Friday, October 30, 2015

Craig Packer's "Lions in the Balance"

Craig Packer is professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior and director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Lions in the Balance provides a cultural and historical vignette of Tanzania’s traditional capital, Dar es Salaam – the Dwelling of Peace. Dar is located on the shores of the Indian Ocean and has been a cultural melting pot for centuries. This precise scene takes place during an important day in the Muslim calendar, when black-robed Shiites commemorate the martyrdom of Muhammad’s grandson. But the date coincides with a Hindu festival, and Dar’s Indian population is dressed in Nehru suits and brightly colored saris.

More important than the scene’s exoticism is the history that brought these two religions to Africa in the first place. The Arabs transported slaves and ivory to Zanzibar from the mainland for a thousand years; the British brought clerks and shopkeepers from India during the Colonial Era. Despite the abolition of slavery and the country’s independence in the 1960’s, the Arabs and Indians have maintained their economic advantages ever since.

Lions in the Balance covers an eight-year period when I tried to reform the sport hunting industry in Tanzania while maintaining a long-term research project in the Serengeti and attempted to establish a large-scale program to measure the effectiveness of foreign-aid projects within this desperately impoverished country. By this point in the book, I have come to realize how corruption in the hunting industry has undermined the future of most wildlife areas in Tanzania. I have battled the cynicism of the government agencies that are meant to regulate hunting practices, and I have also identified most of the major players who have been enriching themselves at the expense of the country’s lions, leopards and elephants. But whereas I had uncovered a paper trail documenting the business partnerships of most of the European and North American hunting operators, I hadn’t penetrated the tight-knit – and largely mysterious – ethnic communities of businessmen from Arabia, India and Pakistan.

Dar es Salaam is also where my co-investigators and I experience some of our most dangerous physical encounters with quicksand, armed robbers, government officials and wealthy business tycoons. Dar was the launching pad for our scientific studies of man-eating lions and the site of our negotiations with international aid agencies. The climax of the book occurs in Dar es Salaam on page 338, by which time the scene on page 99 will have prepared the reader to expect the unexpected.
Learn more about Lions in the Balance at the University of Chicago website.

My Book, The Movie: Lions in the Balance.

Writers Read: Craig Packer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Keith Heyer Meldahl's "Surf, Sand, and Stone"

Keith Heyer Meldahl is Professor of Geology and Oceanography at Mira Costa College and the author of Hard Road West and Rough-Hewn Land.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Surf, Sand, and Stone: How Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Forces Shape the Southern California Coast, and reported the following:
Page 99 is filled entirely by a diagram and thus does not give a good sense of the book as a whole. A browser would do better to turn to the "Afterword" where I ponder the lessons of the geologic past and what they tell us about the present and future of the Southern California coast.

Walk on a Southern California beach, and a sense of permanence may come to mind. The sand scrunches predictably underfoot, the coastal bluffs loom seemingly unchanged, and the sea brushes the shore with its same ageless rhythm. Yet the scene can quickly change. Waves from a single storm may erase that beach. Portions of the bluff may collapse without warning. A large earthquake might elevate the coast several feet in an instant. And if we flip back through just the last few million years, the coastal scene, far from appearing stable, looks like frenetic animation. The sea bobs up and down, earthquakes crackle without letup, tsunamis wash ashore, and islands lurch up from the sea.

Does it matter to know these things? I think yes. Probing Southern California’s geologic past can inform decisions we make today. The past tells us that earthquakes and tsunamis will strike the coast again, and although we cannot predict when or where, we can prepare. It also tells us that Southern California’s beaches are in constant flux, with sand arriving and leaving in vast quantities every year. But river dams and seawalls have choked off sand arrivals to the beaches, so now more sand leaves than arrives. Shrunken beaches give coastal bluffs less protection from wave attack. Today, miles of rock and concrete armor much of Southern California’s coast, but these only postpone the sea’s advance. And what of the sea itself? Here too, the past is clear. In recent geologic time, the sea has risen and fallen hundreds of feet as polar ice sheets have come and gone. By happenstance, much of human history has unfolded during a time of unusually stable sea level. That is changing. We presently face a probable sea rise of two to six feet over the next century.

These developments—shrinking beaches and rising seas—point to a looming coastal erosion crisis for Southern California. How will we handle it? Perhaps through a combination of managed retreat and beach replenishment (importing sand to depleted beaches). But the scale of such replenishment will necessarily be enormous. We will need to import enough sand onto our beaches to make up for ongoing losses from dams and seawalls and to keep up with the rising sea. I’m reminded of Alice in Wonderland, where the Red Queen explains to Alice, “You see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”
Learn more about Surf, Sand, and Stone at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Marc Van De Mieroop's "Philosophy before the Greeks"

Marc Van De Mieroop is professor of history at Columbia University. His books include The Ancient Mesopotamian City, King Hammurabi of Babylon, A History of the Ancient Near East, The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II, and A History of Ancient Egypt.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Philosophy before the Greeks: The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of the two chapters in the book that treat the science of divination in ancient Babylonia, ironically the discipline in that culture that illustrates most clearly what rules its intellectuals applied in order to determine what could and could not be true. What most of us today consider unknowable, that is, the future, the Babylonians investigated most rigorously, and the texts in which they did so vastly outnumbered their other scholarly writings. They believed that the gods communicated messages about what was about to happen in every aspect of the world that surrounded them: the movements of stars and planets in heaven, the behavior of animals on earth, the shape and condition of the liver of sacrificial lambs, and much more. From their earliest history onward they searched for these signs through observation, as people in many other cultures did. But in the 18th century BCE, and uniquely among ancient cultures, they started to explore the possibilities of interpretation much further through writing – they generated omens using the boilerplate structure, if X is observed, Y will happen, and created massive lists investigating various signs. These did not stick to the possible, however, but taking advantage of the list format, played around with every element in a statement. For example, if a certain mark observed on the right side of a planet was auspicious, it was inauspicious when observed on the left side – through the list format it was easy to develop the options further by considering other locations, different colors, the time of observation, the identity of the planet, and further variants. While impossible in reality, they were perfectly logical in the written context.

Page 99 in my book deals with the moment when these lists were first composed and points out that the scholars who developed them used the same format and language as their colleagues who had started to write down laws centuries earlier.

“If the apex of the heart is bright on the right—elation, my army will reach its destination” has the same structure as the law “If a man rents an ox for threshing, 20 liters of grain is its hire.”

Elsewhere, this allows me to argue that the formulation of laws, like the famous ones of Hammurabi, was bound by the same rules of elaboration, and I show how the scholarly manipulation of the written word is the starting point of Babylonian philosophy.
Learn more about Philosophy before the Greeks at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 26, 2015

Robert DuPlessis's "The Material Atlantic"

Robert S. DuPlessis is Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations Emeritus at the Department of History, Swarthmore College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Material Atlantic: Clothing, Commerce, and Colonization in the Atlantic World, 1650-1800, and reported the following:
Opening to page 99 will give a sense of The Material Atlantic’s multivalent project: close attention to sources and historiography as well as exposition and explanation concerning critical articles—clothes and textiles—that at once satisfy a basic human need and enable personal expression and group identification. Focusing on apparel fabrics and fashions, The Material Atlantic explores the material selves that individuals of diverse ethnicities, statuses, and occupations created in a variety of environments around the vast Atlantic basin. In order to uncover both everyday and exceptional sartorial experiences of women and men, indigenous and immigrant, enslaved and free, poor and affluent, the book uses a wide array of written and pictorial sources, and has a lot of illustrations in color and greyscale. In addition, it addresses central issues in recent scholarship on the Atlantic world, globalization, and consumption.

Found in Chapter 2, “Acquiring imported textiles and dress,” the text on page 99 is part of the analysis of merchant textile stocks, the most important source of clothing fabrics around the Atlantic. The chapter also outlines the plethora of market and non-market modes of fabric acquisition that allowed people in the Atlantic world to invent what I term “dress regimes,” the individually and socially created complexes of garments and related items, the practices by which they were appropriated and deployed, and verbal and pictorial discourses that sought to direct, explain, and justify (or invalidate) both apparel and dressing practices.

The next four chapters investigate the processes and meanings of dress regime creation among indigenous, enslaved, and free settler men and women in a dozen locations on both sides of the Atlantic; the final chapter compares these fashions both with dress regimes found on the “eve” of the Atlantic world (just as exchanges and migrations began to intensify from the early seventeenth century, as delineated in Chapter 1), and with those found in late eighteenth century Europe, and concludes by outlining the effects of Atlantic consumption on European textile manufacturing.
Learn more about The Material Atlantic at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jamie Blaine's "Midnight Jesus"

Jamie Blaine is a licensed psychotherapist and crisis interventionist who has worked in mental hospitals, megachurches, rehabs, radio stations, and roller rinks. His writing has been featured in such outlets as Salon, OnFaith, Bass Guitar, Drummer UK, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, and Ultimate Classic Rock.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Midnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide..., and reported the following:
This is my personal test: I pick up a book and turn to a random page, reading wherever my eyes happen to fall. Does it hold my attention? If so, I turn to another random page and repeat. If a book makes it through three random glances, I’m in. You got me. The gist is this: If you truly love a band? You love their B-sides, their outtakes and demos. You love the worst song on the record still. If I like your style and voice as a writer – I’ll like it on any and every page.

Here’s page 99 from a few of my favorites.

Rami Shapiro’s Way of Solomon says, “I do not want a true me to live forever, I want to live forever.” As philosophical time traveler Ted “Theodore” Logan might say, Whoa.

From Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs: “Watching modern day pro basketball is like watching my roommate in college play Nintendo.”

Don Miller’s Through Painted Deserts tells a great story about being starving but too thirsty for peanut butter at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Neil Strauss’ hard-hitting book on relationships titled, The Truth reminds me: “fantasizing is a defense against intimacy.”

And my book, Midnight Jesus? I have no clue what lies on page 99 but I’m hoping for the best as I flip to that spot, like a Vegas craps addict waiting for the dice to lie still.

Here’s what we get.
David flinches, looking towards the slap as Softball storms in from the other door, flattening him with a thin mattress while I step on his right wrist. He tries to pull away but I lean my weight against his arm until he drops the knife.

Softball pitches the mattress and knife to the side, straddling David, her knees on his shoulders, her hard face close and tight. “You really think we’re gonna let you stab yourself?” she growls. “This is the mattress trick.”

David looks past her to me, hurt and confusion over his face. “You lied?” he asks in a pitiful tone.

“Of course I lied.” I pick up the blade and turn it in the light. “Wouldn’t you?”
Is this my finest moment? No. Is it accurate for the book? Indicitive of the whole? A glimpse into this memoir of misfits and psych ward conflicts? I’d say yes, I think I pass the test.
Visit the Midnight Jesus website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gil Troy's "The Age of Clinton"

Gil Troy has been a professor at McGill University since 1990. Maclean’s Magazine has repeatedly identified him as one of McGill’s “Popular Profs” and History News Network designated him one of its first “Top Young Historians.” His many books include Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism.

Troy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
If Abraham Lincoln was “the godfather of the Pacific railroad,” and Dwight Eisenhower the father of the Interstate Highway System, Bill Clinton is the stepfather of the Internet, with the boundless, wireless network fulfilling his mission to modernize America by uniting it virtually. Even if neither Al Gore nor Bill Clinton invented the Internet—scientists did—Gore was its Henry Clay, persistently pushing prophetic legislation that facilitated its growth, just as Clay pushed internal improvements. A tolerant political culture would have forgiven Gore’s awkward attempts at self-promotion and prized his visionary contributions.

With profound insight into America’s future, proud of what he had accomplished in just one year, Clinton resented the media carping and partisan doubts. November’s Congressional Quarterly had deemed his first year the most productive presidential rookie year legislatively since Dwight Eisenhower.
The first line on page 99 of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s reads: “Bill Clinton and Al Gore wanted government to perfect and protect the ‘data superhighway.’” That one sentence captures two of the book’s central challenges, trying to assess Bill Clinton’s presidency and tracking The Great American Hook-Up, when computers were inked to the internet – one of the most significant changes that occurred in the 1990s.

Page 99 captures Clinton and his Vice President at their best, thinking ahead, anticipating big changes, building that proverbial bridge to the twenty-first century. Clinton and Gore envisioned “a nationwide, invisible, seamless, dynamic web of transmission mechanisms, information, appliances, content, and people.” And thanks to the technological infrastructure, millions of Americans were able, within that amazing decade, to get “on line,” making their already marvelous computers, all the more powerful, going from Everything Machines to Anything, Anywhere machines.

Remember, in 1990, Amazon was just a big river, Google, was just a really big number, and “Pay Pal” was something loan sharks said. In so many ways, our current lives were being invented, or at least radically reset during that decade – and during that presidency.

The link between this dramatic transformation and the Clinton presidency justifies the book’s approach, which is to look at the Clinton presidency in the context of the 1990s. With each chapter telling the story of a given year in the decade, from 1990 through 2000, we get a broader appreciation of what the Clinton administration did – and did not – do, and a better sense of how the great inventions and prosperity boosted Clinton while the dramatic changes also stirred anxieties and undermined him.

Toward the bottom of the page, assessing 1993, Bill Clinton’s Roller Coaster first year, I write: “With profound insight into America’s future, proud of what he had accomplished in just one year, Clinton resented the media carping and partisan doubts.” This sentence reflects on what I call the Clinton Conundrum – how did a president who was so talented, and accomplished so much, leave America so badly divided and feeling so badly? That requires a greater appreciation of Bill Clinton’s talents, shortcomings, and challenges – in some ways, by anticipating the changes he tackled, he also helped unnerve many citizens by representing those changes.
Learn more about the book and author at Gil Troy's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: The Age of Clinton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Russell B. Goodman's "American Philosophy Before Pragmatism"

Russell Goodman is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his book, American Philosophy Before Pragmatism, and reported the following:
My book tells a story of the development of philosophy in America from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century. The key figures in this story, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, were not professors but men of the world, whose thinking blended with religion, politics, and literature. I consider them in relation to the philosophers and other thinkers they found important: the deism of John Toland and Matthew Tindal, John Locke’s political and religious philosophy, the moral sense theories of Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume, and the Romanticism of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The book concludes with an Epilogue on some continuities in American philosophy, especially between Emerson and the pragmatists.

Page 99 does not mention any of these thinkers, however, so in that regard it is not a good guide to the book’s subject matter. But it does concern a main theme of the book, discussed by all the writers on whom I focus: American slavery. The page opens a section entitled “Slavery in the American Republic” that begins with my statement that “there is considerable irony in the fact that people so concerned with freedom should have constructed a republic that acknowledged slavery--without, however, ever using the words ‘slave’ or ‘slavery’ in the Constitution.” As examples I mention the Constitution’s fugitive slave law, which referred to “Persons … held to Service or Labour in one State … escaping into another,” and its legalization of the “importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” at least until 1808. A third example, defended by James Madison in the Federalist, states that the population of each state is to be “determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

In his 1844 address commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in the British West Indies, Emerson wrote that “[l]anguage must be raked; the secrets of slaughter-houses and infamous holes that cannot front the day, must be ransacked, to tell what negro-slavery has been." We do not need to rake language very deeply to consider who the non-free and non-Indian persons mentioned in the Constitution were, and or to learn what the polite word "servant" meant in a society in which slavery was legal. Three of my main subjects—Edwards, Franklin, and Jefferson, were slaveowners, but all five played a role in disturbing the uneasy American equilibrium that included slavery.
Learn more about American Philosophy Before Pragmatism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ruth Bernard Yeazell's "Picture Titles"

Ruth Bernard Yeazell is the Chace Family Professor of English and director of the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University. Her books include Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature and Art of the Everyday: Dutch Painting and the Realist Novel.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Picture Titles includes a picture as well as text and thus demonstrates a central theme of the book: the way in which visual images in Western culture are mediated by language. The picture comes from a famous painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and shows two legs sticking out of the water. Those legs are a tiny detail of the canvas as whole, which is titled on its frame (in French) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; but guided by that title, both ordinary viewers and scholars alike have taken them as the focus of the painting. Without the title, the legs could just as easily belong to a swimmer or diver as to the mythical boy who plunged into the sea when he flew too near the sun; with the title, they become not only the legs of Icarus but the emotional center of the painting—a painting that has inspired more poems over the past century than any other. In the best known of these, W. H. Auden‘s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” the discrepancy between the rest of the canvas and those “white legs disappearing into the green / Water” prompts a meditation on the human capacity to ignore the suffering of others.

But while almost everyone who approaches the painting reads it through its title, that title did not, in fact, originate with the painter. Like many of the pictures included in my book, the work we know as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus acquired its name from those I call “middlemen”—in this case, from the twentieth-century scholars and curators who sought to identify the work after it surfaced at a London sale in 1912. Rather than an authoritative guide to the artist’s intention, such a title is an act of interpretation after-the-fact.

Picture Titles begins by exploring how this practice of titling paintings arose out of earlier modes of identifying and describing them. Page 99 appears in the section of the book devoted to the ways in which such titles have in turn shaped viewers’ experience—sometimes with far-reaching cultural effects. I conclude with case studies of painters, from Jacques-Louis David to Jasper Johns, who have sought to control such interpretation by aggressively engaging in the business of titling.
Learn more about Picture Titles at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lowell Edmunds's "Stealing Helen"

Lowell Edmunds is professor emeritus of classics at Rutgers University. He is the author of Oedipus: The Ancient Legend and Its Later Analogues and the editor of Approaches to Greek Myth.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective, and reported the following:
On page 99 I am just short of the end of my chapter 2, on Helen’s twin brothers, Castor and Polydeuces. The structure of this chapter mirrors the structure of my book as a whole, and so Ford Madox Ford was right.

In chapter 1, I have established, mainly on the basis of folktales (printed in an appendix), an international story that I call the “The Abduction of the Beautiful Wife.” With reference to this story, I criticize various claims (I call them hypostatizing) made about Helen. In chapter 2 it’s Helen the Indo-European dawn goddess whom I call into question.

In chapter 3, I return to my positive thesis and show how the Greek myth of Helen’s abduction by the Trojan Paris (also called Alexander) conforms to the pattern of “Abduction,” right down to the stratagem that the husband always needs in order to recover his wife. In the ancient Greek version, it’s the Trojan Horse. Then in chapter 4 I criticize two other hypostases of Helen. One is the Helen of cult. She is regularly called a “goddess.” I cast doubt on this idea. The other Helen, a creature of literary criticism, has a self and a personality and is tantamount to a character in modern fiction.

As against the “real” Helens of these hypostases, in my concluding chapter 5 I reaffirm—back to the positive—the Helen of narrative, who was appropriated again and again in ancient Greece, not only in poetry of various kinds but also in local legends, as in some examples from the island of Rhodes. Rhodians wanted to attach to themselves some part of her fame. These are new Helens, and each one is for the locals the real Helen. But the most interesting of these Helens, about which I wish that we knew more, might be the Helen of the Pythagoreans of Croton (southern Italy). She came from the moon and returned there when her mortal life was over. This Helen reappears in the propaganda of Simon Magus. From him, I trace a line that leads on to Goethe’s Faust.
Learn more about Stealing Helen at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gavin Weightman's "Eureka: How Invention Happens"

Gavin Weightman is a journalist, historian, and former documentary filmmaker. He has published more than twenty books, including The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story and Children of the Light: How Electricity Changed Britain Forever.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Eureka: How Invention Happens, and reported the following:
Page 99:
...obsolete their creators are liable to be dismissed as misguided or backward. But it is their pioneer work that generates optimism and draws out the backing for the more advanced technologies which replace them.

However, when Farnsworth began his labours, the industry view was still that some version of mechanical scanning of images was the most promising way forward for the transmitter. It was not that people were unable to see that a cathode ray tube camera would be superior. That was not in question. Very little work was being done on it because the problem of discovering how to manipulate electrons in a vacuum tube involved experimentation with a much less accessible technology than the Nipkow disk or any of the other mechanical scanners. With the mechanical scanners you could pretty much see what was going on with the naked eye. How electrons were behaving in a sealed glass tube was not apparent and involved a highly sophisticated understanding of physics.

The key discovery that electrically charged particles a thousand times smaller than atoms would travel through a vacuum had been made in the nineteenth century. It had been shown, too, that when these particles, or electrons as they became known, hit a photoelectric surface they could produce an image. Farnsworth’s all-electric television system would have to manipulate this laboratory equipment in some way so that the cathode ray tube performed the same function as the Nipkow disk and the selenium cell. He was not the first to attempt this but he had a chance to be the first to make it work. The biggest problem was with the camera.

As Everson had anticipated, California provided Farnsworth with some much-needed expertise as well as with financial backing. Bill Cummings, in charge of glass blowing for the University of California in Berkeley, who had made them their first tubes, taught Cliff Gardner the art. In time he became very skilful. Meanwhile, Everson and Pem worked with Farnsworth making magnetic coils and experimenting with the photosensitive materials. At the outset, Farnsworth was wildly optimistic about what he could achieve in a short space of time. In 1927…
Page 99 of Eureka: How Invention Happens lands the reader somewhere in the middle of a chapter I called “Seeing with electricity”. Looking at it a good while after I wrote it I would say it reads well enough, though it is not especially evocative or enticing. No publisher would chose it as an extract for publicity: there are other pages in this account of the invention of television which are much more fun. The page 99 test originally was a way of judging fiction. My book is non-fiction and is bound therefore to contain a good few pages of prose which I hope are readable and interesting but which are not going to dazzle the reader. How much the text on page 99 would give a sense of the central theme of the book I am not sure: it is there alright but, out of context, I suspect it is not really evident.

Eureka is an account of what I have called the “ancient history” of five twentieth century inventions: the aeroplane, television, the bar code, the personal computer and the mobile phone. Each of these inventions was made possible by a long accumulation of scientific understanding, technological advance and inventive genius stretching back at least as far as the eighteenth century. One invention would lead to another and technologies would merge. Scientific understanding was always crucial but the breakthrough–what I have called the “eureka moment” when an invention works for the first time, however crudely–has often been achieved by an amateur or outsider. This is not so surprising when you consider that only one of the inventions in my book, the bar code, could be said to have been a “necessity”. Established industries had no need for television, the mobile phone, the aeroplane or the personal computer.

Some of the flavor of the book is there on Page 99 as a rank outsider, the American Philo Farnsworth, struggles with the near impossible task of creating an electronic television system in the 1920s. He nearly made it but the effort broke read on!
Visit Gavin Weightman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Nadav Samin's "Of Sand or Soil"

Nadav Samin is visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Of Sand or Soil: Genealogy and Tribal Belonging in Saudi Arabia, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands us in the heart of what I feel to be the most exciting chapter of my new study on genealogy and social contestation in Saudi Arabia, Of Sand or Soil. I am describing the genealogical correspondence of Ḥamad al-Jāsir, Saudi Arabia’s foremost genealogist and historian of the twentieth century. In the many hundreds of letters to al-Jāsir by Saudis urging him to investigate, clarify or validate their authentic Arabian tribal origins, we have a uniquely intimate view into some of the most private anxieties of a deeply reserved society. While interpreting these letters and placing them in their broader historical and anthropological context, I also track down some of their authors and develop relationships with them and their family members. Integrating personal narratives and life histories with the private correspondence of Ḥamad al-Jāsir produces a story about social change and political life in the Arabian Peninsula not previously told or acknowledged.
Learn more about Of Sand or Soil at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 16, 2015

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's "The Mushroom at the End of the World"

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she codirects Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of Friction and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, and reported the following:
Jobs have disappeared along with hopes for progress; our environment is damaged, perhaps beyond repair. How shall we survive? In my book, I follow a mushroom to look for answers to this question.

Matsutake is a wild mushroom beloved in Japan as a gourmet treat. When prices are right, it is the most expensive mushroom in the world. In the book, matsutake leads us down surprising paths, not only in Japan, but also in matsutake forests in China, Finland, and the US Pacific Northwest. Laotian and Cambodian refugees pick mushrooms in the ruined industrial forests of Oregon. Forests emerge when fungi embrace trees. Through such stories, the mushroom guides us through our economic and ecological dilemmas. What lives in the mess we have made?

On page 99, I’m telling the story of the Japanese Americans who first picked matsutake in the forests of Oregon. Japanese Americans first sent American matsutake to Japan. But by the 1990s, prices had risen and white and Southeast Asian pickers had flocked to the forest. Japanese Americans retreated from commercial picking to hunt mushrooms for family and community. “Perhaps you can catch a glimmer of my disconcertment,” I write, contrasting contemporary Japanese and Southeast Asian American pickers in the Oregon woods. “Japanese American matsutake pickers are quite different from Southeast Asian refugees—and I can’t explain the difference away by ‘culture’ or by ‘time’ spent in the United States, the usual sociological stories of differences among immigrants.” No, since the 1990s, something more basic has changed in the relation between the US state and its citizens, and you can see the historical rift in different kinds of matsutake-picking.

Matsutake offers an unexpected angle on our government, our economy, and our ecology. What was that story we called “progress,” and how did it get away from us? Page 99 also presents the pleasures of the mushroom. I discuss the following poem, which tells of delight in finding mushrooms, a delight expressed by matsutake seekers across culture, class, and history. Dear reader, I felt it too.

Lightly dressed shigin [poetry] friends went up to the mountain,
A shady wilderness crowded with pines.
We parked our cars and went into the mountains to look for mushrooms.
Suddenly, a whistle broke the desolation of the forest.
All rushing there, we shouted for joy.
In the autumn light, being beside ourselves, we felt like children again.

--Sanou Uriuda, “Matsutake Hunting at Mt. Rainer”
Visit the Matsutake Worlds Research Group website, and learn more about The Mushroom at the End of the World at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Heath W. Carter's "Union Made"

Heath W. Carter is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University, where he teaches courses on modern United States history.

Carter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
The same Tribune article…included also a summary of English labor leader Ben Tillet’s stern speech, which heaped ridicule upon “parsons [who] denounce the Prince of Wales for playing baccarat [while] they shut their eyes to the operations of the sweaters and heartless capitalists who rob the laborers of body and soul.” The news from New York and Newcastle-on-Tyne, Minneapolis and Milwaukee, and countless other places was much the same: “the laboring classes are drifting away from the church,” as one Methodist preacher at a conference in Omaha put it.
As it turns out, Union Made was made for the page 99 test. The book argues that working people keyed the rise of social Christianity, catalyzing a remarkable early-twentieth-century turnabout in which the churches, after decades of vehement opposition, finally embraced organized labor. This brief excerpt captures two of the fundamental dynamics driving the story. First comes the quote from Ben Tillet, which captures the essence of working people’s critique of the churches: namely, that they were preoccupied with minor matters such as card games and gambling, while they remained deafeningly silent – or, worse, outright hostile – to trade unions and their insistence that the gravest moral issue of the day was the plight of the worker. Indeed, lay believers like Tillet preached and practiced social gospels long before most middle-class ministers did.

Second was the clergy’s fear that “the laboring classes are drifting away.” It was this mounting anxiety, more than any other single factor, which prompted church leaders of nearly every denomination to reconsider their views on the labor movement. How did they come to see embracing trade unionism as the way forward? Because for a generation workers had been telling them it was. They began by warning that they would leave the churches if they did not support trade unions and before long they began to follow through. To much fanfare, labor founded a church of its own in 1894 Chicago – one which made no distinction between the mechanic and the millionaire. Later that same year, when the city’s clergy, almost to a person, criticized the Pullman Strike, they found themselves confronted by angry parishioners, some of whom voted with their feet and stormed right out of sanctuary doors. Experiences such as these prompted many a minister to see the answer to the nation’s industrial crisis and the church’s membership crisis as one and the same: champion the brand of conservative labor reform touted by the American Federation of Labor (as opposed to, say, the radical brand of the Industrial Workers of the World – or Wobblies – who got their start in Chicago in 1905). In other words, the middle-class Social Gospel you can read about in textbooks was, in its own surprising way, also union made.
Visit Heath W. Carter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Diane Marano's "Juvenile Offenders and Guns"

Diane Marano served as an assistant prosecutor in Camden, New Jersey, for twenty-five years, supervising the juvenile unit for over two decades. She earned her PhD in Childhood Studies from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in Camden, USA, and has taught Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Law, and Urban Education there.

Marano applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence, and reported the following:
Guns have long been a part of both American history and myth. The image of a man with a gun pervades our film, TV, and literature. Yet the urban youth of color with a gun strikes many of us not as a part of this long tradition, but rather as alien and fearsome. We may see him as both dangerous and in danger, but in any case we may be inclined to give him a wide berth, avoiding both him and his entire world.

In researching and writing Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices behind Gun Violence I wanted to learn from incarcerated young men themselves how they perceived and experienced their worlds, and how these perceptions influenced their gun acquisition and use. I also wanted to understand the meanings that guns held for them, in terms of utility, symbolism, and identity processes.

Why does a boy in the inner-city get a gun? What does having a gun mean to him? How does he feel about any gun violence in which he may become involved? I interviewed 25 young men incarcerated for juvenile offenses to explore these and other questions. Through their stories of both offending and victimization, the young men revealed their views of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and the larger world. More particularly, they revealed the many meanings and functions that guns have for them.

More broadly, they provided a picture of a kind of childhood and adolescence in which gender, class, and race shaped their worlds and their responses to those worlds. Page 99 of the book begins in a section that frames gun violence from the young men’s perspectives. While only some of those I interviewed said they used guns aggressively toward others, those who did described various ways in which they justified or minimized their actions. The chapter in which page 99 falls is called Producing Violence: “You gotta have a ‘don’t care’ attitude,” and on this page some boys explained that they sidestepped guilty feelings by not robbing women or the elderly, or by only robbing drug dealers. One well-known effect of such a policy, however, is that it leaves young men of color as the target of choice, as it dovetails with a tendency to victimize those, usually of the same race, who are most readily encountered in the young person’s environment.

Is page 99 representative of the book? I’ll let you decide.
Learn more about Juvenile Offenders and Guns at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 12, 2015

Julie Des Jardins's "Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man"

Julie Des Jardins has a Ph.D. in American history from Brown University and has taught at Harvard, Macalester, Simmons, and the City University of New York. She is a professor of history who writes books on American gender, including Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man (Oxford, 2015), Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity (Westview, 2012), The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science (Feminist Press, 2010), and Women and the Historical Enterprise in America: Gender, Race, and the Politics of Memory (UNC, 2003).

Des Jardins applied the “Page 99 Test” to Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man and reported the following:
Most of page 99 of Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man is the opening act of a chapter called “Necessary Roughness?” It’s a conversation borrowed from Tim Cohane’s Yale Football Story, between an upperclassman on the squad of 1891 and a freshman named Wally Winter, who dreams of making the varsity eleven. When Winter gets to the practice field, an upperclassman socks him in the face; his response is to deliver a retaliatory blow. The coach kicks him off the practice field, telling him never to show his face again—that is, until upperclassmen whisk him away to an interrogation room on campus. The team captain, speaks for the group:
“Know anything about football?”

“No, sir,” Winter replies.

“Know how to box?”

“Yes sir—some.”

“What do you weigh?”

“One seventy-eight, sir.”

“Did you slug a man on the field this afternoon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who was he?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Why did you slug him?”

“Because he slugged me—twice, sir.”

“Where did you hit him.”

“On the chin, sir.”

“How often?”

“Once, sir.”

“Don’t you know any better than to slug a man on the football field?”

“I do now, sir.”

“Are you sorry?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, you ought to be sorry. Let me tell you one thing—don’t you ever let me hear of you slugging on the field—never. And tomorrow you come out with the varsity. Good night.”
If the upperclassman seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth, he is only echoing his mentor Walter Camp, arguably the man responsible for bringing both honor and brutality to American football. Contradictions in the culture Camp creates rear their head throughout the book (including growing strains of professionalism in his supposed “amateur” sport), forming the foundations of a sporting culture that still are with us today.

Camp never admitted to seeing contradiction, of course, just balance: A certain amount of physical risk in football is man-making, he insisted; only extreme violence turned man-breaking. He failed to recognize that his sense of the extreme was, perhaps, extreme. As the decided “Father of Football,” he liked to think that he calibrated his game to provide just enough physical danger to turn American males tough and hence effective in the modern age. I tell his story to reveal to Americans, who have only known his man-making narrative in their lifetimes, that what has come down to us as truisms about the nature of American males and football is man-made mythology itself.
Visit Julie Des Jardins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Paul B. Wignall's "The Worst of Times"

Paul B. Wignall is professor of palaeoenvironments at the University of Leeds. He has been investigating mass extinctions for more than twenty-five years, a scientific quest that has taken him to dozens of countries around the world. The coauthor of Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath, he lives in Leeds.

Wignall applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions, and reported the following:
The Worst of Times is all about a series of mass extinctions that began to afflict Earth around 260 million years ago, and the book draws on the latest scientific ideas about these disasters. Amongst these natural catastrophes there was the end-Permian mass extinction, the greatest mass dying of all time, and page 99 finds me discussing what happened immediately afterwards. For a long time this interval puzzled geologists because, rather than recover from the extinction, life on Earth took a long time to get back on its feet, many millions of years in fact. In the past few years new evidence has emerged to explain this. It appears that the world was incredibly hot at this time.

Global warming features in all the crises discussed in The Worst of Times and after the end-Permian crisis the temperature rise continued to unheard of extremes. The consequences for life were dire: the tropics became virtually devoid of plants and animals. So, on page 99 I relate how a Chinese research student of mine first discovered evidence of this and how we came to interpret it:
Sun Yadong was the first to notice that something was amiss with fish….. While picking conodonts for his temperature study, he noticed that there were no fish bones and teeth….. Searching the published literature on Early Triassic fish, we found that although they were abundant in high latitudes, very few were found in the tropics. We surmised that the tropics were simply too hot at this time for fish to survive. In contrast, at higher latitudes, where temperatures were cooler everything was fine….
This was a time when the higher latitudes were havens of diversity whilst in the equatorial regions it was like a furnace – the phrase out of the frying pan and into the fire comes to mind. Very gradually things cooled down and life migrated back to lower latitudes and all was well for millions of years. But then, the next crisis struck, and temperatures once again began to climb.

Global warming and mass death sound like rather disturbing themes, given modern day climate trends, but by the end of the book I provide a reassuring note: we’re not living in the worst of all possible worlds like the poor old Triassic fish, if anything our modern, resilient planet is one of the best of worlds.
Learn more about The Worst of Times at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sarah Bowen's "Divided Spirits"

Sarah Bowen is an Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University. She teaches classes and conduct research related to health, food, inequality, and development.

Bowen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production, and reported the following:
Divided Spirits passes the page 99 test. My book shows how the institutions that are supposed to protect the reputation and heritage of tequila and mezcal exclude large groups of people: farmers, workers, and small producers. Tequila and mezcal are both protected by denominations of origin (DOs), labels that give particular places the right to produce a food or drink, and also set rules for how that food or drink must be produced.

Tequila, protected as a DO since 1974, stands as a model for producers and government officials in many developing countries who are interested in protecting their own regional products. But the benefits associated with the protection of the DO have not trickled down to the farmers or communities where tequila is made, and this is what I am discussing on page 99. On page 99, I tell the story of Avellino, one of the agave farmers that I interviewed. Avellino was a 60-year old agricultural day laborer. He worked in the tequila companies’ agave fields six days a week, and then he took care of his own small parcel on Sundays. He was worried about direction that the industry was headed in, as the tequila companies increasingly grew their own agave to insulate themselves from the risks of the cycles of surplus and shortage that have long characterized the industry. The small farmers were being cut out altogether, and Avellino worried that knowledge about traditional farming practices was being lost.

Avellino’s story is emblematic of broader shifts taking place in the tequila (and mezcal) industries. The process by which the growth and globalization of the tequila industry was achieved has marginalized the agave farmers and workers. New ways of organizing production, enacted by the largest tequila companies, are the driving forces, but the Mexican state, the legal owner of the DOs, is complicit. In my book, I talk about many other aspects of the politics that underlie the production and protection of mezcal and tequila. But I think that page 99 reflects my central argument that the institutions that are supposed to guard “the legacy of all Mexicans” have often failed those who need them most.
Visit Sarah Bowen's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Bowen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Todd H. Hall's "Emotional Diplomacy"

Todd H. Hall is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations and Tutorial Fellow in Politics, Saint Anne's College, at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Emotional Diplomacy: Official Emotion on the International Stage, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands the reader right in the middle of Chapter 3, titled “The Diplomacy of Sympathy,” where I am discussing the Russian response to 9/11. I write:
It is quite possible that Russian policymakers felt the emotions that they professed. An aide to Putin, Sergey Yastrzhembsky, when asked about the response of the Russian leadership, replied that, “the first reaction was, quite naturally, that of deep condolences…. This is because a normal person can feel no other emotion that this after what happened in the US cities.” What is significant for this account, however, is the extent to which RF [Russian Federation] officials collectively and publicly sought to project this image, even organize the domestic citizenry behind it.
I must admit, the more that I researched the Russian response to 9/11, the more it struck me as incongruent with how we had been conventionally taught to understand international relations. Traditional approaches to international relations tell us that states seek their interests by—to cite one of the classic figures in the field, Hans Morgenthau—“persuasion, compromise, and threat of force.” What was remarkable about the Russian response was that it did not fit into any of these categories, but rather it was a massive, organized show of sympathy and condolences. Putin immediately called the White House to express sympathy and then went on national television to declare to the United States that “we fully share and experience your pain.” Two days later, Russia declared a minute of silence and flags were lowered to half mast across the country by official decree. What is more, the Russian government put its money where its mouth is, so to speak, and offered a whole range of cooperative actions to assist the U.S. attack on and subsequent presence in Afghanistan. Extraordinarily, from all the evidence I could uncover, these actions were not made contingent on any substantial reciprocal favors from the United States.

Was Russia trying to gain something with this behavior? Certainly. The attacks offered a chance to reboot relations with the United States and reframe the conflict in Chechnya as part of the global war on terror. However, how it went about this—not the quid-pro-quo horse-trading of traditional accounts but rather a veritable “sympathy assault”—was not the style of statecraft that existing theories of international relations would lead us to expect. And Russia was not alone in this; not only U.S. allies, but also states like the People’s Republic of China engaged in similar behavior. There was a remarkable outpouring of officially professed sympathy post-9/11. Even Cuba, North Korea, and Iran felt compelled to proffer condolences. The only state that did not was Iraq, and this was Saddam’s choice against the advice of his cabinet. My book is about how states officially deploy emotional behavior and Russian conduct after 9/11 described on page 99 is quite a striking example of that in action.
Learn more about Emotional Diplomacy at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Richard Bourke's "Empire and Revolution"

Richard Bourke is professor in the history of political thought and codirector of the Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London. He is the author of Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas and the coeditor of Political Judgement.

Bourke applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke is concerned with the religious views of this great statesman and philosopher. In the 1750s, before Burke embarked on a career in politics, he devoted himself to a range of intellectual problems that were central to the preoccupations of Enlightenment thinkers. These included the relationship between reason and faith, the nature of religious fanaticism, and the role of providence in human affairs. Burke developed his own perspective on these issues in his early essays, and their significance for his thinking can be seen in his first, anonymously published work, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756). The book has been widely misunderstood, but it is fundamentally a satire on the very idea of a “natural” society – on the view that civilisation could be built on the animal instincts of humans alone.

Behind Burke’s assault lies a deep-grained scepticism about the power of reason to penetrate mystery and to prescribe rules of practical morality. This did not mean that Burke was attracted to mystical uncertainty, but it did mean that he acknowledged our dependence on beliefs that could not be absolutely demonstrated. Equally, it did not imply that he saw morality as having no rational foundation, but it was to argue that practical politics could not be derived from abstract norms. For instance, the abstract value of equality, to which Burke was committed, had to be reconciled with actual inequalities introduced by the progress of society. Attempts to abolish all historical or “artificial” inequalities in the name of primitive equality would destroy the possibility of social improvement.

Burke arrived at these ideas early, but they would play a powerful role throughout his later life. Among the great causes to which he devoted himself over the course of his career stood his opposition to the French Revolution and his antagonism towards the East India Company. What appalled him, in the case of France, was the Revolutionary doctrine of the “natural” rights of man which threatened to undermine all society and government. Allied to this was his hostility to the notion that social values were accountable to a human tribunal alone. Burke was alarmed to find this principle advanced by the Governor General of the East India Company, Warren Hastings, in justifying acts of oppression on the Indian subcontinent. These examples show that while Burke’s career was not a seamless whole, the principles that he came to defend as a great sage in the 1790s had their roots in the commitments that he had worked out forty years earlier.
Learn more about Empire and Revolution at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 5, 2015

Samantha Barbas's "Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America"

Samantha Barbas is Associate Professor of Law at SUNY Buffalo Law School and the author of Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001) and The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (2005).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America, and reported the following:
Laws of Image is about two intertwined developments in American history: the beginnings of our obsession with personal image, and with it, the development of an area of law that I call the “laws of public image.”

My story begins in the rapidly-expanding cities of the late 19th century. In small towns and villages, a person’s reputation was often a product of deep, ongoing contact with one’s community. In cities, by contrast, one’s social identity was more often a function of images and first impressions—what observers might infer about someone based on chance encounters and glimpses on the streets and other public venues. There developed a new “image-consciousness,” a sense of being an image in the eyes of others, and a preoccupation with mastering and perfecting one’s public image.

This image-conscious sensibility intensified in the early 20th century with the rise of the mass media, especially visual media –photography, photojournalism and film. New “image industries”– fashion, cosmetics, the advertising industry–encouraged Americans to focus on their appearances. Pop psychologists began preaching a message that should be familiar to us today: you are your image, you have a right to feel good about your image, you can transform yourself by transforming your image. Celebrities, who achieved fame and fortune for their images, became role models and icons.

This is where page 99 comes in. I describe the “industries of counterimage” emerging in the 1920s—tabloids, gossip columns, and scandal publications, devoted to dismantling celebrities’ images by exposing their private lives. These publications were “as critical to the new cult of image as the image-building industries,” in that they reminded readers of the importance of meticulously managing their images. The celebrity who let down her guard, who went to the grocery store without her makeup on, or was too candid with a reporter – she was lambasted in the tabloids, and suffered an embarrassing fall from public grace. The efforts of celebrities to manage and spin their images represented the struggle, writ large, that every person waged in her own project of creating and perfecting her public persona.

This image-consciousness led to the creation of new areas of law, including a law of “invasion of privacy,” and a civil action for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” By the 1940s, not only celebrities, but ordinary people were regularly suing the media for injuring their public images, and their feelings about their images. The law affirmed and legitimated the importance of personal image, and became an architect of our image-obsessed society –a nation where, to quote a 1990 Canon advertisement (p. 203), “image is everything.”
Learn more about Laws of Image at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dawn Lerman's "My Fat Dad"

Dawn Lerman is a board-certified nutrition expert and a contributor to the New York Times Well Blog. Her company, Magnificent Mommies, provides nutrition education to students, teachers, and corporations. She lives in New York City with her two children, Dylan and Sofia.

Lerman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, with Recipes, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Brenda, Robyn’s mom, explained how there was so much shame associated with our bodies and it was wonderful to feel liberated. She said if I was sweaty or just felt constrained by what I was wearing, I did not need to keep my clothes on. I said I felt more at ease covered, and she respected that.

She felt that was very important for girls to love their bodies no matter the size or shape. She told me she used to be extremely thin, but after becoming a mother, she put on a little weight due to the fact that she was always cooking and baking for Robyn. Also, her ex mother–in-law lived upstairs in the same apartment building and was always feeding her—probably because she was feeling guilty that her son left Brenda. But I bet the real reason she remained close to her daughter-in-law was because of Robyn. Robyn was the glue that kept them together. Robyn was very close to her Grandma Ethel—the way I was with Beauty. Ethel was always around, and the two were only separated by a quick elevator ride or a couple flights of stairs between their apartments.

During my stay at Robyn’s, her mom made me the most delicious dinners—while standing over the stove naked—grilled lamb chops with Saucy Susan, roast chicken with Saucy Susan, veal chops with Saucy Susan, and stuffed shells with ricotta, spinach, and garlic powder. Brenda was not a gourmet cook like Robyn’s dad, but she said that with a couple of tricks like garlic powder and Saucy Susan, anything could taste impressive. She even taught me how to suck the marrow out of the chicken bones.
In my house, food and affection were inextricably tied. My father was a successful advertising executive for popular food products “Leggo My Eggo,” “Coke Is it,” and “Once You Pop you Can not Stop.” He usually weighed around 350 pounds, but his weight would often fluctuate a hundred pounds on either end as he tried (and failed) almost weekly to attempt the latest fad diet. He was always the best customer for the products he was marketing--especially when he was working on Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coke and Budweiser. My mother, meanwhile, was an aspiring actress and thought food was a waste of money and time. She was happy eating one can of tuna fish over the sink a day while chatting on the phone. Every memory, both the good and the bad from my childhood is tied to food--the food that I ate, the food that I was not allowed to eat, and the food that comforted me. My childhood is a collection of smells and tastes from the people who nourished me, both mentally and physically.
Visit Dawn Lerman's New York Times blog and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Dawn Lerman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Michèle Longino's "French Travel Writing in the Ottoman Empire"

Michèle Longino is Professor of Romance Studies at Duke University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, French Travel Writing in the Ottoman Empire: Marseilles to Constantinople, 1650-1700, and reported the following:
Page 99, as it happens, is from the end of Ch. 3 of French Travel Writing in the Ottoman Empire: Marseilles to Constantinople, 1650-1700. The book examines the writings of six French travelers in the Ottoman Empire – a jewelry merchant, an ethnographer – tourist, a diplomat, an artist, another merchant trading mainly in Persia, and an antiquarian. The six travelers wrote volumes; they edited parts of their writings themselves, but often it was up to others to make sense from remains of copious notes, and shape them into readable books. They were the most popular reading of their time. Chapter 3 focuses on a Marseillais polyglot turned diplomat, Laurent D’Arvieux, and it recounts his story – travels to Tunis, Algiers, Constantinople, Aleppo, as well as other places, most notably Paris, and provides an eloquent example of the kinds of treasures one might hope to find in these tales. However, it requires real commitment to plow through not only the travel writings, but also the included documents the travelers considered to be of important explanatory value for their stories. D’Arvieux was a frustrated diplomat who never felt he received the degree of royal recognition he deserved. He was constantly elaborating his story with testimonial documentation to shore up his account of how things were and went. To the degree that the travelers were faithful to their journals, providing entries for each day of the year, their accounts could be repetitive and monotonous. And above all copious. So for today’s reader, it can require great patience and persistence. But in the end the reading is a rewarding venture. A question to ask of this sort of book that fixes on 17th-century observations by Frenchmen of the Ottoman world is whether we do not, in so doing, simply recycle and thus perpetuate notions and attitudes about otherness, precisely the presuppositions and prejudices succeeding generations have labored so hard to shed and overcome. But there is also value in considering how deeply ingrained many of these cultural positions are; it helps us to understand why they seem so resistant to change today. The reader will be the judge of whether French Travel Writing succeeds in entering into this world, and if it conveys a faithful impression of the Ottoman world from these outsiders’ perspective without simply reciting the usual idées reçues. At the same time, the book aspires to give an idea of how different individuals approached the challenge of writing about their travels, about themselves, as they moved about the Mediterranean in early modern times.
Learn more about French Travel Writing in the Ottoman Empire at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lucien J. Frary's "Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844"

Lucien Frary received a PhD in History from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and is now Associate Professor of History at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ. His main areas of interest are Mediterranean, Slavic, and Eastern Orthodox studies in the post-Byzantine era. He is the co-editor (with Mara Kozelsky) of Russian-Ottoman Borderlands: The Eastern Question Reconsidered and the author of articles and reviews in scholarly journals such as Russian History, Mediterranean Historical Review, Kritika, and Modern Greek Studies Yearbook.

Frary applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844, and reported the following:
How do the Greeks of today relate to their Classical and Byzantine past? What role does religion play in Greek social and political life? How did the outside world contribute to the making of modern Greece? These are some of the questions raised on page 99 of Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844. Based on a wide range of unpublished Russian archival documents and Greek historical sources, the book illuminates the connection between religion, politics, and the past in the formation of Greek nationhood during the first decades of the nineteenth century. It also probes the development of Russian foreign policy in the Balkans during this era, when the ideas of nationalism first began to circulate among the Balkan elite as well as among the paragons of Russian culture.

As p. 99 demonstrates, the idea about national and political independence in the Balkans was intimately linked to the question of religious independence. In other words, once the movement for separation from Ottoman rule began to take root among Greek intellectuals, the demand for a break from the Patriarch of Constantinople and the creation of an independent (or autocephalous in ecclesiastical terms) Greek Orthodox Church emerged. Throughout this process, the tensions between secular nationalism and religion helped spawn a new sense of identity among the subjects of the Greek kingdom. The book concerns itself with the hybrid nature of Greek nationhood, which became an amalgam of the past and present, of modernity and tradition. It suggests that the nature of nationalism is not purely secular, as the major theoretical works on national identity tend to argue. The example of the Greek state is important, for it set the groundwork for the fracturing of the Eastern Orthodox Church into national churches during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Lastly, p. 99 of the study, I hope, helps indicate that the volume contains interesting illustrations and may appeal to a range of readers.
Learn more about Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue