Thursday, April 29, 2021

Robert Kanigel's "Hearing Homer’s Song"

Robert Kanigel is the author of nine books, most recently Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry. He has received many awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, the Grady-Stack Award for science writing, and an NEH “Public Scholar” grant. His book The Man Who Knew Infinity was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; it has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and was the basis for the film of the same name starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel. Kanigel and his wife, the poet S. B. Merrow, live in Baltimore.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Hearing Homer’s Song and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book, Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry, is the second page of a chapter called “The Homeric Question,” about just how and where the Iliad and the Odyssey came to be:
If there was a Homer who’d written, sung, gathered, dictated, or revised the epic poems, when and where did he live?

If there was a historical siege of Troy, in which the Iliad was rooted and Odysseus’s return from which formed the basis for the Odyssey, when was it?

If there was something like an “original” Iliad and Odyssey, when and how had they come to be?

If they’d been written (as most readers of the epics had little cause to doubt) when and how were they first set down? And if not, how did they take the form known to us today?
The subject of my biography, Milman Parry, made these and related questions the subject of his life’s work. My book is a kind of literary detective story exploring how Parry came to his radical conclusion, which rocked the world of classical studies -- that no one “wrote” the Odyssey or the Iliad, at least in the way we mean it, but rather, that they were the product of an entirely different creative process – that they were composed orally by generations of singers. For this overturning of long accepted ideas, Parry has been called “The Darwin of Homeric Studies.”

Browsers of page 99 of the book would get an excellent idea of the intellectual subject of the book, but no idea of the dramatic human story behind it – no sense of Milman Parry’s emergence out of nowhere, in California, his early marriage, his personal and intellectual adventures at the Sorbonne in Paris, his visits to the former Yugoslavia, where he sought to confirm his theories among living epic singers, or his sudden and mysterious death by a gunshot wound, at age 33, in a Los Angeles hotel room.

It’s interesting to me that the page 99 material about the Homeric Question was what had drawn me to Parry from the outset. I am not a classical scholar but a writer by trade; I learned about the Homeric Question from a (real) character I had researched for one of my earlier books, On an Irish Island.

Funny how things work. Kismet, I think they call it.
Visit Robert Kanigel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Joshua M. Scacco & Kevin Coe's "The Ubiquitous Presidency"

Joshua M. Scacco is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of South Florida. He is an expert on political communication and news media, having published more than 50 academic articles, book chapters, and public research papers as well as provided commentary for national and local news outlets.

Kevin Coe is a Professor of Communication at the University of Utah. He has published more than 50 academic articles and chapters, and is the coauthor of The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America.

Scacco and Coe applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Ubiquitous Presidency: Presidential Communication and Digital Democracy in Tumultuous Times, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Ubiquitous Presidency sets up a case study examining the influence of then-President Barack Obama’s discussion of health care, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, often called “Obamacare”). We explain it this way: “Our interest is in understanding if and how Obama was able to break through the noise and influence the communicative environment during the first two ACA open enrollment periods.” We do this through a semantic network analysis looking at the connections that exist between the language Obama used in tweets about the ACA and the language that news organizations and the public used.

Does the page 99 test work in this case? Not directly. This page introduces a single case study (of Obama’s communication about the ACA) within a chapter that is also a single case study (of the role Obama played in transforming the presidency). Although the Obama case does reflect how presidents, in general, can use digital technology in attempts to influence segments of the population (one argument in the book), the full work is much more expansive in scope than any one president, outreach approach, or outcome. We include detailed case studies of Obama and Trump, but our focus in most of the book is on over-time trends—in presidential communication, news coverage, and U.S. culture.

The book’s argument, which inspires the Obama example on page 99, is that the traditional “rhetorical presidency” has given way to something different: the ubiquitous presidency. The ubiquitous presidency is a way of explaining the contemporary presidency, especially the significant changes it has undergone over the past several decades. “Ubiquity” signals that contemporary presidents create a nearly constant and highly visible communicative presence in political and nonpolitical arenas through the use of mass as well as targeted media. They do this to achieve longstanding goals, namely visibility, adaptation, and control. But, in an environment where accessibility, personalization, and pluralism have become omnipresent considerations, the strategies presidents use to achieve these goals are very different from what we once knew. We chronicle this important shift through analyses of thousands of presidential speeches, large Twitter datasets, two national surveys, and an experiment. The results help make sense of why the presidency today feels so different from what we once knew.
Learn more about The Ubiquitous Presidency at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Jeff Eden's "God Save the USSR"

Jeff Eden is Assistant Professor of History at St. Mary's College of Maryland. His books include Slavery and Empire in Central Asia (2018) and Warrior Saints of the Silk Road: Legends of the Qarakhanids (2018).

Eden applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God Save the USSR: Soviet Muslims and the Second World War, and reported the following:
Readers who open the book to page 99 may wonder what the author had been smoking for the previous 98 pages. They are dropped into the middle of one of the strangest stories of the twentieth century: the unexpected, unprecedented alliance between Stalin's militant atheist state and traditional Muslim religious leaders—an alliance forged at the height of the war against Hitler. Stalin tapped Muslim leaders to rally their public to the war effort, and many obliged (some of whom had previously done time in the Gulag). These strange bedfellows produced a distinctive “Soviet-Islamic propaganda” in wartime, which included calls to a “jihad” against Hitler.

This bizarre alliance came after nearly two decades of brutal religious repression, during which tens of thousands of Muslims (as well as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others) were “purged,” and thousands of mosques were seized, shuttered, or turned into barns. What did Soviet Muslim leaders get out of the deal with Stalin? Why would Soviet Muslim citizens pay any mind to religious leaders who had made a “deal with the devil”?

These questions are at the heart of the book, and page 99 answers them— the Test passes with flying colors here! On this page, we see how Muslim leaders used their new, state-backed platforms to negotiate new concessions for their communities, and to carve out new spaces for religious freedom in the atheist environment.

Here, we discover that zakat, a traditional Muslim form of charity that had been suppressed by Soviet authorities in the 1920s-30s, was revived in wartime, as it could be used (among other things) to raise funds for the Soviet Red Army. Charity and fundraising also took place during sacred holidays like Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, which Muslims could once again celebrate out in the open, without fear. As page 99 explains, “Some of the charity provided by local Muslims was redistributed by the government for the purposes of buying livestock for the [holiday] sacrifice. After the sacrifice, the meat of this livestock was provided to families in need.” It is a story stranger than fiction: in wartime, the atheist Soviet state used the great redistributive powers of its Communist “command economy” to provision devout Muslims during their Feast of the Sacrifice.
Learn more about God Save the USSR at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vanessa O'Brien's "To the Greatest Heights"

Vanessa O’Brien is British-American mountaineer, explorer and author. She is the first woman to reach Earth’s highest (Everest) and lowest (Challenger Deep) points, the first woman to climb the Seven Summits in 295 days and is the first British or American woman to summit K2. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and an Honorary Advisory Board Member of the Scientific and Exploration Society.

O’Brien applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth, and reported the following:
From page 99:
When the mountain is nearly vertical, you may opt to do something called front pointing – slamming the metal teeth on the front of the crampon into the ice or snow – but you do it sparingly, because it doesn’t take too long to burn out your calves and shins. Staggered by how hard it was initially, I tried to calm myself down as everyone else zipped off into the sunset. After struggling through for a while, I looked up and felt an unpleasant bolt of panic. I was alone. The ghostly white penitents thronged around me, serrated heads bowed to pray, dripping and whispering.

“Hey!” I called. “Hey, where are you guys?”

For a terrifying moment, there was no answer but the Gregorian chant of the wind. Then Daniel appeared. He waved from the top of a formation that seemed miles away.

“Hey!” I waved back and tried to keep my voice level. “Wait up!” He gave me a thumbs-up and disappeared again.

“Keep calm. Keep up.” My own take on British climbing motivation. My mind raced through a number of mini mantras. “I am Scylla the rock—Marathon Man—I can endure any pain.”

We did this again the next day and the day after that. Over the boulders and through the penitentes, back through the penitentes and over the boulders. By the end of the third day, I had my mojo back and was keeping up with the team, but I wasn’t over- confident. That first day kept me humble. I was probably praying harder than the penitentes were.

A local lama came to perform the Puja ceremony, and once the ritual was completed, the Sherpa were ready to climb. However, the next morning there was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake in India near the Nepalese border, and it was strong enough that we felt it in Tibet. Daniel made a reconnaissance climb up to Camp 1 at 21,000 feet and found that landscape significantly changed.
Page 99 falls within Chapter 8 which is the first chapter in Part II: Climb and Punishment. Chapter 8 is the story of my first summit of an 8,000-meter peak, and because it is my first, I am not as experienced as the other climbers. The page 99 test lets the reader know the content of the book contains a first-person account of climbing. It also gives the reader a fair sense of the writing style in that on this page there is a hint of humor and self-deprecation.

However, from a strategic point of view, the page 99 test fails to capture the essence of the book reviews that cite how daring, insightful and inspirational the book is. That is because many of the powerful back stories take place over several climbs to avoid subjecting the reader to repetitive acclimatization trips up and down the mountain. From a practical perspective, the page 99 test fails to fully explain some technical items on page 99 because they are explained earlier, terms like crampons or penitentes. Once readers understand that penitentes are sculpted snow and ice formations up to fifty feet high that looked like parishioners on their way to mass to early explorers, some of the backhanded jokes make more sense on page 99… I was probably praying harder than the penitentes were.
Visit Vanessa O'Brien's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Kim Todd's "Sensational"

Kim Todd is the award-winning author of several books, including Sensational: The Hidden History of America's “Girl Stunt Reporters”, Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis, and Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America, winner of the PEN/Jerard Award and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. Her essays and articles have appeared Smithsonian, Salon, Sierra Magazine, Orion, and Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies, among other publications. She is a member of the MFA faculty at the University of Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Todd applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sensational and reported the following:
Readers opening to page 99 would find disgraced publisher of the Chicago Times James J West with a suitcase full of cash, urging one of his former editors to flee with him to Europe in 1889, before he returns to Chicago and is arrested for financial malfeasance. They would also encounter Eleanor Stackhouse, pseudonym “Nora Marks,” a journalist for the rival Chicago Tribune, investigating the practice of locking up boys as young as 10 with adult men in the Cook County jail. At the bottom, she has just talked her way into the facility to conduct interviews with the young prisoners.

This page offers a glimpse of the whole but an incomplete one. Sensational is a book with a large cast of characters and interweaving stories, so a browser just flipping through wouldn’t know why West was important or that Stackhouse was part of a wave of young women in the 1880s and 1890s working in a new genre pioneered by undercover reporter Nellie Bly. On the other hand, West’s seedy tale captures the way that “stunt reporters” were often hired by marginal papers with little to lose, as their work wasn’t considered quite respectable. The page describes Nora Marks: “Like other reporters doing stunts, Marks was in her mid-twenties, courageous, and curious about the hidden side of her city,” effectively locating her within the movement. Finally, page 99 includes an illustration of a promotion for Marks, blaring in large type: “Where has Nora Marks been during the last two weeks? Not idle surely. She has had a new adventure—more unique than any before undertaken by a newspaper reporter.” This shows the value and popularity of this kind of writing.

The rest of Sensational tracks the rise and fall of the “stunt reporters” like Marks who flooded into newspaper offices in the decade after Bly’s exposé of Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women in 1887 and wrote first-person stories that captured readers’ imaginations and uncovered institutional abuses. It also explores the distinct, but parallel, innovations of journalists Ida B. Wells and Victoria Earle Matthews, and argues that this cohort of women developed many of the techniques of investigative reporting and literary nonfiction still employed today.
Visit Kim Todd's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Kate Luce Mulry's "An Empire Transformed"

Kate Luce Mulry is Assistant Professor of History at California State University, Bakersfield. She received her PhD from New York University. Her research and writing investigate the intersection of environmental history, the history of science and medicine, and ideas about the body in the early modern Atlantic world.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, An Empire Transformed: Remolding Bodies and Landscapes in the Restoration Atlantic, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins with an assessment of claims made by a group called the Bedford Level Corporation in the late seventeenth century that they had successfully drained the fens of eastern England and had therefore earned their reward in the form of lands that had long been used communally by fen communities. But I quote a satirical ballad from the era to highlight the Corporation’s possible failures. The ballad references “drown[ed]” fenlands, suggesting the Corporation members had celebrated prematurely and had not earned the lands they had taken in reward for their incomplete work.

I next describe how the Bedford Level Corporation was one iteration of a type of early modern English “projector” who sought investment and support for their drainage projects. These varied drainage “improvers” promised to make wetlands more accessible to travelers and officials. However, residents of those communities living in or near Irish bogs or English fenlands often valued the inaccessibility of wetland landscapes to outsiders. The final paragraph reiterates this point by gesturing to religious communities who had been drawn to the inaccessibility of the fen landscapes and had valued the isolation for centuries.

If readers were to open An Empire Transformed to page 99, they would have a pretty good feel for the topics and arguments covered in the chapter and the book as a whole.

Page 99 falls within a chapter that examines the efforts of a group of individuals, known as the Bedford Level Corporation, who sought to drain vast areas of the fenlands in eastern England in the seventeenth century. They claimed their drainage projects would benefit the residents of the fenlands by turning unhealthy wetlands into healthy and productive fields made ready for year-round cultivation.

Several topics covered in page 99 relate to the book in a few ways. First, this page focuses on the idea of “improvement” as one of the arguments made by a variety of Restoration officials, as well as Bedford Level Corporation members, to justify their drainage projects. They claimed their work would increase the value of the land by transforming it from wet to dry. This is a regular argument made by all kinds of drainage “improvers” to justify their projects and to receive support. Second, while the different chapters in this book cover a range of environmental improvement projects initiated during the English Restoration, two of the five chapters highlight projects of fen, swamp and wetland drainage, and contemporaries’ debates about how to control these unruly watery landscapes (and the potentially unruly people who lived in them). In other words, discussing drainage projects represent a significant portion of the book. Third, the page suggests that the meanings of landscapes were contested. Residents of the fens regularly resisted the projects and policies of “improvers” and other representatives of an expansive English government. Finally, the page suggests that the outcomes of seventeen-century improvement projects were far from certain. By highlighting a satirical ballad pointing out the Bedford Level Corporation drainage failures (and the return of “Captain floud”), readers are reminded that officials’ desires to transform domestic and colonial landscapes and assert authority over the residents of a far-flung and growing English empire were often unsuccessful.

What’s missing from this page, however, is a reference to drainage as a public health measure. One of the justifications offered by “improvers” was their claim that transforming lands they deemed unhealthy also made residents healthier. These claims about improving public health by transforming the landscape are central to the book but absent from page 99.
Visit Kate Mulry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 23, 2021

Audrey Clare Farley's "The Unfit Heiress"

Audrey Clare Farley is a historian of twentieth-century American fiction and culture with special interests in science and religion. Prior to writing full-time, she taught literature at University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned a PhD in English.

Her first book, The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt, tells the story of a 1930s millionairess whose mother secretly sterilized her to deprive her of the family fortune, sparking a sensational case and forcing a public debate of eugenics.

Farley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Unfit Heiress and reported the following:
From page 99:
Maryon admitted that she gambled, but insisted that she had never used Ann’s money for it.

It was during this time, Maryon had asserted, that Ann’s sex addiction was made known, as she was found sleeping in bed with a boy of the same age at an institution. This occurred a few years after Maryon had caught Ann masturbating as a toddler. The first incident, Maryon had excused. She didn’t want to believe her daughter’s ways. But the second revealed to her that her daughter was absolutely deranged.

To further demonstrate that Ann was feebleminded, despite her best efforts, Mrs. Cooper Hewitt claimed that Ann had refused to be educated, misbehaving at one institution after another in order to be expelled. “Ann has never cared for anyone who could teach her or help her get along in life,” she told a newspaper. Maryon also cited the intelligence test performed by the state psychologist shortly before the procedure. According to Scally’s notes, Ann had poorly responded to the questions about American history. As a result, she’d been classified as a “high grade moron.” Mrs. Cooper Hewitt noted that the two doctors agreed with this assessment, as they’d already publicly stated.

Maryon didn’t know it, but with the label of “moron,” Ann had actually tested higher than two other clinical categories: idiot and imbecile. According to the state-sanctioned intelligence test that she’d been given (the Stanford-Binet test), the heiress had a mental age of eleven. The state applied the term imbecile to those with a mental age between two and seven, and idiot to those with one under two years. These clinical categories had been supplied by psychologist Henry Goddard, whose intelligence rubric (little more than a civics test, privileging those with knowledge of American his­tory) provided the basis for the Stanford-Binet, created by Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman and used to diagnosis Carrie Buck.
Page 99 perfectly captures my book. It combines sensational storytelling with historical research. It gives readers a glimpse of the mother-daughter feud that propels the narrative. And it explores one of the book’s primary themes: how female sexuality has been pathologized, subjecting women—even white heiresses—to extraordinary state violence.

At this particular moment in the story, socialite Maryon Cooper Hewitt has just attempted suicide. She’s in a New Jersey hospital, having fled California after criminal mayhem charges were filed against her there for having two doctors sterilize her daughter without her knowledge—all to cheat Ann out of her father’s estate. The news of the case has riveted the public, and Americans are eager to hear what Maryon has to stay for herself.

Maryon’s defense: Ann has “erotic tendencies,” and she failed an intelligence test administered by a state psychologist. As becomes clear throughout the book, sexuality and imbecility were thought to be one and the same. Sexually deviant women were assumed to be intellectually disabled, and intellectually disabled people were assumed to be sexually deviant. This was just one of the many junk scientific notions of the eugenics movement in America.

But why were sexual deviance and "feeblemindedness" perceived to be so dangerous to society that forcible sterilization provided the only solution? Why would two doctors operate upon Ann because of her personal life and supposed mental defects, but not upon women with, say, diabetes? In large part, because sexual deviance and feeblemindedness were thought to more seriously threaten the purity of the white race. Feebleminded women were prone to cross the color line. (And in fact, Maryon would go on to make much of the fact that Ann once flirted with a “Negro” train porter.) At a time when Americans feared the rising number of immigrants and African Americans beyond the rural South, this simply could not be tolerated.
Visit Audrey Clare Farley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Robin Waterfield's "The Making of a King"

Robin Waterfield is an independent scholar, living in southern Greece. In addition to more than twenty-five translations of works of Greek literature, he is the author of numerous books, including Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire and Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece.

Waterfield applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Making of a King: Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon and the Greeks, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Making of a King, I’m in the middle of discussing the Ptolemaic empire. Ptolemy II, having married his full sister Arsinoe (the first ever sibling marriage among the Ptolemies, but not the last) inaugurated the worship of himself and Arsinoe as the Sibling Deities. I explain that worship of a living human being as a god was not impossible within Greek religion, and that kings were especially likely to become divinized because they could be seen as performing remarkable, even miraculous deeds. And I say this about brother-sister marriage: “Brother-sister marriage was supposed to guarantee the purity of the bloodline, advertise the solidity of the royal family, and secure stability by eliminating the possibility of rival claimants to the throne; the king’s offspring would effectively be clones of himself, and so every generation of Egyptian kings took the same name.”

The page does not give a good impression of the book as a whole, except in so far as it is packed with interesting information! My book is essentially about the reign of Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedon, but I spend the first part of the book introducing his reign by giving the historical background. I go through the various threats and difficulties he was likely to face when he came to the throne, and one of the most important of these was the ongoing hostility between Macedon and Egypt. So on page 99 I’m still in the middle of explaining the Ptolemaic system with which Antigonus would have to deal. It’s the last chapter of this introductory section, and then the rest of the book is about how Antigonus gained the Macedonian kingship, and what he did with it during his long reign from 276 until 239.
Visit Robin Waterfield's website.

The Page 99 Test: Taken at the Flood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Jeremy Brown's "June Fourth"

Jeremy Brown is Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History at Simon Fraser University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, June Fourth: The Tiananmen Protests and Beijing Massacre of 1989, and reported the following:
If readers open June Fourth to page 99, they will find a title page for "Massacre," Part Three of the book. Flipping two pages ahead to this part's first page of text, browsers arrive at Chapter 9, "The Beijing Massacre as History." The chapter begins, "The People’s Liberation Army massacred unarmed civilians in Beijing on the evening of June 3, 1989, escalating into the early hours of June 4." I then mention different estimates of how many people died during the massacre, from 479 to 2,600 dead, before promising to "answer with more specificity the question of who died, where they died, and how they died."

The page 99 test reveals what June Fourth is trying to achieve and what it promises: naming the victims of the massacre and detailing their encounters with the PLA to underscore how senseless and unnecessary it was for an army to shoot its way through a city full of protesters. The victims included a watermelon vendor, young men trying to buy breakfast, a mother purchasing medicine for her sick child, and people looking out their windows to see what was happening.

My victim-centered account of the Beijing massacre is the central part of the book. The book's first two parts detail what made people in China happy and angry during the 1980s, predisposing some to join a protest movement that attracted a diverse range of supporters and raised hopes for a more transparent, less corrupt political system. Part four of June Fourth shows what happened nationwide in 1989, from friction between Han and non-Han people to violence, rage, and indifference in cities and villages outside Beijing. The book ends with a focus on the massacre's aftermath, which included a purge that mixed falsehoods and fear. During and after the events of 1989, protesters, observers, and Communist Party leaders repeatedly wondered what if events had unfolded differently and obsessed about critical turning points. June Fourth examines the alternative paths that people imagined at the time, showing that a violent end to the protests of 1989 was far from inevitable.
Visit Jeremy Brown's website.

The Page 99 Test: City Versus Countryside in Mao's China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Ioan Grillo's "Blood Gun Money"

Since Ioan Grillo started reporting in Mexico in 2001, he has been knee deep in covering drug cartels and crime. While it began as a glamorous assignment writing about the billionaire kingpins who were celebrated in ballads, he found himself reporting on a humanitarian catastrophe with an endless stream of weeping family members and mass graves. His third book Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels looks at where all the firepower comes from for this hybrid crime-war.

Grillo applied the “Page 99 Test” to Blood Gun Money and reported the following:
Page 99 of Blood Gun Money takes you bang into the National Tracing Center of the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives), in a vast grey federal building in rural West Virginia. Here is where they trace all the guns nabbed from criminals and crime scenes across the United States and in over 130 countries where American guns turn up. It’s a surreal operation, thanks to the weirdness of U.S. firearm laws stating that it is illegal to keep gun records In a digital data base. So they have vast mountains of papers stacked on pallets everywhere you look. The average trace time for a firearm, even a literal smoking gun found by the bullet-ridden corpse, is eleven days.

It’s a scene at the heart of the story of Blood Gun Money, which looks at the gargantuan black market of guns that flows around the United States and floods south over the border. The book takes you to all stages of the journey of the shooters, from a factory in Transylvania, Romania, to the biggest firearms trade show in the world in Las Vegas, to murder scenes that I have been covering for too many years, in Mexico, Honduras, and up in Baltimore, Maryland. It also goes up close with the gangsters who are pulling the triggers, including a serial killing gang member in Honduras.

So the Tracing Center on page 99 is not the most dramatic scene. But it is a scene at the core of the story, with the operation giving you a deep view of all the trafficking, the agents doing hundreds of thousands of traces every year, and following the guns moving over states, borders and oceans like they are blood cells flowing round a huge body and you can hear a muffled beating heart as this all ticks on.

It also touches the fiery politics of American gun culture that provide a background to this tale. The ATF are not allowed to do the digital searches as the gun rights hardliners fear this would be a prelude to federal agents kicking down their doors and coming for their weapons. I cover brutal crime and am not against the Second Amendment. But I had to get into the spiky row over guns to make sense of how the cartels in Mexico, drug dealers in Baltimore, and even guerrillas in Colombia are packing so much firepower. So yes, I think that Blood Gun Money might just pass The Page 99 Test.
Visit Ioan Grillo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 19, 2021

Séverine Autesserre's "The Frontlines of Peace"

Séverine Autesserre is an award-winning author, peacebuilder, and researcher, as well as a Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of The Trouble with the Congo, Peaceland, and The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider's Guide to Changing the World, in addition to articles for publications such as Foreign Affairs, International Organization, and the New York Times.

Mary Soledad Craig is a senior studying political science and philosophy at Columbia University. As a Human Rights Research Fellow, she is currently a research assistant to Professor Autesserre.

Craig applied the “Page 99 Test” to Autesserre's The Frontlines of Peace and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Frontlines of Peace, the reader will find a discussion of the problematic assumptions which international peacebuilders often rely upon. Séverine Autesserre identifies a key problem in the peace industry: The members of this industry only have surface-level knowledge of the nations and communities which they are seeking to aid. For example, Autesserre writes, “I have frequently heard peacebuilders and their donors explain that a six-month or year-long project focused on organizing a series of workshops will produce democracy or peace—both of which in fact take decades to develop, and require a little more than just a few workshops.”

This selection provides us with a good idea of the shortcomings of prevailing peacebuilding methods. However, while this page is important for providing this background, it is not representative of the book’s main mission. Autesserre aims not to focus on the failures of peacebuilding, but to instead document where it has succeeded.

Throughout The Frontlines of Peace, Autesserre brings to light many examples of those who have successfully built peace in their communities. In contrast to the peace industry described on page 99, she argues that successful peacebuilders develop strong local-level knowledge and put aside their own assumptions. They listen and learn in order to understand the root causes of the conflict they are dealing with. These qualities can only be developed by sustained and thoughtful engagement with local communities. It is on the basis of these findings, that Autesserre makes her central argument that peace can and should be built from the bottom up, by including locally-led efforts.

While perhaps this page does not illuminate the full scope of Autesserre’s book, it does reveal the expertise and personal experience from which Autesserre has written The Frontlines of Peace. She is able to so precisely pinpoint and describe the problems of the peace industry, because she has been intimately involved in it for over 20 years, including time on the ground in war zones throughout the world.

This page does demonstrate the urgent motivations for this book and Autesserre’s unique insight into the peace industry. However, one page cannot capture the many hopeful stories which make this book essential reading for those looking to build a more peaceful world.
Visit Séverine Autesserre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 18, 2021

John Boyko's "The Devil's Trick"

John Boyko's books include Cold Fire: Kennedy’s Northern Front, which was shortlisted for the Dafoe Literary Award for non-fiction, and Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation. Boyko is also an OpEd contributor to the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Maclean’s and more. He also writes entries for the Canadian Encyclopedia.

He has addressed audiences across Canada and appeared on radio and television discussing his books and various historical and current political issues. The Globe and Mail has called Boyko “a distinguished scholar of Canadian political history” and the Winnipeg Free Press has praised his “encyclopaedic knowledge of Canadian history.”

Boyko has earned degrees from Trent, Queen’s and McMaster universities, served on and chaired many boards, and been elected to municipal office. He lives in the Village of Lakefield, Ontario.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Devil's Trick: How Canada Fought the Vietnam War, and reported the following:
Page 99 relates part of Canadian anti-Vietnam War activist Claire Culhane’s long effort to bring attention to the ways in which Canada was involved in the war. It tells of her March 4, 1971 protest at Canada’s House of Commons in which she made her way to the Visitors’ Gallery and as Question Period began, she slipped a lock and chain from beneath her baggy clothing and secured her ankle to a chair leg. She then shouted: “Why is Canada building hospitals in South Vietnam and also supplying bombs in Vietnam?” Culhane threw handfuls of leaflets that fluttered down on government members. Four security guards quickly descended and, after fumbling with the chain, led her away. She was charged but later acquitted of creating a disturbance. The page also tells of her visiting Washington in June, resulting in New York Representative Bella Abzug reading into the Congressional Record Culhane’s 1968 report detailing how a Canadian medical facility in Vietnam was functioning as a front for CIA counterterrorism and how Canada was profiting by selling war material to the Pentagon for use in Vietnam.

I will confess to being skeptical of the Page 99 Test but a great deal of what the book is about is actually captured on this single page. The book tells of Canada’s secret and insidious involvement in the Vietnam War by exploring the experiences of six fascinating people. One of them is Claire Culhane. She was a 48-year-old hospital administrator who, in 1967, applied to work at a Canadian-built and run hospital in Vietnam. She was shocked at the horrors of the war but outraged to discover that while one department of the Canadian government was building hospitals in Vietnam, another was sanctioning the manufacture and sale of military hardware that helped fill them with patients. It was to bring attention to that hypocrisy that Culhane wrote articles and letters to politicians and engaged in cross-country speaking tours. She also participated in political stunts such as the House of Commons protest. She told all who would listen of Canada creating jobs and making money through the manufacture and sale of ammunition, aircraft engines, grenades, gun sites, TNT, generators, military vehicles, spare parts, napalm, Agent Orange, and much more. This one page hints at the disconnect between what Canadians knew or ignored and what was actually happening in that slow-motion tragedy that was the Vietnam War.
Visit John Boyko's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Kevin J. Weddle's "The Compleat Victory"

Kevin J. Weddle is Professor of Military Theory and Strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A West Point graduate, he served in the US Army for 28 years on active duty in command and staff positions in the United States and overseas, including Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, before retiring as a colonel.

Weddle applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, and reported the following:
The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution is a comprehensive narrative of the most pivotal campaign of the war. Page 99 contains a description of the reaction on both sides of the Atlantic to a proclamation British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne wrote and disseminated to the friendly and hostile American population as he began his invasion of New York from Canada in June 1777. In this proclamation, Burgoyne promised employment to Loyalists and threatened to unleash his merciless Native-American allies on the Patriots, both military and civilian. He had hoped to intimidate the Americans and thus ease his way as he marched south. The proclamation was highly controversial and ignited a firestorm of criticism in both America and Britain. Burgoyne received almost universal condemnation for threatening Americans with his Indian allies from the presses and the politicians on both sides of the American Revolution. Indeed, to most Americans, the proclamation had the exact opposite effect to that Burgoyne intended.

I don’t want to cut and paste the entire page, but I think the following is a key passage.
Long after the campaign had ended in disaster, Burgoyne tried to defend his proclamation in the House of Commons. He admitted that the decree had been intended ‘to excite obedience, first by encouragement, and next by the dread . . . to speak daggers, but use none.’ He denied that it had been counterproductive. Burgoyne’s proclamation was emblematic of how little he understood the enemy he was fighting—their culture, their ideals, and the reasons for their rebellion against the Crown. It is hard to imagine [Generals] Howe, Clinton, or Carleton issuing a similar decree. While it is difficult to determine precisely how much it hurt Burgoyne’s campaign—boosting morale and motivating and helping mobilize the militia—what is certain is that it did not yield dividends for Burgoyne and the army.
I think the Page 99 Test does work for The Compleat Victory, at least in part. The passage gives a hint of some of General Burgoyne’s shortcomings and errors that would eventually lead to his and his army’s surrender to the Americans on October 17, 1777. These issues revolve around strategy and leadership. Five months before the events described on Page 99, Burgoyne proposed an elaborate plan that called for three converging columns – one army from Canada would seize Fort Ticonderoga and march to Albany, a second, smaller supporting force was to march down the Mohawk River valley to Albany. General Sir William Howe’s army was to move up the Hudson River to Albany. However, Howe, the British commander in chief, wanted to move his army, the primary British army in North America, by sea to seize Philadelphia in the hopes that he could lure General George Washington and the main American army into a decisive battle.

Page 99 touches on two of Burgoyne’s major assumptions when he devised his plan. First, that he would be able to recruit and successfully employ huge numbers of friendly Native-Americans. Second, that the supposedly large population of Loyalists in New York would provide tangible support to his army as it moved south from Canada. Both assumptions never panned out. Burgoyne’s commitment to those faulty assumptions contributed to some of his questionable decisions.

In the book I delve deeply into the leadership of major players on both sides, including Burgoyne. Burgoyne was a capable and popular commander, which was not all that common in late 18th century armies. However, he was also arrogant and could also be pompous, and as he began his invasion of New York from Canada, he was over-confident. His June 1777 proclamation provides hints of all three of these elements that contributed to his overall leadership as the campaign progressed to its ultimate disastrous conclusion.

My book on Saratoga, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution, examines the entire campaign in all its political, strategic, and military complexity and dissects the strategy, decision-making, and leadership of the key players on both sides.

The Saratoga campaign included 10 battles and engagements and numerous challenging maneuvers, and it lasted almost 5 months. The campaign was complex, fluid, and multi-dimensional, shaped by countless interactions and contingencies that played out over hundreds of square miles. The personalities involved in this campaign – and its lead up and aftermath -- were as fascinating as any you will ever encounter. The story of this campaign has all the drama and excitement anyone could want. But more important than all that, of course, this great American victory changed the very character of the American Revolution.

While the book’s scope is comprehensive, the two threads that weave throughout the narrative are strategy and leadership, two of the subjects I teach at the Army War College. This emphasis on the development and execution of military strategy by both the Americans and British and the in-depth examination of the leadership of all the main players, distinguishes this book from the many other excellent studies of the Saratoga campaign.
Learn more about The Compleat Victory at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Eric Dregni's "For the Love of Cod"

Eric Dregni is author of twenty books, including Vikings in the Attic, Weird Minnesota, and Let’s Go Fishing! As a Fulbright fellow to Norway, he survived a dinner of rakfisk (fermented fish) thanks to 80-proof aquavit, took the “meat bus” to Sweden for cheap salami with a crowd of knitting pensioners, and compiled his stories in In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream. He wrote about living in Modena, Italy, in Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital. He is professor of English, journalism, and Italian at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the summer he is director of the Italian Concordia Language Village, an experience he wrote about in You’re Sending Me Where?.

Dregni applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, For the Love of Cod: A Father and Son's Search for Norwegian Happiness, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…to England because they have more specialists.” Then he admitted, “Of course the Norwegian system is better because it’s free and treats everyone.” When they say “free,” however, this means that taxes pay for it.

I learned that everyone in Norway has a right to a pension since the Norwegian Parliament passed a law in 1967 to establish a folketrygden, people’s insurance, even if a citizen has never worked. Odd talked about how sometimes the government even pays for people to be sent on vacation. “Yes, you can be sent to syden [the south] for more sun, especially if you live in a place like Finnmark [in northern Norway]. Most people pay their own way, of course.” He told me how his father was sent twice under medical orders to the mud baths in Yugoslavia for a restive cure.

I thought what it would have been like if my Swedish-American grandmother had had this kind of treatment in Minnesota. I remembered her telling me that when she was in her forties: “I was so sick of my teeth. One day, I just went into the dentist and I had him take them all out.”

Really? I asked as she showed off her false teeth.

“Yup, he pulled every single one. It was the best thing I ever did.”

Jarle Nesvaag told me that in Norway all dental care is covered until 20 years of age.

As Katy and I prepared to leave Norway to go home to the U.S. with baby Eilif, we had a pregnancy scare and wondered how it would look if she had come to Norway and returned home pregnant again. We considered perhaps staying longer for help with the next baby. After all, the government provided nearly free daycare and deposited about $150 each month into our bank account to help raise Eilif.
I must say when I was asked to give my new book, For the Love of Cod, the “Page 99 Test” proposed by famed writer Ford Madox Ford, I was skeptical. I had no idea how the layout would look on that particular page – perhaps it was all blank or even a photo.

Instead, that page showed one of the key aspects of why Norwegians are “happy”: their government helps ensure their health. Norwegians pay high taxes, which ironically are just about the same as we pay in the U.S. The difference is Norway pays less than half the amount on health care than the U.S. and covers everybody. The Norwegian national insurance recognizes that the health of its citizens is the health of the country.

On page 99, I mention the child care credit of $150 that my wife and I received every month to help with our new baby. The new legislation by Pres. Biden has something similar, but only last for one year. Let’s see if the U.S. can match how Norway helps newborns with the $5,000 the Norwegian government paid us to have a baby (not mentioned on page 99).

Health care just wasn’t a source of stress in Norway, as it is in the U.S. and leads many Americans into bankruptcy. Yes, let’s all pull out all our teeth like my grandmother did rather than worry about going to a dentist!
Learn more about For the Love of Cod at the University of Minnesota Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Philip Scepanski's "Tragedy Plus Time"

Philip Scepanski is is an assistant professor of film and television at Marist College. He holds a PhD in media studies from Northwestern University. His work has appeared in the journals Television and New Media and Studies in American Humor, as well as edited collections, including How to Watch Television; The Comedy Studies Reader; Taboo Comedy: Television and Controversial Humor; The Dark Side of Stand-Up; Taking a Stand: Contemporary Stand-Up Comedians as Public Intellectuals; and Exploring the Edges of Trauma: 150 Years of Art and Literature. He has also taught at Vassar College, Northwestern University, and the University of Notre Dame.

Scepanski applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tragedy Plus Time: National Trauma and Television Comedy, and reported the following:
Page 99 is from a chapter of Tragedy Plus Time that examines the ways comedy plays around with conspiracy theories about national traumas. This section discusses how African American comedians use humor to express mistrust of “official” narratives. As evidence, it looks at a Dave Chappelle bit where he jokingly expressed a belief that the U.S. government created AIDS and crack in order to harm black communities. Comparing this bit to an earlier example from The Boondocks, the section concludes by noting the tension between Chappelle’s “just kidding” stance and the way other shows use comedy as an alibi to express uncomfortable truths.

This excerpt is representative of the book in a few ways. It showcases the writing style which, while academically rigorous, should be accessible to an interested general audience. The Chappelle discussion also demonstrates how the book tends to zoom in on specific examples in order to make larger points about how comedy works through incredibly serious matters. However, it is unlike the rest of the book in that most of the national traumas I examine are more singularly catastrophic events like the JFK assassination, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina, to use examples from the rest of this chapter. By comparison, the AIDS and crack epidemics were more long-term, slow-building crises.

Usefully, this page also speaks to two major themes that organize this book. Chappelle floats these ideas in order to reconsider accepted history. Much of this book is about comedy in history and how comedy negotiates our understanding of history. Besides this chapter on the “alternative histories” of conspiracy theories, others examine how comedy impacts the way we feel emotionally about historical traumas, the history of how television allowed more daring forms of humor, and the ways in which television “edits” its own history when it censors potentially offensive humor. At the same time, this passage speaks to the ways in which groups of Americans use comedy to think through their relationship to the nation as a whole. To that end, there are chapters that look at how black-appeal comedies in the early 1990s responded to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots/Uprising, how different comedies responses to post-9/11 Islamophobia represented appeals to different audience demographics, and how left-leaning comedies used their platforms to register the sense that the Trump presidency was itself a trauma.

You could make me very happy by buying a copy!
Learn more about Tragedy Plus Time at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Carol Dyhouse's "Love Lives"

Carol Dyhouse is Professor (Emeritus) of History at the University of Sussex. She has written extensively about the social history of women, education and popular culture. Her publications include Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire (2017), Glamour: Women, History, Feminism (2011) and Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (2013).

Dyhouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Love Lives: From Cinderella to Frozen, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book focuses on women getting more control over their bodies through contraception and legalised, safe abortion in the middle of the last century. It references Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl (1962) and Mary McCarthy’s The Group (1963) for changing attitudes to birth control. The idea of ‘premarital sex’, or Helen Gurley Brown’s suggestion that women should try men out, sexually, before marrying them was still acutely controversial and horrified conservative moralists.

Is this a useful insight into what the book is about? I think it is. The book explores the various ways in which twentieth century women achieved more control over their lives and how this affected their relationships with men.

I set out to investigate women’s changing expectations and dreams, drawing upon fairytale romance and popular culture. The story begins in the postwar years and analyses the huge appeal of Cinderella stories and particularly the popularity of Walt Disney’s animated screen version (1950) of the tale. The first chapter of the book has the title ‘When Men Were an Ending’. Girls in Britain and North America in the 1950s were encouraged by romance magazines and teenage culture to think of meeting and marrying man as their life project. The age of marriage plummeted, many married in their teens and it was common for young women to fear that they were ‘left on the shelf’ if they hadn’t met ‘Mr Right’ by the time they reached twenty-one years of age.

But the 1970s turned many trends around. Safe contraception had a massive effect on sexual mores. Educational and employment opportunities widened. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) showed how lives of full-time domesticity could do terrible things to women. The women’s liberation movement both reflected and contributed to a reimagining of women’s dreams. By the 1980s some were arguing that feminism had ‘gone too far’, and there was a backlash of criticism of women for ‘wanting it all’. But the ground between men and women had shifted.

Disney heroines in recent animations have moved on. We are less likely to encounter helpless heroines needing bluebirds or forest creatures to help them with housework and princes to come to the rescue. Frozen (2013) featured bold heroines, sisterly love, scepticism about princes and a sense that men and women could share equally in the quests and adventures which give life purpose.
Learn more about Love Lives at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire.

--Marshal Zeringue

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.
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--Marshal Zeringue