Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pg. 69: Ruthanne Lum McCunn's "God of Luck"

The latest entry at the Page 69 Test: Ruthanne Lum McCunn's God of Luck.

About the book
, from the author's website:
Ah Lung and his beloved wife, Bo See, are separated by a cruel fate when, like thousands of other Chinese men in the nineteenth century, he is kidnapped, enslaved, and sent to the deadly guano mines off the shore of Peru. Praying to the God of Luck and using their own ingenuity, the couple never loses hope of some day being reunited.
Among the early praise for God of Luck:
"Based on historical events, this novel brings to life a little-known aspect of Chinese history; between 1840 and 1875, close to one million men were stolen from southern China to labor in Latin America. The author does a clever job of interweaving the novel's two perspectives, and her clear voice and simple yet elegant style easily turns this work into a real page-turner."
--Library Journal
"With God of Luck, Ruthanne Lum McCunn has turned her descriptive and sensitive storytelling skills to the little known coolie trade to Peru. She beautifully combines the hardships and brutality of the kidnapping of a Chinese man, conditions on the slave ships, and the bitterness of back-breaking labor in a foreign land with the sadness and determination of a wife and family back home. Never separating history from its impact on individual people, McCunn has reached into her characters' hearts to bring readers a story of emotional depth and truth."
--Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

"Wise and spellbinding, God of Luck is partly history we didn't know, partly the Odyssey and the Amistad, partly the grit of a tough Chinese slave in Peru and a plucky survivor in China. Mostly, it is a story about the great collective us."
--Gus Lee, China Boy, Chasing Hepburn, and Courage

"Once again Ruthanne Lum McCunn opens a window onto another little-known chapter in the history of Chinese experience in the Americas. With amazing detail and riveting power, Ah Lung's story will keep readers spellbound and cheering to the final page."
--Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar andThe Legend of Fire Horse Woman

"God of Luck is a meticulously researched and beautifully written tale of early Chinese migration to the Americas. Sparing us little of the grim details, Ruthanne Lum McCunn shows how ordinary people can muster extraordinary courage and hope through difficult times. God of Luck is a splendid read."
--Franklin Odo, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, Smithsonian Institution
Learn more about the novel at Ruthanne Lum McCunn's website.

Ruthanne Lum McCunn, an Eurasian of Chinese and Scottish descent, was hailed by the Dallas Times in 1985 as "an American-Chinese author of remarkable talent." Her award-winning work has been translated into eleven languages, published in twenty-two countries, and adapted for the stage and film. Her books include the classic Thousand Pieces of Gold, which has sold over two hundred thousand copies, as well as the novels The Moon Pearl and Wooden Fish Songs.

The Page 69 Test: God of Luck.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Scott Barrett's "Why Cooperate?"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Scott Barrett's Why Cooperate?: The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods.

About the book, from the publisher:
Climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the threat of a global pandemic have the potential to impact each of our lives. Preventing these threats poses a serious global challenge, but ignoring them could have disastrous consequences. How do we engineer institutions to change incentives so that these global public goods are provided?

Scott Barrett provides a thought provoking and accessible introduction to the issues surrounding the provision of global public goods. Using a variety of examples to illustrate past successes and failures, he shows how international cooperation, institutional design, and the clever use of incentives can work together to ensure the effective delivery of global public goods.
Among the early praise for Why Cooperate?:

"An idealistic as well as sensible prescription for how to tackle in a practical manner the genuinely complex issues of our new global era."
--Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

"Scott Barrett offers a simple yet powerful architecture for the different incentives that make international cooperation, in matters as diverse as measles and oil spills, greenhouse gases and nuclear proliferation, necessary or unnecessary, achievable or unachievable. Like his earlier Environment and Statecraft (Oxford 2003) this one is game theory at its most lucid, most valuable and most accessible -- an exciting and rewarding book."
--Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize for Economics Laureate and Distinguisted University Professor, University of Maryland

"Scott Barrett deals with some of the most important global issues of the day with a clarity and lightness of touch which never betray the complexity and depth of the problems. Cooperation among nations is essential for such consequential issues as nuclear warfare, health, climate change, and economic development. Barrett goes beyond the net gains from cooperation to stress the different reactions to be expected as the gains and costs of cooperation are differently distributed. His distinctions will open up new paths in both policy formation and development."
--Kenneth J. Arrow, 1972 Nobel Prize for Economics Laureate and Professor of Economics, Stanford University

"As interdependence among nations has increased dramatically, bringing globalization into the midst of acrimonious debates, the question of who provides international public goods, and in what way, has assumed great urgency. Scott Barrett, in a magnificent book, has explored this problem in all its complexity and provides answers that are of immense value. Barrett's book should become a classic."
--Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University

Scott Barrett is Professor and Director of International Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He was previously an advisor to the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, and drew upon his work for the Task Force in preparing this book. He wrote the book while on sabbatical as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University. He is well-known for his work on international environmental agreements, Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making (2003), for which he received the Erik Kempe Prize.

The Page 99 Test: Why Cooperate?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What is Christopher Lane reading?

This weekend's featured contributor to Writers Read: Christopher Lane, Herman and Beulah Pearce Miller Research Professor, Northwestern University, and the recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship to study psychopharmacology and ethics. His new book is Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

About the book, from the Yale University Press:

In the 1970s, a small group of leading psychiatrists met behind closed doors and literally rewrote the book on their profession. Revising and greatly expanding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short), they turned what had been a thin, spiral-bound handbook into a hefty tome. Almost overnight the number of diagnoses exploded. The result was a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry and a massive conflict of interest for psychiatry at large. This spellbinding book is the first behind-the-scenes account of what really happened and why.

With unprecedented access to the American Psychiatric Association archives and previously classified memos from drug company executives, Christopher Lane unearths the disturbing truth: with little scientific justification and sometimes hilariously improbable rationales, hundreds of conditions — among them shyness — are now defined as psychiatric disorders and considered treatable with drugs. Lane shows how long-standing disagreements within the profession set the stage for these changes, and he assesses who has gained and what’s been lost in the process of medicalizing emotions. With dry wit, he demolishes the façade of objective research behind which the revolution in psychiatry has hidden. He finds a profession riddled with backbiting and jockeying, and even more troubling, a profession increasingly beholden to its corporate sponsors.

Learn more about Christopher Lane at his faculty webpage, and read his recent op-ed contribution to the New York Times, "Shy on Drugs."

Writers Read: Christopher Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Victor Gischler's "Shotgun Opera," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Victor Gischler's Shotgun Opera.

About the book, from the publisher:
Mike Foley can never forget the night he tagged along with his brother on a job for the mob that ended in a hail of bullets. Now his brother is dead, Mike’s making wine in Oklahoma, and life is almost as good as it gets when you’ve been hiding out for forty years. Until his past comes calling.

Mike’s nephew Andrew needs to disappear, and he needs to do it yesterday. Hanging with the wrong kind of friends, he’s seen something he shouldn’t have, and now he’s running for his life with an assassin on his trail. The consummate professional hit woman, Nikki Enders is the most lethal of a deadly sisterhood. And Andrew Foley is next on her extermination list. Unless Uncle Mike can stop her. As kill teams descend on Foley’s farm, one pissed-off ex-tough guy is about to take a final, all-or-nothing stand with shotguns blazing....
And the author's choice for director of a film adapted from the novel is...:
I forget who said it, but somebody remarked Shotgun Opera would make a cool John Woo film. I guess I don’t have any problem with that. Shotgun Opera certainly has enough action. And it might have been excellent author J.D. Rhoades who said it reminded him of those Transporter films. That would be cool too. All of my novels have a cool dose of action, but it was Shotgun most of all that I wanted to have a “nonstop” feel, and so the above comparisons seem pretty good to me. If you took John Woo and a healthy pinch of that Robert Rodriguez quirkiness, I think you’d have it.
Read on to find out who Gischler would cast in the adaptation.

Visit Victor Gischler's Blogpocalypse.

The Page 69 Test: Shotgun Opera.

My Book, The Movie: Shotgun Opera.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Devil, The Lovers & Me"

The latest feature at the Page 69 Test: Kimberlee Auerbach's The Devil, The Lovers & Me: My Life in Tarot.

About the book, from the author's website:
An irresistible memoir for anyone who's ever wondered what's coming next...

Kimberlee Auerbach has tried everything. She's been in therapy. She's seen a Reiki Master. She's even given hypnosis a try. Nobody can give her what she wants... to know her future is going to be bright, that everything will be okay. So she makes an appointment with Iris Goldblatt, "tarot card reader and mirror of the soul." Instead of predicting the future, each card sparks a memory: like the time Kimberlee tried to be wild, and caught crabs from an Argentine painter; or the night her father "proposed" at Morton's Steakhouse (presenting her with an engagement ring for her boyfriend to use); or the moment Kimberlee found the strength to kick out her freeloading ex. In a Wizard of Oz-like twist of fate, Kimberlee realizes she had the answers all along-that's it's not about looking to the future, it's about trusting yourself along the way.

Exuberantly alive and refreshingly candid, The Devil, The Lovers & Me, will take you on a journey down one woman's path, only to reflect yours back. You, too, will see yourself in the cards ... The Devil, The Lovers, even the Fool.
Among the early praise for the book:
"Kimberlee Auerbach made me laugh, love, and leap into the future, open-armed, right along with her. if she's got a handful of cards, she knows how to deal them! Bravo!"
—Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Year of Yes

"So fresh and original you don’t want it to end. An enchanting debut."
—Naomi Wolf, bestselling author of The Beauty Myth

"Frank, funny, and fiercely insightful."
—Susan Shapiro author of Lighting Up and Five Men Who Broke My Heart
"Warning: there will be times when you will be laughing so hard that you won't realize that you are also crying.... A shining example of what it means to be humorously flawed and gloriously alive."
—Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters
Learn more about the book and its author at the The Devil, The Lovers & Me website, Kimberlee Auerbach's MySpace page, and the Crucial Minutiae blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil, The Lovers & Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Giles MacDonogh's "After the Reich"

The latest feature at the Page 99 Test: Giles MacDonogh's After the Reich: The Brutal History of Allied Occupation.

About the book, from the publisher:
When the Third Reich collapsed in 1945, the Allied powers converged on Germany and divided it into four zones of occupation. A nation in tatters, in many places literally flattened by bombs, was suddenly subjected to brutal occupation by vengeful victors. Rape was rampant. Hundreds of thousands of Germans and German-speakers died in the course of brutal deportations from Eastern Europe. By the end of the year, Germany was literally starving to death. Over a million German prisoners of war died in captivity, where they were subjected to inadequate rations and often tortured. All told, an astounding 2.25 million German civilians died violent deaths in the period between the liberation of Vienna and the Berlin airlift. A shocking account of a massive and vicious military occupation, After the Reich offers a bold reframing of the history of World War II and its aftermath. Historian Giles MacDonogh has unearthed a record of brutality which has been largely ignored by historians or, worse, justified as legitimate retaliation for the horror of the Holocaust. Drawing on a vast array of contemporary firstperson accounts, MacDonogh has finally given a voice to tens of millions of civilians who, lucky to survive the war, found themselves struggling to survive a hellish peace.
Among the praise for After the Reich:

"Throughout time it has been the victor who has written history, but here historian MacDonogh examines the darker side of the Allied occupation of defeated Germany ... Of interest to students of modern Europe, complementing W.G. Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction (2003) and other studies of history from the point of view of the vanquished."
Kirkus Reviews

"MacDonogh has written a grueling but important book. This unhappy story has long been cloaked in silence since telling it suited no one. Not the Allies, because it placed them near the moral nadir of the Nazis; nor the Germans, because they did not wish to be accused of whitewashing Hitler by highlighting what was, by any standard, a war crime. Giles MacDonogh has told a very inconvenient truth."
—Nigel Jones Sunday Telegraph (London)

"VE Day on May 8, 1945 mocked the subsequent condition of Europe. As crowds in London, Paris and New York celebrated the declaration of peace, much more misery and death lay ahead. Two, perhaps three million Germans perished in the years that followed: in captivity; from hunger and casual violence; and above all, during the expulsions of ethnic Germans from the east, which the western Allies had agreed with the Russians before hostilities ended. Giles MacDonogh's book chronicles this saga from the liberation of Vienna to the 1948 Berlin Airlift and 1949 formation of Konrad Adenauer's government in Bonn. It makes grimmer reading than most war stories, because there is little redemptive courage or virtue. Here is a catalogue of pillage, rape, starvation, inhumanity and suffering on a titanic scale.... [After the Reich] book brings together many stories that deserve to be much better known in the West."
—Max Hastings Sunday Times (London)

“Giles MacDonogh's After the Reich is important and timely. He has a profound understanding of Germany, which he communicates in a humane and engaging style. Though he is sensitive to the sufferings of the Germans after the war, he never loses sight of the fact that this was an occupation that the Western powers got right. After the Reich is a remarkable book, with a rich cast of characters, and it has oblique relevance to our own problems in the wider world.”
—Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History and Sacred Causes
Learn more about After the Reich at the publisher's website.

Giles MacDonogh is the author of several books on German history, including The Last Kaiser: A Life of Wilhelm II and Frederick the Great as well as histories of Berlin and Prussia. A graduate of Oxford University, MacDonogh has written for the Financial Times, the Times (London), the Guardian, and the Evening Standard.

The Page 99 Test: After the Reich.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pg. 69: Steve Brewer's "Cutthroat"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Steve Brewer's Cutthroat.

About the book, from the author's website:
Solomon Gage is a "troubleshooter" for billionaire Dominick Sheffield and his family, handling the shadier aspects of their international business, along with assorted interpersonal problems. When fetching third-generation Sheffield Abby Maynes from an Oakland crackhouse, Solomon is subjected to her drug-fueled mumblings, and hears something he shouldn't have. Always vigilant and fiercely loyal to Dominick, Solomon asks around about the "Africa deal." Turns out the Sheffield sons are involved in some dirty dealings in an effort to gain a stranglehold on the global urnium market.

Solomon's troubles only increase when he can't convince his boss of the boys' scheming, and African mercenaries arrive in San Francisco to protect the interests of the Nigerian government.
Among the advance praise for the novel:
"Steve Brewer delivers a taut geopolitical thriller with sure-handed plotting and muscular prose. Cutthroat grabs you from behind, like a man with a knife who won’t let go until he’s done with you."
—Bill Fitzhugh, author of H 61 Resurfaced

"Solomon Gage, trusted employee of billionaire Dominick Sheffield, has one of those jobs you can't put on a résumé. He's a fixer, an odd-jobber, a go-to guy. Today his assignment is to pull Sheffield's granddaughter out of a crack house, which he does but not before the girl mumbles something that, not too far down the road, will cause Solomon to put his life at risk to save his boss from his own conniving sons. What starts as a fairly standard thriller slowly develops into an intriguing story about personal loyalty, family betrayal, and conspiracy. Brewer, author of the Bubba Mabry and Drew Gavin mysteries, is an experienced genre hand, but the lightly Shakespearean overtones here are something new for him. He makes it work, though, as he does the dark tone, similar to the Parker novels (written by Westlake-as-Stark), but with a more sympathetic lead. The book ends with the promise of a sequel, and that's a good idea: readers will want to continue getting to know Solomon Gage."
Learn more about Steve Brewer and Cutthroat at his website and his blog.

Steve Brewer is the author of the Bubba Mabry mystery series and the Drew Gavin mystery series in addition to a handful of stand alone crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Cutthroat.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Ayun Halliday reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Ayun Halliday, author of Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste and other works.

Halliday "has an absolutely incisive wit, and a remarkably deft way with words," Ken Albala recently wrote, and that is clearly evident in her entry, so please read on.

One title that popped up in her write-up:
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk whose name I can never pronounce or spell without assistance. I loved the repetitive description of one character as a 'big moosie." I loved that this was in this macho phenomenon that everybody, even me, has heard about by now. I remember renting the movie shortly after it came out and being surprised at how good it was.
Writers Read: Ayun Halliday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pg. 69: T. Lynn Ocean's "Southern Fatality"

The latest feature at the Page 69 Test: T. Lynn Ocean's Southern Fatality.

About the book, from the publisher:
Jersey Barnes thinks she has retired from a risk-filled career as a private security specialist. A sexy, hard-hitting brunette, she’s ready to enjoy her newfound free time and is looking forward to leaving home without a weapon.

But when her boyfriend asks her for a simple favor, she can’t turn him down. What should be a routine surveillance job lands Jersey smack-dab in the middle of a high-stakes cover-up, a double kidnapping, and a scheme that may steal millions of dollars from hard-working Americans.

With input from her business partner, Ox (a Lumbee Indian whose savory looks she can’t quite ignore), a comedic group of her aging father’s poker buddies, a computer hacker named Soup, and a faithful dog, Jersey sets out to prevent what might be the cyber crime of the century

In Southern Fatality, T. Lynn Ocean serves up an action-packed, sun-soaked adventure set in the historic port city of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Among the advance praise for Southern Fatality:
"Ocean reinforces her reputation for creating strong Southern heroines with this sexy, fast-paced adventure, the first in a new series to feature Jersey Barnes... Ocean’s tightly woven, fast-moving plot keeps readers entertained right up to the explosive ending."
--Publishers Weekly

"T. Lynn Ocean is the South's answer to Janet Evanovich. Hang on. Southern Fatality is a wild, witty, and sexy ride that never lets up."
--Karin Gillespie, author of the Bottom Dollar Girl series

"Ocean puts the D in dangerous."
-- John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of The King of Lies

"Southern Fatality reads like a string of firecrackers -- one bang after another. The action is nonstop and the tone is smart and sassy."
--Carolyn Haines, author of Penumbra and Fever Moon
Read an excerpt from Southern Fatality and learn more about T. Lynn Ocean and her writing at her website.

A freelance writer for more than ten years, Ocean has published in magazines nationwide. She is the author of the novels Fool Me Once and Sweet Home Carolina.

The Page 69 Test: Southern Fatality.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: "Faith in the Halls of Power"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: D. Michael Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

About the book, from the publisher:
Evangelicals, once at the periphery of American life, now wield power in the White House and on Wall Street, at Harvard and in Hollywood. How have they reached the pinnacles of power in such a short time? And what does this mean for evangelicals -- and for America?

Drawing on personal interviews with an astonishing array of prominent Americans -- including two former Presidents, dozens of political and government leaders, more than 100 top business executives, plus Hollywood moguls, intellectuals, athletes, and other powerful figures -- D. Michael Lindsay shows first-hand how they are bringing their vision of moral leadership into the public square. This riveting volume tells us who the real evangelical power brokers are, how they rose to prominence, and what they're doing with their clout. Lindsay reveals that evangelicals are now at home in the executive suite and on the studio lot, and from those lofty perches they have used their influence, money, and ideas to build up the evangelical movement and introduce it to the wider American society. They are leaders of powerful institutions and their goals are ambitious -- to bring Christian principles to bear on virtually every aspect of American life.

Along the way, the book is packed with fascinating stories and striking insights. Lindsay shows how evangelicals became a force in American foreign policy, how Fortune 500 companies are becoming faith-friendly, and how the new generation of the faithful is led by cosmopolitan evangelicals. These are well-educated men and women who read both and The New York TimesChristianity Today, and who are wary of the evangelical masses' penchant for polarizing rhetoric, apocalyptic pot-boilers, and bad Christian rock. Perhaps most startling is the importance of personal relationships between leaders -- a quiet conversation after Bible study can have more impact than thousands of people marching in the streets.

Faith in the Halls of Power takes us inside the rarified world of the evangelical elite -- beyond the hysterical panic and chest-thumping pride -- to give us the real story behind the evangelical ascendancy in America.
Among the praise for the book:

"This important work should be required reading for anyone who wants to opine publicly on what American evangelicals are really up to."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An impressive and admirably fair-minded book: anybody who wants to understand the nexus between God and power in modern America should start here."
--The Economist

"People of faith have an enormous impact on our society. Michael Lindsay's brilliant book has the story everyone else has missed. You must read this book."
--Senator Bill Frist, M.D. (R-TN)

"Jesus tells his followers to 'be in the world but not of the world.' This has created tension for the faithful from the first century Church until today. D. Michael Lindsay takes the reader where faith meets politics and culture. This book explores how modern evangelicals struggle to apply the principles of Christ to an ever-changing society. Faith in the Halls of Power provides crucial insights into how evangelicals are influencing and being influenced by our world."
--Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR)

"For more than three decades evangelical Christians have been self-consciously assuming positions of leadership across virtually all sectors of American society. Michael Lindsay's fact-filled book, based on his unique collection of personal interviews, presents a striking self-portrait of this new elite and how they reached power."
--Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University, and author of Bowling Alone

"Quick, which of these fellows exercises more influence upon American life: Michael Moore or Rick Warren? If your answer is Michael Moore, you should read this book. It's an engaging account of how evangelical leaders like Rick Warren and many, many others have swept into the halls of power -- from the White House and corporate boardrooms to the Academy and Hollywood. Through interviews with more than 350 evangelicals in leadership positions, Michael Lindsay provides a fresh, valuable portrait of a powerful force in modern America."
--David Gergen, Advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton

Read more about Faith in the Halls of Power at the Oxford University Press website.

Lindsay has several interesting posts at the OUP Blog: "God Goes To Harvard" (about changes in faith on campus), "Onward Christian Soldiers" (about faith in the military), and "Introductions: Michael Lindsay, Karen Hughes and America" (about how he secured an interview with Karen Hughes).

D. Michael Lindsay is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University where he is also the Faculty Associate of Leadership Rice and Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life.

The Page 99 Test: Faith in the Halls of Power.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What is Dara Horn reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Dara Horn, author of In the Image and The World to Come.

One novel she tagged is "very suspenseful and raises all kinds of fascinating questions, and ultimately provides some extremely disturbing and wonderfully unredemptive answers. I'm waiting impatiently to find someone with whom to discuss it." Read on to learn more.

Horn received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006, studying Hebrew and Yiddish. Her first novel, In the Image, published by W.W. Norton when she was 25, received a 2003 National Jewish Book Award, the 2002 Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and the 2003 Reform Judaism Fiction Prize. Her second novel, The World to Come, published by W.W. Norton in January 2006, received the 2006 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, was selected as an Editor's Choice in the New York Times Book Review and as one of the Best Books of 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle, and has been translated into nine languages. In 2007 Horn was chosen by Granta magazine as one of the Best Young American Novelists. She has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Harvard and at Sarah Lawrence College, and has lectured at universities and cultural institutions throughout the United States and Canada.

The Page 99 Test: The World to Come.

Writers Read: Dara Horn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: John Leland's "Why Kerouac Matters"

The latest feature at the Page 69 Test: John Leland's Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of ‘On the Road’ (They’re Not What You Think).

About the book, from the publisher:
Legions of youthful Americans have taken On the Road as a manifesto for rebellion and an inspiration to hit the road. But there is much more to the novel than that.

In Why Kerouac Matters, John Leland embarks on a wry, insightful, and playful discussion of the novel, arguing that it still matters because at its core it is a book that is full of lessons about how to grow up. Leland’s focus is on Sal Paradise, the Kerouac alter ego, who has always been overshadowed by his fictional running buddy Dean Moriarty. Leland examines the lessons that Paradise absorbs and dispenses on his novelistic journey to manhood, and how those lessons — about work and money, love and sex, art and holiness — still reverberate today. He shows how On the Road is a primer for male friendship and the cultivation of traditional family values, and contends that the stereotype of the two wild and crazy guys obscures the novel’s core themes of the search for atonement, redemption, and divine revelation. Why Kerouac Matters offers a new take on Kerouac’s famous novel, overturning many misconceptions about it and making clear the themes Kerouac was trying to impart.
Among the early praise for Why Kerouac Matters:
"Having immersed himself in Beat culture while writing Hip: A History, Leland, a New York Times reporter and former editor-in-chief of Details, makes a convincing case that Jack Kerouac's most famous novel has endured for half a century because it's a book about how to live your life. The lesson isn't about impulsive self-gratification, as many readers believe, aided by Kerouac's tendency to go vague in his most emotionally critical passages. Leland reminds us that narrator Sal Paradise was always looking to settle down into a conventional life, and Kerouac, Leland says, was generally of a conservative mindset. Framing On the Road as a spiritual quest, Leland deftly combines the biographical facts of Kerouac's life with discussions of his literary antecedents in Melville and Goethe, as well as the inspiration he took from contemporary jazz, finding in bebop's rhythms a new way to circle around a story's themes.... Leland's insights provide new layers of significance even for those familiar with the novel."
--Publishers Weekly

"An engaging, smart and fresh take from New York Times reporter John Leland, Why Kerouac Matters mixes serious discussions of Kerouac and his legacy with glib, colloquial sidebars. Leland riffs on Kerouac's alleged anti-Semitism ("he certainly quacked like one"); his facial hair ("America's ongoing goatee problem"); "his use of weed, Benzedrine, morphine, alcohol"; comparative sex lives, with lists of Sal's fictional trysts vs. Kerouac's real ones; and what Kerouac's zeitgeist novel has meant for later generations. Leland calls it "a slacker bible for the last half century."
--Regina Weinreich, author of Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics and editor of Kerouac's Book of Haikus

"Leland offers a close reading of On the Road, providing enough trenchant analysis to make the book an excellent primer not only on Kerouac's novel, but the Beat movement in general. Some of the parables and metaphors in the text that may have gone over the head of the average first-time reader are nicely addressed, and reveal that Kerouac was a writer capable of greater gravitas than he is often given credit for, even if it is expressed in the rather rough-hewn language of the autodidact. Rather than being part of a manufactured movement, Leland enshrines Kerouac in the same legion of American letters as Melville and Whitman."
--Gerry Donaghy,
Read an excerpt from Why Kerouac Matters, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

John Leland is a reporter for the New York Times and former editor in chief of Details magazine. He is also the author of Hip: The History.

The Page 69 Test: Why Kerouac Matters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Edmund White's most important books

Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and his memoir, My Lives. His latest novel is Hotel de Dream.

White recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

And he addressed two other book-related issues:

A classic book that, upon rereading, disappointed:

John Fowles's The Magus was thin at a second look.

A much-recommended book that you've resisted reading:

I've never read anything by Margaret Atwood — maybe because I found her double reputation as a feminist and a Canadian daunting.

Read about White's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pg. 69: Ben Kiernan's "Blood and Soil"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur.

About the book, from the publisher:
For thirty years Ben Kiernan has been deeply involved in the study of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has played a key role in unearthing confidential documentation of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. His writings have transformed our understanding not only of twentieth-century Cambodia but also of the historical phenomenon of genocide. This new book — the first global history of genocide and extermination from ancient times — is among his most important achievements.

Kiernan examines outbreaks of mass violence from the classical era to the present, focusing on worldwide colonial exterminations and twentieth-century case studies including the Armenian genocide, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s mass murders, and the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. He identifies connections, patterns, and features that in nearly every case gave early warning of the catastrophe to come: racism or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, and cults of antiquity and agrarianism. The ideologies that have motivated perpetrators of mass killings in the past persist in our new century, says Kiernan. He urges that we heed the rich historical evidence with its telltale signs for predicting and preventing future genocides.
Among the early praise for the book:

"In exploring the global 'prehistory' of the horrific forms of societal violence usually associated with the twentieth century, Kiernan identifies key factors that have been consistently associated with genocidal episodes. His book makes an original contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon."
—Michael Adas, Rutgers University

“Ben Kiernan’s Blood and Soil is a major work explaining myths and metaphors that have underwritten genocide for six hundred years—earlier within the bowels of the western tradition; now commonplace practice far beyond that tradition. In seeing genocide as linked to issues of land as well as race, nation, and expansion, Kiernan has opened up social, political, and economic analysis to the struggle for land and the control of property. Such an approach is unique as it is provocative. It is inspired by the author’s profound reading of Cambodia and Southeast Asia. Blood and Soil provides an angle of vision rarely found in those who start (and stop) with a European base of scholarship. The book opens up new questions and formulations on the nature of state inspired murder. It merits a close reading of the dark side of terror, often commented upon, but rarely probed.”
—Irving Louis Horowitz, Rutgers University

Blood and Soil is a stunning achievement. The idea for the project was clearly a prompting of the heart, but the argument itself is a thing of pure intellect. It surveys thousands of years, visits every corner of the world, and stares with scarcely a blink at the worst horrors the world has ever known. As an act of scholarship, it simply stands alone.”
—Kai Erikson, Yale University

“Ben Kiernan’s book is a major contribution to genocide studies — a first attempt to tell the history of genocidal events, from Sparta to Darfur. Blood and Soil is a well-researched, detailed account of many instances of mass killings and the reasons for their occurrence. It will no doubt give rise to controversy, new research, and new insights.”
—Yehuda Bauer, Yad Vashem

"With this book, [Kiernan] examines genocide globally, venturing a framework by which genocide may be recognized and analyzed.... Covering instances of genocide on every continent ... Kiernan notes haunting continuities across cultures and time periods.... A bold and substantial work of unprecedented scope, this book is international history at its best."

Read an excerpt from Blood and Soil, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies, and the founding director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. His previous books include How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979.

The Page 69 Test: Blood and Soil.

--Marshal Zeringue

"The Collaborator of Bethlehem," the movie

Matt Beynon Rees' debut novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, is the first in a series about Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef. Rees lives in Jerusalem.

Earlier this year he applied the Page 69 Test to the novel; now he has imagined a film adaptation of the story for My Book, the Movie.

His entry opens:
The spark for my novel The Collaborator of Bethlehem was my friendship with a Palestinian in late middle-age who lives in the Dehaisha Refugee Camp, a southern neighborhood of Bethlehem. I admired this man deeply for his integrity and decency, despite the violence engulfing his community during the intifada. But I also found him to be extraordinarily prickly. He would become angry at me for my misunderstandings of Palestinian life, for my friendships with others whom he didn't trust, or simply for not having to undergo the same humiliations that were a daily source of pain to him. I made considerable allowances for the pressures under which he lived and enjoyed his wonderful insights and great humor, but even so it was difficult to face his occasional wrath.

On a break from covering the intifada for Time Magazine, in a hotel room in Rome, I decided to turn my friend into Omar Yussef, the schoolteacher forced to turn detective in a lawless Bethlehem. It struck me that instead of feeling hurt by my friend's outbursts, I could view them as research. Omar made it possible for me to grow even closer to my friend.

When I wrote the book, I always had this friend's image, voice and thinking in my mind. I didn't need to place an actor in the role of Omar Yussef -- though I believe that's a good technique for writers seeking to make their characters concrete in their own heads. I always had this friend -- and other friends on whom the main characters are based -- before me.

But as soon as the book sold to Soho Press in the U.S., people began to ask, "Who'll play the lead in the movie version?" [read on]
Read more about the novel at Matt Beynon Rees' website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Richard Lyman Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.

About the book, from the publisher:
Joseph Smith, America’s preeminent visionary and prophet, rose from a modest background to found the largest indigenous Christian church in American history. Without the benefit of wealth, education, or social position, he published the 584-page Book of Mormon when he was twenty-three; organized a church when he was twenty-four; and founded cities, built temples, and attracted thousands of followers before his violent death at age thirty-eight. Rather than perishing with him, Mormonism migrated to the Rocky Mountains, flourished there, and now claims millions of followers worldwide.

In Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman, an esteemed American cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, tells how Smith formed a new religion from the ground up. Moving beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud, the book explores the inner workings of his personality–his personal piety, his temper, his affection for family and friends, and his incredible determination. It describes how he received revelations and why his followers believed them.

Smith was a builder of cities. He sought to form egalitarian, just, and open communities under God and laid out a plan for ideal cities, which he hoped would fill the world. Adopted as the model for hundreds of Mormon settlements in the West, Smith’s urban vision may have left a more lasting imprint on the landscape than that of any other American.

He was controversial from his earliest years. His followers honored him as a man who spoke for God and restored biblical religion. His enemies maligned him as a dangerous religious fanatic, an American Mohammad, and drove the Mormons from every place in which they settled. Smith’s ultimate assassination by an armed mob raises the question of whether American democracy can tolerate visionaries.

The book gives more attention to Joseph Smith’s innovative religious thought than any previous biography. As Bushman writes, “His followers derived their energy and purpose from the religious world he brought into being.” Some of the teachings were controversial, such as property redistribution and plural marriage, but Smith’s revelations also delved into cosmology and the history of God. They spoke of the origins of the human personality and the purpose of life. While thoroughly Christian, Smith radically reconceived the relationship between humans and God. The book evaluates the Mormon prophet’s bold contributions to Christian theology and situates him culturally in the modern world.

Published on the two hundredth anniversary of Smith’s birth, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling is an in-depth portrayal of the mysterious figure behind one of the world’s fastest growing faiths.
Among the praise for the book:
“Remarkable. . . . A tale that’s as colorful, suspenseful and unlikely as any in American history ... Bushman earns a place for his biography on the very short shelf reserved for books on Mormonism with appeal to initiates and outsiders, too.”
New York Times Book Review

“A fascinating definitive biography.... Stirs deeper questions about American religious convictions and how they shape lives and culture.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“An exhaustively researched and beautifully written biography of Mormonism’s enigmatic founder.”
Christianity Today

"Fascinating. . . .Bushman captures all the harrowing events of Smith's short life, rife with converts and cabals, while meticulously dissecting the revelations that continue to haunt the Smith story."
The Providence Journal

“Well-researched and lucidly written. . . . An excellent source for learning about the Mormon faith.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Read an excerpt from Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling and learn more about the book from the publisher's website.

Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University. His From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690—1765 won the Bancroft Prize in 1967. His other books include Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984), winner of the Evans Biography Award; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985); and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992).

The Page 99 Test: Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What is Paul Levy reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Paul Levy, a broadcaster and expert writer on food & wine and the arts.

According to one capsule biography: "With Ann Barr (and synchronically Gael Greene), [Levy] coined the word 'foodie' (and some say, exemplified the concept). He has won many British and American food writing and journalism prizes, including two commendations in the national British Press Awards, in 1985 and 1987."

Levy's entry includes several books for foodies, a couple for Wagner fans, and several novels ... including one that he didn't much care for. Read on.

Levy's most recent book is The Letters of Lytton Strachey, which he edited for Farrar Straus Giroux and Penguin.

Visit Paul Levy's website.

Writers Read: Paul Levy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Dave Zeltserman's "Bad Thoughts"

The latest feature at the Page 69 Test: Dave Zeltserman's Bad Thoughts.

About the book, from the publisher:
When he was thirteen years old, Billy Shannon came home from school one day to find his mother being murdered in their California home. Dying slowly of asphyxia, she drowned in her own blood. Twenty years pass, and Bill Shannon is a cop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, living with his wife, Susie and trying to get a handle on the nightmares that have plagued him for most of his adult life. Every year, as the anniversary of his mother's death approaches, the nightmares of his mother's killer get progressively worse until the blackouts come, and then Shannon disappears to return home days later without a clue of what he has done while gone. The twentieth anniversary of his mother's death is quickly approaching and Shannon desperately needs to figure out what he has been doing during his black outs, especially since women have started dying in the same grisly manner as his mother. His nightmares are getting worse and the evidence against him is stacking up ...
Among the praise for Bad Thoughts:
"A compellingly clever wheels-within-wheels thriller. An ingenious plot, skillfully executed"
—Elliott Swanson, Booklist

"This fast-paced, gritty psychological tale balances the fine line between mystery and horror"
Library Journal

"Bad Thoughts is an ambitious genre-bender combining the paranoia and existential dread of the best noir with a liberal dash of The Twilight Zone. Not to be missed."
—Poisoned Pen's Booknews

"Dark, brutal, captivating -- this is one hell of a book, the kind of book that doesn't let go of you once you start it. Dave Zeltserman is clearly the real deal."
—Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award-Winning author of A Stolen Season

"...And it's at this point that the genre gets bent. After that, it's a wild ride. I was reminded a little of Blood Dreams, a novel by the late Jack MacLane, published by Zebra just after the era of the knives-in-fresh-fruit covers. Joe Lansdale's Act of Love had one of those covers, come to think of it. Zeltserman's book would rest comfortably on the shelf beside them. If you're looking for a hardboiled anybody-can-die-at-any-time book that's a change of pace from the usual, look no further."
—Bill Crider, Murder among the Owls and A Mammoth Murder

"Bad Thoughts is dark -- Edgar Allan Poe dark, and I put the book down feeling as though I’d just run through a gloomy, damp, filthy alley. Which is exactly what Zeltserman was going for, wasn’t it?"
—James Winter, January Magazine
Read more about Bad Thoughts at the publisher's website and at Zeltserman's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Thoughts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thomas Mallon's list

Novelist and critic Thomas Mallon is the author of Henry and Clara, Dewey Defeats Truman, and Bandbox. His latest novel, Fellow Travelers, is set in McCarthy-era Washington, D.C.

He contributed "The List" to The Week magazine last week.

One title on Mallon's list:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Its subtitle is “A Novel Without a Hero.” But what a heroine — and what a narrator. One of the most cynical and entertaining novels ever written. At its center, Miss Rebecca Sharp, who “had the dismal precocity of poverty ... she had been a woman since she was 8 years old.” In the first chapter she flings Johnson’s Dictionary from the window of a carriage; in the 66 that follow she rewrites every existing definition of moral behavior.

Read more about Mallon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pg. 99: Ian Stewart's "Why Beauty Is Truth"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Ian Stewart's Why Beauty Is Truth: The History of Symmetry.

About the book, from the publisher:
At the heart of relativity theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, and much of modern cosmology lies one concept: symmetry. In Why Beauty Is Truth, world-famous mathematician Ian Stewart narrates the history of the emergence of this remarkable area of study. Stewart introduces us to such characters as the Renaissance Italian genius, rogue, scholar, and gambler Girolamo Cardano, who stole the modern method of solving cubic equations and published it in the first important book on algebra, and the young revolutionary Evariste Galois, who refashioned the whole of mathematics and founded the field of group theory only to die in a pointless duel over a woman before his work was published. Stewart also explores the strange numerology of real mathematics, in which particular numbers have unique and unpredictable properties related to symmetry. He shows how Wilhelm Killing discovered “Lie groups” with 14, 52, 78, 133, and 248 dimensions-groups whose very existence is a profound puzzle. Finally, Stewart describes the world beyond superstrings: the “octonionic” symmetries that may explain the very existence of the universe.
Among the praise for Why Beauty Is Truth:
Anyone who thinks math is dull will be delightfully surprised by this history of the concept of symmetry. Stewart, a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick (Does God Play Dice?), presents a time line of discovery that begins in ancient Babylon and travels forward to today's cutting-edge theoretical physics. He defines basic symmetry as a transformation, "a way to move an object" that leaves the object essentially unchanged in appearance. And while the math behind symmetry is important, the heart of this history lies in its characters, from a hypothetical Babylonian scribe with a serious case of math anxiety, through Évariste Galois (inventor of "group theory"), killed at 21 in a duel, and William Hamilton, whose eureka moment came in "a flash of intuition that caused him to vandalize a bridge," to Albert Einstein and the quantum physicists who used group theory and symmetry to describe the universe. Stewart does use equations, but nothing too scary; a suggested reading list is offered for more rigorous details. Stewart does a fine job of balancing history and mathematical theory in a book as easy to enjoy as it is to understand.
--Publishers Weekly

Werner Heisenberg recognized the numerical harmonies at the heart of the universe: "I am strongly attracted by the simplicity and beauty of the mathematical schemes which nature presents us." An accomplished mathematician, Stewart here delves into these harmonies as he explores the way that the search for symmetry has revolutionized science. Beginning with the early struggles of the Babylonians to solve quadratics, Stewart guides his readers through the often-tangled history of symmetry, illuminating for nonspecialists how a concept easily recognized in geometry acquired new meanings in algebra. Embedded in a narrative that piquantly contrasts the clean elegance of mathematical theory with the messy lives of gambling, cheating, and dueling mathematicians, the principles of symmetry emerge in radiant clarity. Readers contemplate in particular how the daunting algebra of quintics finally opened a conceptual door for Evaniste Galois, the French genius who laid the foundations for group theory, so empowering scientists with a new calculus of symmetry. Readers will marvel at how much this calculus has done to advance research in quantum mechanics, relativity, and cosmology, even inspiring hope that the supersymmetries of string theory will combine all of astrophysics into one elegant paradigm. An exciting foray for any armchair physicist!

Stewart’s book is a good-humoured, panoramic history of the development of mathematics from Babylonian times to the present. He discusses the big ideas and the often unconventional characters who shaped them. Much of this will be unfamiliar and surprising to non-mathematicians.... Stewart tackles the problem of accessibility by spicing his account with stories of some of the greatest eccentrics ever to have solved a quadratic equation. Why Beauty is Truth is worth reading for these alone.
--Financial Times

Ian Stewart has been publishing good popular accounts of math and mathematicians for several years. With this new book, he is completely comfortable with his subject and at the height of his powers. This tale takes us through the remarkably sordid history of group theory, a somewhat abstract branch of mathematics that has fostered the notion that symmetry and beauty are paramount to our understanding of the world. The result is a surprising intellectual romp that is itself quite beautiful.
--SEED Magazine

Learn more about Why Beauty Is Truth at the author's website and in Stewart's brief essay about the book at Britannica Blog.

Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and Director of its Mathematics Awareness Centre. His many books include From Here to Infinity, Nature’s Numbers, Does God Play Dice?, The Problems of Mathematics, and Letters to a Young Mathematician. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S.

The Page 99 Test: Why Beauty Is Truth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five essential works about Judaism

Ruth Wisse, whose Jews and Power has just been published by Schocken, teaches Yiddish literature and comparative literature at Harvard. She selected a five best list of essential works about Judaism for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:
Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem (1894-1914)

No one did more than the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) to forge the connection between Jewishness and comedy, and no character does it better than Tevye the Dairyman. In Aleichem's Tevye stories, set in Russia and collected in various forms over the years, the monologues of this first stand-up Jewish comedian treat many of the crises that Jews experienced in confronting modernity. A traditional father of many daughters (whittled down to three in the musical adaptation "Fiddler on the Roof"), Tevye must face both their challenges to his paternal authority and the dangers posed by the czarist regime. He does so with a philosophical humor that many readers attribute to Jewishness itself. "What does it say in the prayer book? We're God's chosen people; it's no wonder the whole world envies us." Whenever I teach this work, filled with specifically Jewish quotations and expressions, students of other minorities -- especially those from religious families -- recognize Tevye's predicaments, and they appreciate the moral balance he strives to maintain between metaphysical confidence and the disillusioning evidence presented by daily life.
Read more about Wisse's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Spanish Bow"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Spanish Bow.

About the book
, from the author's website:
In a dusty, turn-of-the-century Catalan village, the bequest of a cello bow sets young Feliu Delargo on the unlikely path of becoming a musician. Anarchist Barcelona and the court of the embattled monarchy in Madrid teach him his first serious lessons in creativity, principle, and passion — and their consequences. When he meets up with the charming and eccentric piano prodigy Justo Al-Cerraz, their lifelong friendship and rivalry orchestrate a tumultuous course for them both. Over the span of half a century of creative struggle and international turmoil that sees them paying house calls on Picasso one year and being courted by dictators the next, they make glorious music together, and clash over virtually everything else: love, politics, and the purpose of art. When the tensions propelling a war-torn world toward catastrophe bring Aviva, an Italian violinist with a haunted past, into their lives, Feliu and Justo embark upon their final and most dangerous collaboration.
Among the early praise for the novel:
“An impressive and richly atmospheric debut.”
New York Times Book Review

“...for sheer scope and ambition, this is a tough debut to beat.”
Publishers Weekly

“The book is almost dizzyingly episodic, but bound together by Feliu's lifelong struggle with the question of the proper relationship between music and politics, a subject Romano-Lax handles with finesse. ... A deft, inventive debut.”
Kirkus Reviews

"This riveting historical page-turner moves inexorably toward a heartrending crescendo."
Read an excerpt from The Spanish Bow, and learn more about the book and author at Andromeda Romano-Lax's website.

Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Among her nonfiction works are travel and natural history guidebooks to Alaska and Mexico, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja's Desert Coast.

The Page 69 Test: The Spanish Bow.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Michael Mazarr reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Michael Mazarr, a professor at the National War College and author of numerous books and articles on various aspects of U.S. defense policy and international security. His entry opens:
I'm a professor at an American War College, which is a timely, slightly depressing, but also heartening (given the amazing quality and inspirational character of our students) vocation to have at the moment, all events considered. My reading lately has been in support of my teaching and curriculum design work. [read on]
Mazarr's new book is Unmodern Men in the Modern World: Radical Islam, Terrorism, and the War on Modernity.

About the book, from Cambridge University Press:
Five years into the war on terror, we still don't understand the supposed "enemy." Official analyses of radical Islam remain simplistic and unhelpful for understanding the motivations and mindsets of people still characterized simply as "evildoers who hate freedom." This book offers a new way of understanding this challenge and figuring out what to do about it. It concludes with specific policy suggestions for a new approach to replace the badly-failing current strategy. This book approaches radical Islam by putting it into a comparative context. It makes a big, bold argument about the character of the threat and the nature of world politics in this provocative and wide-ranging examination of radical Islamists.
Among the early praise for Unmodern Men in the Modern World:

"Michael Mazarr’s Unmodern Men in the Modern World represents a valuable integration of the scholarship on the political and intellectual origins of anti-modernist extremist movements in Germany, Russia and Japan of the twentieth century with that regarding the origins and nature of radical Islamism in recent decades. Mazarr has read widely and thought clearly. Even for readers who dissent from Mazarr’s policy prescriptions, Unmodern Men contains insights of value for policy makers, scholars, analysts, students and interested citizens. It is also evidence of a welcome and important phenomenon, namely the closing of a gap between the world of serious scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and that of policy debate in Washington, DC."
--Jeffrey Herf, author of Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich, and Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park

"Michael Mazarr provides a penetrating insight into the nature of jihadism by showing how it is the latest in a long line of extreme reactions to modernization. He separates valid lessons of history from invalid ones in assessing how liberal democracies can best respond. In so doing, he persuasively demonstrates how the ‘war on terror’ in its current form is misdirected and counterproductive."
--Paul R. Pillar, Visiting Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University

"This book tackles the big issues underlying the war on terrorism. It rightly sees the ideological core of the global jihadi movement as a critique of modernity -- of American and European versions of the nation-state -- and a contest over the future of global politics. Insightful, clear and controversial, this is a thesis that will be much discussed."
--Mark Juergensmeyer, Director, Arfalea Center for Global & International Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara. Author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

Read an excerpt from Unmodern Men in the Modern World and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Michael Mazarr.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pg. 99: Paul Hoffman's "King's Gambit"

The latest feature at the Page 99 Test: Paul Hoffman's King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game.

About the book, from the author's website:
As a child, Paul Hoffman lost himself in chess. The award-winning author of the international bestseller The Man Who Loved Only Numbers played to escape the dissolution of his parents' marriage, happily passing weekends with his brilliant bohemian father in New York's Greenwich Village, the epicenter of American chess. But he soon learned that such single-minded focus came at a steep price, as the pressure of competition drove him to the edge of madness.

As an adolescent, Hoffman loved the artistic purity of the game — and the euphoria he felt after a hard-fought victory — but he was disturbed by the ugly brutality and deceptive impulses that tournament chess invariably brought out in his opponents and in himself. Plagued by strange dreams in which attractive women moved like knights and sinister men like bishops, he finally gave up the game entirely in college, for the next twenty-five years.

In King's Gambit, Hoffman interweaves gripping tales from the history of the game and revealing portraits of contemporary chess geniuses into the emotionally charged story of his own recent attempt to get back into tournament chess as an adult — this time without losing his mind or his humanity. All the while, he grapples with the bizarre, confusing legacy of his own father, who haunts Hoffman's game and life.

In this insider's look at the obsessive subculture of championship chess, the critically acclaimed author applies the techniques that garnered his earlier work such lavish praise — the novelistic storytelling and the keen insights — to his own life and the eccentric, often mysterious lives of the chess pros he knew and has come to know. Intimate, surprising, and often humorous, it's both Hoffman's most personal work and his most compelling.

Among the early praise for King's Gambit:
"If you enjoy playing chess, this will be the most fascinating, best-written book that you have ever read. If you have no interest in chess, then get ready to enjoy a fascinating, fast-moving story with unforgettable characters many of whom just happen to be chess players."
—Jared Diamond

"Hoffman's masterful, exhaustive tale of chess, its soaring triumphs and crushing discontents is filled with enough international intrigue and warped, shady characters to pass for the latest James Bond sequel. Along with the stereotypical lunatic Russian grandmasters ('the normally even-keeled Russian asked that his chair be X-rayed and dismantled to make sure [Bobby] Fischer hadn't implanted a harmful radiation emitter inside it'), chess-crazed Bulgarians, Canadians, Libyans and the occasional American plow through the contemporary chess world in search of victory. In clear, thoughtful prose, Hoffman (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers ) describes the players ("[Short] doesn't glare at his adversary, slam down the rooks, twist the knights into the board, rock back and forth, tap his feet or pace the tournament hall snorting like a feral animal") and the game.... Hoffman has achieved something singular: a winning, book about the 'royal game' that will satisfy the general reader, kibitzer and grandmaster alike."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Introduced to chess by his father when he was only five, Hoffman found a refuge in the game during an adolescence marked by family stress. Returning to the game decades later in a period of personal and professional crisis, he found himself fascinated not just by chess itself, but by the inner life of its players. Among the questions he seeks to answer are why chess is so addictive, how the champions handle victory and defeat and why the game is played primarily by men.... [A trip in 2004 to the World Chess Championship in Libya], which included nerve-shattering encounters with a police-state bureaucracy, reveals the author's expertise as a storyteller as well as his own high-amateur competence at the chessboard... Those who relished Stefan Fatsis's portrayal of Scrabble junkies (Word Freak, 2001) will find this another fascinating glimpse into a competitive game world filled with quirky and brilliant addicts."

Read an excerpt from King's Gambit, and learn more about the book at Paul Hoffman's website and blog.

Paul Hoffman was president of Encyclopaedia Britannica and editor in chief of Discover magazine, and is the author of Wings of Madness and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. King's Gambit is his eleventh book.

The Page 99 Test: King's Gambit.

--Marshal Zeringue