Sunday, April 11, 2021

Michelle Nijhuis's "Beloved Beasts"

Michelle Nijhuis is a project editor at The Atlantic, a contributing editor at High Country News, and an award-winning reporter whose work has been published in National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. She is coeditor of The Science Writers’ Handbook and lives in White Salmon, Washington.

Nijhuis applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, and reported the following:
Readers who apply the Page 99 Test to Beloved Beasts will find themselves at a turning point in the life of Aldo Leopold, the American wildlife ecologist best known for his essay collection A Sand County Almanac. In the spring of 1924, after fifteen years in New Mexico and Arizona with the U.S. Forest Service, Leopold somewhat reluctantly accepted a more prestigious position with the agency in Madison, Wisconsin. Five days after leaving for Wisconsin, the district forester for the Southwest signed off on Leopold’s plan for the Gila National Forest, creating the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

In many ways, Leopold is the central character of Beloved Beasts, and while the events on page 99 are not particularly dramatic at first glance, they marked Leopold’s transition from a respected government official to the far-seeing writer and thinker he would become in later life. Within the Forest Service, he had already begun to agitate for policies designed to protect species from decline and landscapes from devastating erosion, and the Gila Wilderness was the enduring legacy of that work. After four restless years at the agency’s Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin, Leopold left the Forest Service, and in 1934, he joined the University of Wisconsin as a professor of game management—the first position of its kind in the country, and perhaps the world. At the university, he incorporated lessons from the relatively new science of ecology into his work, deepening his and his students’ understanding of the relationships among species and the relationships between species and their habitats.

Leopold’s vision of the relationship between humans and the rest of life, most fully expressed in A Sand County Almanac and his other late writings, was both rooted in the past and startlingly prescient. Unlike many conservationists before and since, Leopold understood that humans could and should play a constructive part in conservation—that they could cast off their role of “conqueror of the land-community,” as he called it, and accept the humbler responsibility of “plain member and citizen.” His departure for Wisconsin, recounted on page 99 of Beloved Beasts, was an important step in his own journey toward plain citizenship.
Learn more about the book and author at Michelle Nijhuis's website and the W.W. Norton website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Michela Wrong's "Do Not Disturb"

Michela Wrong is a writer and journalist with more than twenty years' experience of covering Africa. She joined Reuters news agency in the early 1980s and was posted as a foreign correspondent to Italy, France and Ivory Coast. She became a freelance journalist in 1994, when she moved to then-Zaire and found herself covering both the genocide in Rwanda and the final days of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko for the BBC and Reuters. Wrong later moved to Kenya, where she spent four years covering east, west and central Africa for the Financial Times.

She was awarded the 2010 James Cameron prize for journalism that combines "moral vision and professional integrity." She is regularly interviewed by the BBC, Al Jazeera and Reuters on her areas of expertise.

Wrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Do Not Disturb captures the suspicions Emile Rutagengwa, assistant to exiled former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, began to harbour in 2013 towards Apollo Gafaranga, a businessman friend visiting the latter in South Africa. Emile took against Apollo, and since the book kicks off with Patrick's strangling in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg - an event Apollo organised - we know Emile's suspicions are justified.

Page 99 is not a bad introduction to the rest of the book. It uses first hand testimony to bring to life not only some key players in the story - Patrick, the laid-back spy chief; Apollo, the high-rolling Judas; Emile, the wary driver and bodyguard - but to highlight the predicament of any high-profile African who goes from being a presidential aide to an enemy of the state, trying to set up an opposition party while keeping out of the clutches of the killers sent by his old friend, President Paul Kagame. The phenomenon of the revolution eating its own is certainly not the only theme of my book. I also delve back into the recent history of Africa's Great Lakes to examine how the Rwandan Patriotic Front to which both Kagame and Karegeya belonged saw the light of day in Uganda and how it came to invade neighbouring Rwanda in 1990. But the moment in which former brothers in arms turn on one another is the climax to which the rest of the book builds. Do Not Disturb is, amongst other things, a story of personal betrayal, and the most egregious example of that toxic, fatal process was Patrick Karegeya's murder.

The test fails in that it gives no indication that only the first four chapters of the book are set in South Africa in the 2010s, amongst the fearful Rwandan diaspora based there. In the rest of the book the narrative shifts back in time to the Uganda of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, tracks the birth of Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement, explains how the Bush War gave birth to the RPF, and then moves with the RPF itself into neighbouring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the end the book examines how and why the West has misunderstood Rwanda's recent history and turned an indulgent blind eye to Kagame's worst abuses, before returning to the story's point of departure: the Rwandan opposition in exile today.
Visit Michela Wrong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Edward B. Westermann's "Drunk on Genocide"

Edward B. Westermann is Professor of History at Texas A&M University—San Antonio, a Commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, and author, most recently, of Hitler's Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my work examines the way in which geography and space played an important role in determining Nazi actions between the “soft West” (e.g., France, Belgium, etc.) and the “wild East” (i.e., Poland and the Soviet Union). Specifically, this page is part of a chapter focused on “Alcohol and Sexual Violence” that explores the integration of drinking ritual into acts of sexual humiliation and sexual assault. This page reveals the existence of a “double standard” concerning acceptable German behavior in the West and the East, and shows, that, in the latter, “physical conquest of territory, racial, and gender-based concepts of superiority, and perceptions of male camaraderie combined with excessive alcohol consumption to create a mind-set among the perpetrators in which the prohibition of acts of sexual aggression existed as ‘reality only on paper.’”

In this case, “the page 99 test” provides a representative and important reflection of the overall thesis and content of the work. First, it reveals the manner in which not only the act of drinking, but the spaces and places that it occurred proved important in determining the boundaries of appropriate conduct. Second, it highlights the manner by which the occupied eastern territories became “zones of exception” in which ideological beliefs in German racial superiority found expression in horrific acts of sexual and physical abuse.

Under National Socialism, intoxication in both a literal and metaphorical sense became part of a hypermasculine ideal in which manhood and male group solidarity was established and reaffirmed by the perpetrators in rituals of celebration, physical and sexual abuse, and mass murder. For Nazi Party bureaucrats, the men of the SS and police, and the German troops who set about the task of conquering and “civilizing” the occupied territories, feelings of colonial entitlement reflected elements of a militarized masculine ethos in which the conquerors became addicted to the intoxication of the East and became drunk with power. While the expression ‘drunk with power’ served a symbolic purpose, the use of alcohol among the perpetrators was a very real and prevalent fact of life and constituted an important ritual in the preparation, implementation, and celebration of acts of mass killing in the East. While the German home front experienced euphoria in mass public spectacles and military victories, the term “Ostrausch” (lit. intoxication of the East) emerged as a description of the “imperial high” that characterized the behavior and actions of those participating in the National Socialist conquest of Eastern Europe; a campaign in which “hedonism and genocide went hand in hand.”
Learn more about Drunk on Genocide at the Cornell University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Benjamin R. Young's "Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader"

Benjamin R. Young is an Assistant Professor in Cyber Leadership & Intelligence at Dakota State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow in Strategy & Policy at the U.S Naval War College from 2018-2019 and received his PhD in 2018 from George Washington University. He was also a member of the 2018-2019 CSIS NextGen Korea Scholars Program. His research primarily revolves around East Asian studies, Cold War international history, security studies, and international relations.

Young applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader: North Korea and the Third World, and reported the following:
So if you open up to page 99 of my book, readers will come across a North Korean propaganda poster that celebrates the anti-colonial solidarity of the Third World (see attachment, inset below left). This image is my favorite in the entire book as it encapsulates several dimensions of North Korea-Third World relations. Firstly, the poster champions anti-imperialism and independence, which were pillars of Pyongyang’s foreign policy. Secondly, the poster features a multicultural and multiracial coalition of Third World youth. Despite North Korea’s information blockade, the government promoted the idea domestically that the DPRK was just one part of a global revolutionary movement that opposed capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism. Finally, the image features Arabic writing, which was uncommon in North Korean propaganda posters. Overall, the page 99 test works well for my book because it reveals an aspect of North Korean history - the visual culture - that is often overlooked. Visual culture is an important element of North Korea’s political system and ideology. It was used to mobilize and motivate citizens in the construction of North Korean communism. In my book, I use a number of North Korean propaganda posters because they are important parts of the DPRK’s political culture.
Learn more about Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "When Women Invented Television"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything; a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and TedSex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love; and Pop Star Goddesses: And How to Tap Into Their Energies to Invoke Your Best Self. She spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly and has since written for many publications, including BBC Culture, The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, Vulture, and Billboard. She also speaks about pop culture history and creativity.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today, and reported the following:
Page 99 of When Women Invented Television might just sum up my entire life’s work so far: It is a testament to the immensely personal power of television.

On this page, we see the triumph of TV’s first family sitcom, The Goldbergs, after its 1949 debut. This story of a Jewish family living in a Bronx tenement, created by and starring Gertrude Berg as matriarch Molly, has transitioned from radio to the new medium of television and shot to the top of the Hooper Ratings, the audience measurement service of the time. And viewers were going wild with a sensation we’ll never fully understand in our audio-visual-soaked era: They could not get over being able to actually see the Goldbergs rather than just hearing them, like they had for 17 years on radio. The Goldbergs were talking and laughing and moving in their very own living rooms, and it was mind-blowing.

A 67-year-old fan made Berg an apron and sent it to her; she cried when she saw Berg wearing it on TV, as she relayed to the star in a letter. Another fan, a Mrs. McInerney, wrote from Chicago, “A shut-in who wants to thank the Goldbergs for coming into our homes each Monday evening over WGNTV, surely the greatest thrill I have received was their friendly voices returning to us through television and seeing all of them was just so much more thrilling. … Little did we think we would get to see them on our television screen just one year after my husband got me the set to keep me company while he was away to work, and television has played a great part in my lonely life, for I have been a heart patient for the past six years.”

This was Gertrude Berg at the height of her powers. Unfortunately, as the book details, she didn’t stay there. The world, particularly as the 1950s progressed, was not welcoming to women as ambitious as Berg, and the Hollywood Red Scare ensnared her career. While she wasn’t personally blacklisted, her TV husband, Philip Loeb, was. Her sponsor, General Foods, asked her to fire him, and she refused. The decision got her show kicked off CBS, and while she eventually returned on NBC—without Loeb—The Goldbergs never recovered from the loss of momentum. I Love Lucy ran on CBS on the night once inhabited by The Goldbergs and became a lasting phenomenon for the ages.

But those early days of The Goldbergs, when fans were so entranced by the sight of their favorite characters, also show us something I’ve always tried to highlight in my work about TV history: Television isn’t some brainless trifle. It’s often brainless, sure. But the right show at the right time can affect us deeply. Its characters are people we know, and they change the way we feel and think. It’s easy to take that for granted in an age of streaming on demand, but it’s as true as ever.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Seinfeldia.

The Page 99 Test: Sex and the City and Us.

The Page 99 Test: Pop Star Goddesses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 2, 2021

Glenn Stout's "Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid"

Glenn Stout wrote his first free-lance story in 1986 for Boston Magazine and since that time has never been without an assignment. A full-time writer and author since 1993 he has authored, co-authored, edited or ghostwritten 100 books for both general trade and juvenile audience, primarily focusing on sports and history.

Stout applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid: America's Original Gangster Couple, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid is the first page of Chapter Seven, “A Movie Thriller.” It begins: “Whittemore [AKA “The Candy Kid”] was white hot. Being wanted for murder gave him status in the underworld far above that of other two-bit stickup artists, bootleggers and hijackers. He was a somebody now, his picture in the papers and his name on everyone’s lips. Margaret [Whittemore, Richard’s wife, AKA “Tiger Girl”] was white hot too, and almost as well known as her husband. But notoriety didn’t pay the bills or fuel Whittemore's efforts to avoid arrest. They both needed money…” picking up the story just as America’s original crime couple were about to become nationally known figures.

The page 99 test fortuitously drops the reader right smack into the middle of the story of the Whittemores, two working-class kids from Baltimore who decided to reach for their vision of the American Dream without regret. Richard has just escaped from the Maryland State Penitentiary, killing a guard in the process. He is beginning a life on the lam, subject of a nationwide manhunt and preparing to rejoin his young wife, Tiger Girl, who has been waiting for her husband since he was arrested and jailed just a week after their wedding. Unable to find work, and enthralled by the excesses of the era, they decide its time to live like the swells they see partying non-stop in the speakeasies and cabarets of the Roaring Twenties. Together, they make the decision to put together a gang that in another year would embark on a crime spree that would see the crew steal over one million dollars in cash and jewelry – primarily diamonds – and make them famous from coast-to-coast, anti-heroes to a generation of Jazz-mad young Americans enthralled by their romance and bold reach for infamy. For a brief time, as they spent blood money like water, they lived life as if they were stars in their own movie, every desire fulfilled.
Visit Glenn Stout's website.

--Marshal Zeringue