Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daniel K. Williams' "God’s Own Party"

Daniel K. Williams is an assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, and reported the following:
Page 99 of God’s Own Party captures the central themes of the book to a remarkable degree.

God’s Own Party traces the history of evangelicals’ political mobilization for conservative causes from the early twentieth century to the present. It explains why the alliance between evangelicals and the Republican Party emerged and why it was central to the creation of a successful Christian Right. Readers who flip the book open to page 99 will find themselves in the midst of a pivotal episode in the creation of that alliance – the meetings between Billy Graham and Richard Nixon’s White House aides during Nixon’s reelection campaign of 1972.

The page begins with H.R. Haldeman questioning Graham in one of their White House meetings:
How much negative campaigning would [evangelicals] tolerate? What could Nixon do to defuse Democratic candidate George McGovern’s appeal to left-wing evangelicals who were concerned about social welfare? “Should the President attack McGovern or should he carry on the theme of ‘Bring Us Together?” Haldeman asked Graham. Haldeman also floated the idea of a more direct cooperation between the Nixon campaign and American evangelicals. Would it be appropriate, he asked Graham, for members of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to work with the staff of Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ? The Nixon White House even tried unsuccessfully to secure Graham’s mailing list.
But if Nixon lived up to his image as a cynical politician, manipulating the evangelical vote for his own interests, Graham was more politically astute than his later self-characterization as a “sheep led to the slaughter” in the Nixon White House would suggest. Like other evangelicals, he longed to restore moral order in America through political action, and he decided that Nixon, who had been elected on a platform of “law and order,” was the key to realizing that vision:
In Graham’s view, an alliance between evangelicals and the president would not only advance evangelicals’ social status, but would also be the key to promoting the president’s vision of “law and order” and public morality. To achieve that goal, Graham had to convince the White House to begin looking at white evangelicals as a voting constituency, and he had to become a political strategist himself as he worked to secure the president’s reelection.
Page 99 concludes with an analysis of the way in which Graham’s fellow evangelicals viewed his relationship with Nixon. Christianity Today editorialized in March 1972:
Is not the risk far outweighed by the opportunity? Have not many evangelicals long prayed for an entrée without compromise into the affairs of state? ... In the case of Graham, there is no evidence that he has watered down his convictions to gain access to the White House.
For the remainder of the century and beyond, many evangelicals would echo Christianity Today’s sentiments. They recognized that an alliance with the Republican Party could be dangerous, yet they knew that they also needed the party’s support in order to accomplish their goal of restoring morality in the nation. The result was the emergence of the Christian Right and the evangelical takeover of the Republican Party, a development that transformed American politics and continues to influence the nation’s political debate today.
Learn more about God's Own Party at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jon Cohen's "Almost Chimpanzee"

Jon Cohen is the author of Shots in the Dark and Coming to Term. He is a correspondent at the internationally renowned Science magazine and has also written for The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Discover, Smithsonian, and Slate.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Almost Chimpanzee: Searching for What Makes Us Human, in Rainforests, Labs, Sanctuaries, and Zoos, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

I FIRST “SPOKE” WITH APES IN MARCH 2008. THEY WERE BOTH bonobos, twenty-seven-year-old Kanzi and his twenty-two-year-old half-sister, Panbanisha, and they lived at the Great Ape Trust outside Des Moines, Iowa.

The Great Ape Trust is the last bastion of “ape language research,” a controversial scientific endeavor that began more than a century ago and has won tremendous attention in the press, spawned many books, and even became fodder for a Hollywood movie starring an actor who later became president of the United States. Sitting on 230 acres in a rural neighborhood that includes a man-made lake, the trust owes its existence to hot dogs, in keeping with the often bizarre nature of ape language research. Ted Townsend, a local heir to the fortune his father made from the Frankomatic machine, donated $25 million to create the state-of-the-art facility, which when I visited housed seven bonobos and, separately, three orangutans. The trust’s researchers had made Kanzi the most famous bonobo in the world by showcasing his extraordinary communication skills. Before I met with him, William Fields, who directed the bonobo research, let me in on a surprising secret about his less known half-sister.

We sat in Fields’s office in the thirteen-thousand-square-foot bonobo building. A hallway and a concrete block wall separated us from the area where the bonobos lived. Fields explained to me that there had only been three scientific articles published about Panbanisha’s communication skills so far, and as the researchers accrue more data, “Kanzi will have to share the limelight with the real ape of genius.”
Washoe the chimpanzee, Koko the gorilla, and Kanzi the bonobo have become superstar apes—in the human world at least—because of their remarkable communication skills. Each was involved with ape language research, a branch of science that dates back more than a century and once was all the rage but today barely exists. Unlike ape communication research, which attempts to understand the vocalizations and gestures they use to pass information between members of their own species, ape language research teaches the animals sign language or symbols that they can then use to communicate with humans.

This passage opens with my “talking” with Kanzi, his half-sister Panbanisha, and other apes at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, which has the only extant program that does this type of research. I go on to explore the history of ape language research, including the ever-colorful Richard Lynch Garner who in the 1890s lived in a cage in Gabon to better understand ape language, and to examine the stark differences between us and them. I conclude that Sanskrit scholar Friedrich Max Müller had it right when he declared in 1861 that “the one great barrier between the brute and man is Language.”
Read an excerpt from Almost Chimpanzee, and learn more about the book and author at Jon Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 27, 2010

Joseph Mazur's "What’s Luck Got to Do with It?"

Joseph Mazur is professor emeritus of mathematics at Marlboro College. His books include The Motion Paradox: The 2,500-Year-Old Puzzle behind All the Mysteries of Time and Space and Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What's Luck Got to Do with It?: The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion, and reported the following:
Apply the page 99 test to What’s Luck Got to Do with It? and you find yourself the kernel of con activity, one of the best con stories in the book. It is the story of “Swindled,” a young man who contacted me when he heard I was writing a book on gambling. Swindled frequently won at the tables of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. One day he met Marcia, a girl who claimed to be underage for entrance to the casino. She offered to give him $40,000 in cash to play with, and told him that he could keep 25 percent of the winnings.

“What if I lose?”

“If you lose, you owe me nothing,” she said with a smile. “But you won’t”

Swindled wins reasonably big at roulette winning almost $200,000. After taxes and a $5,000 tip to the croupier he earns himself $31,200.

Now the book is about luck, the illusion of it and the definition of it. Gambling is about risk and risk behavior. The book brings its readers from the early history of gambling to the frontiers of gambling psychology. Using plenty of engaging anecdotes it explains the mathematics behind gambling and describes the emotional factors that get people to put their faith in winning.

Even Swindled didn’t come out as lucky as he first thought. It would seem that earning $31,200 in one day at no risk to himself would be a deal no one should refuse. But several months later, after losing almost all his winnings at another night of roulette, the FBI arrested him on counterfeiting charges. He spent three months in jail and $12,000 on lawyer’s fees to get out. Marcia, on the other hand, got her counterfeit money laundered.

Gambling is a risky business even when you win.
Read an excerpt from What’s Luck Got to Do with It?, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

See Joseph Mazur's five best books on gambling, and visit Mazur's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Carolyn de la Peña's "Empty Pleasures"

Carolyn de la Peña is a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis. She is author of The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda, and reported the following:
If you read only p. 99 of Empty Pleasures you learn about artificial sweetener innovation—a major theme of the book. On other pages I also consider those who marketed, experimented with, advocated for, and rejected artificial sweeteners. So this does reflect a primary theme, and an important one of the overall story.

Here the California Canners and Growers (CCG) react to the news that cyclamate, an artificial sweetener discovered in the 1930s and marketed under the brand name Sucaryl, has been found to elevate the incidence of bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Abbott Laboratories, Sucaryl’s maker (and CCG’s supplier), has delivered this information to the NIH and FDA, effectively guaranteeing that cyclamate will be taken off the market the following year.

The announcement could not come at a worse time for the CCG. They had just completed their yearly production of Diet Delight, a Sucaryl-sweetened low-calorie line of fruits. This left them with more than 3 million cans of fruit sweetened with no-calorie cyclamate that would soon be widely regarded as toxic by American consumers who, by and large, supported the ban and the data that precipitated it.

It was not only a tremendous financial loss, it was also a breach of trust. Richmond Chase had been one of the first food companies to use Abbott’s brand of cyclamate in the 1950s. They helped grow a market for the substance, transform the reputation of artificial sweeteners from adulterants to health tools, and encouraged the FDA to grant “generally recognized as safe” status to Sucaryl, thereby facilitating its broader use among canners and ice cream and soda manufacturers.

The story of the cyclamate ban, and the “shock, great shock,” Edwin Mitchell describes on p. 99 upon hearing this announcement, reminds us that the sweetener industry was developed by individuals who sought to increase market share and expand expertise by innovating first—but to do this they also had to trust pharmaceutical companies to deliver accurate data and negotiate risk. These were not easy relationships.

While Mitchell and the CCG did not ultimately benefit from their early work with cyclamates, their efforts helped birth a diet market. New low calorie canned fruits, salad dressings, jellies, puddings, and sodas, now formulated with saccharin, soon flooded the market. Eight years later, in 1977, the FDA would again announce a proposed ban, and this time consumers would revolt.
Learn more about Empty Pleasures at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Koren Zailckas' "Fury"

Koren Zailckas is the author of the memoir Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, which appeared on ten national bestseller lists and spent twenty weeks on the the New York Times bestseller list. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Fury: A Memoir, and reported the following:
Before now, I’ve always been a little too frightened to apply the page-99 test to my own books. I imagined the result might be awkward, even mortifying--sort of like when the DVD skips halfway through a home movie, and the screen stalls on an image of you mid-blink, your mouth hanging open like dope. What if the freeze frame wasn’t representative of the book at all? Or what if it highlighted a passage that I secretly hate?

I’m relieved to find that Fury’s essence is right smack in the center of page 99.

The scene’s setting speaks to just how personal this book is. Page 99 finds me seated in the office of a psychologist that I’ve begun seeing after a devastating break-up.

It’s the first real time I’ve had my brain shrunk. In the book, I refer to this particular therapist as “Alice” (it seemed fitting, given the way I followed her down my depression’s rabbit hole), and she’s the most patient woman this side of Mother Teresa. In this scene, she’s trying very hard to help me recognize that a lot of my despair over my ex is really just deferred anger from my childhood. Still, I refuse to give a sister a break. When it comes to the subject of my family, I’m a fortress:
She keeps enticing me to tell her more about my parents, my childhood, my life since my first book and what compelled me to choose the anger topic for my second. I respond out of a sense of obligation, but my answers are brief...

I tell Alice my childhood was so average and uneventful that I have few distinct memories of it. I tell her I played with the other girls in the neighborhood (leaving out what an unwelcome tagalong I was, how I was frequently excluded and bullied). I say I’ve always had a roof over my head (but leave out how desperate I had been to sneak my way out of it). I tell her my parents had never divorced or anything (but not about the endless arguments with my mother, fights I had frequently tried to cope with by boozing to blackout).

I’m not trying to be rude, but I firmly tell Alice I didn’t have any childhood woes. “Maybe we can just skip ahead in the interest of time?”
Of course, the impressions we form in childhood are horrifically powerful, and many of them continue to dog us for the rest of our lives. As the story progresses, I’m forced to stop lying to myself about what I desperately want to believe was my “run-of-the-mill” childhood. Eventually, I acknowledge that my cholerophobia (or chronic fear of getting ticked off) had everything to do with the family that I grew up in.

Also on page 99, I can really see and appreciate the way Fury reveals its inner workings. Because I was writing this book as I lived it--almost in real time--it only seemed honest to let the reader accompany me through the book’s difficult writing process.

I didn’t initially intend to write a sequel to my first memoir. In fact, I didn’t set out to write about myself at all. A few years after Smashed, I began writing what I thought was going to be a journalistic book of essays, exploring common American attitudes about anger. To that end, I flew halfway across the country to attend the kind of anger management seminar that you see in movies where people beat one another up with rubber mallets. I exhausted my library card, checking out books about sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, linguistics and so on. I was determined to find out what every expert (not to mention every hack) thought about rage. Was it better to express it or repress it? And if the answer was the former, then how?

In spite of my relentless fact-finding (or because of it), my own writing stalled. As I sit in Alice’s office on page 99, I’m only beginning to realize why I was attracted to the topic of American anger to begin with and why I was having trouble seeing it through: I admit to Alice that I set out to write a book about anger because I sensed I was conflicted about it.

At the time of that session, I couldn’t imagine finding the courage and direction to turn my “anger book” into a personal excavation of my repressed rage. But that’s exactly what I went on to do. I had to be honest with myself, my family and my readers. Flailing in work and disappointed in my relationships, I could either look hard at the unspeakable emotions I’d felt as a kid or they’d continue to blind me to the present moment.
Learn more about the book and author at Koren Zailckas' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chad L. Williams' "Torchbearers of Democracy"

Chad L. Williams is associate professor of history at Hamilton College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era, and reported the following:
If a curious reader wanted to know what my book was about, would I have them turn to page 99? Sure, why not. Torchbearers of Democracy traces the multifaceted experiences of African American soldiers and veterans during World War I and its aftermath, demonstrating how they used the war and military service to personally stake claim to democracy as both an imaginative ideal and lived reality. At the same time, I reveal how African American intellectuals, political activists and ordinary citizens variously employed the symbolic meaning and legacy of black soldiers to demand the expansion of democratic rights for the race as a whole. I cast a wide net, telling a story that spans both the war and postwar years, and places African American soldiers firmly at the center of issues such as the obligations of citizenship, combat and labor, diaspora and internationalism, homecoming and racial violence, “New Negro” militancy, and the contested place of the war in African American history and memory.

Page 99 comes towards the end of Chapter Two and a discussion of the training camp experiences of African American soldiers. While not capturing the full breadth of Torchbearers of Democracy, this small slice of the book does touch upon two central themes. The first is how African American soldiers themselves, as a diverse group of men, internalized the meanings of their wartime service. I assert that, contrary to previous historical discussions of black soldiers in World War I, their experiences cannot be cast as uniformly negative or disillusioning. White supremacy was without question ubiquitous and had painful repercussions. But many African American soldiers were nevertheless proud of their army experience and reaped gains, both tangible and intangible, that proved personally meaningful. One of these gains related directly to manhood, a second theme page 99 addresses. The war and military service transformed notions of gender—and manhood and womanhood specifically—for African American men and women. In the case of African American soldiers, I write:
Military service allowed black troops to reconstitute their sense of manhood in such a way that both challenged negative constructions of black masculinity and affirmed their identity as true men. Eules Bracey, a self-described “common laborer” and farmer from La Crosse, Virginia, with no education before his induction, believed that “the mental and physical effects of my camp experience in the United States Army tended to make me a better and more useful man.” Time at Camp Lee led Walter Allen of Guinea Mills, Virginia, to state, “I think I am a better man than before the training.” The moral reformers of the CTCA [Commission on Training Camp Activities] would have been quite pleased with the impact of their services on Roy Fleming, who came away from of his camp experience “a better man” and “stopped gambling.”
I then connect African American women to this process, arguing:
The politics of the war drew notions of black manhood and womanhood even closer together as mutual aspirations for both individual and collective racial advancement. Black women assertively entered the public sphere to profess their commitment to the race, through their aid to African American soldiers and to the nation, by lending their patriotic support for the war effort, and to their gender, by demonstrating that women were essential to victory. In doing so, they revealed how the war created new opportunities for black female social and political engagement.
While not perfect, the Page 99 Test does offer a nice glimpse into the story I aim to tell in Torchbearers of Democracy and some of its key conceptual threads. But by all means, read more!
Learn more about the book and author at the Torchbearers of Democracy website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

James Rodger Fleming's "Fixing the Sky"

James Rodger Fleming is a historian of science and technology and professor of science, technology, and society at Colby College. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), elected "for pioneering studies on the history of meteorology and climate change and for the advancement of historical work within meteorological societies." He recently held the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institution and the AAAS Roger Revelle Fellowship in Global Stewardship while a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fixing the Sky tells two stories of rain fakers: the charlatans Doctor Sykes and Colonel Stingo who conducted a weather betting scam at Belmont race track, and Irving Krick, who sold rainmaking to farmers and prepared weather forecasts “tailored to be just what the client wanted to hear.” This page addresses the checkered history and tragicomedy of weather control and its commercialization, but does not reveal some of the other themes in the book: climate control, militarization of the sky, and the role that history can play in public policy.

Of course what appears on page 99 is an artifact of the book designer, not the author. In this case, the dust jacket image, worth a thousand words, may be more revealing than page 99.
Read an excerpt from Fixing the Sky and learn more about the book at the Columbia University Press website, and visit James Rodger Fleming's "Atmosphere" website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 20, 2010

Margot Minardi's "Making Slavery History"

Margot Minardi is Assistant Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Making Slavery History reprints the title page of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects. The text below sets up the argument of Chapter 4, which concerns nineteenth-century white authors’ memories of formerly enslaved New Englanders. I argue that these portraits of free black men and women, while often admiring in tone, produced a limiting view of black respectability, one that emphasized humility, deference, and other virtues associated with femininity.

In significant ways this page (and Chapter 4) diverges from the rest of the book. Making Slavery History focuses on how abolitionists used memory—particularly memories of the American Revolution—in their assault on slavery. Most of the memories that matter to my story manifested themselves in public settings and related somehow to war. I examine the Bunker Hill Monument and surrounding festivities; stories in print and oral culture about black Revolutionary veterans; and John Trumbull’s history paintings, which emphasize martial values and gentlemanly honor.

Chapter 4, however, opens with an elegant table said to belong to Wheatley, the celebrated slave girl-turned-poet; it then turns to anecdotes recorded about free people of color, many of which center around tables. Through what I call “the trope of the tea-table,” these stories affirmed a restricted model of black respectability rooted in adherence to a rigid racial etiquette: the stories approvingly commemorate black men or women who declined to share a table with whites but instead (as was remembered of Wheatley) “dined modestly apart from the rest of the company.”

In its focus on private spaces, personal memories, and women’s roles, Chapter 4 differs from much of the book. But I probably never would have started this project had it not been for Wheatley. I was seven or eight when I first encountered her in a children’s book about famous women in history. Years later, when I began researching slavery in New England, hers was the first story I pursued. I was startled to learn that most of what that children’s book—and nearly every other published biography—had to say about Wheatley was rooted in one white woman’s reminiscences from 1834. Why Wheatley was remembered at that moment in time and in that particular way became the starting point for my study of how slavery and memory have shaped the history of Massachusetts and the nation.
Learn more about Making Slavery History at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Margot Minardi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 19, 2010

K. Schiller & C. Young's "The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany"

Kay Schiller is Senior Lecturer in History at Durham University. His books on German-Jewish refugee scholars during National Socialism include Gelehrte Gegenwelten and Weltoffener Humanismus (edited with Gerald Hartung). Christopher Young is Reader in Modern and Medieval German Studies and Head of the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Narrativische Perspektiven in Wolframs Willehalm and a coauthor of History of the German Language through Texts.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 illustrates one important theme of our recently published book The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany: the German politics of the Nazi past as they were played out on occasion of these Games. At this point of the book we show how the appearance of the 1936 Berlin Olympics perhaps surprisingly but strongly informed that of Munich. For obvious reasons, the Munich organizers rejected the nationalistic and militaristic atmosphere of the so-called 'Nazi Games', especially the monumentalism of the Berlin Olympic venues. However, contrary to common assumptions, they were equally entranced by Berlin's aesthetic punch and sought to emulate it by creating an impressive and memorable image for Munich. The Games' chief designer Otl Aicher's choice of the Univers font for all Olympic publications and the famous sports pictograms (along with the bright and light Olympic colours, posters, stadia and garden architecture discussed later in the same chapter) were crucial in achieving this. The 1972 Games thus became an important symbolic marker for the post-war modernization of Germany, which is our central theme.

This theme is discussed in manifold other ways throughout the book: in the successful workings of German co-operative federalism in organizing and financing the Games; the selling of these Olympics to domestic and foreign audiences, especially across the Atlantic; the urban renewal of what was effectively Germany's 'secret capital' during the Cold War; the crucial impact of the youth unrest of 1968 on a spectacle by and for 'the youth of the world'; the development towards a peaceful coexistence between the two German states in the late 1960s and 70s to, finally, the terrorist attack which so far has overshadowed all other narratives of these Games. A review of the book in The New Republic ran under the title 'The Rest of Munich'. In the sense that our primary aim was to tell for the first time the story of a landmark national and international event before it was destroyed by international terrorism, this is certainly a fitting title. On the other hand, given the range of topics we cover (including the terrorist attack and its complicated aftermath in the public and diplomatic spheres) 'All of Munich' might be equally appropriate.
Read more about The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jim Minick's "The Blueberry Years"

Jim Minick grew up eating blueberries, and for eight years he and his wife owned and operated Minick Berry Farm, a certified-organic, pick-your-own blueberry farm in Floyd County, VA.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family, and reported the following:
The Blueberry Years tells the story of my wife and me creating and operating one of the first certified-organic blueberry farms in the mid-Atlantic. And the Page 99 Test captures this decade-long struggle by focusing on one small part of it—getting certified. In the first 98 pages, we’ve cleared an abandoned field of bull pine, then planted, watered, and mulched 1000 blueberry bushes, and now we are about to open the pick-your-own operation to the public.

But first, we have to get “Certified,” which is also the title of Chapter 18 which starts on page 99. Here we meet Janey, the organic inspector who doesn’t like dogs (we have 2 hyper mutts), and, as her visit to our farm progresses, we realize she obviously doesn’t know diddly about blueberries. So we pen the dogs, shackle our tongues, and sit on our hands as Janey peruses our records, clicks her own tongue, and pretends she understands. Later she “inspects” our sheds and piles of organically-approved fertilizer, and then visits the blueberry field where she insists that we dig and dig until we find an earthworm. I’m not sure we would’ve passed the certification test if we hadn’t finally found one, wiggly sun-stunned worm.

So the Page 99 Test captures much—our struggles to create a farm, our desire to do it “right,” meaning organically, and then our realization of how that “right” is also very flawed. We do get certified, and we do open the field to hundreds of pickers who come every year. Among them is Janey who comes back to pick and fill her own freezer. When we see her pull up, we hide the shovels and warn the worms. Then, after she leaves, we release our two dogs and watch as they cruise the field, sniffing for blueberries among the lowest branches. Like Janey, like all of our pickers, and like us, these four-legged companions search among the green leaves for this beautiful fruit. Like all of us, they too have come to love the sweet taste of a blueberry.
Read an excerpt from The Blueberry Years, and learn more about the book and author at Jim Minick's website.

Writers Read: Jim Minick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michael Dietler's "Archaeologies of Colonialism"

Michael Dietler is Director of the University of Chicago Center in Paris and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago as well as the author of Consumption and Colonial Encounters in the Rhone Basin of France.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France, and reported the following:
I'm afraid the "page 99 test" fails miserably in the case of Archaeologies of Colonialism. This page contains two photo illustrations and only five lines of text. From these, a clever reader could intuit that the book involves archaeology and that the ancient wine trade plays a significant role in the story -- and both of these surmises would be correct. But these facts reveal relatively little about the book as a whole.

The book is an exploration of the ancient colonial encounter that occurred in Mediterranean France between the indigenous Celtic-speaking peoples of the region and Etruscan, Greek, and Roman colonists during the first millennium BC. But more than this, it is also an analysis of the role that this series of encounters played in the development of modern European culture, identity, and colonial practices (think of the Renaissance, German Romantic Hellenism, and the “civilizing mission” of European colonialism, for example), and how these features have affected the way that archaeologists and ancient historians now approach these ancient encounters. The book attempts to find a way around the numerous problems that this complex cultural and intellectual legacy presents for understanding the past, and it does so by using archaeological data and ancient texts to analyze patterns of consumption (especially wine and food), violence, and architecture and urban life through the lens of anthropology. What it shows is that the native peoples of the region were actually not particularly interested in or impressed by the cultures of these foreign colonists, but that their highly selective taste for wine led to a series of complex entanglements with unintended economic, political, and cultural consequences for all the parties involved in these encounters. The book is written not only for archaeologists: it targets equally readers interested in colonialism in general and in the history of the ancient Mediterranean. But, with apologies to Ford Madox Ford, I’m afraid page 99 would be one of the least enlightening pages in the book to which one could turn.
Learn more about Archaeologies of Colonialism at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Colin Dueck's "Hard Line"

Colin Dueck is associate professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University. He is the author of Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II, and reported the following:
Hard Line tells the story of conservative and Republican Party foreign policy traditions in the United States since World War II. I argue that Republican foreign policies have long been influenced by a hawkish and intense American nationalism, but that specific approaches within that broad framework have been very much determined by presidential leadership. Page 99 of the book illustrates the point, by introducing President Eisenhower’s policies toward Latin America. As I describe on that page:
Eisenhower believed, as he said, that “in the long run, the United States must back democracies.” Nevertheless, he faced a dilemma that was also faced by every cold war president of either party: namely, whether to pressure allied yet autocratic regimes in the direction of democratic reform, when the very process of such pressure might simply undermine an American client and substitute a hostile autocracy in its place. Eisenhower’s instinct in such cases was to bolster American allies.
Interestingly, it was none other than fellow Republican George W. Bush who repudiated this “realist” approach to foreign policy, by embracing forcible democratization in Iraq as a solution to America’s national security challenges. Clearly there is a considerable range of specific foreign policy traditions on the Republican side, and I sketch out these differences through a series of biographical essays. But the leeway presidents receive on foreign policy, including from within their own party, means that future Republican presidents need not replicate Bush’s exact approach. I end the book with some predictions as to where Republicans may be headed on foreign policy issues, and also with some recommendations for a new conservative realism that gets beyond the frustrations of the Bush era.
Read an excerpt from Hard Line, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Steven Bryan's "The Gold Standard at the Turn of the Twentieth Century"

Steven Bryan is an attorney in Tokyo. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from Harvard Law School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Gold Standard at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Rising Powers, Global Money, and the Age of Empire (Columbia University Press, 2010), and reported the following:
Surprisingly enough (for me) page 99 is fairly representative of the themes in my new book The Gold Standard at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Rising Powers, Global Money, and the Age of Empire.

On page 99 I am in the final of three chapters about adoption of the gold standard in Argentina in the 1890s. In this chapter I discuss the law ostensibly establishing the gold standard – “Law 3871.”

The first two paragraphs wrap up a section about the Argentine statesman Carlos Pellegrini and his obsession with his “two utopias” of industrial protectionism (i.e., protective tariffs) and the gold standard (i.e., gold currency), which shaped his vision of the Argentine and world economy.

Pellegrini constructed a currency system for Argentina that took the core of nineteenth-century English economic institutions and turned it on its head to promote a protectionist, export driven model of the world economy more reminiscent of Friedrich List, or modern day China, than Adam Smith.

As a result, Argentine enthusiasts of English political economy opposed Pellegrini’s system because they believed it was not “the gold standard” in the English, laissez-faire sense that they knew.

And, in that, they were correct.

But rather than being an exception to the age, Pellegrini’s combination of English institutions with statist and protectionist ideas was common in what I call the “second nineteenth century” dominant in the years before World War I. It was here that a “first nineteenth century” reminiscent of globalization ideas and institutions of the 1990s gave way to a messier, less theoretical, and more power obsessed conception of the world economy.

As I write on page 99:
That Pellegrini would resort to a cobbled together arrangement of nominal conversion, paper issues, devaluation, and protective tariffs is not itself especially surprising given Argentina’s economic conditions and the not all that different combinations in countries such as the United States, Japan, and Germany. This combination, however, fit awkwardly with English economic theory and the English image of the gold standard. It was thus among adherents of English political economy and English ideas of the supremacy of gold currency that Pellegrini’s currency proposals and Law 3871 had their fiercest critics. And it was this opposition that underlined the considerable distance between Law 3871 and what its hard money and laissez-faire critics regarded as the only “true and universal money” – gold.
The final two paragraphs on page 99 start a new section about these traditional supporters of English political economy left behind by the protectionist and interventionist preferences of the age.

As I continue on page 99:
The fact that Pellegrini’s currency proposals and Law 3871 were predicated on the state’s intervening in currency markets (and devaluing paper to prevent it from appreciating toward its nominal parity) made support from advocates of English political economy unthinkable. Add in the motives of protectionism and industrial promotion and there remained virtually no common ground uniting Pellegrini and his free trade, laissez-faire opponents.
British institutions might be adopted, and the rhetoric of English liberalism might be employed in new nineteenth-century powers such as Germany, the United States, Argentina, and Japan. But the adoption worldwide of British economic institutions in the late-nineteenth century rested on bases fundamentally opposed to the British worldview and, ever more declining, British power. As a result, the late-nineteenth century world produced a globalized world economy radically at odds with that of the turn of the twenty first century.
Learn more about The Gold Standard at the Turn of the Twentieth Century at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 13, 2010

John Owen's "The Clash of Ideas in World Politics"

John M. Owen IV is associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510-2010 , and reported the following:
On page 99 you catch me in the middle of describing the rapid spread of a new and potent branch of Christianity – Calvinism – in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. Why am I doing this in a book that is supposed to illumine world politics today, particularly in the Muslim world?

The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is about long struggles over the oldest question in politics, “What is the best regime?” – struggles that stretch across entire continents and decades. These struggles are over ideas, but also over which types of people and which countries have more or less power; and so they can draw countries into conflicts they might otherwise have avoided. Just as the Muslim world today is torn by a prolonged contest between various forms of secularism and Islamism, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe was wracked by a prolonged contest over which was the true church. That early struggle seems non-political to us today, but most Europeans back then insisted that societal cohesion required religious uniformity. Religious uniformity in turn required state enforcement and hence intimacy between church and state.

The upshot was that Calvinism’s spectacular spread threatened the political order, and the actual power of actual people, in Catholic (and Lutheran) lands. Where Calvinists took power, as in Scotland or the Netherlands, any resurgence of Catholicism was, by the same token, a threat to order and the power of real people. In subsequent pages I go on to show how the back-and-forth contest between Catholicism and Calvinism triggered waves of civil war and foreign intervention, as when the Protestant Elizabeth I of England sent troops to France to help the Calvinists against the Catholics.

If this has an oddly familiar ring, it is supposed to. The substance of the disputes in the Muslim world today is quite different in many ways from that in Europe 450 years ago. But transnational contests over the right way to order society display some of the same dynamics today as they did then.
Read an excerpt from The Clash of Ideas in World Politics, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit John M. Owen IV's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Daniel Hruschka's "Friendship"

Daniel Hruschka is Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Friendship: Development, Ecology, and Evolution of a Relationship, and reported the following:
Friendship imagines the human bond of friendship as a living organism and poses a number of questions that a natural historian might ask. How does friendship work? How does it develop and change in diverse environments? And how did it evolve? On page 99, I examine why people devote so much time and energy to making friends when in many societies they have ready-made support networks in the form of parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Based on case studies from a wide range of human groups, including foragers, subsistence farmers, and nomadic herders, I describe a recurring reason for preferring friends. Put simply, kin may not be in a position to provide the right kind of support. Consider the case of Basuto farmers in southern Africa:
A single Basuto household rarely commanded all of the four resources—oxen, land, seed, and food for workers—necessary for farming. To remedy this situation, households frequently entered into cooperative partnerships called seahlolo, whereby each household provided some combination of these resources. The two seahlolo partners were expected to work together and harvest together, dividing the crop equally. While classical views of rural, non-industrial societies suggest that Basuto farmers would make every effort to enter into seahlolo with kin, in the majority of cases they chose unrelated households.
Based on accounts from Basuto farmers, Sandra Wallman, concludes that a key reason for preferring friends was that kin did not have the right resources to be good seahlolo partners. Specifically, two brothers may both own an ox, but neither owns necessary seed or land. Two cousins may possess seed, but no land or oxen. Similar problems arise in a wide variety of human societies.
In a small village in Andalusia, Spain, a farmer may have no kinsmen with a sufficient leverage to plead his case in a water dispute. In Melanesia, a gardener may need to travel to other islands to acquire obsidian and high-quality pots. Among Orokaiva gardeners in Papua New Guinea, there may be no kin in safe areas when warfare breaks out near home.
In each of these cases there are crucial gaps in the kin support network, and non-kin friends often provide a means to fill those gaps.

More generally, Page 99 captures a central concern in the book—understanding how human friendships articulate with other kinds of human relationships, such as those based on kin ties, sexual attraction, romantic attachment, and emotionally distant business-like transactions. Through such comparisons, the book identifies how friendship is a unique way of relating among humans.
Learn more about Friendship at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lawrence Culver's "The Frontier of Leisure"

Lawrence Culver teaches in the History Department at Utah State University. He is currently a Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich, Germany. In 2005, he received the Rachel Carson Prize for best dissertation in Environmental History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America, and reported the following:
The Frontier of Leisure explores the history of tourism, resorts, and recreation in Southern California, how this leisure culture shaped the development of the region, and in turn influenced American suburbia after World War II. Page 99 examines one local resort, Santa Catalina Island. In the 1920s and 1930s Catalina was one of the most popular tourist destinations in California. Page 99 discusses Catalina in the 1890s, when it first emerged as a summer resort. On this page, I describe the most common form of tourist housing at Catalina:
Tent cabins, with plank floors and canvas walls stretched over wooden frames, provided shelter for many vacationers, whether they built their own on lots they bought or leased, or rented tents in the Santa Catalina Island Company’s tent-cabin village. Some such “cabins” could be relatively elaborate. One tourist, writing in August 1898, bragged that her abode was “one of the most picturesque here,” with a view of “the whole bay, the town, and the mountains.”
In some ways, the most striking thing about this resort is how different it is from tourism in our own era. High-end resorts now try to out-“luxe” each other, and visitors rush from hiking to yoga to a day spa while still tethered to their daily work routine via a smartphone. The idea of spending summer in a tent sounds both spartan and stultifying. Yet, even in this seemingly quaint era, there are hints of changes to come in Catalina’s only town, Avalon:
In the summers of the 1890s, Avalon was often a place dominated by mothers and children. Husbands remained on the mainland to work, but spent weekends in the cooler, relaxed atmosphere of Catalina. In this regard, Catalina portended the stereotypical suburban family of the 1950s, with fathers traveling to work elsewhere and mothers remaining at home with their children. This arrangement divided spouses but offered a remarkable degree of autonomy to adolescents and young adults who accompanied parents or friends to the island.
At Catalina, restricted to the wealthy and white, teenagers and young adults found a remarkable degree of freedom. They roamed all over the island long after their parents had gone to bed. They ventured to places such as Lover’s Cove, hinting at amorous adventures forbidden on the mainland, but possible at Catalina. In this sense, tourism, whether in 1898 or 2010, offers an escape from the ordinary. Catalina’s Victorian tourists would have been scandalized by a tourism slogan like “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Yet everyone travels to escape everyday life, even if only briefly.

In the case of The Frontier of Leisure, the “Page 99 Test” illustrates that tourism is a lens through which we can view cultural and social change. Catalina offered more freedom to young people, but future resorts would welcome a far more diverse clientele, from African Americans to gay and lesbian tourists, and elements of Southern California’s leisure culture, from ranch houses to backyard swimming pools and residential golf communities, would appear across the U.S. We may try to get away from it all, but tourism’s evolution reflects changes not only in our leisured life, but in our everyday lives as well.
Learn more about The Frontier of Leisure at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Julian Cribb's "The Coming Famine"

Julian Cribb is an award-winning journalist and science writer and the author of The White Death.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, and reported the following:
On page 99 The Coming Famine says:
The role played by the oceans in our efforts to double the world’s food supply could thus be far below their potential – indeed, they could exacerbate the coming famine instead of helping to avert it.
Yup. We’re running out of fish. But were also running low on fresh water, good farming land, oil, mineral fertilisers, farming technology and stable climates. In short, everything the world is going to need to feed 10 billion people on richer diets sustainably by the 2060s will become more scarce.

Look at it this way: the world fish catch is currently 100mt a year – but it is stagnant due to overfishing (and ocean pollution). Marine scientists agree we’re very unlikely to get another 100mt of protein from the sea.

So we’ll have to get it from the land – from land animals or farmed fish. And that is going to take a billion tonnes of grain and 1000 cubic kilometres of water.

Add all this to the 185mt of extra meat which the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation thinks we’ll be eating by 2050 – and we’re going to have to discover three more North Americas to grow enough feed for these extra animals (or fish). A quick trip to Google Earth will tell you undiscovered continents are in short supply.

That’s the central contention of The Coming Famine – big demand for food, not enough resources to grow it using our present methods. So we need to change some things.

Is the problem insoluble (and famine inevitable)?

No way!

But we should take the necessary action, as individuals, as farmers and as governments, right now to avoid trouble and sustain our food supply. As to what the action is, you’ll have to read the other 200 pages.
Read an excerpt from The Coming Famine, and learn more about the book at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 6, 2010

Richard Toye's "Churchill's Empire"

Richard Toye was born in Cambridge, U.K. in 1973. He studied at the universities of Birmingham and Cambridge, and is now an associate professor at the University of Exeter. He has written extensively on British and international history. In 2007 he was named Young Academic Author of the Year by Times Higher Education magazine for his book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness.

Toye applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Churchill’s Empire is quite representative of the book, although it deals with an episode that seems in many ways distinctive in relation to Churchill’s imperial views over the course of his career. Part of my aim in writing was to show that Churchill’s reputation as a right-wing imperial Diehard, although not exactly incorrect, derives very much from his activities in the 1930s and after. P. 99 discusses events in 1906, when he was just starting his ministerial career, in a junior role at the Colonial Office. Two years earlier, he had left the Conservative Party for the Liberals (in the 1920s he would switch back). He now came under attack from his former colleagues for an alleged radicalism that was supposedly putting the Empire under threat.

The issue in question now seems an obscure one: the system of Chinese indentured labour in South Africa, which had played a surprisingly prominent part in the election campaign that the Liberals had just won. The Liberals had played it up as a humanitarian question, using the label ‘Chinese slavery’. Once in office, though, the new government took a more moderate line, restricting the system and leaving to the future the question of whether it would continue once the Transvaal (one of the two former Boer republics defeated in the South African war of 1899) had achieved self-government as part of the British Empire. This would be for the Transvaal parliament itself to decide. But Churchill stated to the House of Commons that no matter how well a proposal from the Transvaal was supported by public opinion there, the British government would not shrink from vetoing any new law that offended the principles of liberty and decency. Why was this controversial? As I explain on p. 99:
Traditionally, the use of the Crown’s right of veto of colonial governments’ decisions was restricted to matters affecting the rights of British subjects elsewhere or Britain’s relations with foreign powers. It now seemed as though Churchill was claiming a general right to interfere in the business of any self- governing colony that offended Liberal ministers’ sense of right and wrong. […] British South Africans were outraged by the speech. ‘The Cabinet must not forget it is dealing with its own flesh and blood’, declared the Rand Mail: ‘We will not forgo the birthright of freedom we have inherited.’ Another South African paper, the Star, thought the speech ‘a gratuitous insult to every self-governing colony’.
I believe that Churchill found such criticism quite bruising, and his ‘radical’ imperial phase, such as it was, was short-lived. Within months he had moved back onto safer and more conventional lines, although he did not yet become as right-wing as he did in the interwar period, when he returned to the Conservatives. However, Churchill underwent many changes throughout his career and demonstrated numerous contradictions; so in some ways p. 99 is typical of the book in its atypicality.
Read an excerpt from Churchill's Empire, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hal Brands' "Latin America's Cold War"

Hal Brands is Assistant Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. He is the author of From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Latin America's Cold War, and reported the following:
Latin America's Cold War is a book about some very depressing subjects--violence, guerrilla warfare, great-power intervention, economic underdevelopment, and government repression, to name a few. These issues were at the heart of Latin American affairs during the Cold War, a period when superpower tensions joined together with political, social, and diplomatic conflicts within Latin America to make sharp and often bloody upheaval a prominent feature of the regional panorama. My book traces these tumults from the late 1940s through the early 1990s. It covers events like the U.S. intervention in Guatemala in 1954, the Cuban revolution and the Cuban missile crisis, the waves of insurgency and counterinsurgency that convulsed the region, the rapid swings between dictatorship and democracy in many countries, and the astoundingly bloody civil wars in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s.

Page 99 of my book covers the background influences that shaped one particular wave of disorder during this period--the violent guerrilla movements that popped up in much of South America during the late 1960s and 1970s. These movements drew inspiration from a wide array of sources--frustration with unresponsive or authoritarian rule, anger at declining economic conditions, a desire to emulate the upheaval that gripped much of the world in the late 1960s, and other factors. The urban guerrillas hoped that that, by kidnapping wealthy citizens and attacking police stations, they would lay bare the weaknesses of the South American governments and inspire the populace to rise up in revolution.

As it turned out, though, the actions of the urban guerrillas merely set the stage for a devastating response by South American conservatives and military establishments. The specter of violent revolution galvanized these groups, leading them to mount military coups and unleash a barrage of bloody repression against the guerrillas and anyone suspected of supporting them. The guerrillas had hoped to inspire revolution; they ended up provoking counter-revolution instead.

This theme played out numerous times in Cold War-era Latin America. Left-wing radicalism elicited right-wing radicalism (vice-versa), leading to brutal internal battles in countries from Guatemala to Argentina. All of this was frequently exacerbated by the global ideological tensions that characterized the Cold War, as well as the meddling of outside powers like United States and Castro's Cuba. The result was the violence, polarization, and tragedy that plagued Latin America during the Cold War.
Read more about Latin America's Cold War at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rebecca Karl's "Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World"

Rebecca E. Karl is Associate Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, and a co-editor of Rethinking the 1898 Reform Period: Political and Cultural Change in Late Qing China and Marxism beyond Marxism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book and reported the following:
In my newly published book, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History (Duke University Press 2010), page 99 begins the most difficult chapter I had to write. It is the about the promising premise but practical disaster of Mao’s version of socialist economics, promoted during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. The chapter opens:
With the anti-rightist campaign in full swing, rural collectivization all but completed, and urban private property and industries now under state ownership, Mao was in a good mood in the summer of 1957. Even the Party leaders with whom he’d been at odds were back on his side. In a July article prepared for a meeting in Qingdao of provincial leaders, Mao noted that the difficulties China was facing were part of the struggle “between the two roads – socialism and capitalism.” He added, “Complete victory in this struggle will take a very long time. It is a task for the entire transition period.” Clearly, capitalism as an economic system no longer existed in China. Here, “capitalism” meant “bourgeois thought” and “rightism,” while “socialism” pointed to revolutionary consciousness, or, increasingly, loyalty to Mao himself.
Here, I’m setting a scene filled with individual and philosophical conflict: Mao vs. the Communist Party; collective vs. private ownership of property; and most important, socialism vs. capitalism as historical choices of economic and social organization.

The book has been leading to this particular series of conflicts, but this passage also exemplifies my general conceptual strategy of combining the individual (Mao) with the historical-philosophical forces that made Mao possible. The chapter that begins on page 99 was hard to write because so much written about socialism and Maoism is profoundly judgmental.

I wanted to write about these topics seriously by paying real attention to the theoretical and historical considerations underlying Mao’s choices in the late 1950s; thus, I did not want to dismiss it all as some crazy scheme dreamt up by a tyrant. What I wanted to do was to show that there was real thought and hope behind the choices that were made, all of which went disastrously and tragically wrong especially in the late-1950s and early-1960s.

In large part, page 99 does turn out to be representative of the book as a whole. I’d never heard of Ford Madox Ford’s saying, but I’ll now pay far more attention to writing a good page 99!
Read more about Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Samuel Moyn's "The Last Utopia"

Samuel Moyn is Professor of History at Columbia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Last Utopia, I am in the midst of a chapter on anticolonialism and human rights. I embarked on it because I had long been puzzled by the fact that, even though their most visible successes came precisely in the era of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and after, anticolonialists didn’t seem to define themselves as a “human rights movement.” Why not?

Some scholars have seen in the emancipation of the world’s peoples from colonial rule a straightforward precedent for the human rights movements of a later era, while other, more sophisticated historians have looked more carefully at whether and when anticolonialists actually invoked the Universal Declaration or the notion of human rights. (For a state of the art assessment of where the discussion stands, let me also recommend Jan Eckel’s fine article in the inaugural issue of Humanity, a new journal that some friends and I are launching this fall.)

In my opinion, the general conclusion has to be that the concept of human rights remained wholly peripheral to anticolonial ideology in its different versions, for a series of reasons my chapter lays out. First, anticolonialism was forged earlier than human rights. Second, and far more important, human rights did not emerge as a definitively anticolonial political language.

After all, not only did the chief energies in the construction of post-World War II human rights concepts originate in the then colonial powers – Britain and France but also Belgium and the Netherlands – but they substituted for the much more emphatically anticolonial concept of collective self-determination as this construction took place. Self-determination had been one of the most inspirational promises of wartime, especially in the famous Atlantic Charter of 1941, but it did not make it into the Universal Declaration, and this was no accident. You could have human rights, apparently, without self-rule.

Page 99 tells the story of how, once they fought and negotiated their way to sovereignty, and therefore to power in the United Nations General Assembly, the “new states” that had not been present in 1948 took their revenge: they invoked human rights as a corollary of self-determination:
Most obviously, the epoch-making Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960 confirmed the near equivalence of human rights and self-determination. According to its text, “faith in fundamental human rights” means the “inalienable right to complete freedom” of “all peoples.” Its essential significance was to make the UN a newly exciting forum for the fight against empire. “The colonial system ... is now an international crime,” Amilcar Cabral, Guinean scourge of Portuguese domination, exulted, in response. “Our struggle has lost its strictly national character and has moved to an international level.” Dramatically, this elevation of anticolonialism to the level of international institutions coincided with the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, which amplified the country’s stigmatization and led to a number of UN resolutions on human rights grounds.

These resolutions and other kindred events show that human rights were defined by antiracism and anticolonialism more generally, fully reversing the imperialist entanglements of the concept of human rights in the postwar moment. Indeed, even as Portuguese Angola came in for immediate attention, India cited the 1960 declaration explicitly in its own December 1961 invasion of Portuguese Goa. In 1962, explaining how best to honor the fifteenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly approved a resolution effectively linking the celebration of the advancement of human rights with that of the attainment of independence from colonial rule: it defined the hope for the future realization of human rights as another “decisive step forward for the liberation of all peoples.” The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was proclaimed in the same spirit the following year, with a convention following two years later—the convention approved the same day as the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty with its remarkable paean to self-determination.
In the larger structure of the book, these events form an essential part of the background of the unexpected rise of “human rights” in our own time. Though anticolonialism skirted human rights in its glory years, its redefinition of them at the United Nations in the vein of collective self-determination proved fateful all the same. Human rights would have to be redefined again later, to bear the meaning they have today – in which independence and “sovereignty” are no barriers to their global applicability. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., put it in 1977, the breakthrough year of human rights, “States may meet all the criteria of national self-determination and still be blots on the planet. Human rights is the way of reaching the deeper principle, which is individual self-determination.”

Born by substituting for collective self-determination, human rights would depend on its suppression again to take on their meaning and role today. The circumstances in which that occurred are explored in the balance of my book.
Learn more about The Last Utopia at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue