Sunday, December 10, 2017

Maria Belodubrovskaya's "Not According to Plan"

Maria Belodubrovskaya is Assistant Professor of Film in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to  her new book, Not According to Plan: Filmmaking under Stalin, and reported the following:
The Test works well for my book: page 99 is central to my argument. The book explains why the regime of Joseph Stalin in Soviet Russia failed to install a true propaganda film industry, a filmmaking machine that produced Communist propaganda on order. The main reason why the Stalin regime failed was that the regime did not buttress its ambition for a mass propaganda cinema with the infrastructure, or the institutions and the workforce that this ambition required. Under Stalin, the Soviet film industry was structured such that the creative talent, and specifically the film directors, continued to be the critical decision makers in the production process. Page 99 belongs to Chapter 3, which details the director-centered mode that was at the core of Soviet film production. Page 99 addresses how in the 1930s the Soviet film administration tried and failed to introduce a powerful, Hollywood-style producer to counterbalance the authority of the film director. On this page, I quote Leontii Katsnel'son, the head of Lenfilm, a major film studio, who says that the attempt at forming production units headed by producers were unsuccessful at his studio. He states that the new producers were “unable to control the production life of all of their pictures and, as a result, work organization inside production units and even work discipline itself in many cases have deteriorated.” Ivan Kudrin of the Kiev Studio in Ukraine submitted a similar report. Why were these executives unable to implement the producer-based system? Because there was an extreme shortage of capable managers throughout the Soviet economy. For the reform to work, the Stalin regime had to train the new producers and initiate a better division of labor in film production. Absent a functioning institution of the producer and the division of labor, the regime had only a limited capacity at bringing film production under its control.
Learn more about Not According to Plan at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 9, 2017

David N. Schwartz's "The Last Man Who Knew Everything"

David N. Schwartz holds a PhD in political science from MIT. He has worked at the State Department Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, and at Goldman Sachs in a variety of roles in both London and New York. He lives in New York with his wife, Susan. His father, Melvin Schwartz, shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1988.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Last Man Who Knew Everything provides background on one of Enrico Fermi's most important contributions, his theory of beta decay. In order to develop this theory, he needed first to understand Dirac's brilliant but extremely difficult theory of quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory. Fermi, in typical fashion, decided that he needed to teach it to others in order to fully understand it himself. In the process he came up with an approach that was pedagogically superior to Dirac's - so much so that in later years Hans Bethe and Eugene Wigner both said that they learned quantum field theory from the paper Fermi wrote on the subject.

Fermi went on to use quantum field theory to explain beta decay, a radioactive process in which neutrons in the atomic nucleus become protons (or vice versa). At the same time, electrons and neutrinos are created and emitted at high speeds. The interaction that resulted in beta decay was for many years called the Fermi interaction. Today it is more commonly called the weak interaction because it is so weak that it occurs only when the particles in the nucleus are extremely close to each other. His beta decay theory kicked off some fifty years of intensive research including the realization that the weak interaction was closely linked to the electromagnetic interaction; the discovery of three types of neutrinos; and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

The theory of beta decay was classic Fermi: a radical simplification of a complex theoretical concept developed by teaching it to others, which he then proceeded to use to solve a seemingly unrelated problem.

My hope is that by page 99 the reader realizes that this book is for the non-scientist - that the explanation of the science is intended for the reader with little or no background in physics. I have tried on every page to present the material as simply and clearly as possible without dumbing it down. Fermi had an absolute conviction that anyone could understand physics and this conviction inspired the way I presented the material myself.
Visit David N. Schwartz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Alexander Thurston's "Boko Haram"

Alexander Thurston is visiting assistant professor of African studies at Georgetown University and the author of Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching, and Politics.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement, and reported the following:
Boko Haram is one of the deadliest jihadist groups in the world. It is the subject of a mounting academic literature, but the reasons for the group’s emergence and its embrace of violence are still debated. Much literature has suggested that the group is simply the manifestation of large, impersonal forces: some analysts point to poverty and inequality in Nigeria, where the group originated, while others point to the influence of transnational jihadism. My book argues for a hyper-local view of the conflict, and for an understanding that the founder, Muhammad Yusuf, fully committed to violence only after he lost support both among the wider Muslim community and among politicians. In other words, it’s important to understand Yusuf’s personal relationships with other important figures in the religious and political scenes.

Page 99 of my book deals with Yusuf’s rupture with Ja‘far Adam, who was at one time his mentor but who later became a bitter opponent. Both Yusuf and Adam belonged to what is called the “Salafi” trend, a loosely organized, global movement of Muslims who advocate strict, literal readings of the Qur’an and other sources. Yusuf and Adam disagreed, however, about topics such as Western-style education: whereas Yusuf made opposition to government schools one of his signature issues, Adam argued that Muslims could derive benefit even from secular schooling. The conflict between the two men became quite intense, with each trying to discredit the other.

From page 99:
Adam and others painted Boko Haram as agents of outside interests, including the Shi‘a, Nigerian Christians, the West, and foreign jihadists. These accusations reinforced Boko Haram’s sense of exclusivism, making Yusuf and his core followers feel that they could no longer trust Salafis who defended Western-style education or government service. The sect was likely responsible for Adam’s 2007 assassination.
That event – a crime that remains unsolved – became one of the key steps on Yusuf’s path to rebellion. A little more than two years later, isolated from most of his former mentors and allies, Yusuf and his followers launched a massive uprising in northeastern Nigeria. Over 1,000 people, including Yusuf, were left dead. But Boko Haram had started down the road to insurgency, and its violence still troubles Nigeria and neighboring countries today.
Visit Alexander Thurston's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Annegret Fauser's "Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring"

Annegret Fauser is Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her books include Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II (2013), which was awarded both the Music in American Culture Award of the American Musicological Society and an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award.

Fauser applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring", and reported the following:
How musicians and critics abroad responded to Aaron Copland and his music for Appalachian Spring forms the thread that runs through page 99 of my book. Italians considered him “an American Grieg,” Chileans understood him as a regionalist, Germans worried about his lack of avant-garde sophistication, and the British saw him in a similar light as his local fellow travelers, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett. In the decades after World War II—when the high modernism of John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen dominated much of contemporary music—Copland’s Americana sounded out-of-date to the ears of many critics, but concert-goers and radio listeners, especially in the English-speaking world, reveled in the composer’s evocative music. Proving Ford Madox Ford’s point about the “page 99 test,” this particular page offers a surprisingly accurate snapshot of my book as a whole for two reasons. First, I am writing about a singular work, its genesis, and its history, tracing the vicissitudes of its existence in performance, recordings, and memory from its beginnings at the height of World War II to today. The often critical and even negative postwar reactions to Copland’s music for this particular work form part of this story. Later, however, musicians and scholars rediscovered the vernacular modernism of the score and began to appreciate its contribution to the soundscape of contemporary music as something more than just iconic Americana. Second, I consider this dance piece a collaborative work that intersected with the lives of many individuals, especially its three creators: the choreographer Martha Graham, the composer Aaron Copland, and the stage designer, Isamu Noguchi. Each of them was at a critical point in their careers when they joined forces, between 1942 and 1944, in crafting Appalachian Spring. The enmeshment of biography and art played a key role in shaping this work, particularly where Copland and Noguchi were concerned. In another section of the book (p. 37–38), I discuss how self-consciously Copland erased any trace of sentimentality in his idiom, considering it a problematic form of expression, one he associated both with his Jewish heritage and with German Romanticism. At the end of p. 99, I draw attention to the issue that the German criticism of Copland’s neoclassical idiom in the 1950s carries disturbing echoes of the ban, after 1935, of Copland’s music in Germany because he was “a left-wing Jew” (p. 23), and thus doubly suspicious in the eyes of the Nazis. Indeed, tracing such undercurrents—where biography and music interconnect throughout the story of Appalachian Spring—forms an important part of this book, and p. 99 is, in this respect, a cliff-hanger.
Learn more about Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gavin Ehringer's "Leaving The Wild"

Gavin Ehringer is an investigative reporter who has covered the companion animal beat for 25 years. He’s written thousands of articles and six previous books on animal-related subjects.

Ehringer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Leaving the Wild: The Unnatural History of Dogs, Cats, Cows, and Horses, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I recall the heroism of a cowboy I knew who walked into a shelter in Texas. After he’d looked at all the dogs, the clerk asked him which one he’d like to adopt. “I’ll take the next one in line to die,” he said. Danger, a spunky Jack Russell terrier plucked from death row, rode shotgun with him for a decade. Sadly for the dogs, cats, kittens and puppies of that generation, there simply weren’t enough cowboys to go around.

In the 1970s, a time when fewer than ten percent of Americans spayed or neutered their pet animals, public shelters euthanized as many as eleven million dogs a year - about one in every 10 dogs. Shelter managers began using the phrase “pet overpopulation” to describe the rivers of puppies, kittens, dogs and cats flowing through their doors in cardboard boxes and on leashes, only to exit through the backdoors in trash bags.

That was when we had a serious, serious dog overpopulation crisis...
I wrote Leaving The Wild to take a critical look at the often unexamined act of animal breeding. Page 99 begins to call into question the prevailing myth of dog overpopulation. While certainly a problem until very recently, the book shows that today, demand and supply are in balance. In 2016, for the first time, fewer than 1 million dogs were euthanized in shelters while 2.6 million found new homes. Eliminate old and infirm dogs euthanized for humane reasons, and the vast majority killed come from one breed: pit bulls. If pit bull breeders took more responsibility, neutered or spayed their animal and stopped overproducing, we could put “dog pounds” out of business overnight.

Dr. Emily Weiss, who writes an ASPCA blog for shelter professionals, says in the book that she loses sleep not over how many puppies are getting euthanized, but over where we’re going to get enough puppies to meet consumer demand.

Whether it’s dogs, cats, cows, or horses, I turn a critical eye toward myths, beliefs and misinformation, using data, expert opinion and personal anecdotes  to see which hold up and which fold up.

Many answers I discovered through five years of research challenged and changed my own beliefs and prejudices about the plight of domestic creatures.

I’m sure whichever animal interests you, you’ll be stunned, alarmed or pleasantly surprised by the dead-right facts and amusing tales found on every page of Leaving The Wild.
Visit Gavin Ehringer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Claudio Sopranzetti's "Owners of the Map"

Claudio Sopranzetti is a postdoctoral fellow at All Souls College, a research associate at the Future of Cities Center, and teaches at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Nam, lost in the TV starlets’ secret love story with her handsome white-skinned boyfriend, quickly wais (salutes) Adun before sinking her teeth into the piece of KFC he brought back for her, temporarily fulfilling her craving for a different life, one with urban settings, lifestyles, and tastes. Adun is not indifferent to her desires, which mirror the yearnings that drew him to Bangkok three decades before. She is, he tells me, increasingly voicing her intention to migrate to the city, an intention that has been—consciously or unconsciously—cultivated not just by exposure to a variety of media, but also by the commodities and stories that Adun carries with him to the village.

All around Isan, sitting in poorly lit houses in the northeastern countryside, kids and older people listen with widened eyes and ears to the tales of the city that migrants bring back. These stories fuel imaginary trajectories and desires of urban life among rural dwellers, imaginations that oscillate between the celebration of urban life and its advantages, and the dismissal of urban experience, its perils, and struggles. In this sense, Adun acted for Nam as culture broker and mediator of life in the metropolis and its goods, from cellphones to KFC chicken. These circulations that Adun channeled, whether with presents, stories, or by buying her a TV, orient Nam’s future towards Bangkok, the endpoint of personal and collective linear trajectories of development. This, in turn, has made her only more conscious of her present distance from that future. Through this kind of awareness, “the harshness of peasant life and the squalor of the farmyard . . . appear intolerable.... [T]hey seem even more so once we become aware of the magnificent, grandiose character of the works they have produced with their labor. Our awareness of this contradiction becomes more acute, and we find ourselves faced necessarily with a new imperative: the practical, effective transformation of things as they are.”15 Munching in front of the TV, Nam sees this imperative solidify and the awareness of her exclusion grow.
When I received a request to do a blog entry for the 99 page test, it was late and night and I was in bed, about to go to sleep. I turned the light back on and rushed to the first copy of my new book, fresh off the press. I was too curious to see how it would pass the test. I do not want to add much. The judgement is left to you.
Visit Claudio Sopranzetti's website.

--Marshal Zeringue