Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adriane Lentz-Smith's "Freedom Struggles"

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of History at Duke University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I, and reported the following:
My book, Freedom Struggles, tells a history of the black freedom movement during WWI by looking at African American soldiers and the civil rights activists who mobilized on their behalf. The book recounts a number of stories – about riots and shootings on the home front, about fights between black and white soldiers near the front, and about how the war offered an opportunity to either roll back the segregationist system known as Jim Crow or to give it international traction. It is about the War for Democracy, certainly; but, in this telling, African Americans are the foot soldiers, and the battles often take place at home.

Does page 99 capture the book? Well, it does highlight a significant theme. The page comes in the midst of a chapter, “Men in the Making,” about the relationship between manhood, citizenship, and military service. Sex constitutes a big part of this discussion because it constituted a huge part of white supremacists’ rhetoric. When American defenders of Jim Crow decried “social equality,” they were speaking of interracial sex, and they repeatedly warned that political equality would lead inevitably to social equality. Allowing black men at the polls, they argued, was tantamount to inviting them into the bedroom. And because military service was so closely tied to the privileges and obligations of citizenship, sending African Americans overseas as soldiers threatened the entire system.

Thus did Mississippi Senator and notorious white supremacist James K. Vardaman begin referring to black soldiers as “French-women-ruined Negroes” — a term that is remarkable for the breadth of its offensiveness. For those readers who do not think like a WWI-era white supremacist I tried to tease out the logic of such a phrase, writing:
Essential to African American’s emotional and rhetorical emphasis on French egalitarianism was the thrill of social equality. White supremacists on the front and home front had sounded the alarm bells so stridently for so long that black soldiers, too, came to see interracial liaisons as a way of exhibiting manly prerogative. As increasing numbers of African American soldiers arrived in France in 1918 and began to interact with the French, their white counterparts reinforced the color line. Writing home from France, for example, a white lieutenant in the 142nd Field Artillery called political equality between the races “dangerous” and vowed that social equality would “never be.” Such a vow denied the reality of conditions in France (and, as the biracial Ely Green could testify, in the United States), buffering Jim Crow by denying its subversions.

Viewing the American “Negro problem” from foreign soil amplified the contrasts between white supremacy and an idealized democracy, but it also strengthened segregationist resolve. Although the lieutenant from the 142nd Field Artillery conceded that it sounded “illogical to talk of a ‘world safe for democracy’ and discriminate against any race,” he nevertheless felt that “the belief and necessity for white supremacy” was “fundamental” to “Americanism as originally practised.” America could survive with a stunted democracy, but without the white man as “guardian” of the country’s “civilization,” the nation might cease to exist.
After this page, I discuss how black soldiers felt about crossing the color line and the conflicts, often violent, that resulted from their doing so.

Those violent conflicts make up a great deal of the story in Freedom Struggles, and page 99 does not quite capture the intensity of either African Americans’ defiance of Jim Crow or white supremacists’ defense of it. Still, what does strike me after taking the page 99 test is how often women figure into those conflicts, sometimes rhetorically but often quite actively. In that respect, the page “captures the quality of the whole,” touching on narratives even when it does not tell them.
Read an excerpt from Freedom Struggles, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2009

Court Carney's "Cuttin’ Up"

Court Carney is Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he teaches courses on African American history, race and culture, and American music. His next book project looks at the connections between racial identity and public memory through the lens of memorializing the Civil War.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear, and reported the following:
In Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear, I examine the various processes that helped transform early jazz into a national popular music. The book is divided into three sections—Creation, Diffusion, and Acceptance—underscoring the general pattern of transmission as a southern black folk music emerged and within two decades became the modern soundtrack of white America. The first section examines the creation of early jazz through its predecessors, ragtime and the blues, and focuses on New Orleans as the site of its conception. The middle section (of which page 99 is a part) looks at the technological and cultural process of diffusion in Chicago with the recording industry, New York and the radio industry, and Los Angeles and the film industry. The final section, then, looks at the various controversies that reverberated out of the acceptance of the music as Americans confronted the culture of modern life. As young (and white) Americans began to clamor for this new sound the moral debates began to dissipate and by the 1930s jazz, in its popular incarnation of “swing,” defined American popular music. At the center of the book is the complex issue of modernity and its dual (often competing) roles within in the nation. As jazz musicians developed a new musical language this self-aware and self-reflexive crafting of identity redefined the cultural conversation of expression. Situating this process within the context of America in the first decades of the 20th century helps underscore the function of the music as individuals challenged and redefined their place within a heterogeneous society.

Page 99 captures pretty well the argument of the book as it summarizes the chapter on jazz in New York City during the 1920s:
The film Black and Tan illustrates a similar convergence as new technologies allowed for a larger reception. This film also speaks to the complexities inherent in modern artistic expression especially in terms of the projection of race. Whereas technology heightened the experimental elements of “Mood Indigo,” the power of film helped make clear the bizarre negotiation of racial images on screen as blackface is used not only to distinguish a white performer as “black” but also to maintain the expectation of segregation. Together, Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and his appearance in Black and Tan underscore the promise and power of modern entertainment technology as a black composer found artistic acceptance within a nation struggling to discover its own racial identity in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”—which plays a major role in this particular chapter—was the first jazz piece that really influenced the way I listened to jazz. I initially heard Charles Mingus’s version of “Mood Indigo” (off of his 1963 LP Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus.) as a teenager. That record turned me onto Ellington and, I suppose, led me down the path that culminated many years later with Cuttin’ Up. That Mingus record, coincidentally, also introduced me to Eric Dolphy, but that is a much different story for another time.
Learn more about Cuttin’ Up at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2009

John Herron's "Science and the Social Good"

John P. Herron is Associate Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the editor of Human/Nature: Biology, Culture, and Environmental History.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Science and the Social Good: Nature, Culture, and Community, 1865-1965, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Marshall’s faith in forestry’s positive impact on social affairs is reflected in the changing dynamics of science in America. Just as nature no longer resembled the scene of King’s adventures, American natural science in the 1920s and 1930s no longer reflected his hands-on approach to geology. King and his contemporaries approached the study of nature as an investigation of fundamental terrestrial processes. Big scientific issues dominated the era. What was the age of the earth? How was it formed? To find their answers, they climbed high peaks and explored vast areas of terrain searching for hidden clues in glaciers or canyon riverbeds. Although their conclusions differed, this generation of natural scientists shared the belief that their purpose was to understand change and development. These questions remained significant because they impacted equally large debates about political advancement and national growth. The unified objective…stood as one of the critical forces framing American natural science in the nineteenth century.

In the early years of the twentieth century…the approach to nature-in-the-large was replaced with a more focused interest on scientific practices meeting specific industrial needs. The scientific emphasis on purpose and function matched a growing social interest in environmental adaptability. When applied to nature, this shift prioritized what organisms did rather than where they originated… [Older scientists] criticized specialization, but they misunderstood the changing direction of natural science. Twentieth-century natural scientists were willing to let the part represent the whole. They reached beyond their specific technical expertise to see science in expansive terms. Such practice required an understanding of small details. As a trained forester, Marshall saw humans in the same way he interpreted trees—ever-improving organisms within a natural order. From this position, the goal of natural science became straightforward: instruct citizens how to fill their potential.
I quote page 99 almost in full and, while the larger context is hard to decipher, the test works surprisingly well. Science and the Social Good examines the world of American natural scientists and the impact of natural science on American life. My argument is that natural scientists understood their work—whether on rocks and rivers or trees and turtles—as a cultural activity contributing to social stability. Their goal was to advance a civic-minded science concerned with the political well-being and cultural health of society.

On page 99, we glimpse the changing modes of science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The “King” I refer to is Clarence King (1842-1901), a Yale-trained geologist and “Marshall” is Robert Marshall (1901-1939), an American forester—both are key players in my narrative. In the 1860s and 70s, King studied riverbeds, mountain peaks, and agricultural valleys, all in an effort to understand their construction and find answers to planetary development. Confident in his knowledge of creation, King applied scientific “laws” about nature’s process to society. And, most unexpected to modern readers, such was the position of natural science that people actually listened to a geologist on political issues like Cuban independence and social concerns like educational reform.

In the 1920s, however, little questions replaced big. Unlike King, Marshall studied details. He investigated how nature’s smallest parts fit together and from there, tried to determine if society’s many groups could likewise find common cause. Marshall’s forestry, a field that appears to contain little human context, actually engaged fundamental questions about state responsibility and community health in an era of economic and social upheaval. Dissecting the aims of American natural science reveals the influence of the field on cultural affairs. Making understandable the efforts of natural scientists to advance the social good, as well as the motivations behind those efforts, remains a primary goal of my work.
Learn more about Science and the Social Good at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Elyssa East's "Dogtown"

Elyssa East received her B.A. in art history from Reed College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious fellowships: the Susan G. Hertog Research Assistantship, a Departmental Research Assistantship, and a Writing Division Merit Fellowship. Her Master’s thesis — a draft of the Dogtown manuscript — won an M.F.A. Faculty Selects award. Elyssa has received additional awards and fellowships from the Ragdale, Jerome, and Ludwig Vogelstein Foundations; the University of Connecticut; and the Phillips Library.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town, and reported the following:
Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town interlaces the true story of the area known as Dogtown — an isolated colonial ruin and surrounding 3,000-acre woodland in seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts — with a brutal murder that took place there in 1984. Dogtown’s peculiar atmosphere — the land is strewn with giant boulders and has been compared to Easter Island and Stonehenge — and eerie past deepened the pall of this horrific tragedy that continues to haunt Gloucester even today.

On p. 99, a chapter about the area’s early history begins. It is 1737, but “Dogtown” does not yet exist. In its place stands the Commons Settlement, a thriving colonial village that was mere sixteen years old. The Commons Settlement’s future seemed bright, but town oligarch Nathaniel Coit began fighting a decision to move a meetinghouse that would inadvertently hasten this upstanding community’s decline. Other, larger forces were also at work to transform the village. After losses sustained during the American Revolution decimated the Commons Settlement’s population, the area was abandoned. Only war widows who were rumored to be witches and kept dogs for protection and other desperately poor residents including some former slaves remained. The village became known as Dogtown at this time.

This demise is foreshadowed on p. 99 in the chapter title, “Dooming the Seats,” an eighteenth century expression for the mandatory assigned seating in Puritan meetinghouses. These seating arrangements not only corresponded to one’s stature in the community, they were thought to reflect one’s proximity to God, and thus were taken very seriously. And each time a meetinghouse was relocated, a new seating chart was created. Outraged against potentially losing his high-ranking perch, Nathaniel Coit launched a campaign against moving the edifice. The ensuing twelve-year dispute splintered the town and further isolated the Commons Settlement community.

In 1984, another man acting alone — a mentally disturbed local outcast — crushed the skull of a beloved schoolteacher on a rainy summer morning as she walked in Dogtown’s woods. Like Coit’s dispute, the murderer’s actions have had a profound impact on Dogtown ever since, helping to perpetuate its reputation as a dark, menacing place.

Dogtown’s chapters alternate between the story of this murder and the area’s history, and eventually intersect. All the while they explore how much place shapes human behavior and how human actions have influenced the forlorn, enigmatic reputation of this forgotten American landscape.
Read the prologue to Dogtown, and view the author's video introduction to the book.

Visit the official Dogtown website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hank Stuever's "Tinsel"

Hank Stuever is a pop culture reporter and TV critic for the Washington Post’s Style section. To tell a microcosmic story of the cultural and economic impact of America’s Christmas, he moved to Texas for several months in 2006 and 2007 to begin chronicling the lives of three suburban families in the upper-middleclass boomtown of Frisco, outside Dallas. He followed them and took notes as they shopped, prayed, loved and endured three consecutive holiday seasons – following them even as the U.S. retail economy began to swoon in 2008.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Tinsel finds us on the first of what would be many visits to Celebration Covenant Church in Frisco, Texas – a fast-growing evangelical megachurch headed by a dynamic pastor, Keith Craft, and his wife, Sheila. The Crafts offer a combination of “prosperity gospel” and self-affirmation keys to happiness and success, served with a big dollop of Jesus Loves You and a lot of multi-media, pop-Christian attitude. The congregation is young and hopeful. They welcome all, including skeptical journalists from the east coast.

One of the three main characters in my book, Caroll Cavazos, invited me to Celebration Covenant for a Sunday service. I met Caroll (a hardworking single mother) and her family in a Best Buy parking lot before dawn on Black Friday, where they were preparing to “doorbust” with the crowd that was lined up for bargains; eventually I followed the family through three years of Christmas. Caroll has been a member of Celebration Covenant since the church first started in 2000.

Page 99 includes some of my perceptions of life at CCC, and I tried to suss out the look, feel and style of the church’s vision of itself:
The Crafts have been recording and selling cassettes and CDs of the family’s Christian pop songs since the 1990s, including a Christmas album featuring the children. Pastor Keith’s showmanship dates back to the late 1980s, when he founded Strike Force, a traveling troupe of power-lifting evangelists. Keith and other musclemen would dress in matching tank tops and mullet haircuts. Their veins bulging with the Word of God, they’d lift hundreds of pounds of free weights for the crowd.

The unbeliever can be forgiven for feeling as though the faith business is nothing more than show business. From the largest churches to fledgling congregations, the new Protestant churches of Collin County comprise the largest music, theater and pop-culture scene north of the LBJ. Most ape the same Christian rock sound that is neither U2 nor Coldplay nor Pearl Jam nor Good Charlotte, but owes a significant debt to those and almost anything else on secular radio, especially the oeuvre of pop and country female vocalists. No fashion trend escapes the good shoppers of Celebration Covenant. The young women here are all Jessica Simpson or Rihanna, the older ones approximate the cast of Desperate Housewives. The men are all Tim McGraw or Clay Aiken or that guy from Creed – except for a vocally gifted associate pastor named Ray Harmon, who bears a more-handsome resemblance to Chris Rock. The women are always wearing the latest mall fashions – boob-prominent dresses or tops, tights with heels (as seen on starlets just now in Us Weekly), or wispily crinkled skirts, or knee-high riding boots. Their hair is styled in soft Tresseme curls in L’Oreal hues, or flat-ironed and glistening by holy intervention. The men are all studiously rumpled, hair carefully tousled with salon product, and faces that are exactingly stubbled and sideburned.…
What you have here is reporter/narrator (me) trying to convey, with a smidgen of snark, what it’s like to be in the center of this church. It took some time, but I came to appreciate what this seemingly superficial experience gives to Caroll in the form of spiritual comfort. The church puts on a huge Christmas pageant later in the book, in which Caroll plays a part. Beneath all its glitz, I kept looking for the deeper meanings that its believers derived from Pastor Keith’s scriptural lessons and motivational teachings. Sometimes I could see it; many times I couldn’t. In any case, it was all quite interesting to me, even if it sometimes makes my skin crawl. I moved to Texas and asked people to show me what Christmas really means to them. I remained as open I possibly could to what I saw and heard, taking down details and making my own. Page 99 is actually a good sample of the tone of Tinsel; in many ways the book is an anthropological study. All I’m doing is taking down precise details of a species and an environment.
Learn more about the book and author at Hank Stuever's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharon Zukin's "Naked City"

Sharon Zukin is Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Loft Living, Landscapes of Power (winner of the C. Wright Mills Award), The Cultures of Cities, and Point of Purchase.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, and reported the following:
Allen Ginsberg, Charlie Parker, Miguel Pinero and the Ramones: page 99 takes a walk through the rich counter-cultural history of Manhattan’s East Village on the way to explaining how so much of New York’s revitalization in recent years relies on consuming authenticity. “Living local” in the East Village capitalizes on the image of a fabled past while promoting today’s consumer culture. In other words: gentrification.

Gentrification feeds on the vitality of neighborhoods that claim cultural distinction, offering a different sexual politics or visual aesthetics and ultimately a different sense of space and time. Like all big cities, New York has cool, hip or marginalized districts where walking on the wild side has led to new caf├ęs, boutiques and bars and luxury condos. Naked City exposes how this transformation occurs, showing that the way we consume authenticity risks destroying the city’s truly diverse character.

Each chapter of Naked City explores a different dimension of authenticity, from neighborhoods that are cool, poor, and “ethnic” to spaces that are democratic because of public use, or where immigrant street vendors cook and sell the foods of their homelands, or where residents plant community gardens to grow local roots. The book travels from the hipster district of Williamsburg to the historic African-American capital of Harlem and from a farmers’ market in the East Village to community gardens in East New York. On the industrial waterfront of Red Hook, we visit the Swedish meatballs in the city’s first Ikea store and then walk around the corner to eat tortillas, pupusas and huaraches.

Though the authenticity of the old city is revered, the men and women who have created this authentic character—artists, immigrants, workers, ethnic minorities—are often the first to be displaced by gentrifiers and new development. What happens to the city then?

This is the question that drives the millions of stories in any Naked City.
Learn more about Naked City at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2009

Daniel Headrick's "Power over Peoples"

Daniel R. Headrick is professor emeritus of social science and history at Roosevelt University. His books include The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century and The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Power over Peoples deals with the population and diseases of the Native American peoples before Columbus, and makes the point that the peoples of the Americas had relatively few diseases and were therefore vulnerable to imported diseases.

The sub-title of the book is Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present. Its goal is to explain why Western peoples (i.e. Europeans and European-Americans) were able to conquer large parts of the rest of the world when they did, and why at other times they failed to do so or were forced to relinquish their conquests. Part of the reason is technology, especially possession of more powerful weapons or means of transportation and communication, and why such technologies worked in some cases and not in others. Another part of the reason is the environments they encountered, in particular the diseases they encountered and the diseases they brought with them. Thus, in the Americas, the Western conquests were attributable in large part to the deaths of over 90 percent of the native population due to imported diseases. In contrast, in Africa, diseases favored the indigenous peoples and prevented the European conquest until the late nineteenth century.

So, yes, page 99 tells you a little about one aspect of the story, but it isn’t really representative of the rest.
Read the introduction to Power over Peoples, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Michael Fellman's "In the Name of God and Country"

Michael Fellman is professor of history emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is author of Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War, Citizen Sherman: A Life of William T. Sherman, and The Making of Robert E. Lee, and co-author of This Terrible War: The Civil War and Its Aftermath.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, and reported the following:
Charles Caldwell pleaded, begging to be taken home to see his wife before he died, but the mob refused. Caldwell said, ‘‘Remember when you kill me you kill a gentleman and a brave man. Never say you killed a coward.’’ Preacher Nelson carried him up from the cellar and dropped him in the middle of the street, and then all the men shouted, ‘‘We will save him while we got him; dead men tell no tales,’’ while they riddled him with thirty or forty bullets. At about the same time someone killed Mrs. Caldwell’s brother Sam on a nearby street, shooting him off his horse with a bullet through the head.

That afternoon, a newly arrived trainload of white paramilitarists from Vicksburg marched into the Caldwell house, where Charles Caldwell’s body and that of his brother-in-law had been brought, and barged into the parlor where several of their African American friends had gathered. Making as public a tumult as possible, the widow later recalled, ‘‘they cursed them, those dead bodies, there, and they danced and threw open the window and sung all their songs and they carried on like a parcel of wild Indians over those dead bodies. Some even struck [the bodies] and challenged them to get up and fight.... Then they said they could not stay any longer.’’

The next day, Judge Cabinis came by and with great paternalistic warmth asked the widow whether there was anything he could do for her family, claiming that he had done everything he could for her husband but that those wild men could not be stopped and he was now ‘‘crazy’’ with grief over the killing. Margaret Ann Caldwell replied to the judge that she had seen him standing in the crowd that killed her husband. She told him, ‘‘Judge, you have already done too much for me’’; ‘‘I don’t want any part of your friendship.’’

The leaders of the white South called themselves Redeemers when they organized as white-supremacist state parties, dedicated to the abolishment of Reconstruction, the Republican attempt to reform the South by guaranteeing civil and political rights for African Americans. They succeeded. They saw their activities as more than just a political strategy. The redemption they intended was a moral and religious revival of the southern white ‘‘nation’’ as well as a political conquest: they intended to preside over the rebirth of a sacred white community with a blood ritual—the spilling of as much blood as it would take to seize control of their states by destroying the political viability of their hated opponents. In most places, the Redeemers used terrorist campaigns to seize state power, similar in many ways to the recent Bosnian Serbian paramilitary campaigns that the rest of the world has defined as terrorism and war crimes.

When seizing power, Redeemers acted as preemptive reactionary counterrrevolutionaries. Although Reconstruction was a halting and partial experiment in biracial government rather than a reversal from white power to black power, the Redeemers loathed it as an immoral revolutionary movement designed to crush the white race, the natural rulers of the South. They feared all forms of black political participation, seeing it as a precursor of black domination, and they anticipated with intense anxiety a race war initiated by armed and organized blacks. This was the perceived black revolution from which they intended to save their race.
Page 99 of In The Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, comes from the opening of Chapter 3: “Blood Redemption: The Counterrevolutionary White-Terrorist Destruction of Reconstruction.” In 1875, in Mississippi, as elsewhere in the South, white supremacists organized a massive and well-coordinated terrorist movement to destroy the Republican state government and seize power. This example, concerning the death of Mississippi State Senator Charles Caldwell, one of the major African-American leaders of the Republican Party in that state, was, along with many other accounts, drawn from US Senate hearings held the following year.

This chapter on the “White Line Movement” in Mississippi, serves as a case study of the reactionary uses of terrorism in American history. In general I argue that terrorism has been common in American history, political violence used by the state as well as by those opposing it, by reactionaries as well as revolutionaries, and that action and reaction in terrorist exchanges, taken together, constitute terrorism. In this instance the reactionary terrorists imagined a black revolutionary movement, groundless rumors they used to rationalize the destruction of their enemies by the most violent means. The Redeemers reworked mainstream values of American Republicanism and Protestant Christianity as the ideological grounds for their terrorist movement, rationalizations that contained a core of moral absolutism and self-righteousness that they used to dehumanize their enemies while destroying them.

My other case studies are John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and the judicial murder of Brown by the State of Virginia, race warfare and guerrilla warfare during the Civil War, the collision of anarchist revolutionaries and the repressive State of Illinois at and after the Haymarket Affair in 1886, and the terrorist means used in the American-Philippine War of 1899-1902, the first American colonial war. This post 9/11 analysis is designed to further understanding of the current “War on Terror,” in a more realistic, historically grounded, and less morally one-sided framework.
Preview In the Name of God and Country, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marc Gallicchio's "The Scramble for Asia"

Marc Gallicchio is a Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Villanova University. He is the author of The African American Encounter with Japan and China: Black Internationalism in East Asia, 1895-1945, which won the Robert H. Ferrell Senior Book Award from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He also edited and contributed to The Unpredictability of the Past: Memories of the Asia-Pacific War in U.S.-East Asian Relations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Scramble for Asia: U.S. Military Power in the Aftermath of the Pacific War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the The Scramble for Asia assesses the American position in Asia in the weeks following Japan’s surrender. It brings readers up to date and foreshadows the problems that would vex American officials in the next two years. Page 99 reminds readers that the sudden collapse of Japanese resistance in August 1945 created an unexpected opportunity to influence events on the mainland and possibly check Soviet power in the region. American troops were sent ashore in Korea and China and an advisory group accompanied Chinese forces into French Indochina (Vietnam).

American forces entered the vacuum created by Japan’s collapse uncertain of how they should deal with revolutionary turmoil emerging in the wake of the war. In large part, this was because “the arrival of American forces owed more to reflex and spasm than long term planning.” Page 99 ends by noting how developments in Europe further complicated efforts to achieve American aims in Asia. “[T]he turmoil in Asia shared the spotlight with a host of other foreign and domestic problems confronting a harassed President Truman. Following V-E Day, the United States faced the enormous task of reconstructing a flattened Europe. Complicating this herculean task was the fraying relationship with the Soviet Union.”

The Scramble for Asia passes the page 99 test with a very respectable B+. It touches on many of the major themes addressed throughout the book. But readers would have to continue onto the next two pages for a glimpse of what Truman was up against in the realm of domestic problems. The growing demands for demobilization of the economy and the discharge of soldiers and sailors from the armed forces played havoc with Truman’s efforts to project American power overseas. “Peace is hell” declared an exasperated Truman.

In the remaining three chapters I describe the democratic outburst to “bring the boys home,” the use of Japanese troops by the U.S. and its allies to maintain order, and the deleterious impact of young recruits and draftees, “ambassadors of ill will” on American efforts in the region.

Two years after Japan’s surrender the United States abandoned its more ambitious goals on the mainland in recognition of the limits of its power. But the consequences of America’s earlier intervention lingered and complete disengagement proved unattainable. By 1950 America had become France’s chief source of aid in a colonial war against the Vietnamese, and the United States was thrust once more into the middle of the Chinese civil war while GIs battled to a deadly stalemate on the Korean peninsula.
Read more about The Scramble for Asia at the publisher's website, and visit Marc Gallicchio's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peter Forbes' "Dazzled and Deceived"

Peter Forbes is a UK-based science writer. The Gecko’s Foot (2006) explored the new world of bio-inspiration: engineering solutions taken from nature. He writes for many magazines and newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and Scientific American.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage, and reported the following:
My new book, Dazzled and Deceived, tells the story of mimicry and camouflage in nature, art and warfare, beginning in the Amazon rain forest in the 1850s and coming up to date.

Page 99 finds us in the thick of the great Dazzle-painting controversy of World War I. Dazzle paint was a system of zebra-like stripes applied to merchant ships to confuse the aim of submarine torpedo gunners. It was introduced in 1917 by Norman Wilkinson, a British marine artist and naval officer. But after the war his claim to the invention was disputed by a Scottish zoologist, John Graham Kerr who, three years before Wilkinson, had proposed a system of camouflage based on the work of the American painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer. Thayer was a dogmatic, unstable figure who discovered the law of countershading (how the pale colouring on the bellies of some animals flattens their form and obscures their identity) and drove himself to desperation in trying to convince the military authorities that he had the key to the use of camouflage in war.

The struggle between the Thayer/Kerr principles and Wilkinson’s Dazzle was played out in a Royal Navy enquiry in 1919. Kerr advocated Thayer’s countershading principle, derived from nature, to try to make ships invisible. But Wilkinson’s jangly patterns were a form of op-art, 50 years ahead of its time (the artistic potential was realised in the great Dazzle Ball at Chelsea Arts Club on 12 March 1919: “brilliant and fantastic”, said the Illustrated London News). These patterns would not melt into the background at any distance. Kerr claimed that nature could teach everything a naval camoufleur would need, Wilkinson retorted that his goal was to confuse a submarine range-finder with respect to a ship’s course, tartly observing: “I am not aware that this occurs in biology, ie disguise of direction.” He was wrong in this because butterfly eyespots are intended to divert the aim of predators.

On page 99 we have reached the verdict: in 1919, as far as the Admiralty was concerned, Wilkinson won hands down. The Thayer/Kerr ideas made a surprising comeback in World War II but for that you need to read beyond page 99.
Learn more about Dazzled and Deceived at the author's website and blog, and at the Yale University Press webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jennifer Burns' "Goddess of the Market"

Jennifer Burns is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She has published extensively on the history of conservative thought, and her podcasted lectures on American history have won an appreciative worldwide audience.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of Chapter 4 in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and it catches Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, at a pivotal moment in their lives. They’ve just taken a cross-country train from New York to California, traveling in luxurious quarters due to Rand’s newfound wealth as the bestselling author of The Fountainhead, her third novel. Rand has sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers, and she and Frank are returning to Hollywood, where they met more than a decade earlier, as celebrities. I write in the book: “Stars began to court Rand in the belief that she could influence the studio’s choices. Joan Crawford threw a dinner for the O’Connors and came dressed as Dominique, in a long white gown and aquamarines… The contrast between Rand’s arrival as a penniless immigrant in 1926 and her latest debut was sharp.”

Rand thought a movie adaptation of The Fountainhead would be an excellent vehicle for communicating her ideas to a broad audience, but the film disappointed her when it was released in 1949. Instead, it was Rand’s activities in California that would form the base of her lasting fame. As I detail in the book, Rand’s years in California were crucial to her both personally and professionally. She continued to build the political alliances she had first developed in New York City during the New Deal years, but over time she began to realize how different her ideas were from political conservatives. In heated arguments she parted ways with most of her former allies, most notably the outspoken libertarian critic Isabel Paterson. Undeterred, Rand began to develop her own philosophy of Objectivism. She began writing her opus, Atlas Shrugged, a novel that drew on her family’s experience living through the Russian Revolution and expressed her own deeply held beliefs about capitalism, morality, and the proper role of government.

It was in California that she began to think of herself as a philosopher, not just a novelist. During these years she would place herself not only within the American political tradition, but would define her ideas against the sweeping trajectory of Western philosophy. And it was in California that she would meet Nathan Blumenthal, a teenaged fan of her books who would become her most devoted student – and later her secret lover. By the time she and Frank left California again almost seven years later, nearly everything in her life had changed.
Read an excerpt from Goddess of the Market, and learn more about the book and author at the official Jennifer Burns website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alan E. Steinweis' "Kristallnacht 1938"

Alan E. Steinweis is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Kristallnacht 1938, and reported the following:
My book offers a new synthesis of the November 1938 Pogrom against the Jews of Germany, an event known as the "Kristallnacht," or "night of broken glass." This pogrom was the single instance of large-scale, public, and organized physical violence against Jews inside Germany before the Second World War. It unfolded in the open, in hundreds of German communities, even those with very few Jewish residents, and took place partly in broad daylight. It led to the deaths of hundreds of Jews, the arrest of 30 thousand Jewish men and their transfer to concentration camps, and the massive destruction of Jewish personal and communal property, including, most notably, most of the country's synagogues. The pogrom inaugurated the definitive phase of so-called "Aryanization," i.e., the coerced expropriation of German Jewish property; led to a dramatic rise in applications for emigration among German Jews, further exacerbating the international Jewish refugee crisis; and intensified diplomatic tensions between Germany and other countries, which had already suffered considerably as a result of the very recent crisis over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.

Page 99 of the book describes a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels over lunch in Munich on November 10, 1938, at a moment when antisemitic violence was still raging in many parts of Germany. Hitler affirmed his approval of the violence, but also instructed Goebbels to issue a statement calling for the pogrom to cease. This passage does not reflect the main focus or interpretive thrust of the book, which has more to do with the participation in the violence by "ordinary" Germans than with the actions of the country's leaders. But the passage does reinforce an important (if not entirely original) point made in the book: Hitler played a very direct and decisive role in the decision to unleash the pogrom, as well as in the decision to call an end to it. This point is significant because it was longed believed that Goebbels, and not Hitler, had been the Nazi official most responsible for the pogrom. It is worth mentioning that the conversation between Hitler and Goebbels described on page 99 was reconstructed from the diary of Joseph Goebbels. This relevant entry is contained in a segment of the diary that had been locked away in a Soviet archive for decades after 1945, and which was published only in 1998.
Read an excerpt from Kristallnacht 1938, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Joel Waldfogel's "Scroogenomics"

Joel Waldfogel is Chair and Ehrenkranz Family Professor of Business and Public Policy at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, and reported the following:
Scroogenomics is a critique of the wasteful way we – earthlings, not just Americans – celebrate Christmas, with an orgy of value destruction. Normally – outside December – we only buy things that we expect to value above the price. Gift giving is different. If I spend $50 on someone else, I operate at a significant disadvantage. I don’t know what he or she really wants or already has, so I may buy something worth nothing to the recipient. Surveys over the years show that we value gifts 20 percent less, per dollar spent, than items we buy for ourselves. Our $65 billion in annual US holiday gift giving thus results in $13 billion in missing satisfaction, relative to what that spending could normally have produced. Worldwide the waste is twice as large.

Page 99 is the opening of a chapter entitled, “Christmas and Commercialism: Are Santa and Jesus on the Same Team? And If So, Who’s Team Captain?” that juxtaposes the Scroogenomics critique of Christmas commercialism with two existing critiques surrounding the relative roles of the spiritual and commercial elements of Christmas:
A Seattle resident named Art Conrad, feeling that “Santa has been co-opted by our corporations as a symbol of consumerism,” and that “[e]very year Christmas comes earlier and earlier,” got fed up and erected Santa-on-the-cross in his yard to protest commercialization during the run-up to Christmas 2007. Art Conrad is not alone in his dismay at Christmas; Yuletide dissidents tend to display their concern over the excessive commercialism at Christmas in one of two ways. In one corner we have Art Conrad, the Pope, environmentalists, and various Protestants condemning massive consumption at Christmas that, variously, distracts people from the true meaning of the holiday and destroys the planet. In the opposing corner, we have the Religious Right, annoyed that retailers have banished Jesus from the mall.
Not just a criticism, the book includes suggestions for improved giving practices. First, because we choose well for people we see often, continue giving gifts to people you know well, especially to children. Second, when we have to give but don’t know what to get, gift cards are an appealing option, because they give the recipient control. Gift cards would be even better if their (substantial) unspent balances went straight to charity after a few years. Finally, charity gift cards are a promising alternative for discharging gift giving obligations among adults: they allow the recipient to enjoy the luxury of charitable giving, while moving resources to good causes rather than unwanted stuff.
Read an excerpt from Scroogenomics, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Joel Waldfogel's personal website and his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2009

James I. Walsh's "The International Politics of Intelligence Sharing"

James Igoe Walsh is associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of European Monetary Integration and Domestic Politics. His research and teaching interests include national security policy, human rights, and international cooperation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The International Politics of Intelligence Sharing, and reported the following:
Like almost every author who takes this test, my first reaction to looking at page 99 of The International Politics of Intelligence Sharing was "Ford Madox Ford was wrong."

My second reaction was, I hope, a bit more thoughtful. "My" page 99 starts out with a detailed summary of the complaints that political leaders in the European Union have made about their counterparts' willingness to share intelligence. This is inside baseball stuff -- it is not going to give a casual reader a good sense of the book's argument. It is an example, though, of the key barrier to effective intelligence sharing, which is that one state cannot reliably insure that another is living up to promises to share fully and honestly.

Page 99 gets better towards the end. There it begins to suggest that that solution is closer European integration of intelligence activities. That is, these countries would be better off if they applied some of the institutions they have developed to govern trade or money to intelligence sharing. A key benefit these institutions provide is the ability to monitor partners to determine if they are complying with their promises to share. You will have to keep reading, though, if you want to find out why this is unlikely to happen.
Visit Jim Walsh's blog, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 4, 2009

Adam N. McKeown's "English Mercuries"

Adam N. McKeown is Assistant Professor of English at Tulane University, where he teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance culture. He is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. His course, "Shakespeare in the Desert," taught in Djibouti during Operation Enduring Freedom, was featured on a National Public Radio segment.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, English Mercuries: Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare, and reported the following:
If one is fortunate enough to have a tenure-track professorial post that requires one to write a book, the goal of getting the book out subsumes all others.

Until the book comes out. Then the real purpose of writing the book in the first place announces itself, not without a little anxiety. What does this book really have to say? What does it contribute?

My point in English Mercuries: Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare was, I hoped, that the booming patriotism we associate with the Elizabethan age is a gross simplification. If we look closely at the literary record, we find a country tired of war and marred with grave doubts about the purpose of war. I thought that the voices of those who bore the costs of war most personally -- the soldiers who fought, their friends, and their families -- were not being heard. The point of the book, I hoped, was to retell the story of Elizabethan England through the writings they left behind.

But did I make that point or did I just get the book out? I was wondering this anyway when I was asked to submit
English Mercuries to the Page 99” test. With trembling hand I turned to page 99. Here is what it said:
The final image of Antwerp in Alarum for London is that of a city in the hands of people who are conquerors but who are also people, who recognize that once the war is over and all the money and property have changed hands, there is a dead soldier who had very little stake in the cause for which he died.
You know, I think I made my point. I hope you all do, too!
Read more about English Mercuries at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Michael Oriard's "Bowled Over"

Michael Oriard is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. He was offensive captain and a second-team All-American at the University of Notre Dame and played four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. His books include Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport (2007), King Football: Sport & Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies & Magazines, the Weekly & the Daily Press (2001), and Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle (1993).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Bowled Over deals with a single brief episode in the history of big-time college football since the 1960s that is covered in my book. The book has two parts. The first focuses on college football in the 1960s, in particular the politicizing of the game in those years, and more particularly yet the racial revolution that transformed the sport. The second part traces the subsequent history of the sport as a working out of its fundamental contradiction as an extracurricular activity that is at the same time a multi-billion-dollar mass entertainment. This contradiction has played out in recent decades as a frantic pursuit of revenue that continuously undermines attempts to maintain academic standards, and as the fostering of a football culture in which athletes are simultaneously over-entitled and exploited. Linking these two seemingly disparate parts is a discussion of decisions made by the NCAA in 1972 and 1973 that responded to the upheavals of the 1960s and laid the foundation for the developments that followed.

On page 99, I discuss the community response to one of several black protests that rocked college football in 1969: the suspension of a black football player at Oregon State University named Fred Milton for refusing to shave his moustache and goatee, in defiance of a team rule forbidding facial hair. In the spirit of “The Page 99 Test,” this small moment actually does capture “the quality of the whole” book in a couple of ways. It looks at the way that local newspapers covered the Milton incident, and one of my fundamental arguments about football in all of my books is the importance of the media in shaping the ways that we have understood the game. Likewise, in noting the range of responses to Milton’s suspension, it expresses another of my fundamental principles: that the culture of football has never been monolithic but has been shaped by competing, often conflicting beliefs, desires, and ideas.
Learn more about Bowled Over at the publisher's website. Read about how Oriard's experience as an All-American at Notre Dame during the period of social change he writes about in Bowled Over influenced his perspective.

--Marshal Zeringue