Friday, February 27, 2009

Robert Zaretsky & John T. Scott's "The Philosophers' Quarrel"

Robert Zaretsky is professor of French, Honors College, University of Houston. John T. Scott is professor of political science, University of California, Davis. Zaretsky and Scott are coauthors of Frail Happiness: An Essay on Rousseau.

Scott applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding, and reported the following:
P. 99 happens to contain one of the main events in our chronicle of the rise and fall of the friendship between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume. Namely, it is on this page that Rousseau's friends, anxious to find him an asylum after he has been chased from his most recent place of exile, suggest Hume as a potential protector. The suggestion is made by several of their mutual friends, but the request is made by the comtesse de Boufflers. Hume had fallen in love with the countess during his stay in Paris over the past several years as part of the British ambassadorial staff. When Boufflers contacts him about Rousseau, Hume eagerly agrees to come to his rescue, despite never having met the man. "I assure your Ladyship," he replied to Boufflers' request, "there is no man in Europe of whom I have entertained a higher idea, and whom I would be prouder to serve." Their brief friendship began a few months after this letter, when they met in Paris before traveling together to England, and it would end only a few months later with bitter recriminations in a very public falling out.
Read an excerpt from The Philosophers' Quarrel, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 26, 2009

J. D. Trout's "The Empathy Gap"

J.D. Trout is a Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, and Adjunct Professor at the Parmly Sensory Sciences Institute.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society, and reported the following:
The Empathy Gap asks, and tries to answer, the question of why good people can look the other way when others are suffering and could be helped so easily. If you turn to page 99 of The Empathy Gap, you will find an important key to that answer in the brisk discussion of the omission bias.

One of our most cherished intuitions is that it is worse to bring about harm (an act) than to let harm occur (an omission). There is a moral difference, we ordinarily suppose, between acts and omissions. Feeling less responsible for omissions, we freely neglect to vote, to sign an organ donor card, and to enroll in a retirement plan. This disregard becomes the norm because humans are creatures of habit. People take the same route to work, read the paper at the same time of day, shower using the same sequence of steps, and so on. But government and culture, of course, have a role in determining what becomes habitual. Australia and England have higher voter turnout than the U.S. But there is an obvious reason for this discrepancy. In the U.S., in order to be counted in an election you have to surmount barriers like voter registration. This is typical when no-action is the default. But it is not the default everywhere. In Australia, you can be fined for neglecting to vote. In England, it is the government’s responsibility to make sure you are registered, not yours. I once asked a political scientist why voting isn’t mandated in the U.S. His response was: “Requiring people to vote just isn’t an American thing.” That’s a default view, to be sure, and one we’ve grown comfortable with. But it isn’t a justification. In the same way that our default is to not sign up to donate organs -- we have to take positive action to do so -- the same is true for voting. Inaction leads to not voting, for which there is no penalty. And you are blamed less, or feel less guilty, than if you take action by voting for the winning candidate, who then drives the country into the ground. Compelling people to vote would be regarded by Americans as just more meddling by a nanny state, not, as in some countries, as supporting or memorializing an obligation of civic participation in the life of our democracy.

Fighting the omission bias can have wonderful consequences. Fatality rates and health improved when we stopped neglecting inoculation. But that amounts to taking action. After all, wellness-promotion is an action, while health neglect is an omission. Decent policies can sustain us when our will or judgment fails. Putting fluoride in the water, providing inoculations, installing seat belts and requiring motorcycle helmets – actions requiring an infrastructure – are often disputed as meddlesome impositions, and threats to our liberty. But they improve, and even save, lives. So this is how good people can neglect those in need: We don’t acknowledge that while we are responsible for our actions, we are also responsible for our decisions. And letting a harm occur when the risk was known is itself a decision; it is a decision to not act. The Empathy Gap proposes policies that would deliver us from complicated decisions when we have little time and even less information to make them. As page 99 puts it: “It is not clear how we arrived at the current allocation of health care resources, but our system didn’t fall from the bottoms of cherubs.” When it comes to caring for ourselves and others, an empathic government will be more vigilant about monitoring our real risks, and less indulgent of our sentimental attachments to our gut, intuitive, folk judgments.
Learn more about the book and author at J.D. Trout's website and his Psychology Today blog, The Greater Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Michael Krepon's "Better Safe Than Sorry"

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, Diplomat Scholar at the University of Virginia, and the author or editor of many books, including Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense, and the Nuclear Future, Space Assurance or Space Dominance? The Case Against Weaponizing Space, Nuclear Risk Reduction in South Asia, and Escalation Control and the Nuclear Option in South Asia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, and reported the following:
My book, Better Safe than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb, starts by placing current nuclear anxieties into an historical context. These anxieties have led to wretched excesses. During the Cold War, we and the Soviets built up huge nuclear arsenals and engaged in extremely risky practices. In erring on the side of "safety," we nearly incinerated the planet. That was the first nuclear age. The second nuclear age began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which has led to rising anxieties about nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. The Bush administration undertook extreme measures to be safe rather than sorry, fighting the first preventive war in U.S. history. Here lies another irony: As the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals declined precipitously, a war of choice became conceivable for the world's sole superpower.

On page 99, we are beginning the chapter on the second nuclear age. Here is an excerpt:

During the first nuclear age, only one triangular relationship mattered. China, the weakest leg of the triangle, at first linked up to the Soviet Union, and then normalized ties with the United States. During the second nuclear age, a second nuclear triangle emerged. The original alignment of the Washington-Beijing-Moscow triangle returned, as China and Russia had no need to compete over leading the Communist movement and much reason to counterbalance predominant U.S. power. The second triangular nuclear relationship involved China, India and Pakistan. The newer triangular competition was fueled by keen status consciousness, contested borders, and grievances from previous warfare. Both triangles bear watching.

All sides of the China-India-Pakistan triangle are unequal, which makes for awkward geometry, instability, and the potential for increased competition. But all three parties have publicly resolved not to repeat the wretched excesses of the cold war competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, including the mistake of arms racing. At the same time, the existing nuclear hierarchy in southern Asia – China followed by India followed by Pakistan – grates on New Delhi and Islamabad. Beijing has not yet deigned to accept India's interest in dialogue on the Bomb, including discussions on nuclear stabilization and confidence-building measures. Perhaps China's leaders will think differently after New Delhi captures Beijing's attention by testing thermonuclear weapons that can be placed atop new missiles that can reach Beijing and Shanghai. Pakistan cannot compete with India in conventional arms, but Pakistan's generals have demonstrated every intention to compete with India with respect to nuclear weapons.

There's a lot here to munch on. My intention is to present dense material in an accessible way.
Read the preface to Better Safe Than Sorry, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Michael Krepon and his work at his Stimson Center webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adrian Gregory's "The Last Great War"

Adrian Gregory is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War, and reported the following:
Page 99 is largely about voluntary activity at a local level during the war in Liverpool and Bristol - this does reflect two important themes of the book- the need to look at the impact of the war in the locality and the mobilization of civil society to support the war effort. It also illustrates the way in which the volunteering of soldiers stimulated civilian volunteering on behalf of soldiers- a crucial point to set against the mythology of the alienated soldier and the indifferent civilian. It also has the statistic that 32,450 servicemen were entertained at the Bristol Zoo and 50,000 at the museum - I am always a sucker for numbers to make a point and do it a lot in the book.
Read an excerpt from The Last Great War and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Michael Ezra's "Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon"

Michael Ezra is Chair of the American Multicultural Studies Department at Sonoma State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the midpoint of my book Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon. Does it reflect the quality of the whole? There’s probably a little more quoting of sources and a little less of my own analysis on that page than on most of the others, but otherwise I would say that my book conforms to the page 99 test.

Page 99 describes the negative responses by newspaper reporters to Muhammad Ali’s intended use of a Nation of Islam-led corporation to promote his February 1966 title fight against contender Ernie Terrell. One writer claimed that Ali was “as innocent as a puppet compared to the gang of fanatics that now owns and operates him.” Another feared the making of a “fight whose profits would go largely to the Black Muslims.”

These quotes go right to the heart of the book’s main idea, that Muhammad Ali’s cultural meanings have always been a product of their economic consequences. Although politicians, rival promoters, and newspaper writers may have used Ali’s draft resistance as the vehicle to criticize him, their ultimate concern was his financial empowerment of the Nation of Islam.

It is easy to attribute Ali’s iconic and beloved status today to his being right about the Vietnam War, or his being a fantastic fighter, or his renunciation of the Nation of Islam. Certainly those things are contributing factors in his becoming sacrosanct. But to truly understand Ali, one must never lose sight of the ways that people have capitalized by spinning such narratives into allegories.

My book explores these processes.
Read an excerpt from Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Charles Kurzman's "Democracy Denied"

Charles Kurzman is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His books include Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook, and The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democracy Denied, 1905-1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Democracy Denied, 1905-1915, we find a group of pro-democracy intellectuals in China struggling to keep their toe-hold in government in 1913. They had come to power, at least partially, a year earlier through a revolt that toppled China's ancient monarchy, promising to re-make the government and the people of China through a modern program of democratization and state-building. They had held elections and won a significant portion of parliament. Newspapers had flourished under the newfound freedoms. Labor unions and other segments of civil society began to mobilize in a way that they never had before. The government embarked on public-health and educational reforms. The rule of law was flawed, and suffrage was limited -- but China enjoyed more political freedoms during this brief period than ever in its history, before or since. In a matter of months, the intellectuals who had led these battles had managed to alienate all of their erstwhile allies. And now, on page 99, they are being fired from their government positions and ousted from parliament by the president of China, an authoritarian military figure who was soon to declare himself the new emperor. The democratic experiment in China was ending.

The snapshot on page 99 captures one of the primary themes of the book: the failure of modern-educated intellectuals, who had led democratic revolutions in the early 20th century with such idealism and hopefulness, to consolidate their political project. The book discusses five other countries, in addition to China, where similar institutions emerged and collapsed during the decade before World War I: the Russian Revolution of 1905, Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1906, the Ottoman Constitutional Revolution of 1908, the Portuguese Revolution of 1910, and the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911. By the outbreak of World War I, all of these democratic experiments had been undermined except Portugal's, where multi-party politics survived feebly until the fascists overthrew it in 1926. These relatively democratic interludes provided a precursor to later waves of democratization, and they offer a window in the social bases of democracy in the early 20th century.
Read an excerpt from Democracy Denied, 1905-1915, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mary Jane Maffini's "The Cluttered Corpse"

Mary Jane Maffini is the author of three mystery series and nearly two dozen short stories. Her latest series, the Charlotte Adams mysteries, launched in May 2007 with Organize Your Corpses, the first of three books featuring this professional organizer from New York State.

Maffini applied the “Page 99 Test” to the second book in the series, The Cluttered Corpse, and reported the following:
The quality of the whole will be revealed to you on page 99? Oh boy. The pressure. I glanced at my latest output, The Cluttered Corpse, and stroked its glossy pink and blue cover, admiring the image of the still, outflung arm lying in the shadows of all those sinister stuffed animals. I wondered, will you measure up, little book? Will you entertain, yet be mysterious? Reveal character and still leave room for change? Hint at relationships and unseen villains muddying the waters? Will you assure the reader that this is a protagonist who can be counted on in the darkest hour, despite her nifty shoes? You are an amateur sleuth mystery novel. Can you deliver? This whole page 99 business, there seemed to be so much riding on it.

Hang on, I said. I have eight other books. Why not get in shape for the page 99 test by checking them out? You may call that cheating. I maintained I was testing the test. To my surprise, each of the page 99's offered a glimpse at the heart of the story. Key stuff, not idling subplots or flirtations with walk-on characters. Hmm. There might be something to this.

At last, I cracked open The Cluttered Corpse. Sure enough, page 99 reminds the reader that Charlotte Adams is a professional organizer living in Woodbridge. It seems someone called Tony has been found dead on a pile of plush toys in the home of the Rheinbecks, Charlotte's latest clients. Charlotte might have been there herself had an anonymous prank phone call not lured her away. As creepy as this is, Charlotte is more worried that Emmy Lou has confessed to killing Tony. She mentally reconstructs the scene of the death (handy for us) and tries to figure out why Tony was in the wrong place at a worse time. Meanwhile, several suspects flit on to the page obligingly. By the last line, I would have put money on Charlotte to keep digging until she finds the killer. What a relief. On the down side, there's not a single mention of Charlotte's footwear, although pink fluffy slippers do tiptoe by on page 98.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Jane Maffini's website.

Death Loves a Messy Desk, the third novel in the Charlotte Adams series, is due out this spring.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beverly Gage's "The Day Wall Street Exploded"

Beverly Gage teaches at Yale University. Her historical commentary has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, The Nation,,, and the Washington Post. She has appeared as a guest commentator on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and in Time magazine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, and reported the following:
The Day Wall Street Exploded addresses two of the hottest issues of our current political moment: terrorism and civil liberties, and the concentration of economic power on Wall Street. It’s a work of history, though, not a work of journalism.

When I began to research the book almost a decade ago, I envisioned it as a straightforward narrative history: an account of the terrorist attack that struck Wall Street on September 16, 1920, killing 38 people and wounding hundreds. As I engaged with that event in more depth, however, I realized that I couldn’t explain what happened in 1920 without giving a picture of the larger history of revolutionary terrorism in that era, from the Haymarket bombing of 1886 through the almost-forgotten nationwide bomb conspiracies of 1919.

P. 99 drops us into that bigger story—specifically, into the swirl of revolutionary politics and class antagonism that was New York City in 1912. The page describes how some of the greatest icons of the American left—anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, labor leader Bill Haywood—wrestled with the issue of terrorism as a moral and tactical dilemma. Though it may surprise most Americans in 2009, this was a healthy debate a century ago: Did prominent capitalists deserve to be assassinated or bombed for repressing the working class? If so, was it a good tactical move?

All in all, these debates make current antagonism toward Wall Street look decidedly mild by comparison.
Visit Beverly Gage's Yale faculty webpage, and learn more about The Day Wall Street Exploded at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kathleen Rooney's "Live Nude Girl"

Kathleen Rooney is the author of Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America, now in its second edition, as well as the poetry collections Oneiromance (An Epithalamion), Something Really Wonderful, and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, the latter two written collaboratively with Elisa Gabbert. Her essay “Live Nude Girl” was selected for Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls a little past the middle of chapter three, which is called “You Only Live Twice,” and which is about the connection between art modeling and mortality.

Bleeding over from 98, the page begins: “Suicide fascinates me, and always has, mostly because I could never imagine committing it myself. Part of why I pose is actually bound up in my irrational superstition that even if, heaven forefend, I meet an untimely end, I will be able to enjoy some kind of earthly immortality, if only in the surviving works for which I’ve posed.”

As luck would have it, my book passes Ford’s test. This page is fairly representative of the book as a whole since Live Nude Girl is an extended meditation on why I, or anyone else, would feel motivated to go into this profession—to take my clothes off and be a part of art—and also why artists feel motivated to work from the figure, or to work at all. I suppose that this death-fear or death-awareness is hugely compelling for them, just as it is for me.

As I mention earlier in the chapter, John Berger says that art is “an affirmation of the visible which surrounds us and which continually appears and disappears. Without the disappearing, there would perhaps be no impulse to paint.” Death is the ultimate disappearance, and painting and posing for paintings (or photographs or sculptures or drawings) seem like small ways to arrest the passage of lived moments and to remind ourselves of how fleeting they are.
Learn more about Live Nude Girl at the publisher's website.

Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 16, 2009

Donald S. Lopez Jr.'s "Buddhism and Science"

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Prisoners of Shangri-La, The Madman’s Middle Way, and Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, and reported the following:
Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed is a kind of cultural history of the claim that among the world’s religions, it is Buddhism that is most compatible with modern science. It is a claim that has been made with remarkable consistency for 150 years, despite significant changes in what is meant by “Buddhism,” and what is meant by “Science,” during that period. For a variety of interesting historical reasons, Buddhism has come to be perceived in the West as the most progressive of the great religions—nonviolent, egalitarian, proto-feminist. These apparent qualities, when added to the compatibility with modern science, have suggested to many that the enlightenment of the Buddha somehow anticipated the European Enlightenment. But this view of Buddhism, and of its the relation to Science, is not entirely benign. Page 99 of the book occurs in the middle of a discussion of Buddhism’s unfortunate implication in one of the most potent sciences of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the science of race.

The Buddha was renowned for taking terms that confirmed some kind of social status, such as brahman, and redefining it in religious terms, making it a quality not present from birth but attained through meditation practice. The most famous of these terms was the Sanskrit term aryan, which means “superior” or “noble.” For the Buddha, such nobility was not inherited but acquired. In the famous Buddhist doctrine of “the four noble truths,” the term rendered as “noble” is aryan in Sanskrit; the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “the four truths for the spiritually noble.”

In the nineteenth century, European philologists used the term Aryan to name a language family (also called Indo-European) that included Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, German, French, and English. Verb roots would eventually become bloodlines, and Aryan became a race. But rather than insisting on the Buddha’s spiritual sense of the term, some Buddhist leaders adopted the racial meaning in their battles against Christian missionaries. One of these leaders was the Buddhist activist and Sri Lankan patriot Anagārika Dharmapāla (1864-1933) who proclaimed the superiority of the religion of the Aryan Buddha over the primitive religion of the Semite Jesus, someone he reviled as “half Jew half Hittite.” This particular moment in the history of “Buddhism and Science” has been largely forgotten.

Excerpt from page 99:

Aryans who lived in the territory known as Bharatvarsha. Those who did not conform to the sacred laws were treated as Mlechhas.

Buddhism is a spiritualized Aryanism. The ethics of the Bible are opposed to the sublime principles of the Aryan Doctrine promulgated by the Aryan Teacher. We condemn Christianity as a system utterly unsuited to the gentle spirit of the Aryan race.

Dharmapāla here alludes to the two apparent meanings of Aryan. The British are not Aryan from the Hindu perspective because, regardless of their colonial occupation of India, they are not native to the soil of the Bharatavarsa, the ancient Sanskrit name for India. Furthermore, the British do not follow the ancient law codes of India. They are thus mleccha, barbarians. They are also not Aryan in the Buddhist sense because their religion is contrary to the ethical and thus ennobling teachings of the Buddha.

Dharmapāla appears to confuse his metaphors of the material and spiritual when he refers to “the gentle spirit of the Aryan race.” Or perhaps not. The most eloquent apostle of Buddhism of his age (or at least the most eloquent English-speaking apostle), Dharmapāla was concerned to demonstrate that Buddhism was a world religion, equal, indeed superior, to all others. The Aryan, literally “superior” nature of Buddhism could not then be simply a matter of language or bloodline. It had instead to be a spirit in which all Buddhists of Asia partook. “The Bhikkhus wearing the yellow robe of purity and love went to distant lands to spread the ethics of Aryan culture. They Aryanized the unaryan races.” Buddhism may indeed be found in its purest form among Aryan peoples of Sri Lanka and in the Aryan language of Pali. But Buddhism, for Dharmapāla, also had to be universal, and hence “a spiritualized Aryanism.” It had long been a tenet of the Theravāda traditions of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia that so much time had passed since the passing of the Buddha that it was no longer possible to become an arhat, the ultimate āryan, who would enter nirvāṇa at death. The āryan, then, from the perspective of Buddhist doctrine, was the rarest of saints. Dharmapāla sought to restore the status of the āryan and expand it to encompass all Buddhists, a Buddhist nation unbounded by national borders, superior to those of the other great religions.

He thus did not hesitate to contrast Buddhism with the two other “universal religions” in the bald language of race; Christianity and Islam
Read Lopez's brief online feature, "Six Episodes from Buddhism and Science."

Learn more about Donald Lopez's teaching, research, and publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Matthew Hilton's "Prosperity for All"

Matthew Hilton is Professor of Social History at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement and Smoking in British Popular Culture, 1800–2000.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization, and reported the following:
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have influenced the development of both the United Nations and globalization as a whole. Page 99 provides some rudimentary data on which NGOs have had the most impact at the UN. Surprisingly, it suggests that the most influential NGOs have not been those that have achieved the highest media profile - for instance, Friends of the Earth or Amnesty International - but those less glamorous bodies prepared to work behind the scenes in order to help shape and direct UN policies relating to health, the environment, and a whole host of issues connected to economic and social justice. High among this ranked list of NGOs is Consumers International, an international federation of consumers unions from all over the world - including Africa, Asia, Latin America as well as the affluent West.

Usually we associate consumer associations with the shopping guides sold as Consumer Reports in the US, Which? in the United Kingdom, Que Choisir in France and Test in Germany. Yet the global consumer movement has been involved in far more than just assisting shoppers to make ‘best buys’. Consumer International’s work as a campaigning NGO at the United Nations has meant organised consumer activists have impacted on areas as diverse as the regulation of breastmilk substitutes, pesticide use, tobacco products, hazardous goods, and the inappropriate marketing of pharmaceuticals. In so doing, their work raises questions about the very nature of consumer society: the central theme of the book as a whole. One argument that emerges from an analysis of global consumer activists is that to be a consumer is not simply about greater individual choice. It is also about the wider issues of access and participation. Indeed, consumer activists have proposed the regulation of the activities of multinational corporations and have effectively sought to reorient the global economy in consumers’ interests. As the rest of the book shows, the history of living in a consumer society means we have paid as much attention to basic needs as we have done to luxuries. It suggests that worries about the problems of having too much need to be analysed alongside the problems of having too little. Consumer society must serve the interests of the poor as well as of the rich.
Learn more about Prosperity for All at the Cornell University Press website.

Visit Matthew Hilton's University of Birmingham faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dora Costa & Matthew Kahn's "Heroes and Cowards"

Dora L. Costa is the author of The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990. She teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles. Matthew E. Kahn is the author of Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment. He also teaches at UCLA. Costa and Kahn are research associates at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War, and reported the following:
Open to page 99 of Heroes and Cowards and you will see a bar chart displaying our estimates of the probability of desertion for four U.S Civil War Union Army soldiers --Adams E. French and James M. Rich both of the 36th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company D) and George Farrell, and Daniel Mulholland both of Company B of the 47 New York Volunteer Infantry. Using our unique 41,000 soldier data set, we document that on average 9 men out of every 100 deserted. Mulholland’s predicted probability of desertion was close to 30% which was six times higher than French’s. One of our book’s core questions is to ask: why did men differ with respect to their desertion propensities? We argue that fear of legal punishment cannot explain this. Unlike men fighting in Hitler and Stalin’s armies, a tiny percentage of Union Army deserters were caught and executed.

In our book, we argue that unit social capital, the desire to not let your comrades down, provided the glue for keeping the army together. Men who served in war companies with men who shared similar characteristics — a common religion, race, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, or even plantation in the case of former slaves — behaved markedly differently from their counterparts in more diverse companies. For starters, they had much lower desertion rates than the norm of one desertion per 10 Union soldiers. Union soldiers who served alongside men from the same occupations deserted at one-third the rate of counterparts in more diverse companies, as did former slaves who served with former slaves from the same plantation.

Stepping back, desertion during war time is just one of the choices and outcomes we examine in this book. In a similar spirit as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, our book contributes to research on the causes and consequences of social networks. War time is a high-stakes life or death time. We study important war time choices and outcomes such as desertion and surviving deadly POW camps during war. We document that desertion and survival depended on a soldier’s war time social network. After the war, social networks affected later life experiences. Deserters were less likely to move back to their hometowns, especially if their hometowns were pro-War communities. We also study how comrades broadened soldiers’ horizons. After the war, men were more likely to migrate to communities that their fellow company mates were from. Our findings show that while there are many short-run benefits to being with men just like you, in the long-run men learned from those who were different.

A recent Wall Street Journal book review called our book “Military Sociology.” While we are economists, we are flattered that this reviewer recognized the interdisciplinary contribution that our book makes.
Read an excerpt from Heroes and Cowards, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Linda Radzik's "Making Amends"

Linda Radzik is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics, and reported the following:
If you open Making Amends to page 99, you find a discussion of the various ways in which the giving of a gift can help to repair a relationship in the aftermath of wrongdoing. It can communicate an acknowledgment of wrongdoing and a feeling of remorse to the victim. The effort put into providing the gift and the act of giving it can help the wrongdoer induce genuine repentance in herself, better remember the wrong in the future, and so avoid a repetition of the wrong. It can symbolically compensate for a harm that is not literally compensable (such as hurt feelings). None of these claims about the value of apologetic gift-giving is particularly surprising. What is distinctive about Making Amends is instead the question it asks about apologetic gifts.

When philosophers think about the aftermath of wrongdoing, they usually take the point of view of either a victim or a judge. They ask whether the victim should forgive or how the judge should punish. In contrast, Making Amends takes the point of view of the wrongdoer. The question is what one ought to do to right one’s own wrongs.

Whereas traditional discussions of atonement ask how amends can be made to God, this book is concerned with the responses we owe to one another. Whereas many equate atonement with suffering, I argue for a non-retributive account that focuses on the reconciliation of relationships. Not all relationships can be repaired through the giving of a gift, but the crucial tasks of atonement are those mentioned on page 99: respectful communication with the victim, the moral improvement of the wrongdoer, and the reparation of harm.
Learn more about Making Amends at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Richard Ned Lebow's "A Cultural Theory of International Relations"

Richard Ned Lebow is James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government at Dartmouth College and Centennial Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to one of his recent books, A Cultural Theory of International Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, A Cultural Theory of International Relations, recapitulates an argument I made in my previous book, The Tragic Vision of Politics (2003) about the proclivity of the successful and powerful – people, organizations and states – to commit hubris. Because they were successful in the past, they convince themselves that they are no longer bound by conventions and have an extraordinary ability to control people and their environment. They trust in their self-confidence and become susceptible to adventures where reason would dictate caution and restraint. The American invasion of Iraq and the banking-mortgage scandals are recent example of this phenomenon.

Cultural Theory situates risk-taking in a broader study of human motives and their consequences for foreign policy. Drawing on the ancient Greeks, I stress the need for human self-esteem, and show how it influences behavior at every level, from individual to state. I develop four ideal-type worlds associated with four motives: appetite, spirit (responsible for self esteem), reason and fear. I demonstrate how each generates a different logic of cooperation, conflict and risk-taking. Each also generates a different form of hierarchy, and all but fear are associated with different principles of justice. I make use of cases, ranging from ancient Greece to the War in Iraq, to document my claims.
Read an excerpt from A Cultural Theory of International Relations, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Visit Richard Ned Lebow's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 9, 2009

Carolyn Meyer's "The True Adventures of Charley Darwin"

Carolyn Meyer is the award-winning author of more than forty books for young people.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, and reported the following:
By page 99, Charley Darwin has survived the miseries of Shrewsbury School, the boarding school to which he was banished at age nine. Now sixteen, he’s shown absolutely no aptitude for classical studies but a deep curiosity about the natural world. His father dispatches him to the University of Edinburgh, hoping the boy will follow in his father’s footsteps and study medicine. Charley is bored with most academic subjects, but he finds a mentor who teaches him to collect tiny sea creatures, and then to dissect and examine them under a microscope.

Bobbing in a fishing boat on the choppy waters of the Firth in search of specimens one chilly afternoon, [Dr.] Grant tamped tobacco into a pipe and began to describe his ideas about the gradual change and development of invertebrates. “Many people think the idea of evolution is shocking,” Grant said. “They prefer to believe that all species were created by God and don’t change. I disagree. I’m convinced they do change.”

I looked up in surprise, nodded, and quickly looked away again, not quite knowing what to make of this confession. No one I knew discussed such things.

Grant concentrated on lighting his pipe…. “Best, though, if you keep this conversation between us,” he added with a tight smile. “It would not go well for me in my professional career if my unorthodox beliefs became known.”

But within a few months the relationship sours—Grant passes off some of Charley’s research as his own—and Charley, barely eighteen years old, knows he’s not cut out to be a physician. Just two pages after the scene in the boat, he gathers the courage to tell his father that he will not remain at Edinburgh.

It was even worse than I expected.

Father exploded. “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching,” he roared, “and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family!”

If ever a parent’s prediction missed the mark, it was that one. Fifty pages later, Charley Darwin boards HMS Beagle and embarks on his history-making voyage around the world.
Learn more about the book and author at Carolyn Meyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 8, 2009

David Geherin's "Scene of the Crime"

David Geherin is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his Edgar Award-nominated book, Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction, and reported the following:
I have always been especially interested in how writers use place in their fiction. While literary examples like Thomas Hardy and William Faulkner come readily to mind, it is crime and mystery novelists who seem to use place more extensively than most authors. In my book, Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction, I examine the significant role place plays in the works of fifteen such authors: Georges Simenon (Paris), Donna Leon (Venice), Tony Hillerman (American Southwest), Walter Mosley (South Central Los Angeles), George P. Pelecanos (Washington, D.C.), Sara Paretsky (Chicago), James Lee Burke (Southern Louisiana), Carl Hiaasen (South Florida), Ian Rankin (Edinburgh), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana), James McClure (South Africa), Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Stockholm), Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Mexico City), Leonardo Sciascia (Sicily) and Lindsey Davis (Ancient Rome).

As an admirer of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, I hoped that what he said about page 99 would apply to my book. Alas, that’s not the case. Page 99 comes in the middle of Chapter 7 where I discuss how James Lee Burke uses the Southern Louisiana landscape to symbolize the role the past plays in his fiction. On this page I describe a scene in Burke’s In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead in which a bolt of lightning during a violent storm sends his detective hero Dave Robicheaux’s truck off the road. In the distant mist he spots a group of Confederate soldiers. Soon he becomes engaged in conversation with a dead man, a famous one-legged Confederate general named John Bell Hood. Is this a delusion caused by the accident? Or has Robicheaux slipped through a hole in time and ended up in 1865?

This encounter with a legendary figure from the past is one example of Burke’s symbolic use of setting. But it is actually on the previous page where a passage occurs that does capture the essence of the chapter and illustrates the overall thesis of the book.

One of the most pronounced influences on Burke’s writing is William Faulkner, whose Sound and the Fury he once lauded as “probably the greatest novel written in the English language” (Carter 42). Faulkner’s fiction displays an almost obsessive fascination with the palpable weight of the past. In novel after novel, Faulkner dramatized what one might call the pastness of the present and the presentness of the past as he explored the various ways we are molded, shaped, and haunted by the historical and personal past and its continuing presence in our lives.

Burke shares Faulkner’s interest in the same theme and has created a fictional setting, as Faulkner did, that embodies it. Because of its history, the south in general, and southern Louisiana in particular, have been left with a rich residue of the past. New Orleans and New Iberia are awash with mementos of the past, from the stately ante-bellum homes that line its storied streets to the Civil War minié balls, quartz arrowheads, and rusty Confederate revolvers that lie underfoot. As Robicheaux notes, “You cannot grow up in a place where the tractor’s plow can crack minié balls and grapeshot loose from the soil, even rake across a cannon wheel, and remain impervious to the past” (Stained 265).

Darn! If only I had been a little wordier at the beginning of this chapter, this passage would have ended up smack in the middle of page 99.
Learn more about Scene of the Crime at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 6, 2009

Alex Vernon's "On Tarzan"

Alex Vernon is an associate professor of English at Hendrix College. His books include The Eyes of Orion, Soldiers Once and Still, Arms and the Self, and Most Succinctly Bred.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, On Tarzan, and reported the following:
On page ninety-eight we learned that Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to kill off Jane in Tarzan the Untamed; on page ninety-nine, we learn that Hollywood also tried to kill her off in Tarzan Finds a Son!:

But fan outcry in response to a news release forced the production team to shoot a new ending. Now she impossibly survives the spear plunged in her back. Otherwise Hollywood simply dropped her out of the picture without bothering to kill her and frequently without bothering to explain her absence or even to mention her, as if she never existed….[because] Bachelorhood—sexual freedom—sells.

Yet, as other parts of this chapter observe, in many films Jane is actually the protagonist.

Page ninety-nine then begins to think about Burroughs’ post-Darwin conflicted inheritance in his feelings toward women:

He also had to reconcile the two parts of Jane: the primitive woman who responds lustfully to her discovery of her primitive (albeit aristocratic) man, and the proper woman destined for gentle wifehood and motherhood.

Though I’m a professional academic, I want On Tarzan to appeal to non-academic and academic readers alike. Page ninety-nine perhaps tilts a little more toward an academic audience when it introduces the nineteenth century’s “cult of the lady.” The language I’ve quoted, however, is fairly indicative of the book’s style, one I hope is compelling and easy.

Page ninety-nine falls in a chapter which explores how the universe of narratives, by-products, and phenomena I’ve dubbed Tarzania wrestles with womanhood. Other chapters work through issues like adolescence, immigration, racism, U.S. neo-colonialism, primitivism, gender-bending, and incest. Thus Darwin and Freud are here, as are G. Stanley Hall, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Nella Larsen, Frederic Wertham, Acquanetta, Leslie Fiedler, Dorothy Dandridge, John Wayne, Philip José Farmer, Coca-Cola, Bo Derek, Curious George, and many others.

The challenge of writing On Tarzan lay in organizing a mess of trivia into a provocative and concise story. The book is really an essay. Like an essay, it traces my imagination as it encounters and tries to make sense of Tarzania. Like an essay, it has occasional first-person grounding and it finds its vitality in supposition and curiosity. I’m not always sure how much stock I put in some of its wondering claims. On its best pages, On Tarzan takes Tarzan seriously while recognizing his silliness—it offers insights and fun.
Read more about On Tarzan at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Paul Sonnino's "Mazarin's Quest"

Paul M. Sonnino is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mazarin's Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde, and reported the following:
I must beg to differ with the page 99 test. My own policy is to open a book on any page and start reading until I find a verb in the passive voice. I keep on reading until I find six more passive constructions, at which point I have either read the whole book or decided to throw it away.

Out of respect for the test, however, I went to page 99 of my Mazarin’s Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde, and I must admit that I did find one passive construction. However, I can say in my defense that it is taken (passive construction) from a letter of the Count de Peñaranda, the head of the Spanish delegation at the Congress, and my only complicity is to have translated it as he wrote it. I therefore invite readers to scour the pages of my book and not put it down until they find six passive constructions that they can pin entirely on me, at which point they may have read the entire book.

More fun, however, might be for them to search my book for pithy wise cracks. There are a lot of them, and not just to keep the reader awake. Going back one page from 99, we come to what may be one of the most brilliant bon mots in modern Anglophone literature, if I do say so myself. I write about Cardinal Mazarin “Never had a prophet been so prophetic, nor less persuaded of his own prophesies.” Even I didn’t realize how profound it was until I reread it! Then, since we are going backward, we might go to page 85, where I discuss one of Mazarin’s least favorite diplomats, the sanctimonious Count d’Avaux, for whom “the apparent readiness of the Imperialists to cave in to the most extreme Protestant demands was not the outcome of the war with which he intended to meet his maker.” Finally, and skipping a good many more one liners, let me call your readers' attention to a little sado-masochism in Mazarin’s relation with the Queen mother of France, Anne of Austria, who at one point in their encounters asked him what she could do to make him happy. “He exploited her advances,” I continue, “not for carnal, but for political purposes.” In other words he was not in it for the sex.

An overly generous commentator on the rear of the dust jacket, refers to me as “the premier historian of diplomatic relations in early modern Europe,” but whether this is or is not the case, one thing that the above quotes from my book may display is that I am the most unconventional. I write history with a blithe disregard for propriety, with a sense that diplomacy is not carried out (passive construction) in a vacuum, that the most famous men and women of the past disposed of their lives with the same eccentricities and quirks as you and I...and I don't make this up, just look at my footnotes. My book implies that all the erudition in the world cannot explain--it can only describe--the bizarre goals to which people dedicate themselves, whether like Mazarin, their summum bonum was to acquire the Spanish Low Countries for his adopted country, or like myself, who devoted fifteen years of my life and countless hours of jet lag in order to get into his head. A superficial reader of my book may conclude that I vilify Mazarin. If so, I vilify the human condition, which, rather than vilifying, I suspect I may be pitying.
Read an excerpt from Mazarin's Quest, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Paul Sonnino's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Daniel J. Solove's "Understanding Privacy"

Daniel J. Solove is a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School. His books include The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet and The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Understanding Privacy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Understanding Privacy, I discuss why privacy is valuable. My book is about the meaning and value of privacy, a concept that has long vexed philosophers, legal scholars, judges, policy makers, sociologists, and others. What is privacy? Why is it valuable? Privacy is currently a concept in disarray. For centuries, people have tried to define this most elusive of concepts, but nearly all attempts have ended in failure and frustration.

One might respond: Why bother trying to understand the meaning and value of privacy? But it is imperative we understand privacy. So many things of fundamental importance depend upon it. How should we balance privacy and security? How should we regulate government surveillance? Is it a privacy violation for companies to sell people’s personal information to other companies without people’s knowledge and consent? How should we balance privacy and free speech, when the media or bloggers desire to write about the personal lives of individuals? We need to know what privacy is and why it is valuable to answer these questions. And currently, the attempts to define the meaning and value of privacy have all failed.

Is it even possible to understand privacy? One of the problems with many current approaches is that they try to define privacy by looking for the common denominator that makes all things private. In my book, I argue that this is why so many approaches are doomed. If we define the common denominator too narrowly, we exclude many things that we consider private. For example, in many instances, the law understands privacy as a form of secrecy – concealing things. Under this conception, if something is exposed in public or if a secret is shared with others, then it’s no longer private. But we do so much in public where we expect not to be recorded or noticed. When we buy items in the drug store, we expect to be seen by a few patrons in the store and the store clerk and pharmacist. But we don’t expect them to care about what we’re buying – and especially not to record it and put it online. We expect a kind of limited exposure of our information with the understanding that it won’t be recorded or disseminated. The problem with defining privacy too narrowly is that the law will fail to protect many important things because they’re excluded from the conception of privacy.

On the other hand, if we define privacy too broadly – choose a common denominator that covers many things – then the conception of privacy becomes so vague that it ceases to be helpful or so broad that it encompasses nearly everything.

The solution I propose is to understand privacy as a group of related yet distinct things. Privacy isn’t one thing, but many. I set forth a taxonomy of all the different things that comprise privacy – there are 16 in all – and in describing each, I draw from literary, sociological, legal, philosophical, political, and international sources to explain what they are.

What about the value of privacy? We need to understand the value of privacy because privacy often comes into conflict with some very important values – free speech, efficient commercial transactions, safety and security, and so on. When such a conflict occurs, we must determine whether privacy or the opposing interest should win. I argue that privacy doesn’t have a uniform value. In some circumstances, its value might be trivial and easily outweighed by competing interests. In other cases, its value may be extremely weighty. But the value of privacy, while contextual and not uniform, must be determined by looking beyond the particular case in which it is involved. Specifically, I write: “For example, suppose the police randomly barge into a person’s home and conduct an intrusive search. In the process, they discover that the person committed a heinous crime. One might argue that because the person engaged in a crime, the value of protecting his privacy should be minimal.” (Understanding Privacy, p. 99). I respond to this argument by contending:

The law protects privacy in these circumstances not because the particular activities [the person’s crimes] are valuable but to preserve the full range of activities that can be compromised by a particular type of privacy problem. We protect against random searches of the home because they pose a threat to us all. The value of protecting against such searches emerges from society’s interest in avoiding such searches, not from any one particular individual’s interest. (Understanding Privacy, p. 99).

In the remainder of the book, I explore privacy historically, tracing how privacy of the home, body, sex, communications, and family developed over time. I also examine how my theory will help in concrete debates such as data security, data mining, and government surveillance. Although my book draws from a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, law, and sociology, I wrote it to be widely accessible. I hope that everybody who wants to understand privacy better will take a look at my book. Privacy is one of the most fundamental values, and modern technology is creating a litany of difficult challenges for protecting privacy in the Information Age. I wrote Understanding Privacy with the hope that it would help provide clarity and guidance as our society confronts these important issues.
Read an excerpt from Understanding Privacy, and learn more about the book at the Understanding Privacy website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jeffrey Lockwood's "Six-Legged Soldiers"

Jeffrey A. Lockwood is Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities at the University of Wyoming, where he teaches in the department of philosophy and in the MFA program in creative writing. His work has been included in the popular anthology Best American Science and Nature Writing, and he is winner of both a Pushcart Prize and the John Burroughs Award. His books include Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving and Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War, and reported the following:
Here on page 99 the researchers of Japan’s nefarious Unit 731 make the pivotal biological connection which led to the deaths of 580,000 Chinese from biological attacks in World War II—slightly more than three-fourths by entomological weapons. General Shiro Ishii, and his staff realize that the key to triggering epidemics is to use insects as disease carriers. The history of entomological warfare can be understood by reflecting backwards from this point, and the future of this “higher form of killing” can be anticipated from this juncture.

For centuries, military leaders effectively, if unwittingly, allied with insects. Malaria-laden mosquitoes were exploited by savvy strategists—from Clearchus dispatching his enemies in 306 BCE by forcing them to encamp in marshy lands, to General Johnston’s saving the capital of the Confederacy by pinning down Union forces in the swamps along the Chickahominy River. When scientists finally revealed that insects were the carriers of death, militaries around the world began conscripting six-legged soldiers. Although the discovery that insects are disease vectors saved millions of lives through the control of mosquitoes and lice, it also led to the development of plague-infected fleas and cholera-coated flies by the Japanese.

What page 99 reveals is the one constant—the need for vigilance in the face of the human capacity for entomological evil. This was true during the Paleolithic when humans lobbed wasp nests at one another, and it is true today as we face the possibility of terrorists causing billions of dollars in damage to American agriculture by introducing insect pests or creating terrible suffering by introducing a vector-borne disease such as Rift Valley fever. To those who doubt the depth of human depravity and the potential of entomological weapons, start on page 99—and if you’re not convinced by page 101 then don’t buy the book.
Read more about Six-Legged Soldiers at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn about Jeffrey Lockwood's research, publications, and teaching at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 2, 2009

Scott Kurashige's "The Shifting Grounds of Race"

Scott Kurashige is an associate professor of American Culture, History, and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan and currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. He is the author of The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton University Press, 2008), which received the American Historical Association’s 2008 Albert J. Beveridge Award “for the best book in English on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present.” His writings on race, politics, and culture can be found on Huffington Post.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Shifting Grounds of Race and reported the following:
Writing on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, I would like The Shifting Grounds of Race to be viewed as a history of the new America that is being born in the twenty-first century. The story I tell, particularly from the perspective of Black and Japanese Americans is of the twentieth-century transformation of Los Angeles from a provincial, Anglo-dominated town into a multicultural, global city.

My book was essentially complete before the presidential primaries began, and I make no attempt to predict the results. However, what it offers is a “window into the multiethnic conflicts and coalitions of a new political world in which people of color comprise not only the majority of the world’s population but also a majority of Los Angeles, California, and eventually the United States.” “In this way,” I propose, “we might see the future in the past.”

As Obama’s story--of being raised by a white mother, growing up around Asians in Hawaii and Indonesia, searching for his Kenyan father, finding a home on the South Side of Chicago, and ascending through politics to assume the leadership of the free world-- becomes part of our national identity, our view of U.S. history is changing right before our eyes.

Page 99 presents an image of the old America. It recounts the desperate efforts of Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty to the nation in the shadow of World War II. Ultimately, no demonstrations of patriotism could stave off their being placed in government-run concentration camps. Like the poet Langston Hughes, all they had asked for was to “let America be America.”

We are now at the dawn of a new era, and we will all have a chance to shape what America will become.
Read an excerpt from The Shifting Grounds of Race, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Edwin G. Burrows' "Forgotten Patriots"

Edwin G. Burrows is Distinguished Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is the co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Forgotten Patriots is a lucky hit for squeamish readers. This is a book about the really terrible treatment accorded the roughly 30,000 Americans who became British prisoners during the Revolutionary War—so terrible that perhaps three of every five succumbed to starvation and disease. I’ve worried that the gory details will deter some history buffs. So I’m glad they’ll see this page first, because it describes the relatively comfortable situation of paroled officers on Long Island. It also involves one of the story’s main characters, a 40-year-old Connecticut militia officer named Jabez Fitch, who fell into enemy hands during the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. Fitch kept a diary during his two years as a British captive that is a wonderful source of information, not only about conditions in the prisons and prison ships of occupied New York City, but also about the courage and resolution of the men who perished in them.

I’d like to add that one of the points I make in Forgotten Patriots is that Americans were deeply shocked by what the British did to their prisoners. They simply could not fathom how honorable men could condone such barbarity, and their anger goes a long way to explaining what kept them fighting for nearly eight years.

But the repercussions extended far beyond Independence. Soon after the war, Amreican diplomats negotiated treaties of amity and commerce with foreign powers that took unprecedented steps to mitigate the evils of war. A pact with Prussia, negotiated in 1785 by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, included clauses expressly intended “to prevent the destruction of prisoners of war.” It stipulated that in the event of hostilities between the two nations, each would foreswear the use of prison ships and feed their captives the same amount and quality of rations provided their own troops. True, a conflict between the United States and Prussia was unlikely. My point is that this was arguably the first time in modern history that countries at peace with one another had seen the need to establish guidelines for the treatment of POWs, and it was obviously a direct consequence of our own recent experience in the Revolutionary War. Although the Geneva Conventions lay far over the historical horizon, Americans today can take some pride in knowing that we took the first steps down the road.

How we could let ourselves be led so far astray in recent years is another matter.
Read more about Forgotten Patriots at the publisher's website, and visit Edwin G. Burrows' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue