Thursday, October 31, 2013

Henry Gee's "The Accidental Species"

Henry Gee is a Senior Editor of the science magazine Nature. His latest book is The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, in which he aims to correct the many misunderstandings which have crept into popular conceptions of evolution, in particular that of our own species. Previous books of nonfiction include Jacob’s Ladder: The History of the Human Genome; In Search of Deep Time; The Science of Middle-earth; Before The Backbone: Views on the Origin of the Vertebrates, and A Field Guide to Dinosaurs (the last with the artist Luis V. Rey.) He is also the author of science fiction trilogy The Sigil; the gothic horror mystery By The Sea, several short stories, and innumerable articles, mainly about science. His blog, The End Of The Pier Show, continues to delight its three regular readers. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets.

Gee applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Accidental Species and reported the following:
When I turned to page 99 I found that its theme was a kind of pre-echo of the very end of the book. If there is any talent we might call human, it is that of spotting patterns in the world around us. And from the patterns, we create stories. Even if the patterns are nonexistent, and the stories are unreliable.
So, much as we might indulge children who see elephants and railway trains in passing clouds, not to mention scoff at people who see images of Jesus in pieces of toast, everyone is at it – even scientists.
Then follows the tale of the astronomer Schiaparelli, who, peering through a glass darkly at Mars, saw a system of channels, or canali, where there were, in fact, none; an illusion that prompted American Percival Lowell to posit the massive irrigation ditches of an advanced civilization, dying of thirst; thence by easy stages to Wells’ War of the Worlds, Welles’ haunting radio adaptation and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stirring stories of John Carter and his adventures on Barsoom. All based, as it turned out, on illusion. For the canals of Mars do not exist, and never have existed.
So, not only are we good at spotting patterns, even if nonexistent ones, we tend to weave them into tales of what might otherwise be sets of disconnected and therefore worrying phenomena. This ability is so ingrained that it even haunts our subconscious. Things that go bump in the night are seamlessly woven into the stories we tell ourselves in dreams. It is easy to see how our ancestors, living much closer to nature, the unknown, and the reality of sudden and unexplained phenomena than we do nowadays, would hear thunder in the mountains and console themselves with stories of angry gods.
Seeing patterns. Telling stories.
And because telling stories is what we do, even without conscious intervention, it’s easy to underestimate how the power of narrative undermines our efforts to make sense of the past in any clear, cool or rational way.
Visit Henry Gee's The End Of The Pier Show blog and follow the author on Twitter.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Henry Gee & Heidi and Saffron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Orly Lobel's "Talent Wants to Be Free"

Orly Lobel is the Don Weckstein Professor of Law and founding member of the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Markets at the University of San Diego. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on behavioral law and economics, innovation policy, human capital, regulation and governance. A world traveler and internationally acclaimed scholar, Lobel has taught at Yale, Harvard, Tel-Aviv, and UCSD.

Lobel applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Talent Wants to Be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces the paradox of ethical market competition – we all want freewheeling fierce market battles but at the same time fear “the law of the jungle.” So page 99 asks, how do we draw the lines between honest commercial practices and unfair information leaks? Between healthy observation of one’s competitor and economic espionage? Between company proprietary information and free knowledge? Toward the end of page 99, I explain that precisely because of the moralistic tone embedded in the definition of trade secrets, they present unusual challenges and tensions, beyond those of any other area of intellectual property. Trade secrets are the workhorse of the information economy but they are also deeply misunderstood and if we don’t watch out we risk expanding the scope of secrecy in ways that will harm our quest for innovation and progress.

This core insight about the need to remain focused on the prize – on what actually motivates creativity, inventiveness, and performance, rather than stifling and stagnating our markets, threads throughout Talent Wants to Be Free. At every turn, we have to make sure we haven’t lost sight of our ultimate goals as we wage the war for talent and innovation. The book challenges orthodox economic assumptions and irrationalities and uncovers the best strategies for recruiting, nurturing, incentivizing and retaining talent. The book looks at how we fight over ideas, knowledge, and skill in every industry, profession, and region, examining the spread of non-competes, NDAs, patent and copyright pre-invention assignments, performance-based pay, and enhanced job mobility, and offers insights on how to best balance secrecy & sharing, carrots & sticks, freedom & control. Through empirical research, fascinating stories of invention and market battles, and insights from economics, psychology, law, and business, it argues that more frequently than we have come to believe, everyone - corporations, individuals, industries, and regions - benefits when talent is set free.
Learn more about the book and author at Orly Lobel's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Darrin M. McMahon's "Divine Fury"

Darrin M. McMahon is the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University and the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment (2001) and Happiness: A History (2006).

McMahon applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with a couplet by Edmond Halley, the astronomer of comet fame, which he penned for a eulogy of Isaac Newton:
Newton, that reach’d the insuperable line

The nice barrier twixt human and divine
Halley was undoubtedly a better astronomer than poet, but his line articulates nicely a growing 18th-century sentiment about the kind of figure Newton came to embody: the genius.

The genius emerged as a new model of the highest human type in the eighteenth century, and geniuses, as I try to show, came to occupy a space that lay precisely on the border between the human and the divine. Geniuses, that is, served a religious function, supplanting in the social imaginary the higher beings—prophets, apostles, angels, saints—who had long served as intercessors between the human and the divine and who were now increasingly marginalized in a world experiencing the drama of disenchantment. Geniuses were seen as wondrous beings—prodigies of nature, entirely original and distinct—endowed with the capacity to see where ordinary mortals could not: into the fabric of the universe or the fabric of our souls.

“Does he eat, drink and sleep like other men?” a French mathematician reportedly asked of Newton, in a line I cite on page 99. “I cannot believe otherwise than that he is a genius, or a celestial intelligence entirely disengaged from matter.” The comment may well have been apocryphal—the sort of mythic tale once told of the lives of the saints—but it is revealing nonetheless of the awe that Newton inspired. How fitting that when Newton died in 1727, his body was received at Westminster Abbey, traditional resting place of the saints. For he and others like him were conceived as higher beings, who like the saints of old, embodied human yearnings and fears, straddling the barrier twixt the human and the divine.
Visit the Divine Fury website and Darrin McMahon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Darrin McMahon's Happiness: A History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rahul Sagar's "Secrets and Leaks"

Rahul Sagar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, and reported the following:
Secrets and Leaks examines a conundrum in political theory: state secrecy is vital for national security, but it can also be used to conceal wrongdoing. How then can we ensure that this power is used responsibly?

Page 99 finds us in the middle of Chapter 3. This chapter, entitled “Should We Rely on Congress?”, examines whether citizens ought to entrust the oversight of state secrecy to the legislature. The chapter starts by arguing that legislative oversight is confounded by executive privilege—the idea that the executive branch has the right to determine what national security information is shared with Congress. Having defended executive privilege as reasonable, I turn to examine whether an independent arbitrator—a court or a panel of experts—could be appointed to adjudicate between president and Congress with respect to the sharing of classified information. Starting on Page 99, I offer three reasons why such a “secrecy regulator” would prove problematic:
The first question we ought to ask here is what reason is there to believe that adjudges or independent experts are likely to prove reliable arbitrators. The answer, presumably, is that we expect these actors to make decisions based on reasons rather than interests. But what are the relevant sorts of reasons in the present context? Arguably, disputes about information sharing turn on questions of which branch has the most reasonable claim to the information under the circumstances.
Knowing which branch has the better claim in a given case will, I argue, require arbitrators to have deep political knowledge of the 'bigger picture'. For instance, they must know whether the president’s decision to withhold from Congress is really intended to conceal wrongdoing, as opposed to, say, hide a complex diplomatic maneuver from a loudmouth on the relevant congressional committee. How can external arbitrators, insulated from policy-making, be this prescient, I ask.

Moving on, I question the notion that arbitrators can make ‘objective’ judgments:
Furthermore even if the courts or an independent panel of experts are willing and able to take on the role of arbitrators, the notion that decisions concerning the distribution of national security information can be made apolitically is itself highly problematic.
The problem here is that ascertaining whether and when classified information should be shared with Congress requires the evaluation of costs and benefits that often cannot be estimated in any objective fashion. For instance—what will be the national security consequence of an inadvertent disclosure from Congress? An adjudicator who values public participation in decision-making will likely see the costs and benefits very differently from an adjudicator who prioritizes national security.

Finally, I note that even if arbitrators could have the knowledge and the objectivity to make ‘fair’ decisions about whether and when the president should be compelled to share classified information with Congress, the political valence of the decisions reached by these ‘secrecy regulators’ will eventually tempt political forces to ‘capture’ the office. How are citizens to know that these regulators have not been captured?
If a court or panel is to prevent unauthorized disclosures as effectively as the executive does, then it will likely have to create special forums where one or very few judges will examine the relevant materials in camera and ex parte. But if we take away the opportunity for external observers to study the basis of the decision reached by these judges or experts, how can we ascertain their disinterestedness?
The above was written before Edward Snowden recently disclosed information about some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance operations. The realization that these operations were approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has provoked criticism of the legitimacy and utility of the FISC’s secret oversight process. This turn of events bears out the concern raised on Page 99—that ‘secrecy regulators’ do not provide a stable solution to the problem of state secrecy because it is only a matter of time before citizens and interest groups start to question the legitimacy of a ‘secrecy regulator’ whose decision-making is opaque to them.
Learn more about Secrets and Leaks at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Daniel Kalla's "Rising Sun, Falling Shadow"

Daniel Kalla's latest novels, The Far Side Of The Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, weave together intrigue, medical drama and romance to bring to life the extraordinary and little-known chapter of the Second World War, when the cultures of Europe and Asia converged.

Kalla applied the “Page 99 Test” to Rising Sun, Falling Shadow and reported the following:
It’s been a long time—2008 to be precise—since I last faced the page 99 test. And since then I’ve switched genres: from medical thrillers to historical fiction. So I was quite curious where the test would land me this time around in my latest novel, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow.

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow continues the story of Dr. Franz Adler and his newlywed wife, Sunny (Soon Yi), through the bleakest year of World War II in Shanghai. It’s 1943 and Allied citizens are herded into prison camps while tens of thousands of German Jews are crammed into a ghetto already teeming with impoverished Chinese. Franz is a secular Jewish surgeon from Vienna, while Sunny, a Shanghai native, is a Eurasian nurse whose father trained her to be a physician. Despite the constant threats and hostilities surrounding them, Franz and Sunny manage to keep the doors to the refugee hospital open, saving several lives in the process. But conflict comes from within and without for the Adlers. Against Franz's wishes, Sunny risks her life to help the cause of the local Resistance, which puts a strain on their own marriage. And a mysterious stranger, who is brought to the hospital on the brink of death, could pose an even greater threat to the family and the hospital.

Page 99 coincides with the opening of chapter 15. The patient—who turns out to be a Chinese general and one of the most effective freedom fighters in the wilds of “Free China”—is recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg. Sunny and Franz are desperate to get this most wanted fugitive out of the hospital and away from the ubiquitous Japanese soldiers in Shanghai. To that end, Sunny goes to see her best childhood friend, Jia Li, at her place of work to see if she will impose on her underworld connections to get the general out of Shanghai.
As always, Sunny felt strangely at home inside the brothel. She had visited Jia-Li intermittently at the Comfort Home since they were both teenagers. Most of the prostitutes welcomed Sunny like an old friend. The proprietor, Chih-Nii, had been playfully trying to recruit her for years. “Half Eastern, half Western, you would be a delicacy to both worlds,” the madam would say. “We could make a fortune together, my Eurasian buttercup.”

Ushi had escorted Sunny into the drawing room, then went in search of Jia-Li, leaving her alone on the chaise longue. Sunny studied the paintings that had belonged to the house’s original French owners, wondering again why the portraits still hung on the walls. Perhaps Chih-Nii thought they imbued the room with a sense of history or European flair? Sunny found them depressing. She was relieved not to have left any pictures of her family behind when she and Franz had been forced out her parents’ home. She cringed at the idea of someone using photographs of her parents to add character to her old home.

Jia-Li entered the room in a form-fitting, embroidered maroon cheongsam, slit up one side to the top of her thigh. Her bright lipstick was perfectly applied, and not a strand of hair was out of place, but to Sunny, Jia-Li was never quite as composed as she pretended to be at the Comfort Home. While Sunny was well aware of the circumstances that had forced her friend into this world, she never understood how someone as beautiful and intelligent could continue to sell her body. Or why, now that she had been free of the opium pipe for over a year, she still needed to. She thought about Jia-Li’s recent financial generosity toward the Adlers with another flush of guilt.

“I thought I was meeting you Thursday,” Jia-Li said as she kissed the air on either side of Sunny’s face.

Sunny took in the smells of cinnamon and jasmine. “I am sorry, bǎo bèi, this could not wait.”

Jia-Li lowered herself into the chair beside Sunny, lighting a cigarette as she did. She brought her lips to the holder and inhaled languidly, then broke into a luminous smile. “I welcome any visit from you, regardless of the reason, xiăo hè.”

“You might not say that after you hear me out.”
Visit Daniel Kalla's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Daniel Kalla.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gary J. Bass's "The Blood Telegram"

Gary J. Bass is the author of Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention and Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. He is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. A former reporter for The Economist, he has written often for the New York Times, and has also written for The New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, The New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Slate, and other publications.

Bass applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, and reported the following:
The Blood Telegram is the secret story of an overlooked and shocking Cold War crisis, and about how America and India—two great democracies—dealt with it. In 1971, there was a devastating crackdown by the Pakistani army against the Bengalis of what was then East Pakistan, and is now Bangladesh. But rather than defending human rights, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his White House national security advisor, stood behind the Pakistani military government, even through this horrific killing campaign. From American and Indian archives, interviews with many of the key participants, and the White House tapes, the book is trying to show what really happened in the shadows.

On page 99, we’re following one of the main characters in the book, Sydney Schanberg, a hard-charging young reporter for The New York Times. He’s probably most familiar as one of the heroes of a terrific and harrowing movie, The Killing Fields, about him and his friend and colleague Dith Pran as they covered the murderous Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975. (Sam Waterston plays Syd, and really captures his intensity and brainpower.) So here we’re following a younger Syd, in his first war, as he’s reporting on the Pakistani army setting villages on fire.

While Nixon and Kissinger are backing Pakistan, there’s another big secret plan that’s unfolding: India is sponsoring Bengali guerrillas who are trying to mount an insurgency against Pakistani rule. On page 99, one of the most senior Indian officials is covertly planning guerrilla warfare against the Pakistan army to “bleed them.” So they’re on the road to a major war between India and Pakistan, which will drive Nixon and Kissinger to new heights of anti-Indian rage.
Learn more about The Blood Telegram at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scott C. Johnson's "The Wolf and the Watchman"

Scott C. Johnson was a Newsweek foreign correspondent for twelve years, often providing exclusive war reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Middle East. He is now a freelance journalist and writer living in Oakland, California.

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his 2013 National Book Award longlisted book, The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA, and reported the following:
On page 99 we see my father Keith Johnson, a career case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, shifting identities once again, this time into the Democratic challenger for the Washington State Senate.
Many people liked the idea of my father as a senator. He was handsome, intelligent, and articulate. Knowledgeable about the issues, he had, at times, an indefinable sense of bearing. He could be charismatic. Sometimes he was angry, too, and anger was good when it translated as political passion. He wanted to change things, shake them up. He was quick to choke up and become sentimental, and that too translated well as political theater.
This metamorphosis comes at a critical time in my father's life, and in mine. After 25 years in the Agency, my father had retired a few years earlier and was looking for new paths to pursue. I, meanwhile, had become a Newsweek foreign correspondent, and my father's life as a spy very quickly became the story I was most interested in understanding. The local reporters covering his political ascendency were similarly intrigued.
In a brief profile of my father, the Spokesman-Review described him as a "Spokane native" who the CIA had recruited in Mexico City in 1969. "He tracked Cold War Soviet activity in Yugoslavia, Southeast Asia and Spain," the article noted. "Fluent in Spanish, he worked on counterterrorism operations prior to the world exposition in Seville and the Barcelona Summer Olympics. He said he was also a trade representative for the U.S State Department and worked undercover, but declines to provide specifics."

"I can't get into operating procedures," my father told the reporter.
The spy-father and the journalist-son cross paths again and again as the narrative moves on. Sometimes these meetings are physical, such as in Sarajevo, Jordan or Mexico, where both continued to work, and sometimes they take place in conversations, letters and phone calls. The result, as I've tried to capture it, is a father-son story that spans sixty years, multiple continents and the morally hazardous terrain where secrecy and family meet betrayal and loyalty.
Learn more about the book and author at The Wolf and the Watchman website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Debora L. Spar's "Wonder Women"

Debora L. Spar is the president of Barnard College, a women’s undergraduate college affiliated with Columbia University. She received her doctorate in government from Harvard University and was the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Spar is the author of numerous books, including Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Invention, Chaos, and Wealth from the Compass to the Internet and The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.

Spar applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, and reported the following:
I was a bit worried about what page 99 might hold. Because Wonder Women is a broad book, cutting across swathes of a woman’s life in ways that don’t necessarily hew to a particular structure.

So I was pleased to see that it did hold many of the book’s core themes. The page shows up in Chapter Four, the part of the book devoted to women’s beauty and stubborn body image. It’s a chapter that argues that, despite fifty years’ passage since the feminist and sexual revolutions; despite countless inspired arguments about the importance of valuing women for their brains and their skills and their spirits rather than their looks; despite women having surged into the workforce and across the tippy-top tiers of power, women still lavish extreme amounts of time and energy and money on the pursuit of physical perfection. We wax our legs. We paint our nails. We coif our hair before entering virtually any professional realm, and inject ourselves with potions and poisons to banish wrinkles from our brow.

It is easy, of course, to scoff at these exertions. We could, as individuals or a species, just stop the waxing, forget the manicures, and banish the blow-dryers. We could ignore the images of lithe seventeen year-olds trumpeted from the magazines and revel in own un-adorned selves. But as page 99 points out, we don’t. Instead, women across the world continue to invest – massively and perhaps irrationally – in their own physical appearances. As the page states:
We are the ones, ultimately who are choosing liposuction and boob jobs, who are nibbling on carrots and spinning like exhausted hamsters. We are the ones who still equate beauty with success and thinness, in particular, with goodness. Surely Oprah Winfrey doesn’t need to lose ten pounds (again) to prove her worth. Nancy Pelosi could probably handle both the House of Representatives and a few wrinkles. And I would almost certainly be better off if I skipped the gym every once in a while and slept in instead. But I don’t.
Maybe, the page wonders, women chase beauty because the media condemns us to. Or maybe we are simply programmed, like grooming cats or preening peacocks, to polish and strut our stuff.

In the end, though, I’m not sure it makes that much difference:

“Because even if women like me have been manipulated since childhood – even if we know in our heart of hearts that beauty is both foolish and fleeting – there is something that seems to propel us to want it. To want to be thin. To want to be flawless. To want to be wanted.”
Learn more about Wonder Women at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 21, 2013

E. Fuller Torrey's "American Psychosis"

E. Fuller Torrey is Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, MD, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, and Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Torrey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Psychosis begins with the story of Herbert Mullin who, in 1972, killed 13 people in a three-month period in Santa Cruz, California. Mullin suffered from schizophrenia and carried out the killings in response to his auditory hallucinations. Prior to the killings, Mullin had been hospitalized three times but then discharged with no further treatment or follow-up. As such, Mullin is representative of America’s failed mental illness treatment system and also representative of the story being told in American Psychosis.

People with severe mental illnesses who are not being treated, like Mullin, are responsible for ten percent of all American homicides but about half of all mass killings – Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Washington Navy Yard, etc. People with severe mental illnesses who are not being treated also occupy approximately twenty percent of all jail and prison cells in the United States, and constitute about one-third of the homeless. Such people have also colonized public parks, public libraries, and train and bus stations.

American Psychosis is the story of how all of this came about. It opens with the saga of Rosemary Kennedy, originally only mildly retarded. However, when she then developed symptoms of psychosis as a young woman, her father had a lobotomy done on her; this left her profoundly retarded and was the single biggest tragedy to befall the Kennedy family. When her brother Jack later was elected President, the Kennedys vowed to honor Rosemary by implementing federal legislation for programs on mental illness and mental retardation.

This legislation included the Community Mental Health Centers program – poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented. The book details how this program failed from its inception and ultimately led to the failed public mental illness treatment system that exists today. The book closes with a chapter describing what needs to be done to fix the badly broken system.

The implementation of the federal Community Mental Health Centers program took place in 1963, exactly 50 years ago. American Psychosis is the history of the subsequent disaster, a disaster that is ongoing.
Learn more about American Psychosis at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Paul Conroy's "Under the Wire"

Paul Conroy, author of Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment, is a former British soldier. As a photographer and filmmaker whose work spans 15 years, he has reported on the conflicts in Iraq, Congo, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria.

Conroy applied the “Page 99 Test” to Under the Wire and reported the following:
It was with a fair degree of trepidation that I opened the book at page 99. What would I find, would it be a fair representation of Under The Wire? I had been determined when writing to avoid any form of padding, I knew I was safe on that front, wasn't I?

I rolled a cigarette, brewed a fresh coffee and started to read, a huge sigh of relief, I was in luck. My page 99 turned out to be a pivotal point in our journey into the dark heart of the conflict in Syria. Baba Amr, a small neighborhood in Homs, was our goal. Homs had been under siege for weeks and all our efforts to date had been focused upon gaining entry to the dying city.

We had rested for a few days in a small village, 10km outside of Homs. The Free Syrian Army were looking after us, it was they who would facilitate our entry into Homs and, as we waited listening to the constant sound of the artillery barrage, we got told of the plan to take us into Homs via a 3km storm drain. We would enter Homs by one of the Free Syrian Army's best kept secrets, a tunnel used to resupply medicine, food and weapons. It was the city's last remaining lifeline to the outside world.

Page 99 finds us on the first leg of the journey into the city. Crossing illegally into Syria from Lebanon and the journey to our safe house, had seemed perilous enough, but now we felt the real fear, a tangible, physical fear as we crossed the plowed and rubble strewn fields. We were being led past government troop positions which peppered the route into the tunnel. Sniper rounds cracked through the air, the explosions could now be felt and the ground rumbled as the huge shells and rockets pulverized Homs.

It was bad enough trekking through the no mans land towards a tunnel we hadn't seen, with people we barely knew, in the knowledge that our destination was the most dangerous place on earth at that point in time. At this point in the book the adrenaline fueled elixir of emotions was something that I had never felt before, so very alive -- yet so close to death.

With hindsight I can look back at page 99 I realize that it was a major turning point, not just in our journey, but in both our lives. Marie and I, hands clasped together, trudged on though the mud and slippery ditches, were were walking into a living nightmare, a nightmare from which only one of us would return alive.
© 2013 Paul Conroy
Learn more about Under the Wire, and follow Paul Conroy on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Under the Wire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 19, 2013

David Cantwell's "Merle Haggard: The Running Kind"

Music critic and longtime Haggard fan, David Cantwell is coauthor of the acclaimed Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, and his work has appeared in the Oxford American, Slate, Salon, and No Depression, among other publications.

Cantwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, and reported the following:
I’m willing to bet that the accuracy of Ford Madox Ford’s prediction will depend greatly on just who exactly is doing the opening to, and reading of, that page 99. If the reader is someone coming cold to the book, the page in question might stand for the whole, but it might not. That “open…to page 99” is, I take it, just a way of saying, “Turn to a random page.” Or, maybe, “Turn to a random page far enough in that the book should have hit whatever stride it’s going to hit.” Surely, though, randomness will fail to indicate “the quality of the whole” at least as often as it succeeds.

But the writer of that book? The writer will be able to identify precisely how 99 reveals the whole, could do so for any other page of the book, too, and would be happy to do so. Just ask them!

To wit… Most people, but particularly music fans who consider themselves not country music fans, know the subject of my book, Merle Haggard, only for “Okie from Muskogee,” the 1969 crossover hit that drew a line in the sand on hippies, marijuana, Vietnam and other fronts of the culture war, nee the generation gap. My book digs into all of that: I focus on what I call the country star’s Muskogee Moment, that brief Nixon-era period when Haggard’s music made the pop charts, reflected the headlines and helped to invent the polarized America we live in today. But the book is primarily an examination of Haggard the artist—it’s not a biography so much as a critical monograph—and on that score, page 99 is on point. It includes part of my discussion of a 1965 honky-tonk number called “All My Friends Are Going to Be) Strangers,” a recording that was in many ways key to Haggard’s professional and artistic development. “Strangers” was his first significant national hit, it was written by someone else (as were so many of this great songwriter’s signature recordings), and it is absolutely beautifully, despairingly sung. Besides a cultural lightning rod, Haggard is one of the finest singers in all of American popular music.
Visit David Cantwell's website, and learn more about Merle Haggard: The Running Kind at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 18, 2013

S. Frederick Starr's "Une Belle Maison"

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a research and policy center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. A past president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, he began his career in classical archaeology, excavating at Gordium in modern Turkey and mapping the Persian Royal Road.

Starr applied the “Page 99 Test” to his recent book, Une Belle Maison: The Lombard Plantation House in New Orleans's Bywater, and reported the following:
One of the finest west Indian-style plantation houses in America barely survived the Civil War and its aftermath. On page 99 we follow its slow but dramatic decline thereafter, with writers and artists taking it as a dramatic symbol of decay. Its vast agricultural lands swallowed by the growing city of New Orleans, the Lombard Plantation House became a forlorn relic. After being inhabited by three generations of French speakers, German immigrants now took over. But they did not destroy it, and even used their poverty to preserve it. Only a century later did this lovely building revive, thanks to a meticulous restoration only recently completed.
Learn more about Une Belle Maison at the University Press of Mississippi website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Don Lincoln's "Alien Universe"

Don Lincoln is a senior scientist at Fermilab and author of The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alien Universe: Extraterrestrial Life in Our Minds and in the Cosmos, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Alien Universe marks a transition in the tale I tried to tell. Many people are fascinated by the idea that we are not alone; that there are extraterrestrial intelligences and that these fellow inhabitants of the galaxy might even be nearby, at least galactically-speaking.

When I ask people what they expect an alien might look like, I get a common answer. Aliens are about four feet high, gray, with egg-shaped heads, and black, almond-shaped eyes. Most of the people who have told me this don’t claim to have ever seen an alien and not even a UFO. Yet we as a community have a common picture in our mind of what an alien would look like. Did you ever wonder how that came to be?

While UFO aficionados can tell you a multi-century story of lights in the sky, the idea of extraterrestrial visitors exploded into the human consciousness in 1947, first with reports of flying saucers, followed by alien visitors and abductions. The image of the traditional gray alien first arose as recently as 1961, with lots of transference to stories dated much earlier.

In this book, I explore the various alien tales in fiction and in stories claimed to be fact, telling of the evolution of our image of extraterrestrials. In page 99, I have completed that story and am summarizing the various different aliens proposed in science fiction and “true” UFO tales.

The book then moves forward, using modern physics and chemistry to learn about what is possible and what is not. Silicon based life forms appear fairly commonly in science fiction because silicon shares carbon’s ability to make four atomic bonds. However the story isn’t so simple. This becomes obvious when you remember that silicon dioxide, the silicon analogue of the carbon dioxide we breathe out, has a more common name: sand. It’s hard to imagine solid sand being a viable product of respiration.

Alien Universe ends with a discussion of the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) programs of the last half a century. Although we cannot say anything definitive about alien life, that doesn’t mean we know nothing. Science has taught us much about what is possible. It is not impossible that the first alien we encounter will be a little green man who says “take us to your leader,” but the reality is likely to be…well…far more alien than that. Alien Universe tells us that tale.
Learn more about Alien Universe at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jonathan Rees's "Refrigeration Nation"

Jonathan Rees is a professor of history at Colorado State University, Pueblo. His books include Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914–1942 and Managing the Mills: Labor Policy in the American Steel Industry during the Nonunion Era.

Rees applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Refrigeration Nation is the first page of the chapter I wrote on the cold storage industry. If you think that sounds terribly boring, I don’t blame you at all, but let me try to explain to you why it’s not. To this day, cold storage serves as a place to keep perishable foods over time so that we can enjoy them out of season. As we have come to rely on more of these kinds of foods as part of our everyday lives, the more important this technology has become.

This chapter about the first days of cold storage explains why it was once one of the great controversies of America’s Progressive Era. Many consumers didn’t trust cold storage because they thought it was a way to charge the public more for perishable food and because they were afraid that refrigeration either affected the taste too much for the worse or even made those foods dangerous. Investigations eventually proved that cold storage actually evened out prices rather than increased them because it evened out the supply of any perishable food over time.

With respect to the healthfulness of food kept in cold storage, the critics had a better case. Cold storage really was unreliable in its early days. Warehousemen didn’t know what temperature or humidity to keep things. They didn’t realize that if you kept two kinds of foods together (like fish and butter, for example) the two could come out of cold storage smelling and tasting like each other. As time passed, though, cold storage got better. World War I, an era of food shortages, proved the crucial period for the American public accepting cold storage and we (nor the rest of the world for that matter) haven’t looked back since.

I do think this page and its subject are typical of the book as a whole. My goal in Refrigeration Nation is to get readers to appreciate parts of the modern refrigeration infrastructure (the “cold chain,” as refrigerating engineers put it) that they tend to take for granted. Since cold storage warehouses are out of the public eye and the food they preserve remains a crucial part of the American diet, it is easy to forget their controversial history. In the rest of the book, I try to do the same with other refrigeration technologies ranging from ice harvesting to household refrigerators.
Learn more about Refrigeration Nation at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

J. R. Hibbing, K. B. Smith, and J R. Alford's "Predisposed"

John R. Hibbing is the Foundation Regents University Professor of political science and psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has been named a Guggenheim Fellow, a NATO Fellow in Science, a Senior Fulbright Fellow, and a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Kevin B. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an award-winning teacher and author of nine previous books, including The Ideology of Education: The Market, The Commonwealth, and America’s Schools and Analyzing American Democracy.

John R. Alford is an associate professor of political science at Rice University. He has published in areas as diverse as coal mine safety, pro-natalist policies in Eastern Europe, and congressional elections. He has also been active as a consultant and expert witness in the area of redistricting and election law.

Together they are leaders in a growing group of political scientists and psychologists who are utilizing biological techniques to better understand the reasons people’s political views are so diverse and often held so intensely. In 2007 they established the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the first such lab dedicated exclusively to the analysis of politics. Their articles connecting biology and politics have appeared in scholarly outlets such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the American Political Science Review, and Science, and their research has attracted the attention of media outlets ranging from NPR to Fox News, from Spain’s Tiempo magazine to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, and from the New York Times to The Daily Show.

The authors applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, and reported the following:
In Predisposed we explore the biological basis for differences in temperament on the right and left. What really makes some people conservative and others liberal? On page 99 we are discussing mid-1900s work in social psychology that grounded political temperament in the concept of personality. Interestingly this was the basic stratagem of both the work of Erich Jaensch, cited by the far right in support of German Fascism, and the later work of Theodor Adorno, cited by the left in attempts to explain how so many people could have been lured into Fascism.

We try to avoid being drawn into this endless and wildly popular bloodsport of using every new social science finding to bludgeon ideological opponents. Instead we provide an informative, and politically neutral, introduction to the fascinating new science of political predispositions. Along the way the book offers an accessible window into research showing that liberals and conservatives have different tastes not just in politics, but in art, humor, food, life accoutrements, and leisure pursuits; they differ in how they collect information, how they think, and how they view other people and events; they have different neural architecture and display distinct brain waves in certain circumstances; they have different personalities and psychological tendencies; they differ in what their autonomic nervous systems are attuned to; they are aroused by and pay attention to different stimuli; they might even be different genetically.

Ultimately we want to temper the emotional response to ideological adversaries that dominates today’s political conversation. We make no pretense that conservatives and liberals can be led to agree on everything, or even anything. We simply want liberals and conservatives to understand why they are different from each other and why those differences frequently seem so unbridgeable. The now widely established fact that left-handedness is a biological predisposition, rather than the work of Satan or at best a willful defiance of majority sentiment, has allowed left and right handed people to live together without the need for one to convert the other, and without the need for us all to meet together in ambidexterity. Could the future hold a similar world where left and right minded people accept their own political predispositions, as well as those of others, as simply a fact of nature, neither remarkable nor despicable? We say the left and the right are just born that way – and vive la différence.
Learn more about the book and authors at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 14, 2013

Linda J. Seligmann's "Broken Links, Enduring Ties"

Linda Seligmann is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Programs in Anthropology at George Mason University. Her research and analysis has appeared in national newspapers and journals, including The Washington Post and on National Public Radio. She is the author of Between Reform and Revolution: Political Struggles in the Peruvian Andes, 1969-1991 (1995) and Women Traders in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Mediating Identities, Marketing Wares (2001).

Seligmann applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation, and reported the following:
I wrote Broken Links, Enduring Ties to draw attention to the cultural assumptions that underlie family-making in America, particularly through adoption. Page 99 does reveal “the quality of the whole,” the constant movement I try to depict in my book between broken links and enduring ties in the course of family making among adoptive families with children from China and Russia, and transracial adoptive families with African American children. This page dwells on how adoptive parents of children from China create and use lifebooks to build memories for their children. Children who have been adopted frequently have few, if any, details about their early years. Lifebooks have become a central part of family- and place-making for adoptive families. They are one way they address broken links and process what will always be unknown, as well as to acknowledge and make explicit the loss, sadness, and anger their children may feel over time. Adoptive parents and their children revisit the lifebooks over time, finding different things in them and new sentiments about images and texts they’ve already seen. These lifebooks are patterned but also unique. Here, Ruth and Dan tell how they have used the vehicle of a lifebook to talk to Bella about being adopted since she was 18 months old. Ruth told me, “Up until recently, I haven’t said anything about a birth mother, but we’re starting to kind of weave that in….” Also on this page, Marge passionately defends her decision to ensure that her daughter Tess’s lifebook not be a whitewashed narrative. Many adoptive parents deliberately leave things out of lifebooks they think are ugly, painful, or shameful about how they came to be a family. Marge reasoned, “I really want to teach her that her story is hers and she never has to edit her story or her feelings about it for my benefit…. I’ve seen a lot of lifebooks that were very pretty and were very neatly packaged stories, and I just decided not to do that because I’s for her, it’s not for me…there aren’t tidy little edges….” Too often we hear only from adoptive parents. In my book, the voices of birth family members, adopted children, teens, and young adults, and teachers, administrators, religious leaders, and adoption brokers—come to life in the struggles they encounter, the roles that religion, spirituality, and the embrace of “intelligent design” play in the choices they make, their experiences with turbulent undercurrents of racism in America, the innovative experiments and rituals they arrive at to counter traditional school assignments on family trees, for example, and the burgeoning adoptive youth movement that youth and young adult adoptees have spearheaded. The structuring of lifebooks reflects the broader canvas on which family-making through adoption unfolds.
Learn more about Broken Links, Enduring Ties at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 13, 2013

S. Frederick Starr's "Lost Enlightenment"

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a research and policy center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. A past president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, he began his career in classical archaeology, excavating at Gordium in modern Turkey and mapping the Persian Royal Road.

Starr applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane, and reported the following:
Modern readers cannot imagine that Afghanistan and all Central Asia was once the world leader in religious diversity and tolerance but this was precisely the case before the advent of Islam there in the seventh century. Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas, Zoroastrian altars, and early Christian Churches stood on the same city streets, coexisting peacefully. This fruitful interchange, described on page 99, paved the way for the region to be, for a few brief centuries, the intellectual center of the world. How it rose to this high pedestal and how it fell from it is also part of the story of Lost Enlightenment.
Learn more about Lost Enlightenment at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 11, 2013

Justine McConnell's "Black Odysseys"

Justine McConnell is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford University. She is co-editor of Ancient Slavery and Abolition: from Hobbes to Hollywood, and the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939, and reported the following:
What is a hero? And what kind of hero do we need now, asks Ralph Ellison in his seminal 1952 novel, Invisible Man. In that era immediately preceding Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X’s rise to prominence, Ellison was disappointed in those who purported to lead African American communities in the United States. In his novel, he offers a selection: the obsequious yes-man; the Communist Party devotee who sacrifices racial concerns to those of class; the tragic figure who cannot live with what he sees as his own betrayal; even the wise sweet-potato-seller who leads the protagonist to the punning realization that ‘I yam what I am!’; and the violent rabble-rouser, Ras the Exhorter, who is centre-stage at page 99 of my book.

This page also considers Ellison’s ever-unnamed protagonist’s relationship to the ancient Greek hero, Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman myth). A persistent motif throughout the novel, it is combined with allusions to the Brer Rabbit stories in a kind of triangle of influence. As Ellison once wrote,

‘I knew the trickster Ulysses just as early as I knew the wily rabbit of Negro American lore, and I could easily imagine myself a pint-sized Ulysses, but hardly a rabbit, no matter how human and resourceful or Negro’.

Ellison’s prioritization of the European myth here is problematic, but the negotiations that he is making, his combination of the European canon with the folklore of the African diaspora as well as with his contemporary socio-political situation is fascinating and powerful. It is this that lies at the heart of my own book: Black Odysseys is interested in the creative works of writers such as Aimé Césaire, Derek Walcott, Wilson Harris, and Njabulo Ndebele, as well as Ellison. I look at the ways in which these writers engage with that founding work of the Western canon, Homer’s Odyssey, often in radical, resistant ways which demand that we reassess our traditional interpretations of it. The modern works are compelling and important in their own right, and can well be read without focusing on these classical strands; but examining these threads too illuminates both the modern and the ancient, and enriches our reading of them all.
Learn more about Black Odysseys at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

John Mosier's "Verdun"

John Mosier is a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in film, modern European literature, and the eighteenth-century novel. His books include The Myth of the Great War (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize), The Blitzkrieg Myth, The Generalship of U. S. Grant, and Cross of Iron.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us deep into the first battle for Verdun. By early September, 1914, the Germans had the great forts almost completely surrounded and were trying to close the gap by crossing the Meuse some twenty kilometers upstream. That’s right: they were way south, on the verge of pinching off the entire complex of forts, and unlocking the shortest and easiest route into France.

Their way was blocked by one of the older forts, Troyon, commanded by a lowly captain named Heym. “The Austrians kept on shelling, and by 12 September the fort recorded ten separate barrages. But by this time, the relief column was arriving. Their approach coincided with the general order to retreat. But Heym was still holding out in the rubble.”
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that this obscure officer played the role of the proverbial Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike. If Troyon had fallen, most of the French defenders on the left bank would have been trapped, and it is quite possible that this, the first battle for Verdun, would have then become the last and only. Sadly, Heym, a true hero of the first weeks of the war, did not live long enough to see his feat recognized. He was killed a few weeks later, in the desperate French attempts to defend Marchéville, in the Woëvre, and few remember his name, even among specialists.
Explaining to readers what actually happened (there were Austrians on the Western Front?), and how it was carefully hidden by the French High Command (and generations of dutiful historians), is the heart of my book. The coverups, the bland dismissals, the transformation of defeats and bloody checks into military triumphs, went on right down to the very end of the war, culminating in scornful assessments of the American troops who actually freed Verdun from the German stranglehold in fall 1918.

This final battle for Verdun was the only decisive victory won by either side, which probably explains why the French dismissed it and the British refused to admit it even happened. But anyone who reads all the way through my book will understand both how impressive the American accomplishment was, and why it was so important to minimize it.

Just as the hidden stories of men like Captain Heym show the costs of true heroism, the massive attempts an rewriting history make us aware of how fragile the truth is, and how difficult it is to recover. Field Marshal von Hindenburg, supreme commander of the German army, said very plainly and unambiguously in November 1914, that it was the American troops in this sector that won the war for the Allies. His summary was promptly buried, and, when brought up, was blandly dismissed: “Oh he just said that.” An actual quote, and an interesting way to fabricate history. But then, as Voltaire observed: That’s what happens when you entrust it to intellectuals.
Learn more about Verdun at the publisher's website, and visit John Mosier's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jack Russell Weinstein's "Adam Smith's Pluralism"

Jack Russell Weinstein is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Dakota and the host of the public radio show Why? Philosophical discussions about everyday life (WHY? Radio for short). He is the author of three books and dozens of articles, and has edited four collections. He is the recipient of the 2007 UND Foundation/McDermott Award for Individual Excellence in Teaching, the top teaching award at his university. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University in 1998.

Weinstein applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Adam Smith's Pluralism: Rationality, Education, and the Moral Sentiments, and reported the following:
Interestingly, page 99 of Adam Smith’s Pluralism is the moment where the book gets to one of its most foundational and controversial claims: that at the core of Smith’s moral psychology is a commitment to a very basic, intimate experience, that can’t be denied. The example I give is that slaves feel a pain at being enslaved, that cannot be explained away. “A slave and slave owner may be convinced that slavery is morally correct, that it is just, and that each person deserves his or her place in the social structure, but the slave cannot be convinced that he or she likes the experience or that it does not cause pain—again, Uncle Tom’s Cabin comes to mind.”

This intimate experience forms the foundation of Adam Smith’s conception of rationality, our ability to reason that Smith thinks is constructed like a narrative story. This structure is important for two reasons. First, because I am arguing against Economics’ description of human beings, I’m showing that how human beings reason is much more complicated than just the ability to choose between multiple ways of satisfying desires. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’m showing that emotion plays a central role in reasoning—that the traditional separation between logic and emotions doesn’t hold up.

The book is about pluralism and the importance of using the imagination to enter into the perspective of one another. It is about the centrality of education in this process and the way that our refusal to learn about others promotes injustice. Page 99 shows why: if one can’t acknowledge that the slave is in pain, then one cannot come to terms with his or her humanity. At that point, the struggle for justice is lost.
Learn more about the book and author at Jack Russell Weinstein's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stein Ringen's "Nation of Devils"

Stein Ringen is professor emeritus of sociology and social policy at Oxford University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience, and reported the following:
The middle of page 99 has this heading: Why Things Go Wrong. ‘You might think it a truism to advise governments to make good decisions,’ I write. But, sadly, in governance things will go wrong if proper procedures are not in place to prevent it. ‘Political decision making is human decision making, and in human decision making we are prone to mistakes. Our brains play tricks on us. Also, political decision making is a group activity, and in groups people play tricks on each other.’ Therefore, political leaders need the protection of procedure. ‘Even competent managers manage badly if their systems don’t work.’

The chapter then goes on to discuss procedure and system under three headings: the smartness of slowness, the blessing of the back room, and the security of scrutiny. All this is central to my argument that governance is notoriously difficult and that leaders don’t get far with good intentions.
Learn more about Nation of Devils at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 5, 2013

David Rosen and Aaron Santesso's "The Watchman in Pieces"

David Rosen is associate professor of English at Trinity College, and Aaron Santesso is associate professor of Literature at Georgia Tech.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood, and reported the following:
The Watchman in Pieces is our attempt to trace the interrelations, over the past five centuries, between a) the history of literature; b) the theory and practice of surveillance; and c) liberal political philosophy. Since both literary authors and surveillance directors promise “the truth about other people through close observation” – to give the key line from our page 99 – it makes sense that literature and surveillance should have influenced each other since the Renaissance. Because this inspection of inner personhood has inevitably raised questions about individual autonomy, equality and freedom, liberalism, which begins as a defense of these concepts, is also central to the story.

Over roughly 300 pages, we consider such issues as the modern Surveillance State, the origin of privacy rights, and changing ideas about what constitutes a self. We analyze the work of authors ranging from Shakespeare, to Wordsworth, to Poe, to Orwell. Throughout, we also inject some common sense into the key debates swirling around government and corporate surveillance today.

In one way, page 99 is not representative: in a book that’s mainly text, more than half of 99 is a graphic image – in this case, Jeremy Bentham’s schematic for his Panopticon prison. The panopticon is an unavoidable topic in any serious study of surveillance: with its abject inmates under constant watch, it has long been interpreted as anticipating contemporary surveillance at its most oppressive (i.e. Big Brother). In our book, however, the image introduces a sympathetic reinterpretation of Bentham: rather than unremittingly coercive, his panopticon (in our view) was designed to encourage inmates’ natural tendency to perform certain roles.

The rest of page 99 (the text part) brings to an end a discussion about realism and the rise of the novel. Early novels, like those of Defoe and Samuel Richardson, were the perfect forum to test theories about how people behave under pressure. In their pursuit of an elusive human subject, however, novels were also vulnerable to the temptations of invasive surveillance. Thus we write:
The novel’s pursuit of interiority by [means of close observation] often brought it into near alliances with the developing technology of surveillance and [inevitably] caused disruptions in realistic representation…. For now, we may simply observe that realism by the end of the eighteenth century was less a formal set of conventions than a complex ideological effect, depending in equal measure on an adherence to [empirical standards] , and a quiet annexation of forms and ways of thinking fundamentally hostile to empiricism.
In brief: for a long time, both novelists and surveillance workers believed that the careful scrutiny of minor details could generate trustworthy information – even to the point of predicting future behavior. Neither field is so sure about that today: uncertainty is now understood to be unavoidable – not an entirely discouraging development.
Learn more about The Watchman in Pieces at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bo Lidegaard's "Countrymen"

Bo Lidegaard, after a stellar career in the Danish Diplomatic Service and a stint as Permanent Undersecretary of State and National Security Adviser within the office of the Prime Minister, stepped away to become editor-in-chief of Denmark's most important newspaper, Politiken. His two previous books on Danish 20th century history have been both bestsellers in Denmark and winners of major literary and historical awards. Widely known to leading journalists around the world, he lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Lidegaard applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Countrymen, and reported the following:
Countrymen is about the escape of Danish Jews from Nazi persecution in September and October 1943. It is a unique history about a unique exemption from the Holocaust. The great majority of the Danish Jews managed to escape.

The book is cast in 14 chapters covering each one day. They are all based on documentation written that day, reflecting the concerns, actions and feelings of both the refugees, of the Nazis and those of the surrounding Danish community. By keeping so close to real time in 1943, the book reflects all the uncertainty, doubts and anxiety of those who lived through those crucial days.

Page 99 of the book accounts for events on Wednesday, September 29, 1943, three days before the action against the Jews were launched and thus at a point in time when most Danish Jews were still of two minds in regard to the rumors about an upcoming action. Were they for real or to be disregarded? Was it time to leave home – and if yes, where to go? Everyone sought answers to these questions and on page 99 a new subchapter, Bad Omens, opens introducing one of those who kept a diary at the critical juncture, the young lawyer, Bernhard Cohn, who was a nephew of Einar Cohn, a permanent secretary who was part of the non-political council governing Denmark at the time. The subchapter describes how Bernhard desperately sought contact with his uncle in order to get confirmation – or the opposite – of the rumors that an action was imminent:
Bad Omens

Permanent Secretary Einar Cohn had a nephew, a thirty-seven-year-old laywer, Bernhard Cohn, who also kept a diary during the critical days from September 29 to October 5. A few hours before the department secretaries’ meeting the nephew visited his uncle, to see if he had any updates about the swirling rumors:
“But Einar was Einar. He didn’t know a damned thing.... He was going to a meeting in the afternoon and promised to call me around 4 p.m.. Of course he didn’t call. I then turned to make a new call and was referred to a secretary, who informed me that he had greetings from Einar who said that he had nothing he could convey. So I was aware that it was for real.... I rushed home to find it in wild disarray.... 7:15 by car to the Mission Hotel in Colbjørnsensgade, where we went to bed very early.--I promised Ella that if something happened—the Germans would never get me alive. I do not think she understood what I meant. At night, the air-raid sirens, which didn’t add to the enjoyment.”
Further down page 99 we also get news on one of the recurrent figures of the narrative, another refugee, Poul Hannover, who begins to focus on one of the questions facing the future refugees: money. Again, the contemporary documentation is at the core of the account:
Poul Hannover also describes extensively in his diary for Wednesday, September 29, the many worries and the trial and error that filled the day, as he desperately tried to find a way to get to Sweden with his family. His diary also touches on a theme that was an inevitable part of the refugees’ concerns: money. It was clear that illegal transport to Sweden would cost money, and that there could be a need for a large amount of cash for the whole family to get out. How much was not known. Getting hold of cash was urgent.

For the wealthy another consideration was how best to cope with companies, investments, and personal assets. How could one protect, in haste, the family’s valuables? How much should be cashed in, and how much was transferable? To whom? And who should be authorized as caretaker during an absence of unknown length? How could one fulfill obligations and personal commitments in order not to default on future demands? The future was suddenly completely unpredictable, and it was vital to ensure the necessary liquidity--without resorting to a fire sale of anything that was easily marketable.
Learn more about Countrymen at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Noreena Hertz's "Eyes Wide Open"

Noreena Hertz is a bestselling author, academic, and thinker who has been described by Vogue as "one of the world's most inspiring women." Hertz has given talks for TED and the World Economic Forum, and she also advises a range of major corporations. She is associate director at the Centre for International Business and Management at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge.

Hertz applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World, and reported the following:
I accepted the Page Ninety-Nine Challenge before I opened my book on page ninety-nine. Although I felt pretty sure that the quality of my writing was consistent throughout, what I wasn’t sure of at all was whether this single page would reveal much about key themes of the book as a whole.

It actually does. Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World seeks to answer the big question: who, in a world of data deluge, conflicting expert opinion, marketers' spin, and politicians’ agendas, should we trust and believe?

Page 99, which falls towards the end of my chapter “Ditch Deference and Challenge Experts,” gives you a sense of what my answer – at least in part – may be. When it comes to experts, don’t trust them – at least not blindly.

Did you know that doctors misdiagnose one time in six? That you’re better off filing your tax returns yourself than getting an accountant to do so? Or that a study of 82,000 predictions by experts over a period of 16 years revealed that experts got no more right than a monkey randomly sticking pins on a board? Yet fMRI brain scans of people considering an expert’s advice reveal that as they do so, it’s as if the independent decision-making part of their brain switches off. It’s astonishing really, but an expert speaks, and it’s as if we stop thinking for ourselves. It’s a really scary idea.

We need to get over our knee jerk deference – many of us don’t even suspect there’s a problem – and embrace our inner rebel. As I write on this page: “the more we keep our brains switched on and think for ourselves as well as learn from others, the more successful we’ll be in our endeavors.” As other chapters reveal, however, it’s not just a case of challenging others, we also have to be prepared to challenge ourselves. The short cuts and coping strategies we’ve developed to cope with the data deluge and our own emotional and physical states can also badly lead us astray…
Learn more about the book and author at Noreena Hertz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

J.B. MacKinnon's "The Once and Future World"

J.B. MacKinnon is the author or coauthor of four books of nonfiction. His latest is The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be. Previous works are The 100-Mile Diet (with Alisa Smith), a bestseller widely recognized as a catalyst of the local foods movement; I Live Here (with Mia Kirshner and artists Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge), a ‘paper documentary’ about displaced people that made top 10 lists from the Bloomsbury Literary Review to Comic Book Resources; and Dead Man in Paradise, the story of a priest assassinated in the Dominican Republic, which won Canada’s highest prize for literary nonfiction.

MacKinnon applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Once and Future World and reported the following:
I was pleased to discover that page 99 of The Once and Future World is at least a little bit funny. I’ve written a book about what we so clinically call “the environment” — not a topic area that’s famously quirky or playful. Yet there on page 99 is a footnote about a man who ate broiled porpoise on Cape Hatteras in 1885, wrote about the experience for a scientific journal, and registered his complaint that the “golden age of gastronomy” faded away with the days when a proper feast included stewed eagles, braised foxes, and the eggs of the now-extinct great auk.

To hell with the rest of page 99, then: the footnote alone is enough to reveal “the quality of the whole,” as Ford Madox Ford would have it. This is a book about the natural world of the past and what it tells us about nature today, and here is a man not only lamenting the lost abundance of the living planet, but asking aloud whether we might not want to seek to regain it. He is doing so, please note, 128 years ago. He is mindful of science, but not only of science — our footnote protagonist’s views also draw on history, geography, philosophy. Most importantly, he does not draw a clear line between culture and nature. He has, after all, come fresh from the real and bloody business of eating a broiled porpoise.

This was the great joy of writing this book: the natural world of the past is such an extraordinary place to spend time, full of oddities and wonders. It is also the most forgotten of all our histories. What a relief, then, to see that page 99 really is run through with the question that I tried to infuse in the book’s every word: What would it be like to remember? And page 99 also holds an answer: “An extraordinary moment,” it tells me, “a kind of rebirth.”
Learn more about the book and author at J.B. MacKinnon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue