Monday, January 31, 2011

Frances Lefkowitz's "To Have Not"

Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of the five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and once for Best American Essays.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to To Have Not and reported the following:
All you really need to know about page 99 of To Have Not is this phrase, “Meet the Gifted Classes.” It’s the title of the chapter that begins on page 99. It’s also the title, slightly altered, of an essay I published eight years ago in The Sun magazine, an essay that eventually expanded into this book. In other words, the seed that grew into To Have Not appears, like a living fossil, front and center on page 99.

The chapter is about the year I entered junior high school and got transferred to what was then called “the gifted classes.” My new classmates, it turned out, were gifted in every sense of the word—gifted with homes and meals and stereos and cars and vacations and gifted also with a faith in the world and their place in it that was foreign to me.

Until that year, the world was full of kids like me, kids whose parents were struggling to keep them fed, clothed, in school, and out of trouble. Kids who’d spent a lot of time on their own, scheming and scamming, like their parents, to get by. Kids who who took the streetcar to school and ate free or reduced-price lunches in the cafeteria. Then suddenly I was plopped into the middle of these school classes filled with the middle classes, with kids who got driven to school by their parents, and who brought homemade lunches in crisp white paper bags, bags made expressly for the purpose of carrying school lunches. In one fell swoop of academic placement, I’d moved from the Have Nots to the Haves.

So by entering a new school class, I was entering a new social class as well. The rest of the book is about what it was like to cross those class lines, and how I ended up at an Ivy League college (on scholarship, of course), mingling with the children of the people who ran our country. It also tells the story of my emotional evolution, how I moved from shame to anger to acceptance and appreciation for all that I do have. And along with the rough-and-tumble scenes of childhood, it describes my adventures: surfing, traveling, and hanging out with rock stars. But it all started with the gifted classes.
Learn more about the book and author at Frances Lefkowitz's website, the FrancesLefkowitz Author page on Facebook, and @MeetFrances on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Daniel Rasmussen's "American Uprising"

Daniel Rasmussen graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University in 2009, winning the Kathryn Ann Huggins Prize, the Perry Miller Prize, and the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Uprising finds Charles Deslondes – a slave driver turned revolutionary – leading the attack that would start the largest slave revolt in American history. The son of a white father and enslaved mother, Charles had risen to the top of the slave hierarchy; he was responsible for punishing the other slaves, organizing the work of sugar planting, and serving as his master Manuel Andry’s right hand man. But Charles used his privileged status not to promote the institution of slavery, but to destroy it. He was, in modern terminology, the ultimate sleeper cell. But let’s enter in medias res:
With Charles leading the way, the slaves entered the brick-walled storage basement and made their way towards the wooden double-staircase that led upstairs to the quarters where Manuel and Gilbert Andry slept.

As the slaves stormed onto the second floor landing, Manuel Andry woke to the sight of dark forms penetrating his bedroom and the clatter of bare feet on hardwood floors. As his eyes snapped open and his brain awoke with a fright, Andry caught a glimpse of Charles Deslondes, a new look on his face, ordering his fellow slaves towards Andry with an axe. One can only imagine Andry’s reaction, in the fog and panic of those first instants of awareness, to seeing Charles, his most loyal driver, his reliable assistant for over a decade, the man he had trusted to manage his plantation, now turned betrayer and potential murderer.

His mind clouded by fear and anger, Andry’s eyes fixed on Charles’ axe, a plantation tool transmuted into an icon of violent insurrection.
Learn more about American Uprising and its author at Daniel Rasmussen's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Erin Brannigan's "Dancefilm"

Erin Brannigan works in dance and film as a journalist, academic and curator. She was the founding Director of ReelDance International Dance on Screen Festival and has curated dance screen programs and exhibitions for Sydney Festival 2008, Melbourne International Arts Festival 2003 and international dance screen festivals. Brannigan writes on dance for the Australian arts newspaper, RealTime and lectures in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dancefilm is the end of Chapter 3 which I am beginning to think is the heart of the book. I am describing scenes from short films made by Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus. These scenes demonstrate the central role of gesture in understanding how dance functions within the broader milieu of filmmaking. Dance really constitutes an alternative to language in cinema, an alternative way of expressing something or creating meaning. Yet cinema, by and large, is dominated by narrative and other language-based forms of meaning production. In the Vandekeybus scenes - as in musicals and many other types of dancefilm - a choreographic approach to gesture, where gestures are adapted or manipulated in some way, creates a bridge between drama and dance, between narrative cinema and a more experimental approach to physical screen performance. So page 99 demonstrates how dance figures as a force in cinema that draws attention back to the moving body and its non-linear way of operating and producing meaning. Gesture, that step between language and dance, is a mode of screen performance that reappears throughout my book, inhabiting the place between acting and dancing. Gestural performance helped me understand the role of choreography in cinema as an expressive force that 'takes us where language cannot', from Maya Deren to Bob Fosse to Chris Cunningham.
Read more about Dancefilm at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michael P. Jeffries' "Thug Life"

Michael P. Jeffries is assistant professor of American studies at Wellesley College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Thug Life features textual analysis of love and romance in hip-hop thug performances. In a sense, this section is tremendously misleading, because it is grounded in my interpretation of hip-hop. In fact, I use my textual analysis as a complement to the book’s major contribution, which is foregrounding the voices of everyday hip-hop fans, rather than artists, critics, and researchers like me. I went out and conducted one on one interviews with forty young men who identify themselves as popular hip-hop aficionados. Half of the sample identifies racially as white, and half of the sample is black. In the book, I analyze how race, gender, and class influence respondents’ definitions of hip-hop and interpretations of rap music.

Interviews point to important similarities and differences among the demographic groups, and reveal the contradiction and complexity within commercial hip-hop. This is how my textual analysis, on page 99 and elsewhere, is connected to the overall project, which intervenes on a reductionist conversation about what hip-hop is. On one hand, some folks defend hip-hop to the hilt, and romanticize its value to the point that they cannot earnestly engage its faults. On the other, critics with very little understanding of hip-hop often whip up moral panic, and mischaracterize the culture as nothing more than than sexist, hedonistic, pseudo-political posturing. Both interviews and my readings demonstrate popular hip-hop’s dissonance. In looking at love and romance within the thug genre on page 99, I am able to draw out some of these tensions. Love, the desire to be loved, and masculine vulnerability exist in the same universe as hip-hop performances that glorify violence, exploitation, and conspicuous consumption.

To understand not only why hip-hop is popular, but why it is meaningful to those who engage it on a daily basis, we have to go straight to the source: the fans themselves. In listening to these young men, it becomes impossible to dismiss hip-hop as pure hedonism or an empty fad. The best way to address hip-hop’s most troubling elements is to treat those who care about it with respect, and meet them on common ground.
Learn more about Thug Life at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ann M. Blair's "Too Much To Know"

Ann M. Blair is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Harvard University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, and reported the following:
On page 99 I’m talking about how the slip of paper appeared as a method for taking and storing notes in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My book studies the working methods of early modern European scholars, roughly 1500-1700, as they coped with a rapid accumulation of textual information generated by the printing press and by their own enthusiasm for trying to store and manage all those books. Chapter 2 (where page 99 occurs) looks at note-taking as a way of managing books, by selecting the best passages and storing them under topical headings for later retrieval.

There were no standard note cards for sale in this period. Slips were made by cutting up a sheet of paper to fit the separate pieces of writing on it. Some advised against using slips because they could easily become lost or disordered, for example from a breeze blowing in from an open window or door. But because slips could be moved around, they were first recommended as a method for alphabetizing entries, for example in a library catalog or an alphabetical index. Each entry for the catalog or index would be entered on a slip and the slips rearranged until they were all properly ordered; then the slips would be glued safely into place, and the catalog or index was done and might be printed at that point. The idea of a library catalog kept only on slips to which additions could be made over time first developed in the 18th century.

Some authors also used slips to add items into their already full notebooks. Quite exceptionally, the Pensées of Blaise Pascal (1623-62) were printed from slips stored in bundles held together with a string running through them. Pascal planned to use these notes to write an apology of Christianity, but died before he could carry out the project. After his death the slips were glued into notebooks by his heirs; but the order in which to present them has been a matter of debate ever since.

Other chapters of my book discuss the printed reference books and finding devices that offered shortcuts to the accumulation of texts of interest focused on classical antiquity which was the central field of learning at the time. I examine the origins of these books in ancient and medieval models, the ways in which they were made (sometimes from slips cut directly out of printed books to save the labor of copying from them), and how they were read and used, and by whom.
Learn more about Too Much to Know at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kevin W. Saunders' "Degradation"

Kevin W. Saunders is Charles Clarke Chair in Constitutional Law at Michigan State University College of Law. He is the author of Violence as Obscenity: Limiting the Media's First Amendment Protection and Saving Our Children from the First Amendment.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Degradation: What the History of Obscenity Tells Us about Hate Speech, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the ideal locus for an explanation of the thesis and scope of this book. It is the first page of a chapter titled "What about Hate Speech?" and begins a transition between two very different parts of the work.

The first half of the book is an examination of pornography and obscenity. Pornography, which includes all sexual images, has been open and accepted in some cultures and eras. In others, it has been considered obscene; that is, it has been seen as sufficiently objectionable as to be subject to sanctions. The difference, from culture to culture and era to era, is found in whether or not sexual depiction is seen as degrading to human kind. In classical Greece and Rome and in pre-colonial India, sexual depiction, even rather explicit sexual depiction, was perfectly acceptable. I argue that this is because in polytheistic cultures, with gods and goddesses who engage in sexual activity, sex is not seen as separating humanity from the divine and placing us on the animal side of a divine/animal chasm. Sex is not degrading, and sexual depiction does not present a negative view of humanity.

With the advent of monotheistic religions, the situation changes dramatically. A monotheistic God is not a sexual creature. Human sexual activity may be seen as placing us on the animal side of that chasm and separating us from the divine. Sexual depiction of humans may therefore be seen as degrading. In the modern era, despite our monotheism, we seem to be more accepting of the animal side of human nature, and we have come to accept sexual depiction to the degree that we see very few obscenity prosecutions.

Here we reach page 99, which says:
Sexual depictions were seen as degrading in some eras and not in others. In the eras in which such depictions were seen as degrading, they were regulated. Society in the current era may not see sexual images as degrading, although that attitude is clearly not universal. Most people do currently recognize hate speech as being degrading, although again the attitude may not be universal. If hate speech is the current form of degrading speech, then past experience with the regulation of degrading speech would be valuable in examining how to regulate hate speech. The law of obscenity could then provide guidance to any efforts in that direction.
The remainder of the book then looks at how obscenity has been conceptualized and developed into a legal test. The concept and test are adapted to hate speech with for example, a change from an appeal to a prurient interest in sex to an appeal to a degraded image of those in the target group. Instead of placing all of humanity on a level below the divine, hate speech puts its target group on a level below that of the rest of humanity. With an adapted test in hand, I go on to analyze a variety of speech acts to determine whether or not they should be considered hate speech.
Learn more about Degradation at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chloë G. K. Atkins' "My Imaginary Illness"

Chloë G. K. Atkins is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, My Imaginary Illness: A Journey into Uncertainty and Prejudice in Medical Diagnosis, and reported the following:
Page 99 of My Imaginary Illness describes my spouse and I in the middle of a perilous car trip. I had recently been discharged from an intensive care unit in Montreal after having experienced a respiratory crisis. We had been attending a friend’s wedding over the Labour Day weekend and had enjoyed the humid late summer days exploring the city and eating Quebecois cuisine. Unfortunately, my tentatively diagnosed illness (myasthenia gravis) flared and my breathing faltered Saturday afternoon. I arrived in the ER as a code blue. The doctors intubated me, placed me on a respirator and admitted me to the ICU. Within a few hours, a plasma exchange took place, replacing my antibodies with fresh ones that no longer attacked my neuromuscular systems – and thus my breathing muscles started to work more consistently. I began to feel much better.

But, as soon as my medical chart history arrived by fax after the long weekend, the ICU staff became hostile. Once again the possibility that my illness was psychosomatic became the primary focus of all the health care practitioners who looked after me. Suddenly, I became a con artist and a patient who no longer deserved care. The plasma exchange was halted and my nurse told me I was to be discharged from the hospital within 24 hours. While I was certainly less critically ill, I knew that I was not stable. I could breathe, but speaking made me winded. Orderlies moved my bed to a small room off to one side of the unit. Nurses and doctors did their best to ignore me in order to ensure that I didn’t receive any untoward attention that further my inappropriate illness behaviour.

I called my spouse in Toronto and asked her to drive the 5 hours to pick me up (to “rescue“ me) from the hostility of the hospital which now cared from me. Page 99 captures the long humid car trip home. Neither of us were sure that I would survive it. We felt utterly desperate and alone. And yet we were also simultaneously deeply committed to one another and to the understanding that my illness was horribly real and threatening and should normally require compassionate and comprehensive medical care - something I had yet to really receive as a patient.
Learn more about My Imaginary Illness at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scott Radnitz's "Weapons of the Wealthy"

Scott Radnitz is Assistant Professor in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia, and reported the following:
My book uses in-depth research from a region unfamiliar to most people—Central Asia—to make a larger point about the political dynamics of authoritarian regimes. I contrast Uzbekistan, which made minimal economic reforms and left the economy in state hands, with Kyrgyzstan, which underwent thorough market reforms and allowed private actors to gain control of important resources. The critical point in my argument is that new elites separate from the regime emerged in Kyrgyzstan and invested some of their wealth in needy communities. Charity helped these elite-patrons to (1) win elections to parliament, (2) demonstrate a commitment to social justice (however cynical their actual intentions), allowing them to legitimate their political agenda and withstand accusations of corruption, and (3) mobilize loyal supporters as a last line of defense against a predatory state.

Page 99 is unfortunately a transitional page, concluding a section in which I use my fieldwork in the region to detail the activities of some of these patrons in Kyrgyzstan, and starting a discussion of the absence of such elite-patrons in Uzbekistan.

These elite-mass ties outside the ambit of the state, which I term subversive clientelism, turned out to be consequential in Kyrgyzstan, where parliamentary candidates who had invested in communities mobilized their supporters in 2005 to protest fraudulent elections, culminating in the overthrow of the president.

The processes I describe point to a broader trend in the region—the dispersion of power in states that carried out early reforms. In such systems, which are sometimes called hybrid regimes, intricate and dynamic struggles for power take place between the state leadership and autonomous elites. In some cases, notably Georgia and Ukraine, opposition elites mobilized street protests, toppling their regimes. Looking through the lens of the Kyrgyz case, we should not assume that mass demonstrations truly represent grassroots aspirations—protest can also be a weapon of the wealthy, who otherwise have few means at their disposal to resist the state.

It’s a shame I am unable to promote other pages ending in “9.” For example, if I could highlight 109, 149, and 159, I could elaborate on fascinating maps, riveting narratives of ordinary people who challenge their government, and deconstruction of the dynamics of protest. I hope page 99 will turn out auspiciously in the sequel.
Learn more about Weapons of the Wealthy at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robert Kurzban's "Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite"

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, and reported the following:
On p. 99 [inset below, click to enlarge], I quote a remark by K. Patricia Cross to the effect that 68% of all faculty members think that they are in the top 25% of their colleagues in terms of their teaching ability.

That’s funny because, of course, only 25% of faculty members can be in the top 25%, and so most of those 68% are 1) quite pleased with their teaching abilities and 2) quite wrong about their teaching abilities.

Why do so many people (not you, of course) have impossibly positive views of just how great they are? The usual answer among psychologists is “self-deception,” that because believing good things about ourselves makes us happy – and because we like to be happy – well, we believe good things about ourselves even if these beliefs conflict with other things that we know.

There are a number of problems with this answer, not the least of which is that there is no “self” in your head somewhere to be deceived.

To get around these problems, I offer a different explanation. I argue that your mind consists of a large number of different “modules” – sort of like those little applications on a smart phone – that have different jobs. Some of these applications are in the propaganda business, designed to make you look as good to others as is plausible. As a consequence, these modules adopt certain beliefs that, while they might not be justified given what you actually know about your teaching skills, are useful because they can be used to persuade others about how great a teacher you are.

This is just one example of how the central idea in the book – modularity – helps explain various kinds of the many varieties of human inconsistency.

One particular kind, the one referred to in the title, is the one where you notice other people’s moral lapses while conveniently missing your own.

Not, of course, that you would do such a thing…
Learn more about the book and author at the official website for Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Louis Hyman's "Debtor Nation"

Louis Hyman attended Columbia University, where he received a BA in History and Mathematics. A former Fulbright scholar, he received his PhD in American history in 2007 from Harvard University. His dissertation received the Harold K. Gross Prize for best dissertation in history at Harvard and the Krooss prize for best dissertation in business history nationally. His new book, Debtor Nation, was revised and based on that dissertation during a fellowship at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Hyman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Debtor Nation and reported the following:
Personal debt, over the past century, has moved from capitalism’s margin to its center, from the backrooms of loan sharks to the boardrooms of multinational corporations. Debtor Nation, the first history of personal debt to span the twentieth century, explains the connections between consumer borrowing, business investment, and government policies. My central argument attempts to answer the question, “Why are Americans of today so deeply in debt?”

Consumer credit, as we know it today, did not pre-exist the mass production economy after World War I, when usury laws were relaxed, commercial banks invested in consumer debt, and retailers began to profit on financing and not just selling goods. The true sea change in debt practices, however, followed World War II, as suburban Americans left mortgaged homes in financed cars to shop on retailers’ credit at shopping centers. The history of American debt practice, then, fundamentally entwines with the post-war prosperity, reshaping how we ought to think about that period’s economic legacy. My book shows how Americans came to be so comfortable with, and then dependent upon, borrowing during the postwar prosperity. Though in 1959 Nixon may have bragged to Khrushchev about the wonders of the modern kitchen, he left out how much was owed on the appliances.

On page 99, I am half-way through a chapter on World War II and the the attempt by the Federal Reserve to regulate consumer credit in war-time ― the now forgotten Regulation W. Regulation W restricted nearly all major forms of consumer credit during the war, but missed one that was to become the defining form of credit ― revolving credit. Revolving credit, the forerunner of today's credit cards, was so novel as to fall outside the regulation. “As the war wore on, businessmen who initially agreed to Regulation W in the name of patriotism saw opportunities to obey the regulation in name but to break it in practice,” spreading this new form of borrowing across the country. I shift the story of the origin of the credit card away from the odd expenditures of traveling businessmen (Diner's Club) to the main consumers in the economy ― housewive's shopping. In doing so, the true origin of credit cards can be in seen in “the larger structures of capitalism and public policy.” Though “Regulation W successfully curtailed the growth of consumer credit while it was in effect, [it] produced unexpected consequences for how businesses and consumers practiced debt, ultimately fueling the postwar credit boom.”

Debtor Nation shows how our contemporary financial practices arose, from the credit card to the mortgage-backed security, illustrating how the choices of policymakers and businessmen ― not the inevitabilities of the market ― brought our debt-driven economy into being.
Read an excerpt from the book, and visit the official Debtor Nation website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 16, 2011

John McMillian's "Smoking Typewriters"

John McMillian is an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he specializes in studying 20th century social movements and the Vietnam War Era. He has a Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University, and his dissertation was honored by the American Journalism Historians Association. From 2001-2009, he taught at Harvard University, in the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature, and in the Undergraduate Writing Program. He is a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, and reported the following:
No, I wouldn't quite say that the quality of Smoking Typewriters is revealed by page 99 (or any other page) of the book. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I worked on the manuscript over a long period of time, and in different iterations. Some of the chapters in the book were originally drafted for my Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia. One chapter evolved out of a stand-alone essay that I originally wrote for a literary magazine called The Believer, and a couple more were written after I knew this would be published as a trade book by Oxford. Once I’d finished a draft of the entire manuscript, I went over it again, and tried to make sure that I maintained a consistent tone throughout, so I don't think the average reader would have an easy time figuring out which chapters were originally intended for which purpose. But I suppose I’m still a little sensitive to this.

Another thing is, much of the book is done in a narrative style, but a few sections are analytical. On page 99, I'm fully in analytical mode; I'm exploring the possibility that members of a radical news agency called Liberation News Service (LNS) might have, on a very few occasions, consciously tried to advance the New Left's aspirations by putting across "strategic myths" -- stories that they knew were not fully accurate, but that retain a kind of “impressionistic honesty.” Again, I don't think this happened often. Most of the time, underground journalists put across the "facts" as they knew them, and then interpreted those facts from a radical perspective. But in a few instances, I think their sense of theater, and their sense of self-righteousness, may have caused them to behave like fabulists.
Visit John McMillian's website, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 14, 2011

Joseph E. Taylor's "Pilgrims of the Vertical"

Joseph E. Taylor III is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Pilgrims of the Vertical: Yosemite Rock Climbers and Nature at Risk, and reported the following:
This is an interesting exercise. Like previous authors, the idea of scanning an arbitrarily-picked page to assess my entire book is daunting and anxiety inducing, but, as it turns out, I pass the page 99 test. Pilgrims of the Vertical was inspired by a collision of avocation and vocation. Like most recreationalists I had long cultivated the notion that outdoor play was an escape from society for intimate encounters with nature, yet my background as an academic historian told me this was folly. It was while rereading some old climbing texts that I spied a historical question in this tension, both in terms of when, exactly my attitude first emerged because the articles I was reading showed that people did not always think my way, and in how recreationalists have negotiated that cognitive disjuncture. On further research I discovered an older mode in which climbers, skiers, and surfers viewed nature as an extension of much more social forms of play.

Following Yosemite’s climbing community, I learned that earlier generations of technical climbers—people who used ropes and special gear to scale sheer cliffs—usually climbed as part of large outings, and the value of their ascents derived from that social context. This recreational culture continues, but it was eclipsed in the climbing literature after 1955 by the Beat generation climbers. The tensions between communitarian and individualistic forms of play began much earlier, however, and part of that story emerges on page 99.

The chapter, titled “Soldiers,” traces events during World War II, and David Brower, later the Sierra Club’s first executive director and a global force in environmentalism, plays a central role. Like many club climbers and skiers, Brower joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, and at first his goal was to keep clueless officers from killing him and fellow recreationalists:
Early months were marred by near disasters. Two regiments from the South and Plains had few soldiers with mountain experience, and officers did not realize they should adjust packs and marches to avoid exhaustion at high elevations. A two-week maneuver in -25°F temperatures and heavy snowfall inflicted frostbite and pneumonia
Pre-existing relationships enabled the enlisted to leverage favors from higher ranking members. Figures in the Quartermaster Office got the original officer corps reassigned and then had junior officers from the club ranks promoted to positions of authority at key camps.
By mid-1943 the skiing and climbing schools were directed by members of the National Ski Patrol, American Alpine Club, Sierra Club, Colorado Mountain Club, and Mountaineers. Put another way, the enlisted were running the show.
Brower’s experiences in the Army revealed the extent and power of this communitarian culture:
By the time Brower enlisted in October 1942, many climbers were in position to protect his file from the bureaucracy. At the Quartermaster General’s Office, [Richard] Leonard attached a telegram from the Adjutant General so Brower went to Camp Carson for basic training with the mountain troops, then to Fort Benning for Infantry School, and finally to Camp Hale. At Carson, Capt. John Woodward, friend to some “skiing associates,” assigned Brower to work on a mountain training manual. Then at Brower’s entrance exam for Officer Candidate School, Major Paul Lafferty, who first met Brower while snow camping, intervened to ensure the poorly prepared Brower passed. Lafferty then sent Brower and other RCS members to the Assault Climbing School at the West Virginia Maneuver Area at Seneca Rocks. When the Army disbanded the school and scattered the instructors, Brower and others phoned Leonard, [Bestor] Robinson, and [Minot] Dole to get their orders countermanded. Within hours they were reassigned to Camp Swift in Texas, where Lafferty saved Brower again from duties he could not perform by making him an intelligence officer.
Page 99 reveals the significance of this older form of recreation, but there is more. Once climbers went overseas—Brower to a brutal campaign in Italy, Leonard to be a fashion spy in Burma—they encountered spectacular mountains deeply etched with evidence of human history. Many recoiled at what they saw as defacement. Brower and Leonard vowed to save the Sierra Nevada from this fate. In the early 1950s they rewrote the club charter to deemphasize mountain accessibility in favor of wilderness preservation. Brower then turned the Sierra Club Bulletin, long a mountaineering publication, into a journal exclusively dedicated to environmentalism. In the process, however, he unintentionally forced ambitious climbers to write for more commercial magazines. This further divorced top climbers from the club context and, in the long run, helped solidify a culture of individualistic adventure. Elite climbers began to advertise their feats to a wider audience, and a growing hoard of consuming enthusiasts like myself helped entrepreneurial climbers to professionalize by buying their gear, books, and expertise. Our pilgrimages to nature were never quite the escapes we imagined. We always carried our contexts with us, but then humans always have. That is the tension that Pilgrims of the Vertical explores.
Learn more about Pilgrims of the Vertical at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

James J. Connolly's "An Elusive Unity"

James J. Connolly is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Middletown Studies at Ball State University and the author of The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900–1925.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Elusive Unity: Urban Democracy and Machine Politics in Industrializing America, and reported the following:
Page 99 gets to the nub of An Elusive Unity’s argument about U.S. urban politics as well as any single page could. The book traces American efforts to reconcile democracy and diversity, a process that unfolded principally in cities during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The 99th page falls in a chapter examining class and city politics. It features an 1886 episode in which Chicago’s United Labor Party (ULP) hurled a series of insults at the Chicago Citizens Association (CCA). The CCA had proposed that the two groups cooperate in a push to clean up local politics. The ULP responded dismissively, implying that the well-heeled men who headed the CCA cheated on their taxes and had a propensity for bribing public officials. The labor leaders also called for stricter enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, suggesting that it was a subject on which the men in charge of the CCA might well provide detailed information.

The point, of course, was that labor activists were the real reformers. Leading businessmen complained about political corruption, high taxes, and municipal inefficiency not because they had the interests of ordinary people at heart, but because they wanted to increase their own power and profits. Only labor spoke for the true people.

The ULP’s belief that it had cornered the market on civic virtue in Chicago highlights a key point of the book. As late as the 1880s, many, if not most Americans remained uncomfortable with political pluralism—the idea that public life was comprised of contending groups, each with claims and interests that could be legitimately accommodated. Labor, in Chicago and elsewhere, would soon learn the hard way that the ideal of a unified people worked poorly in polyglot urban settings.

Still labor’s aggression was one of the factors that prompted reformers to think of public life in more pluralistic terms. They accepted the idea that politics could legitimately involve give and take among competing interests, an approach pioneered by nineteenth-century party politicians. But full-throated expressions of pluralism would never earn unanimous support in American public discourse. Even today there exists on both ends of the political spectrum a pronounced unwillingness to imagine one’s opponents as having legitimate ideas or interests.
Read more about An Elusive Unity at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 10, 2011

James A. Russell's "Innovation, Transformation and War"

James A. Russell is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey. He previously spent 13 years in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, working on Persian Gulf-related strategy and security policy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005-2007, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Innovation, Transformation and War dramatically illustrates a central feature of my book: it chronicles the struggles of military commanders to respond to an incredibly complex environment with organizations wholly unsuited to the task. In this particular case, the 2nd Brigade, 28th Infantry Division – a unit composed mostly of national guard units – found itself in Ramadi in the fall of 2005. This was one of the most violent places in the world at the time. This unit had not received adequate training for the environment; it did not have enough men; and it faced myriad other challenges in overcoming its own limitations on the battlefield.

The story that emerges from this unit is one that was repeated elsewhere on the battlefields of Iraq during this period of the war in which brigade, battalion, and company commanders tore up their existing manuals and designed new organizations on the fly to better deal with the insurgency. The 2/28, like other units in this book, built new organizational capacities because they had to in order to survive. In this war, at least, the rigid hierarchy of military units became much more flexible as authority got driven down the chain of command to the executing elements. These elements took the authority and built new capacities, organically – as it were – from the ground up.

This book does not argue that this process delivered victory or strategic success – claims that have received unfortunate endorsement in the public sound-byte delivered parlance on this issue. But it is clear that these brigade and battalion commanders did help the country avert complete strategic disaster and did so mostly on their own in spite of and not because of the dysfunctional and feckless political and military leadership at the top of the national command authority. This book is a tribute to those leaders placed in an untenable position and chronicles their struggle to overcome the ill-defined strategic environment into which their political and military leaders had placed them.
Read an excerpt from Innovation, Transformation and War, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Darren Dochuk's "From Bible Belt to Sunbelt"

Darren Dochuk is a professor at Purdue University and a former Fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, and reported the following:
Ever since Thomas Frank published What’s the Matter With Kansas in 2005, pundits have been asking a basic question: why do so many rank-and-file voters support a party that ignores their economic interests? Restated, why do the “plain folk” of Main Street, Kansas vote for a Republican Party run by the powerbrokers of Wall Street, New York?

My book was not written in response to Frank’s query, but it does tease out a few rejoinders. Most of these are embedded in a long narrative of change over time, making them difficult to pluck out, but an obvious one surfaces on page 99. In the lead-up to this page I describe how southern evangelical Democrats who moved to California during the Depression and World War II began reconstituting its politics. These sojourners (2.5 million southerners called California home by 1970) confronted a polarized political climate that seemed foreign and dangerous. Their fiercest adversaries were Social Democrats, left-leaning liberals who controlled California’s Democratic Party. Amid the tumult of post-war political adjustment, southern evangelicals attempted to assert their authority through a grassroots movement called Ham and Eggs. Ham and Eggs combined calls for Christian revival and morality with a critique of capitalism and economic injustice. This was William Jennings Bryan’s Populism reborn, and it scared Social Democrats, who believed that Ham and Eggs was less reform-minded and more reactionary, less of a cause and more of a conduit for intemperate, irrational religion.

These battling Democrats came to blows, literally on the streets of Los Angeles. On page 99 I describe the fallout of a particularly violent clash in late 1945, when fifteen thousand Social Democrats protested a Ham and Eggs rally attended by four thousand church folk.
To the dismay of city officials, the confrontations involving Ham and Eggs escalated in the coming months, galvanizing an alliance of right-wing opponents. Although not necessarily in agreement with the Ham and Eggs agenda…allies gathered from Republican groups, middle-class evangelical churches, and business associations had contempt for a common adversary. These groups had grown increasingly wary that communist radicals in government, mainline Protestantism, organized labor, and Hollywood were creating a new political establishment that wanted to extend the power of the New Deal state to extreme ends (99).
Ham and Eggs failed, leaving liberals in charge of California’s Democratic Party, but the tumult it stirred up left southern evangelical transplants troubled and faced with a hard decision: Had secularly-minded Social Democrats shifted Roosevelt’s Party—their party—too far to the Left? If so, where did that leave citizens who wanted to protect both conservative social values and a spirit of economic justice? As my book details in the chapters that follow, California’s evangelicals would ultimately decide that culture (conservative social values) trumped class (economic justice), and that the GOP had this overriding interest at heart. When Ronald Reagan roused them in the 1960s by saying “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party…[t]he party left me,” they responded predictably, therefore, by becoming his loyalist foot soldiers. For decades to come they would rally behind Reagan’s right-wing Republicanism as if it was their only option, leaving Thomas Frank and others to ask why.
Preview From Bible Belt to Sunbelt, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Karen Abbott's "American Rose"

Karen Abbott worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for and other publications. She is the author of Sin in the Second City.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Rose begins with Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Rose Hovick, telling her daughters a fable about a wolf devouring a little girl—one of many such tales in her repertoire. A few paragraphs later, Gypsy and her sister, bored during their downtime on the vaudeville circuit, are caught stealing from a Woolworth’s, and their tutor (employed only to keep child welfare authorities at bay) marches them back to their mother. Instead of thanking the tutor for her vigilance, Rose comforts her sobbing children and then turns on the tutor, her face arranged in an expression of terrifying calm. It is moments like this, when the volatile, mercurial Rose lashes out at others, that Gypsy feels most protected and loved. “We were together,” she thought. “We were warm and safe from outsiders who didn’t understand us.”

The page gets at the heart of the intense relationship between Gypsy and her mother, which in turn is the heart of the book. Rose developed a pattern early on in Gypsy’s life—pushing her away and pulling her close, threatening her and saving her—so that Gypsy feared both her mother’s absence and her presence, and couldn’t quite decide which was worse. After page 99, I examine their relationship further: “Theirs is a primal connection that Gypsy is incapable of severing, parallel to love and just as deep but rotten at its root. It is a swooning, funhouse version of love, love concerned with appearances rather than intent, love both deprived and depraved, love that has to glimpse its distorted reflection in the mirror in order to exist at all.” Gypsy spends most of her life disentangling herself from her mother and finding her own way, a venture that is tumultuous, dramatic, tragic, and, I think, ultimately triumphant.
Read an excerpt from American Rose, and learn more about the book and author at Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Daniel T. Rodgers' "Age of Fracture"

Daniel T. Rodgers is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University.His books include: The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920 (1978), winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize; Contested Truths: Keywords in American Politics (1987); and Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (1998), which won the American Historical Association’s Beer Prize and the Organization of American Historians’s Hawley Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Age of Fracture, and reported the following:
Age of Fracture is a book about ideas and arguments. It is the first general history of the wars of ideas that were waged across the last quarter of the 20th century and the ways in which those battles reshaped some of the core concepts of our times: markets, race, gender, power, society, and time. Over the course of these years, notions of common purpose and interdependent fates gave way to smaller and more flexible ideas of human action. Solidarities fragmented. Structures of power came to seem less important than market choice and fluid selves. By the end of the century, some of the most important concepts that Americans had lived by in the 1950s and 1960s had begun to fracture, and the consequences were racing through debates over poverty, color-blindness, sisterhood, economic policy, and the nation itself.

The canvas of the book is broad and there are a lot of characters in it. On p. 99, I turn to one of them, the most important anthropologist of his generation, Clifford Geertz. We follow him to Bali as he tried to understand how power lay not in economic structures but in the “tremulous” stuff of words and meanings. Skip to p. 199 we’re with the philosopher John Rawls as he made what turned out to be the last great twentieth century argument for equality. On p. 249 we’re with Jeffrey Sachs, as he imagined bringing capitalism in one fantastic “big bang” into post-Communist Russia. On p. 29, we’re watching terms for difficulty, sacrifice, peril, and courage evaporate from Ronald Reagan’s speeches to make room for story telling and dreaming. Each, in its way, tells a story of fracture.

There are many other characters in the books: Jerry Falwell, Judith Butler, Charles Murray, Michel Foucault, Margaret Thatcher, Alvin Toffler, and more. There are partisan think tanks and academic intellectuals, social movements and dramatic shifts in the economy itself. The pattern is not simple. But what stands out, in the end, is the paradox that dominates our own time of contention and uncertainty: that as structures, power, and collective interdependence all intensified in the late 20th century, the concepts for comprehending them fragmented and diminished.

From page 99:
In contrast to the imperial pose of the structuralist social sciences, there was something compellingly modest in Geertz’s redescription of the work of anthropology. One guessed at meanings, knowing that one’s ‘most telling assertions are [the] most tremulously based,’ that the more deeply cultural analysis goes ‘the less complete it is.’ ... But as Geertz brushed by rival ways of reading societies—as systems of production and exchange, systems of authority and behavioral rules, systems of social differentiation and inequality, structures of cosmic belief and ideology—the audacity of Geertz’s ‘foundational critique’ of anthropology could not be missed. There were no structural foundations in Geertz’s system, nothing but a play of texts, meanings, and semiotics, all the way down.
Learn more about Age of Fracture at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 2, 2011

G.J. Barker-Benfield's "Abigail and John Adams"

G.J. Barker-Benfield is professor of history at the State University of New York, Albany. He is the author of The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes toward Women in Nineteenth-Century America and The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility, and reported the following:
Page 99 does represent ways in which my Abigail and John Adams differs from other books on the Adamses, most recently by Joseph Ellis. In fact, it is not a biographical study at all, rather a trip with these two articulate people along with their children and friends, into eighteenth-century American culture.

This page quotes a letter from John to Abigail in which he describes how different kinds of men spoke to each other about sex, and what he thought about that. In this letter John also expresses his view about what women thought about men and sex, before engaging his young wife in sexual wordplay. Finally, it links all this to the culture of sensibility, and shows how sensibility, while associated with modesty, was charged with sexual potentials.
Learn more about Abigail and John Adams at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue