he also reported for the newspaper in Washington and Iraq. His first book, The Last of the Tribe (2010), chronicles the story of the last surviving member of an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest. After spending seven years in Argentina, he recently moved to the Chicago area, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

Reel applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm, and reported the following:
Ah, the famous “Page 99” test! I’d heard Ford’s quote before, but I never thought of applying his test to my own book (if I had, I might have tinkered with the page to rig this exercise in my favor. Alas…).

This book, Between Man and Beast, is a nonfiction narrative about the discovery of the gorilla in the mid-nineteenth century. The story traces that discovery’s impact on the evolution debate (it helped push it out of academia and to the masses), racial politics (the young explorer at the center of the story hid his African ancestry, while watching his specimens used to advance ugly racial theories and slurs), and even pop culture (his adventures provided the seed of the King Kong story, and they deeply influenced the birth of the action-adventure genre).

So let’s flip to page 99…

From the first line of the page, we’re thrust into a very famous episode in the early evolution debate: Thomas Huxley, in Darwin’s corner, has squared off against Bishop Samuel Wilberforce at a scientific meeting in Oxford in 1860. This debate is now considered a milestone: Huxley triumphed, according to almost all modern accounts, and Wilberforce was silenced and humiliated. But by the middle of page 99, we learn that the outcome of the debate was far from clear to the participants at the time. “I think I thoroughly beat him,” Wilberforce concludes.

By mid-page, we also discover that Richard Owen, a famous anatomist who had positioned himself as Huxley’s (and, by proxy, Darwin’s) greatest scientific adversary, also considered the debate very much alive. After the Oxford debate, both Huxley and Owen work harder than ever to prove their cases. Owen believes that what he really needs to prove his argument is a specimen of the recently discovered gorilla – believed at that time to be man’s closest relative. The page ends with the focus on Owen:
Within a couple months of the meeting, he’d receive a letter that began, “My dear Sir, let me present you with a gorilla skin.” The letter ended with the words “Sincerely, Paul du Chaillu.”
So I guess page 99 is representative enough. Du Chaillu is the young man at the center of the story. He is stumbling out of the forests of Africa and straight into a cultural debate that he’s not really prepared to enter. The page sets up Owen and Du Chaillu’s unlikely alliance, which will result in the young explorer traveling to London with his newly stuffed gorillas, which in turn will spark a massive public furor surrounding the “hellish dream creature” – and all sorts of other dominoes will fall, on both sides of the Atlantic. So let's flip to page 100...
Learn more about the book and author at Monte Reel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Clive Emsley's "Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief"

Clive Emsley was educated at the University of York and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and has taught and held visiting fellowships in Australia, Canada, France, and New Zealand. He has published widely on the history of crime and policing, including Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 (now in its fourth edition), Crime and Society in Twentieth-Century England and The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present.

Emsley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief begins with the story of a fleet paymaster sentenced to three years’ penal servitude for embezzling over £13,000 on the eve of the First World War. It then goes on to discuss various other, but generally more minor acts of fraud and embezzlement committed by service personnel during the two world wars. Fraud and the misappropriation of funds are rarely offences that hit the headlines or feature in novels or movies, unless they involve massive sums. The numbers of frauds are always relatively few in annual crime statistics; in many ways they can be said to emphasise the fact that most crime is petty and low key.

Soldiers, sailors and air force personnel were (and in the main still are) overwhelmingly young men, and during the two world wars when Britain’s mass armed services were ultimately reliant on conscription, they were young men broadly representative of the population as a whole. It is, therefore, only to be expected that service personnel will commit the same sort of offences as are to be found among the general civilian population. In addition to looking at the extent and the kinds of offences that were committed by people on active military service, Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief addresses two broader questions based on popular assumptions: first, the extent to which contemporaries were right in believing that crime decreased when war began as thousands of young men – and young men are the group within society most likely to be involved in criminal offending – were swept up into the armed forces; and second, how far crime increased at the end of war as men supposedly brutalised by training and combat returned to the civilian world but, unable to settle in the peacetime environment, engaged in crime and violence.

The evidence for any work of history is always going to be fragmentary and varied. Piecing a narrative requires careful thought to fill in the gaps, and given the military’s use of summary justice by unit commanders, for which little record survives, the gaps are many. It seems clear, however, that offending in the armed forces was much like that within civilian society – many thefts, fights, a few murders and an indeterminate number of sexual offences. The gender distinction was much the same, with men committing many more offences than women. As for the decrease in crime at the beginning and the increase at the end of wars, here the conclusions are much more complex, especially when the two world wars are put side-by-side.
Learn more about Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tom Allen's "Dangerous Convictions"

Tom Allen is President and CEO of the American Association of Publishers. He is a former U.S. Congressman representing Maine's 1st District from 1997 to 2009.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dangerous Convictions: What's Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, and reported the following:
After serving 12 years in Congress, I have an different take on the sources of institutional gridlock. The primary reason for our current polarization isn’t redistricting, the permanent campaign, political money or the manipulation of Senate or House rules by both sides. Ideas matter more, especially when bundled into worldviews that become impervious to evidence. Congress today is deeply divided because, to each side, the opinions of the other make no sense, and therefore, each concludes, cannot be honestly held.

Democrats still believe that government can be a means to expand opportunity and to resolve public challenges beyond the capacity of the private sector. Republicans now believe that even popularly elected governments inevitably infringe on personal liberty and foster dependency among the population. That’s the point of Mitt Romney’s comments about the “47%” of the people, those who get “gifts” from Democrats in exchange for votes. The Democratic worldview is grounded in community, our instinct to form groups to get things done. The Republican worldview is built upon the quintessential American virtue, self-reliance.

Dangerous Convictions explores how congressional gridlock grows out of incompatible worldviews—individualism vs. community. I believe it helps explain the questions about my Republican colleagues that puzzled me the most: could they really believe that tax cuts pay for themselves, that we would be welcomed as liberators by the Iraqis, that government-regulated health care doesn’t work and that climate science isn’t proven? These convictions made no sense to Democrats, just as ours made no sense to Republicans.

Page 99 is the conclusion to chapter three and a summary of my argument about why Congress failed, and still fails, to cope pragmatically with budget and tax issues, and why the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq were so badly bungled.

From pages 98-99:

Convictions can be dangerous when they create barriers to doubt and evidence. The invasion and occupation of Iraq were based on convictions that Saddam was the root of evil in the Middle East, that democracy would emerge in that “cosmopolitan” society if he were deposed, and that an early American exit was necessary to avoid creating a “dependency” of Iraqis on outsiders. The signature domestic policy of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress came down to the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which were based on unshakable convictions about the power of free markets, the stimulating effect of tax cuts, and the vital role of the very wealthy in driving investment in new businesses.

The advocates for the Bush tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq were fiercely resistant to contrary information concerning the administration’s policies. Yet they were wrong. We were not welcomed as liberators. Iraq could not pay for its own reconstruction. Democracy is not a default form of government but an incredibly difficult culture to create and maintain. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts reduced federal revenues and restored large deficits, and the consequences were enormous. By the end of 2011, the direct costs of our invasion and occupation of Iraq were approximately $1 trillion, and not a penny in new taxes was authorized to pay for it. The Bush tax cuts, depending on how long they continue, will have increased the national debt by several trillion more.

The convictions that inspire the Republican passion for tax cuts are not the same as those that drove America into Iraq without adequate deliberation and planning. For conservatives, taxes should be lower and government smaller because of perceived risks to personal freedom. Conservatives also tend to be more inclined to resolve international disputes by the use of force. That’s why the worldview of conservatives has a libertarian cast on issues like taxes, health care, and climate change, and what appears to be an America-against-the-world component on some foreign policy matters. Perhaps these two aspects of a conservative worldview are generally, but not always, found in the same people. In both cases, the consequence can be a tendency to block contrary evidence from undermining the internal coherence of the conservative worldview.

The August 2011 final report of the CWC in Iraq and Afghanistan emphasizes the deficiencies in agency planning and coordination that contributed to the American failures in Iraq. It does not cover the deeper source of those failures—the worldview of the policy’s architects that was impatient with complexity and disdainful of evidence and expertise.

The most painful part of all this for me was attending so many funerals across Maine for the young men and women who lost their lives in our war of choice in Iraq. I remember the school gymnasium jammed with more people than live in the town of the deceased soldier and the many smaller rural churches in communities where everyone knows everyone else. Our governor and the congressional delegation occupied a front row in every case. But the men and women who gave their lives for our country deserved both a deliberate high-level evaluation of the risks and benefits before the administration decided to invade Iraq in addition to aggressive congressional oversight during the conflict. They got neither.

The world as it is exacts a price from those who deny its complexity—and sometimes from many others as well.
Read more about  Dangerous Convictions at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Farida Jalalzai's "Shattered, Cracked, or Firmly Intact?"

Farida Jalalzai is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Shattered, Cracked, or Firmly Intact?: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide, and reported the following:
The numbers of women presidents and prime ministers grew substantially over the last five decades and women now govern in many vastly different contexts. This book analyzes patterns related to women executive’s paths and powers. It examines how gender is embedded within institutions and processes, often limiting women’s representational impacts. The glass ceiling truly shattered in contexts like Finland (where, to date, three different women leaders came to power), only cracked in the United Kingdom (with Margaret Thatcher as the only example of a female prime minister), and remains firmly intact in the United States (with still no cases of a female president).While many findings suggest substantial gains for women, they still face many obstacles in their pursuit of national executive office. Women, compared to their male counterparts, more often ascend to relatively weak posts and gain offices through appointment as opposed to popular election. When dominant women presidents do rise through popular vote, they still almost always hail from political families and within unstable systems.

While page 99 does not capture the book perfectly, it highlights the importance of the family route to office as a main path to power for women in Latin America and Asia. Dependent on males for their political significance, women “inherit” power. More apt to lead in unstable settings, they capitalize on gendered conceptions to advance unity in post conflict societies, benefiting from the familiarity of their names and numerous related perks. While overcoming barriers to their empowerment, family ties reinforce “feminine” characterizations of women as political proxies, diminishing their agency. I note throughout the book that the progress women have made in attaining executive office worldwide is a bit limited because nearly all women exercising dominant powers as presidents and elected by popular vote hail from political families. Page 99, however, also reveals that women’s reliance on the family in Latin America has subsided with women like Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica being excellent examples of broadening paths. Even Rousseff and Chinchilla, however, relied on their male presidential predecessors to gain power (Oscar Arias and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva respectively). As such, page 99 does an excellent job of showing progress and continued limits, which is an enduring theme of Shattered, Cracked, and Firmly Intact.
Learn more about Shattered, Cracked, or Firmly Intact? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 23, 2013

John Rosengren's "Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes"

John Rosengren's books include the short story collection Life is Just a Party: Portrait of a Teenage Partier and the nonfiction exposé Blades of Glory: The True Story of a Young Team Bred to Win.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
(Tigers’ manager Mickey) Cochrane chewed out his players before Game Four on Saturday, October 6, (1934) and singled out Hank by dropping him from the cleanup spot to sixth in the batting order. The team responded, drubbing the Cardinals 10-4 to even the Series at two games apiece. Hank led the effort, going four-for-five with two doubles, one of which just missed being a home run, and three RBI. He even stole home on a passed ball.
It pained Greenberg that in his first World Series he had failed to come through in the clutch with runners on base. He responded to Cochrane’s tongue-lashing and batting order demotion in the way he did so often throughout his career when piqued by the words or actions of others–with success.

Four years earlier when he was in the minors and a pitcher teased him on the team bus about his low batting average, Hank channeled his anger into determination and knocked out four hits in that day’s game. In the big leagues, when he heard the bigots in the bleachers hurl anti-Semitic remarks his way, he lashed out with extra-base hits. He was sensitive, sure, and admitted that early on he let the criticism and harassment get to him, but his response was telling of his character. He refused to let frustration defeat him.

That revealed the heart of the hero, a man who agreed to play a new position to help his team–and won the MVP Award his first season in left field; a man who answered the nation’s call to serve in the military before his country had gone to war–then became the first to reenlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though he figured he sacrificed his baseball career to do so; a man who came back to clinch the 1945 pennant for the Tigers with a dramatic ninth-inning grand slam on the final day of the season; and a man who went on as a baseball executive to champion the rights of African-American players, sympathetic from the lessons he’d learned during his own playing days. Ford Madox Ford would glimpse the heart of Greenberg in this passage from p. 99 of Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes.
Learn more about the book and author at John Rosengren's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 22, 2013

Valerie Weaver-Zercher's "Thrill of the Chaste"

Valerie Weaver-Zercher is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Orion, Publishers Weekly, and The Christian Century. Her work has been nominated for and received special mention for a Pushcart Prize, and she received a 2009 fellowship in creative nonfiction from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, and reported the following:
My book, Thrill of the Chaste, investigates the rise and reach of Amish-themed romance fiction, which has gone gangbusters during the first and second decade of this millennium. In 2012, a new Amish romance novel appeared on the market at the rate of about four per week; twenty-three new Amish romance series began in the same year.

When people ask why Amish fiction is so popular, they usually look at the consumption side of the equation: why are so many people reading the books? Equally important to consider, however, are the production strategies of Amish fiction: how are so many books appearing on the market? I owe this line of thinking to Janice Radway, whose investigation of romance readers in the early 1980s asked this critical question.

Thus, in the chapter in which page 99 appears, I look at the ways that Amish romance novels function as commodities, with special attention to how producers—literary agents, editors, marketers, booksellers, and “influencers” like bloggers—have contributed to the blockbuster success of Amish fiction. Page 99 continues a discussion of a central force in modern American capitalism, commodification, and how it relates to the production of Amish fiction.

From Page 99:
Commodification, the transformation of goods or people or ideas into commercial goods, remains an instructive concept with regard to the process by which the Amish or any other religious group are rendered into cultural products. Although books are literary events in a way that quilts, faceless dolls, and furniture are not, novels about the Amish function much as these more easily recognizable Amish-themed commodities do: they are products that those in the publishing matrix and those who are buying books exchange not only books but, in some sense, the Amish themselves.

This is John Bomberger’s concern when he talks about his organization’s “ambivalence” regarding Amish fiction. Bomberger is CEO of Choice Books, a book distributor with Mennonite roots that stocks book displays in airports, supermarkets, gift shops, and travel centers across the United States and sells 5.2 million Christian books annually. “There is a concern among many in Choice Books about exploiting the Amish,” Bomberger told me on the phone, pausing occasionally as if carefully choosing his words. Some of Choice Books’ staff grew up Amish, and many are Mennonites. “It’s always a question of what is being communicated in a particular book,” Bomberger said. “What will the reader find in this book about Jesus, and about the Anabaptist-Christian tradition? Or is it written by somebody who is trying to profiteer? Now anything about the Amish will sell.” One young Amish woman in Indiana told me something similar: “It seems like word has gotten out that if you write about the Amish, you can sell books. I think it’s getting out of hand.”
Amish romance novels are much more than commodities, of course. In Thrill of the Chaste, I examine the many ways they function in the lives of readers: as devotional texts that augment readers’ faith, as methods of transport away from hypermodern lifestyles, and as “clean reads” in what journalist Pamela Paul has called a “pornified” culture.

But Amish romance novels can’t be fully understood apart from the production matrix in which they are conceived and sold. Although I loved all aspects of my research—including interviews with readers of the novels, study of the history and content of the genre, and conversations with Amish people about their opinions of the books—I found researching the production of the novels to be one of the most fascinating parts of the project. So while page 99 does not contain the thesis of Thrill of the Chaste (people will have to buy the book to discover what that is!), I was glad to learn that this page at least touched on this formative stage in the life of an Amish romance novel.
Learn more about Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels at the Johns Hopkins University Press website and Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Peter J. Bowler's "Darwin Deleted"

Peter J. Bowler is professor emeritus of the history of science at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has written several books on the development and impact of evolutionism and on science and religion, including Evolution: The History of an Idea, The Eclipse of Darwinism, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence, and Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin, and reported the following:
Presumably the claim that one can judge the ‘quality’ of a book from its p. 99 is meant to apply to its literary quality. This is a bit unfair to those authors whose main purpose is to convey an idea they think is important or exciting and who aspire only to decent everyday prose rather than literary effect. If the argument is important, you can hardly expect a single page in the middle to convey its substance, or to reveal the book’s potential. My p. 99 is from a fairly typical section in which I try to explain how even without Darwin the theory of evolution would have been promoted in the mid-nineteenth century by other scientists and thinkers (on p. 99 it’s the philosopher Herbert Spencer). But even this forms only part of the overall theme of the book, which shows that if (for example) Darwin had fallen overboard on the voyage of the Beagle, there were other versions of evolutionism that could have carried the theory forward. Natural selection would have come much later, and would have seemed less revolutionary. In this counterfactual world, religious believers would have been less traumatized by evolutionism, because it would have been easier to imagine life progressing toward moral perfection. But most of what we call ‘social Darwinism’ would occur anyway, because the ideology of racial or national struggle doesn’t depend on Darwin’s theory of natural selection acting on individual differences. Page 99 of Darwin Deleted will not tell you about the significance of the book as a whole, although I suppose you can use it to judge the adequacy of my prose.
Learn more about Darwin Deleted at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Zoë Sharp's "Die Easy"

Zoë Sharp’s crime thriller series features former British Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox. Sharp’s work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as a CWA Short Story Dagger.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Die Easy, the latest book in the Charlie Fox series, and reported the following:
Die Easy finds Charlie Fox professionally at the top of her game, but with her personal life in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. A celebrity fundraising event in post-Katrina New Orleans should have been a chance for them both to take things nice and slow. Fate, however, has other ideas when an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation. And this time Charlie can’t rely on Sean to watch her back…

Page 99 comes right at the end of chapter twenty-two, after the pair have survived a helicopter crash that was far from accidental. It is an important moment in the story, as it marks the first time the newly distanced Sean reaches out in any way to his forgotten former love, and she is forced to explain to him why she does what she does.

From Page 99:
Now, I shrugged, hunted for words I didn’t have and suspected probably did not exist.

“I do it because … it’s who I am,” I said at last, and saw a frustrated gesture forming at what he assumed was a throwaway answer. “No, let me finish, Sean. You told me once that I was perfect for Special Forces—that Colonel Parris was a fool to let me go. But he did let me go—with a boot up my backside to help me on my way.” I still remembered that conversation with Sean, every word of it. OK, so I’d had to pull a gun to get him to sit still long enough to listen. But listen he did—in the end.

Looking at his face now I knew he had absolutely no recall of it.

I sighed. “Close protection is about the nearest I can get to that life and still live with myself.” I tried a smile. “The nearest I can get without ending up in prison, that is.”

I remembered, too, a lecture from my father some time ago. After Sean and I had reunited, after I’d headed down the road which led me here. Up to that point, the deaths on my hands had all been judged justified. But what would happen, he wanted to know, when it all became so easy—so second nature—that I took a life I couldn’t justify?

“If you stay involved with Sean Meyer you will end up killing again,” my father said. “And next time, Charlotte, you might not get away with it.”

“Out there today, pinned down in that crashed helo with the fuel pouring out of it and taking fire”—Sean shook his head as if to clear it—“I was fucking terrified, if I’m honest.”

“And you think I wasn’t?”

“If you were, you hid it bloody well.”

“Just because you couldn’t see it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there,” I said. “Fear helps keep you alive—if you use it rather than let it use you. It’s what tempers recklessness, makes you think through an action, however briefly, before you do it.”

“I was close to losing control,” he admitted abruptly, unconvinced.

I reached out then, tentative, put a hand on his bare forearm and tried to ignore the fizz of contact through every nerve. Hairs riffled along my own arms, but the touch also set off a more basic chain-reaction that pooled in my belly. I tried to ignore it.

“Everybody with half a brain is scared under fire,” I told him. “What matters is how you deal with it.”
Learn more about the author and her work at Zoë Sharp’s website, blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Third Strike.

The Page 69 Test: Fifth Victim.

Writers Read: Zoë Sharp (March 2012).

My Book, The Movie: Fifth Victim.

Writers Read: Zoë Sharp.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tracy Thompson's "The New Mind of the South"

Tracy Thompson is a reporter and essayist who has written about subjects ranging from psychiatry to law to the Civil War. She is the author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression and The Ghost in the House.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The New Mind of the South, and reported the following:
People are forever writing off the American South--bemoaning its dwindling political importance or its cultural significance, or arguing that it just doesn't exist anymore and has been assimilated into a bland suburbanized American culture. And yet, despite what looks like very good evidence for all three assertions, the South continues to exist as a definable culture-within-a-culture and to exert huge influence on the American body politic. The reason, in one word, is race. The South is where the ideals of democracy met the harsh realities of skin color, where the meaning of "all men are created equal" was tested against the most easily identifiable means of sorting people into "superior" and "inferior" groups. It's a problem we're all still working on in one form or another, but the South has had more experience with that than any other region.

Page 99 of The New Mind of the South describes one aspect of this struggle happening in the South today: a grassroots racial reconciliation effort that has sprung up in communities across the South. It's a movement that has taken various forms and causes, from gaining historic status for a neglected black cemetery to discovering the black branch of a white family tree (or vice versa) to restoring stories from the South's "shadow history"--the decades of racial violence that followed the Civil War--to their proper historical context.

Historian C. Vann Woodward coined the phrase "the burden of Southern history" in the 1960s to refer to the fact that the South is the only part of the country that had lost a war; that fact, he thought, gave Southerners a unique vantage point from which to see their country. It's a genius phrase, but Woodward's definition is outdated; today, the burden is a memory of military defeat, but our collective memory of a shared racial history.
Learn more about the book and author at Tracy Thompson's website and blog.

Writers Read: Tracy Thompson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 18, 2013

Susan Nance's "Entertaining Elephants"

Susan Nance is Associate Professor of US History at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and affiliated faculty of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Entertaining Elephants is actually a pretty honest snapshot of the book as a whole. It discusses the ways nineteenth-century circus audiences were turned off by performances of trained horses and dogs in which spectators could see fear or discomfort in the animal performers. And it goes on to discuss industry wisdom about artistic reasons for not terrorizing one's dog and horse performers, even if many people ignored that wisdom.

I'm pretty proud of this page because it exposes the complex, technical production of trained animal acts for us to really scrutinize. One of my main goals for the book was to peel off all the circus glamour and mystery in order to convey the actual, often miserable and exhausting, lived experience of circus people and circus elephants in order to problematize it. So, I needed to document the day to day hands-on management of elephants in American circuses and use it as a case study of human attitudes toward and uses of animals in the 19th century United States more broadly. I employed horse and dog examples here and there to connect with the reader's experiences of living animals in their own lives (such as I guess it to be) and make the elephants I document hopefully less incomprehensible. Equally important, I was determined to show how animals experienced human activity and how human and nonhuman behaviour consequently existed in symbiosis. So, my discussion of squealing horses and cringing dogs, and the audiences made angry by them, is right on point. That is, it answers the big and provocative question I impose on the historical profession with the book: Does animal experience matter to history? My answer: yes, yes, yes. The page also gets across why elephants were a special case, which is something I had in mind on every page. In this instance, the issue was that elephants didn't show pain, fear or other discomfort in ways audiences could read. Most Americans, who might know how to read horse or dog behaviour in that way, had no idea that the elephants they saw were often completely broken down mentally or in terrible health. And circuses banked on that fact for many decades.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Nance's website.

Writers Read: Susan Nance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 17, 2013

William B. Irvine's "A Slap in the Face"

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His books include On Desire: Why We Want What We Want and A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

Irvine applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't, and reported the following:
On page 99 of A Slap in the Face, the following sentence appears: “To understand the pain-causing potential of insults, we need to appreciate the extent to which humans are social animals.” As the book elsewhere explains, we humans are in a bind. Deprive us of human contact, and we wither emotionally. Surround us with people, though, and we expose ourselves to the stresses caused by social interactions.

One source of stress is the insults those around us will likely direct our way. Some of their insults will be blatant, but most will be subtle. Indeed, people might even use praise to insult us. A woman, for example, might tell her friend that the dress the friend is wearing “does a wonderful job of hiding those bulges.”

The reason people insult us—and we insult them in return—is because we are playing what I call the social-hierarchy game. Thanks to our evolutionary past, we are programmed to care very much about what others think of us. It feels wonderful when they admire and defer to us, and it feels even better when they envy us. It feels bad, though, when they seem to look down on us, socially speaking, and it feels even worse when they provoke our envy. It is a recipe for human misery.

There is, however, a way out of this predicament: we need only withdraw from the social-hierarchy game. Do this, and not only will the insults others direct at us lose their sting, but we will become less likely to inflict insults on them. Do this, and our consumer behavior will change, since we will no longer feel compelled to buy status objects. And finally, do this, and our relationships will become more meaningful, since other people will start thinking of us as allies rather than social rivals.

In A Slap in the Face, I have much to say about insults, the social role they play, and the psychology that lurks behind them. I also describe my own attempt—which I regard as largely but not entirely successful—to withdraw from it.
Learn more about the author and his work at William B. Irvine's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Guide to the Good Life.

Writers Read: William B. Irvine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Steven E. Harris's "Communism on Tomorrow Street"

Steven E. Harris is an associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington. He was a research scholar at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute in 2003–2004.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Communism on Tomorrow Street: Mass Housing and Everyday Life after Stalin, and reported the following:
In Communism on Tomorrow Street, I explore Khrushchev’s mass housing campaign in the 1950s and 1960s, and how Soviet citizens moved from the overcrowded, communal apartments they had inhabited under Stalin into new, single-family apartments in five-story, prefab structures. Page 99 of my book draws a few conclusions about how ordinary people participated in this massive project and complicates the picture about what they and Khrushchev’s regime actually got out of it. First, despite its efforts to create a modern building industry based on standardized designs and prefabricated production that could go toe-to-toe against building programs in the West (think Levittown in the US), Khrushchev’s regime still depended heavily on individual Soviet citizens and their families to build their own, free-standing housing in smaller cities or even to participate without any training in the construction of their own mass housing apartment buildings. So while Khrushchev’s regime hoped the campaign would serve as a fine example of Soviet industrialization on the road to its version of modernity, it often had to rely on make shift methods of construction and even single-family structures built by Soviet citizens themselves. But this was not only a story of shortcomings. As I argue throughout my book, unlike past industrial and political campaigns under Stalin that relied on coercion to get things done and often resulted in mass death, Soviet citizens who helped out Khrushchev’s regime in the building program, in which mass death was avoided, did so enthusiastically for the simple reason that they received better housing on account of their efforts. On the other hand, page 99 also shows that the move to the separate apartment wasn’t always a sure bet even for families who patiently waited for years on a waiting list. Even official statistics reveal that many citizens just ended up in other communal apartments. For these urban dwellers, Khrushchev’s housing campaign was deeply frustrating and laid bare the arbitrary methods by which the state distributed mass housing. If you’ve read this far into this post and would like to learn more about my book and comment on it, please see my book blog where I’ll be sharing other insights about the research and writing that went into it.
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 15, 2013

Morten Jerven’s "Poor Numbers"

Morten Jerven is assistant professor at Simon Fraser University. He has written for the Foreign Policy and The Guardian, and his research has been covered at BBC and Econtalk. He has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals.

Jerven applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Poor Numbers. How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It, and reported the following:
On page 99 I document an email exchange between me and the IMF Technical Advisor to East Africa. One of the central themes of the book is how development statistics for African countries have been created rather than collected. In this correspondence I asked the IMF Technical Advisor to East Africa how data users should interpret the economic statistics, particularly the GDP figures coming out countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The question arose because in 2010 it was announced that GDP figures in Ghana were revised. As a result GDP per capita almost doubled, and Ghana went from being classified as a poor country, to a middle income poor country. I asked whether such revisions could be forthcoming in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania as well, in order to triangulate other information I had collected from national statistical offices that same year.

On page 99 it is recorded that the IMF representative responds that
“I have access to information provided to me on a confidential basis, I am not in a position to answer your request.” I countered that I had already been able to get some information from the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development, NORAD, and the IMF on these issues and explained that “one of the central aims of this study is to demystify the processes behind the production of income and growth statistics in the region. Taking the position that the IMF’s role in this process is ‘confidential’ raises more problems than it solves.”
The IMF advisor kept his ground and did in the end only respond to the request in general terms.

The central concerns regarding African development statistics is that with the current uneven application of methods and poor availability of data, any ranking of countries according to GDP levels is misleading. The book emphasizes the challenges for ‘data users’ in these circumstances and shows how data users, organizations, media and scholars are misled by African development statistics. My crucial point is that GDP data are disseminated through international organizations, but without any detailed data descriptions. Currently, data users are not getting the assistance they need. And the IMF response documented on page 99 in this case is typical.

In my book I used other methods – such as going through the source material and conducting interviews with the national income accountants in the countries that I visited (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia). In these interviews I mapped the current state of development statistics and documented what is needed to improve on the situation. This system currently causes more confusion than enlightenment, and is dire need of reform.

Poor numbers are too important to be dismissed as just that.
Learn more about Poor Numbers. How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It at the Cornell University Press website, and visit Morten Jerven’s home page for more on the book and his research.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Phillip F. Schewe’s "Maverick Genius"

Phillip F. Schewe works at the Joint Quantum Institute, located at the University of Maryland. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, The Humanist, American Scientist, Physics Today, and Physical Review Letters. He is also a playwright. His previous book, The Grid, a history of how society uses and loses electricity, was named by NPR as one of the science books of the year for 2007.

Schewe’s present book, Maverick Genius, tells the story of the life of Freeman Dyson, a protean scientist-essayist who helped to reinvent quantum science, to design a best-selling nuclear reactor model, to design a nuclear-powered rocket ship used by Stanley Kubrick (at least at first) as the model for the spaceship in 2001, to launch the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (“Dyson Spheres”), to craft the limited nuclear testban treaty of 1963, to keep tactical nuclear weapons out of Vietnam, to invent adaptive optics (now used on most large optical telescopes), to prove the chemical stability of matter, and to introduce field theory into condensed matter physics. Dyson has been a frequent writer for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. He won the million dollar Templeton Prize for writing on religion and science.

Schewe applied the “Page 99 Test” to Maverick Genius and reported the following:
Dropping in any page of Maverick Genius, the reader would see Dyson creating something interesting. On page 99 the time is the mid 1950’s, and Dyson is a new professor at the Institute for Advanced Study during the height of nuclear paranoia, which inspired thoughts of nuclear holocaust:
Survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima blasts provide many gripping eyewitness accounts. Works of art, like Doctor Atomic, also vividly portray the general sense of nuclear dread. In the opera’s production on the grand stage of the Metropolitan Opera house, the climax of the story, the nighttime detonation of the “gadget” in the New Mexico desert, comes in the very last moment of the opera. In slow motion, with all the characters leaning in toward the distant explosion, as if to listen in on the revelation of an awful secret, the blast seems to shiver space itself apart and turn darkness into a ball of fire.
The text on page 99 continues with the aftermath of the humiliation of Dyson’s boss, Robert Oppenheimer:
The war was over. Not the Cold War; that would go on for decades. But the war over Oppenheimer was over. His security clearance was revoked and his involvement with government matters ceased. But at least he had not been fired from his post at the Institute. Dyson felt that Oppie, back in Princeton with fewer distractions, was a better director than ever. He met each Tuesday afternoon with senior Institute scientists, and continued with his sharp questioning of seminar speakers.

Freeman Dyson had one of the most prestigious jobs a scientist could have. He was a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. The most famous residents at the Institute were physicist Albert Einstein and mathematician Kurt Gödel. Dyson never got to know either man. When Dyson came for the 1948/49 academic year, he didn’t know enough physics and had been too shy to talk to Einstein. Now, coming to the Institute as a professor Dyson knew more physics but generally avoided seeing the man because of Einstein’s outmoded views about quantum mechanics.

Dyson also spoke little with Gödel. It was said that Gödel and Einstein only talked with each other. The ideas Gödel introduced were no less important for mathematics than Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle had been for physics. Gödel demonstrated that within a formal mathematical system with a finite number of rules some logical propositions would exist which could not be proved or disproved by the logical rules of that system. In other words, no finite system of mathematics, no matter how extensive, would ever be satisfactorily complete. This demonstration is now generally called Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. And then, like his friend Einstein, effectively retired from active participation in forefront research.”
Learn more about Maverick Genius at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Maverick Genius.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

David Mayers's "FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis"

David Mayers holds a joint appointment in the History and Political Science departments at Boston University. His books include George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy and The Ambassadors and America's Soviet Policy.

Mayers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the Rise of Hitler to the End of World War II, and reported the following:
This book constitutes an investigation into the effects that personality and circumstance had on US foreign policy during World War II. In the book I give an account of US envoys residing in the major belligerent countries--Japan, Germany, Italy, China, France, Great Britain, USSR--and highlight the fascinating role played by such diplomats as Joseph Grew, William Dodd, William Bullitt, Joseph Kennedy, John Winant, and W. Averell Harriman. Between Hitler's 1933 ascent to power and the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, US ambassadors sculpted formal policy--occasionally deliberately, other times inadvertently--giving shape and meaning not always intended by FDR or predicted by his principal advisors. From appeasement to the Holocaust and the onset of the Cold War, I examine the complicated interaction between policy, as conceived in Washington, and implementation on the ground in Europe and Asia. By so doing, I also shed needed light on the fragility, ambiguities, and enduring urgency of diplomacy and its crucial function in international politics.

The scene on p. 99 is centered on FDR's man in China, Ambassador Nelson Johnson. The year is 1937, famously associated with the "rape of Nanjing"--that city then serving as Chiang Kai-shek's capital. Johnson was evacuated from Nanjing shortly before the Japanese captured the city and perpetrated their misdeeds upon its civilian inhabitants and defeated Chinese defenders. Although Johnson did not directly witness the occupation of Nanjing, he did experience the city's pre-surrender bombings. These epitomized for him an inhumanity for which the Japanese would ultimately pay. He wrote presciently in September 1937: "Some day the Japanese will regret their senseless bombings of towns for someone will subject them to a similar treatment and the world will be silent for they will have no court into which they can go with dirty hands." Before that dreadful reckoning, Johnson predicted, Japanese forces would become enmeshed in a China war that they could not finish, engaged by guerrillas and regulars that, however ragged, stood a fair chance to drain Tokyo's wealth and morale. In the meantime he argued to FDR and State Department seniors on behalf of generous aid to China, not a line of reasoning persuasive to then dominant isolationists in Washington.
Read an excerpt from FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Elizabeth Dauphinee's "The Politics of Exile"

Elizabeth Dauphinee is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada. Her research interests involve autoethnographic and narrative approaches to international relations, Levinasian ethics and international relations theory, and the philosophy of religion. She has traveled and researched extensively throughout Bosnia and Serbia and spent much time writing in order to bury her own ghosts from those experiences.

Dauphinee applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Politics of Exile, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Politics of Exile is representative of one aspect of the postwar experience of Bosnian Serbs - the reluctant migration of those whose futures and pasts have been shattered by the conflict. As Jelena prepares to depart for Canada with her new husband, Milan, she shares a final coffee with the father of her first love, Luka, who was killed during the war. As they sit together at the kitchen table for what is probably the last time, neither of them suspect that Milan is implicated in Luka’s death. Each in their own way, Milan and Jelena hope that emigrating from Bosnia will help them bury their pasts, but the ghosts and memories follow them into their new lives. This tale and others are interwoven throughout a larger narrative: the relationship between an international politics professor and her Bosnian Serb translator, who is the younger brother of Jelena’s murdered love. The translator seeks his brother’s killer in Canada as the professor learns of his own crimes in the war. The Politics of Exile explores personal and civilizational guilt, displaced and fractured identity, secrets and subterfuge, love and alienation, and the impossibility of ethics.

From Page 99:
…She wanted to run out of there as fast as she could go. But instead, she sat down at the table. And she knew then that she would go to Canada with Milan.

“I will go to Canada with Milan Milanovic´,” she said quietly.

“I know,” old Sokolovic´ nodded. He reached into the pocket of the same sweater that had once held Stojan’s invitation to report for active duty, and withdrew an envelope. He handed it to her across the table, and she saw that it was stuffed with German marks.

“Please don’t, father,” she said to him, embarrassed. “I’ll be alright.”

“No, no,” he insisted, and his voice was hoarse and weak. “Canada is a good state, but you need money.”

“Please, father,” she begged. “Give it to Stojan.”

“There is enough for Stojan,” he said firmly. “This is what is left, and it is for you and Milan.” He pressed the envelope upon her, and she reluctantly accepted it.

“Now drink your coffee,” the old man implored her.

She did, and they sat together in those difficult, painful circumstances, looking at each other and knowing that, if the war had not come, things would be dramatically different. Sokolovic´ sighed, and gave voice to her own thoughts when he said helplessly, “I don’t know what this war was for.”

Jelena was silent. She had never understood what the war was for. All it produced were the dead and disappeared. All of this terrible loss, tides of refugees, hillsides covered with landmines. All of these rumors about concentration camps and rapes.

“We lost, we Serbs, didn’t we?” he asked.

Jelena nodded.

“I lost my son for nothing,” the old man whispered. “We couldn’t hold our own lines.”

“How could they be held against NATO?” she asked in return. “The mood of the world turned against us.” She thought about the things she had heard about what Serbs had done. She thought of Stojan, sitting blankly in the next room.

They looked at one another across the table, and the coffee steamed pleasantly between them.

“Daughter,” Sokolovic´ began, and then hesitated.

She waited for him to go on…
Learn more about The Politics of Exile at the Routledge website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 11, 2013

Richard J. Samuels's "3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan"

Richard J. Samuels is Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of the MIT Center for International Studies. He is the author of several award winning books, including: Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia (2007) and Machiavelli’s Children: Leaders and Their Legacies in Italy and Japan (2003).

Samuels applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan, and reported the following:
On March 11, 2011 Japan moved eight feet closer to North America, the earth’s axis shifted, and the world turned upside down for 128 million Japanese. We watched in horror as 20,000 people were washed away by a devastating tsunami just minutes after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shifted the sea floor off the Tohoku coast in northeastern Japan. And then, in slower motion, we witnessed the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, the displacement of 110,000 residents, and the spread of an invisible radioactive terror across the archipelago. This quake, tsunami, and meltdown — a triple catastrophe with no precedent—is known simply as “3.11."

On page 99, one finds both the central question of the book: “What will (and will not) change?” and its conclusion: “it is too soon after the catastrophe to identify lasting changes.” At this point, the question and answer refer to one piece of the Japanese national fabric-- national security. The book also examines change vis-à-vis energy policy-- particularly the future of nuclear power-- and local governance--the locus of most public policy delivery. In all three areas Japan’s elites competed to control national rhetoric, the “sweet talk” that frames public choices. For some, 3.11 was a warning for Japan to “put it in gear’’ and go in a new direction. For those with more to lose from change, the catastrophe was a once-in-a-millennium “black swan,” so Japan should “stay the course.’’ Still others declared that 3.11 taught a clear lesson--that Japan must return to an idealized past and rebuild what was had been lost to modernity and globalization.

Optimists saw 3.11 as the moment to seize the opportunity to re-energize civil society and enhance transparency in the policy process. The enormity of the tragedy notwithstanding, pessimists insist that 3.11 was not big enough to compel changes to national institutions. There is evidence to support both views, but observers are struck by how inflated many of the grandest predictions were—e.g., that 3.11 would stimulate a “civilizational transformation” or that a new chapter in Japanese history would begin. An insistent flood of extravagant claims dominated the 3.11 discourse, rattling Japanese politics and society. The discourse was filled with reaffirmations of community and social solidarity. But the political world was not “reborn,” nor was national life “reset.” Normalcy prevailed. Japan would not become more muscular, it would not alter its system of local governance, and it would not abandon nuclear power. It was not nudged in a new direction.
Learn more about 3.11 at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lisa Sowle Cahill's "Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics"

Lisa Sowle Cahill received her BA from the Santa Clara University and her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is the J. Donald Monan Professor of Theological Ethics at Boston College.

Cahill applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics, and reported the following:
Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics is a book about religion and politics. It defends Christian action for social change, the positive potential of Christian believers and churches to alleviate global injustices, such as huge gaps between rich and poor, climate change, sex trafficking, and violent civil conflict. The book refutes the notions that Christianity is only about spiritual salvation and an afterlife; that God is present in the Christian religion only; that the rule of international politics is and must be “might makes right;” that the unjust conditions in which the majority of the world’s population lives cannot be changed; and that when religion gets into volatile situations it just inflames conflict and division.

The book bases its case on the figure of Jesus Christ, whose life and message are remembered in the Christian gospels. Christians believe that the risen Jesus is still present in the community of faith. Core to his ministry is Jesus’ preaching of the “kingdom (or reign) of God,” which is in fact a call for more inclusive community, in which sinners, the poor, women, the ill and mentally infirm, and other excluded categories can find acceptance, healing, and hope for the future. Page 99 addresses an important premise of the book’s argument: Jesus himself thought that God’s mighty action at the end of time would definitively overturn the reality of historical evil. Yet Jesus also believed that God is already present in history in a saving way, so that Christian political action can produce real results now.

The cover image of the book captures its message. It is a photo taken by Catholic Relief Services at a camp in Kenya for refugees fleeing violence in Somalia. Three relief workers—two men, one woman; two black, one white; two Christian, one Muslim (the woman wears a headscarf)—stand near a water truck, talking, gesturing, and making plans accommodate the overflow of Somalians. One jots in a notebook. One holds a cell phone. The black man wears a jacket with the CRS logo: a flame with a smaller flame at its center. A flame (or “tongue of fire”) is a New Testament image of the Holy Spirit, sent by the risen Christ to empower the church. Those who struggle for justice out of love of God and neighbor carry on the work of Jesus Christ in the world.
Read an excerpt from Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 8, 2013

Matthew Goodman’s "Eighty Days"

Matthew Goodman's nonfiction books include The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York and Jewish Food: The World at Table. The recipient of two MacDowell fellowships and one Yaddo fellowship, he has taught creative writing at numerous universities and workshops. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and children.

Goodman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, and reported the following:
Eighty Days is the true-life story of two young female journalists, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, who each set out from New York on November 14, 1889 to try and beat the around-the-world mark of eighty days set by the fictional Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s novel. Nellie Bly sailed east across the Atlantic on the steamship Augusta Victoria; Elizabeth Bisland headed west by train to San Francisco on the New York Central railroad. The race around the world was Bly’s original idea, and she fought to convince the editors of the World newspaper, for which she worked, to let her do it. (In those days, editors didn’t even like their female reporters heading unescorted across the city, much less around the world.) Bisland, on the other hand, had been summoned that very morning to her publisher’s office, where she was summarily informed – against her strong wishes – that she was to leave that very evening on a trip around the world.

On page 99, Elizabeth Bisland is one day out of New York. Still reeling from the shock of the sudden turn her life has taken, she finds herself late at night wandering hungry and alone around the vast, gloomy Union Station in Chicago. This is how the page begins:
She felt, all at once, terribly homesick, so far from the cozy apartment where her sister had by now lit the gas jets and prepared a quiet dinner for herself; she remembered that she hadn’t eaten on the train, and realized that she was very hungry. She passed shuttered newsstands and lunch counters, a waiting room with a few sleepy-looking passengers in it; she could hear her own footsteps echoing in the cavernous hall. On a wing adjoining the main hall a telegraph office was still open: at this hour, a wire back to The Cosmopolitan would do no good. A friendly conductor took pity on her and helped her locate the departure gates for the Rock Island Road, where she would transfer to the train for Omaha, before bidding her, in Bisland’s description, “a commiserating adieu.” Near the waiting area she found a lunch hall that was open late, and she sat on a high stool at the counter and ate a solitary dinner of ham with a cup of tea. Even this seemingly ordinary act was daring in its way: in New York there was only a single restaurant at which it was considered appropriate for respectable women to sit on stools and eat at a counter on which no cloth was spread. That restaurant was located on Broadway near Twenty-first Street, and Elizabeth Bisland, who worked only a few blocks away, surely knew of it, and had likely eaten there on her way to or from the Cosmopolitan offices. Memories of New York would have only exacerbated her sense of loneliness. She was in a nearly deserted train station in a strange city late at night having dinner, unaccountably, by herself. It could not bode well for her trip, she must have pondered, that the magazine had made this mistake at the very first opportunity to do so. As she ate, her every mouthful was regarded with wan interest by the man who oversaw the lunch hall. She finished up her meal and hurried out to the train.
Eighty Days is a work of nonfiction. All of the dialogue in it – and anything else between quotation marks – was taken from a written source such as a memoir, letter, or newspaper article. None of the events described in the book was imagined, and though I worked very hard to present the internal world of the two main characters as well as the external world through which they raced, I did not ascribe any thoughts to any character that he or she did not personally claim. This passage was actually the product of several avenues of research: Elizabeth Bisland’s own account of the race, entitled A Flying Trip Around the World (both she and Bly published books about their journeys, which proved an enormous help); contemporaneous descriptions of Chicago’s Union Depot; and books about women in New York in the late nineteenth century (one of which yielded the detail about the sole restaurant in the city that allowed women to sit on stools and eat at a bare counter).

Still, though all of the details in this book are taken from life, I wanted Eighty Days to have all the suspense, immediacy, and emotional impact of a work of fiction: so that the reader would not just know what happened on that race around the world, but feel it as well. I hoped that in turning to a particular page in the book – such as, for example, page 99 – a reader might not immediately be able to tell whether she was reading a work of history or a novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Matthew Goodman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Eighty Days.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods's "The Genius of Dogs"

Brian Hare is the Director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and an Associate Professor in both the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. He is the founder of Dognition, a website where people can discover the genius of their dog, and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Genius of Dogs.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Genius of Dogs and reported the following:
From page 99:
Miraculously, a beach appeared, the kind you would expect to see in the Bahamas. The sand was white and fine, strewn with dried palm fronds. We pulled up and dragged the canoe onto this unlikely shore.

A black form shimmied down a tree trunk and lead her family onto the beach. They were bonobos - our closest but almost forgotten relatives.
Page 99 finds me deep in the Congo basin with our closest living relative – the bonobo. What does this have to do with dogs? It turns out, quite a lot. One of the biggest surprises in my research with dogs was that they have a special kind of intelligence – the ability to read human gestures. Normally, we assume that you have to breed smart animals to get smart animals. But what I found out on a fox farm in Siberia was that actually, dogs were probably bred to be friendly, then got smarter by accident.

It looks like the same thing happened in bonobos. Being much more friendly and tolerant than our other closest living relatives, chimpanzees, has also given bonobos a special intelligence – they are better able to solve a range of cooperative tasks.

This has implications for human evolution. We often assume that smarter humans produced smarter humans. But what if, like dogs and bonobos, we became friendlier first, and then got smarter by accident?

We often think of survival of the fittest as being the survival of the meanest. But in the case of dogs, bonobos, and maybe even humans, it looks like a case of survival of the friendliest.
Learn more about The Genius of Dogs at the publisher's website.

Visit Brian Hare's website and Vanessa Woods's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ernest Freeberg's "The Age of Edison"

Ernest Freeberg is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America, and reported the following:
One goal of The Age of Edison is to make electric light visible. We travel from one place to another physically guided and mentally massaged by carefully engineered artificial light, something inconceivable for all but the last century of human history—and yet the technology is so ubiquitous that we hardly notice. Going back to those first decades when electric light left Edison’s laboratory and spread through the culture, I aim to recover how pervasive, and transformative, the light has become. 19th century Americans found ways to illuminate every corner of their lives, a process I’ve called the “social invention” of the light bulb, and the book follows the development of light’s role in everything from surgery to shopping to spelunking. Light turns out to be a powerful tool and an addictive stimulant, as good at conjuring illusive fantasies as it is in revealing what’s hiding in the dark.

Page 99 concerns one fundamental way that electric light helped to “invent modern America,” the creation of our round-the-clock transportation system. Before the age of strong artificial light, trains could only move slowly after dark and passengers avoided the dangers of night travel; ships had no choice but to sail through the night, but in crowded seas oil lamps and sailors’ whistles did little to prevent terrible accidents, with thousands drowning at sea each year. On this page I explore the way Mississippi riverboat pilots learned to use electric spotlights to pick their way through the river’s hazards. While tradition-bound captains used the light sparingly, the passengers loved to watch the spotlight sweep the riverbank, adding a vivid theatricality to all it touched, turning the mundane Mississippi shoreline into a “real-life lantern show.”
Mark Twain, who loved inventions even as he wrote nostalgically about his early days as a steamboat pilot, declared the electric spotlight a marvelous improvement. “You flash out your electric light,” as he put it, ”transform night into day in the twinkling of an eye, and your perils and anxieties are at an end.” When he concluded an 1882 riverboat trip in New Orleans, Twain found the levee at night, bustling with activity under the glow of electric lights, to be “a wonderful sight, and very beautiful.”
Learn more about The Age of Edison at The Penguin Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue