Sunday, July 31, 2011

Robin Wright's "Rock the Casbah"

Robin Wright’s books include Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (2008), which The New York Times and The Washington Post both selected as one of the most notable books of the year. She was the editor of The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and U.S. Policy (2010). Her other books include The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran (2000), which was selected as one of the 25 most memorable books of the year 2000 by the New York Library Association, Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam (2001), Flashpoints: Promise and Peril in a New World (1991), and In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade (1989).

Wright applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, and reported the following:
Such an interesting idea. I have many other pieces to write but Ford Madox Ford’s concept intrigued me so I dropped everything to look at page 99 of Rock the Casbah. It begins with the description of a green scarf worn by the leading opposition candidate in Iran’s 2009 presidential election. Mir Hossein Mousavi wore it around his neck throughout the campaign. His wife also took to wearing green scarves. She was the first candidate’s wife since the 1979 revolution to campaign publicly with her husband.

Mousavi’s polling and millions of Iranians thought he had won the election. But the government hastily went on television to announce that hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had instead been reelected. The next day, millions took to the streets in a spontaneous outburst to protest—many wearing green. And the Green Movement—the largest opposition since the 1979 revolution—was born.

Page 99 chronicles the new movement’s “stubborn determination” to defy one of the world’s most brutal regimes. It describes how the young—in a region where roughly two-thirds of the population is under 30—led the way. Youth then mobilized other sectors of society—“shopkeepers as well as construction workers, doctors in white coats as well as taxi drivers in shirtsleeves, even government employees.” Females were also among the most visible members of the new opposition. Page 99 begins the story of Neda Agha Soltan, a 26-year-old who became the other symbol of Iran’s uprising after she was shot during a protest by a sniper. A cell phone video captured the picture of her dying on a Tehran street.

Sound familiar? Iran’s 2009 election presaged the uprisings launched in late 2010 in Tunisia that then spread to Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and beyond. I have Egyptian friends who told me that they were inspired by the noisy Iranian protests. They then played a role in forcing out President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power.

Page 99 is actually a microcosm of the whole book, which is about what I call “the counter-jihad.” It explores the many different sides of a new campaign across the Islamic world to reject both autocrats and extremists. Iran is but one small part (and one chapter) of it. The campaign has a cultural face too that includes rappers and comedians, playwrights and poets, YouTube sheikhs and comic book creators. Rock covers how they are all, in vastly different ways, trying to redefine political systems and rescue their faith.

Page 99 ends with the line, “On day four, a massive protest in Tehran ran more than a mile long.” Protests in many Iranian cities lasted six months before the government managed to quash them through mass arrests, torture and Stalinesque trials. Iran’s tactics are now being imitated in Syria and other Arab countries in an attempt to stop the largest pro-democracy movements in the early 21st century.

Yet anyone who knows the Middle East—as I have since 1973—also knows that the story of uprisings is only beginning. Political change is grueling and tough and deadly. Page 99 describes protesters demanding “Where’s my vote?” It’s the theme of the entire book.

So Ford was quite prescient!
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Wright's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 29, 2011

David E. Settje's "Faith and War"

David E. Settje is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Chicago and author of Lutherans and the Longest War: Adrift on a Sea of Doubt about the Cold and Vietnam Wars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and reported the following:
Page 99 certainly gives a sense for the type of analysis that I did regarding Christian reactions to the Cold and Vietnam Wars. Yet it is narrow in that it shows one of many source bases that I employed, so you cannot read it and gain a full sense for what the manuscript argues. This page focuses on Christianity Today’s interpretation of the Cold War. It gives a definite sense for how I place this evangelical periodical in the midst of the foreign policy dialogue from that era. Here we see a conservative support for a U.S. policy that denounced all communist nations and distrusted them at every turn. This is a relatively traditionalist and hardline Cold War attitude that many churches shared.

Page 99:
and proselytizing. Editor-at-large Carl F. H. Henry reported in February 1972 about conditions in Eastern Europe, where Communist governments had stifled religion for a number of years. Yet he found hope because “young people are said to be more open now than in past years because of the continuing vacuum left by atheistic Communism in the lives of the masses.” He was especially thankful that “Communism has failed to eradicate religion – not surprisingly so, in view of man’s created nature and the inability of material things to satisfy his spiritual needs.” Henry saw in this continued yearning for spiritual guidance proof of the Holy Spirit’s persistent influence on the world and wanted evangelicals to participate in spreading this message. This did not, however, alleviate his fear of Communist tyranny, especially against religion, and so he reminded readers that “not only does it aggressively propagandize against Christianity, but it discriminates against those who align themselves with the churches by depriving them of managerial posts and by limiting university opportunities for their children.” Christianity Today further emphasized this mixture of anticommunism with evangelical hope in an interview with Dr. B. P. Dotsenko, a top Soviet nuclear scientist who converted to Christianity and in 1973 taught at Waterloo Lutheran University in Canada. A Mennonite, Dotsenko in his interview sounded the refrain of Communist brainwashing against religion that gave way to a longing for religion when the Communist ideology failed to manifest a more perfect society. Dotsenko stated that the lessons of Christianity “sank deeply. . . . The Great Commandment spoken by Jesus somehow frightened me. If these words were true, then all the teaching of Communism was false from the roots.” Christianity Today’s persistent anticommunism during the 1970s cannot be understood unless placed in the context of its evangelical outreach. Salvation for humanity rested in spreading the Gospel, and communism’s oppression of religion hindered these efforts. Nor surprisingly, its coverage of global communism therefore contained this mix of fear about the ideology and evidence of Christ’s continued triumph over it. And in claiming Christ for their point of view, editors wanted to sway public opinion toward its foreign policy outlook.

According to Christianity Today, the Soviet Union still lay at the heart of communism’s atheist worldview. Despite reduced tension with this Communist superpower under Richard M. Nixon’s administration, the periodical blasted the USSR and called for vigilance against it. Here, too, a mixture of Christian hope mingled with outright fear tactics. Edward E. Plowman, the periodical’s news editor, demonstrated this dichotomy when he explained that “after more than fifty years of atheistic indoctrination and outright
However, the book also looks at other periodicals and denominations, so in that sense one particular page is too narrow a sampling. For example, Christianity Today had a much more conservative and anticommunist bent than the Christian Century. This mainline Christian periodical campaigned more for arms reduction and reduced hostility than for continued aggression toward all things communist. Even compared to a conservative denomination, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, this page reflects the view of Christian leaders as opposed to the laity.

In the end, I am comfortable with the way page 99 demonstrates my research. I did examine carefully a number of primary documents, and as much as possible want them to tell the story. I also tried hard to balance my analysis so that it gives a sense for the political and diplomatic points of view of the Christian entities, while placing it as much as possible in their theological context and how faith informed their responses. As long as a reader understands that my analysis of Christianity Today also includes the Christian Century, American Catholicism, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Church of Christ, then this snap shot does the trick!
Learn more about Faith and War at the the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cameron McWhirter's "Red Summer"

Cameron McWhirter is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude from Hamilton College, where he majored in history. He earned a masters from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and has worked for several news organizations including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Detroit News. He has been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for research in Eritrea and the Sudan, and a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America, and reported the following:
The chapter including page 99 of my book, Red Summer, details the July 1919 riot in Washington, D.C. After two black men jostled a white woman on a sidewalk, rumors spread that the woman was sexually assaulted. Mobs of white sailors and soldiers attacked blacks. Blacks defended their neighborhoods and fighting spread across the city. After days of inaction, President Woodrow Wilson, who could hear gunfire and mayhem from his White House bedroom, finally ordered in troops to restore order. This page captures the violence white mobs wrought. Later pages show a key development of the Red Summer: blacks fought back – politically, legally and in the streets – in numbers never before seen.

Today when most people hear the term “race riot” they think of the riots of the 1960s or of Los Angeles in 1992 – poor blacks in ghettoes battling with National Guard and vandals ransacking stores.

In the breadth of American history, however, the vast majority of race riots were caused by white mobs attacking either individual black people or black communities. In every city where I have worked as a reporter – New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Atlanta – I have found at least one major antiblack riot in its past.

The worst spate of racial violence came in a period from April to November 1919 that NAACP activist James Weldon Johnson called the “Red Summer,” because it was so bloody.

After World War One, black Americans fervently hoped for a new epoch of peace, prosperity, and equality. Black soldiers believed their participation in the fight to make the world safe for democracy finally earned them rights they had been promised since the close of the Civil War.

Instead, an unprecedented wave of riots and lynchings swept the country. From April to November of 1919, the racial unrest rolled across the South into the North and the Midwest, even to the nation’s capital. Millions of lives were disrupted, and hundreds of lives were lost. Blacks responded by fighting back with an intensity and determination never seen before. American race relations would never be the same.

A part of page 99 and the top of 100:
During the night, groups of white servicemen attacked blacks, pulling them from streetcars and assaulting them on sidewalks. Shots were fired. Police and a handful of marines responded to several calls, but every time they did, the mob dispersed, only to re-form. Ten people – eight black civilians and two white soldiers – were arrested that Saturday night, even though all reports stated whites were the ones rioting. News reports sent across the country Sunday assumed the trouble was over.

NAACP officials urged Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels to act against sailors involved in the fighting. They reminded him of what had happened in Charleston – quick action saved lives. Daniels, a North Carolina Democrat and an ardent segregationist, did nothing.

Sunday night, several hundred white sailors and workers marched from the Washington Navy Yard on the Potomac into the nearby neighborhood, beating any blacks they encountered. They threw stones and bricks and pulled people from streetcars. Whites packed into cars, drove into black neighborhoods in northwest Washington, and fired at passersby. These drive-by shootings, known by the slang term ‘terror cars,’ were a key tactic of urban mobs and gangs in 1919.

Late Sunday, rioting also erupted in the city’s retail district at theaters let out. Under the glare of streetlights and in front of open shops and restaurants, hundreds of white soldiers, sailors, and marines attacked black men walking near the White House. A police officer arrested a white soldier on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Mall and was surrounded by an angry crowd of soldiers demanding the
prisoner’s release. The officer fired his revolver in the air to drive the men away. Civilian whites joined the crowds and incited violence by running up to white servicemen, pointing at a passing black person, and shouting, ‘There he goes!’

That night, Carter Godwin Woodson, the dean of Howard University and a pioneer of African American history, ran into a white mob while walking home near the Capitol.

Woodson ducked into a store entranceway and watched servicemen chase a black man who screamed for mercy. As Woodson emerged from the shadows, he witnessed what he called the ‘most harrowing spectacle’ he had ever seen. The mob caught the black man and hoisted him up ‘as one would a beef for slaughter’ then shot him. Woodson sneaked away, trying not to draw attention to himself.
Learn more about the book and author at Cameron McWhirter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thomas A. Tweed's "America’s Church"

Thomas A. Tweed is Shive, Lindsay, and Gray Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of six books, including Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami and Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, America's Church: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation's Capitol, and reported the following:
I’m going to tell a story about the history of American religion. Now, before we go on, let me ask: what, if anything, did you assume about the characters’ age? If you pictured children, good for you. You can stop reading. Go do something useful, like washing the dishes or writing your senator. However, if you imagined adults—the blandly generic middle-aged and not laptop twenty-somethings at Starbucks or wheel-chaired octogenarians at the nursing home—then you are like most interpreters of religion. On page 99, I try to correct that oversight. That page is from a chapter about clerical efforts to engage children. The rest of the book, which chronicles American Catholicism between 1919 and 1959 by focusing on Washington’s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, considers the other five clerical concerns expressed at the Shrine and around the country—the impulse to build institutions, mobilize women, contest Protestants, incorporate immigrants, and claim civic space. Elsewhere in the chapter I give glimpses of young people’s religious life. For example, in 1927, a ten-year-old boy sketched a phonograph in the Shrine’s visitor’s book and, to identify the music being amplified from its protruding horn, penned the first lines of a popular song, “Just give me a June night, a moonlight, and you”; in 1921, an Ohio student’s letter explained her $1 donation: “I am a thirteen-year-old school girl and have earned it by crocheting.” Focusing instead on adults’ advice to kids, on page 99 I discuss a 1950 issue of a Catholic comic book that portrayed young people fighting moral temptations, obeying their priests, and dying for the faith. An editorial, “We Can Win,” also reminded young readers that “religion is an all-year-round affair,” and even during the summer they had their role to play in the cosmic drama between Catholic America and godless communism. Children and teens should pray the rosary, that Cold War editorial instructed, since “never before have the battle lines between good and evil been drawn so clearly.” Judgments about how successful the clergy were in engaging children—and in their other aims—are a bit murkier, however. In the conclusion I argue that the Church offered young people “a sense of belonging and a coherent worldview,” although that devotional culture “sometimes justified excessive coercion and—as Catholics came to realize decades later—set few constraints on clerical misconduct, including the sexual abuse of minors.”
Learn more about America's Church at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 25, 2011

Claudio E. Benzecry's "The Opera Fanatic"

Claudio E. Benzecry is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Opera Fanatic: Ethnography of an Obsession, and reported the following:
Opera has become a “dead art form,” a museum of works from the 19th century. If we followed what many sociologists say, opera should have actually disappeared by now, as it stopped being the stage for elaborated social drama, the meeting point for the conformation of the local bourgeoisie or the popular culture of the time. Yet opera is not only alive but produces intense engagements and commitments. Audiences keep filling galleries and standing-only rooms; they keep ecstatically contemplating the white death that afflicts Violetta; accept fat old women dressed as fragile and helpless creatures. How should we then explain these attachments?

As it is obvious theories that center on issues of social status, cultural and social capital or the imposition of a dominant ideology are not enough. The Opera Fanatic centers on the affective and embodied character of the experience and looks to issues of self-formation and self-transcendence for an answer to the puzzle. The book shows how fans from the same social background perform taste in diverse ways and how fans from diverse social backgrounds perform taste in the same way; how the “distinguishing” character of the experience happens in the policing of the boundaries of the relationship between the opera house and the outside, and how those distinctions do not transfer to the outside.

For opera fanatics, honor is not related to how much recognition they can gather from peers outside of the opera house or in how much they can convert their lifestyle in resources like money, connections or jobs, but rather with how they craft themselves as honorable people. Passionate fans produce themselves as worthy selves, through a laborious, sustained long-term engagement with opera. Fans conceive of opera as a meaningful activity that offers them a stage on which to enact certain values, feel in public and express themselves as superior and highly refined beings among equals.

Page 99 is at the crux of all this, as it shows a few opera lovers lamenting the mores of what they call the “new audience” of the Colón opera house of Buenos Aires. In doing so “opera thugs” reaffirm who they are, defend their loved object against what they perceive as intrusions by unworthy outsiders and dramatize the boundary between the outside and what happens inside the opera house; a world of transcendence and enchantment available only to those who sacrifice enough for it: them.
Learn more about The Opera Fanatic at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Karen Petrone's "The Great War in Russian Memory"

Karen Petrone is Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. She is author of Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin, editor (with Valerie Kivelson, Michael S. Flier, and Nancy Shields Kollmann) of The New Muscovite Cultural History: A Collection in Honor of Daniel B. Rowland, and co-editor (with Jie-Hyun Lim) of Gender Politics and Mass Dictatorship: Global Perspectives.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Great War in Russian Memory, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Great War in Russian Memory analyzes the World War I heroism of the character Grigorii Melekhov in Mikhail Sholokhov’s Soviet blockbuster novel Quiet Flows the Don. While this novel is usually considered a Russian Civil War novel, I look at how Sholokhov presented images of World War I honor and heroism to Soviet readers. Unlike previous scholars who argue that there was no World War I memory in the Soviet Union, I show that although the World War (1914-1918) was not officially commemorated by the Soviet state, there was considerable attention to the war that emerged on the margins of Soviet culture. My study returns the Soviet Union to its rightful place in the history of European memory of World War I by exploring the themes of religion and mourning, heroism and manliness, violence, and patriotism. These themes, which emerged all across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, also appeared in the Soviet Union at that time. The second part of my book demonstrates how the increasing militarization of Soviet culture in the mid-to-late 1930s led to the intentional repression of memories of the darker side of the war.

From page 99:
In Quiet Flows the Don, Melekhov also won the St. George cross…. Severely wounded in a battle with Hungarian hussars, Melekhov regained consciousness on the battlefield and was struggling to return to his unit when he encountered a wounded officer. “Grigory helped the officer to his feet and they walked on together. But with every step the wounded officer leaned more heavily on Grigory’s arm. As they climbed out of a hollow he seized Grigory’s sleeve and said through chattering teeth, ‘Leave me here, Cossack. I’m wounded in the stomach.’” Melekhov disobeyed this order. As “the eyes behind the pince-nez grew dull” and the officer fainted, “Grigory carried him, falling, pulling himself up and falling again. Twice he abandoned his burden, only to go back and pick it up, and then struggle on, as if in a waking dream.” One could read Melekhov’s determination to save the wounded officer as a lack of class-consciousness because he failed to recognize that the officer was an “enemy,” but one could also read it as a sign of his humanity, compassion, and determination to save life; for this exploit, he received the St. George cross, 4th class. In this episode, Melekhov doggedly pushed himself to the limits of his strength in order to save another, becoming a war hero who did not shed blood to earn a medal and a promotion to corporal. He jeopardized his own life to save the officer, even after he received permission to leave him behind. At the same time… he asserted his masculine superiority over the weak and fainting Russified German officer with a pince-nez.
This episode shows the ambiguity of Soviet memory of World War I; despite the fact that Sholokhov reveals Melekhov’s lack of class-consciousness, Melekhov’s endurance, his bravery, his refusal to give in, and his life-saving compassion make him a model masculine hero in the eyes of Soviet readers. Melekhov upholds traditional Tsarist honor and communicates the nature of that honor to a Soviet audience, presenting the Tsarist soldier-hero as an extremely attractive character. World War I memory in the Soviet Union was complex and contradictory.
Preview The Great War in Russian Memory, and learn more about the book at the Indiana University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 22, 2011

Samuel Fleischacker's "Divine Teaching and the Way of the World"

Samuel Fleischacker is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His previous work has focused on Enlightenment moral and political thought, especially that of Kant and Adam Smith, and on conceptions of culture, liberalism and distributive justice. He is the author of A Third Concept of Liberty and A Short History of Distributive Justice and editor of Heidegger's Jewish Followers. In 2009 his book, On Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, was given the 2009 Joseph B. Gittler Award by the American Philosophical Association, for an outstanding book in the philosophy of social science.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Divine Teaching and the Way of the World: A Defense of Revealed Religion, and reported the following:
The contemporary British playwright, David Hare, begins his recent play Gethsemane with a character wondering why some people believe in a book - why they attach themselves to some book or other, and then say that "all wisdom resides" in that book. This is an old complaint. Immanuel Kant already contemptuously dismissed religious believers who use "It is written" to justify what they do or believe.

Divine Teaching and the Way of the World is an attempt to show why reasonable people might believe in a book. More precisely, it tries to show how one can bring together a traditional religious faith - a faith that one or more of the books long held to be sacred really does express a "divine teaching" - with a secular, modern understanding of science and morality. Central to the argument of the book is the claim that religious teachings bear most strongly on the question of what, if anything, makes life worthwhile, and that that question can be suspended in the ordinary course of science and morality. Religious texts give us "telic views," views about our telos (Greek for "purpose"), about what, overall, our lives might aim at - this, I maintain, is something that is most appropriately expressed in the poetic way characteristic of religious revelations, and in a text understood to be authored by a God or super-naturally wise human being. Only in this way can the mystery that I see as essential to a vision of our purpose be preserved.

Page 99 of the book represents a delicate point in this argument: a point at which I need to consider how we can possibly have adequate moral systems without determining what makes life worthwhile (or, indeed, answering questions about the existence of God). I suggest that in practice we generally bracket that question, and the telic views that might answer it:
Because we have reason to try to share modes of moral argument with our neighbors, because we can minimize the differences among our moral systems by bracketing our telic beliefs, and because most of us are quite tentative about the latter in any case, and realize how difficult it is to persuade others of them, we abstract from our telic views as much as possible when making everyday moral decisions. Sometimes that is very difficult, as when we have to consider whether it is worth trying to extend the life of a gravely ill person. Here the question, “is her life still worth living?” may seem forced on us, and it is hard to give that an answer without saying something about the question, “what makes any human being’s life worth living?” (At which point our moral differences come vividly to the fore.) And the fact that this can happen tempts some moral theorists to suppose that a telic view must settle all moral disputes. I think that that is not true, but that telic views do hover in the background of all moral reasoning. Our moral views depend on intuitions that we also consider when asking about our ultimate good, and sometimes they impel us to ask after that good. But they also give us reason, most of the time, to abstract from any answer we might have to that most difficult question. This leads to a separation, if not a sharply delineated separation, between our moral and our telic beliefs.
This is of course not an answer that will satisfy everyone. Nor do I expect the book as a whole to convince many nonbelievers to embrace a religion, or many believers to interpret their faith in a more enlightened way. But it may at least help readers begin to clarify and work through more carefully questions that are today often discussed in a shrill and dogmatic way. I wrote it as an attempt to think through my own religious commitments (an ongoing process ...); I'd be delighted if it is useful to other people worried about similar issues, whether or not they share my conclusions.
Learn more about Divine Teaching and the Way of the World at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ina Lipkowitz's "Words To Eat By"

Ina Lipkowitz is a Lecturer in MIT's Literature Department. Her research brings together her background in comparative literature and biblical studies with her interest in culinary history.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language, and reported the following:
I’m happy to report that Words To Eat By passes Ford Madox Ford’s test with flying colors. Page 99 presents a particularly fortuitous moment in the chapter “Leeks: Weeds or Vegetables?” It even sports a photo of a slender plant that, if you didn’t already know was a wild leek, you’d be far more likely to dismiss as a weed—especially when held up against the photo of the more familiar cultivated broad-leaved leek on the next page. Wondering when the wild leek was replaced by its cultivated variety, I consider the fuzzy distinction between weeds and vegetables. Tellingly, both our English word for vegetable and our assumption of what constitutes a vegetable derive from those master agriculturalists, the Romans. Not for us the foraged weodes of the Germanic-speaking peoples who once inhabited Britannia—and by weode, I mean both word and thing. In the contrast between the wild and the cultivated leek, we can see the vital collision of cultures at the heart of the book.

Drawing upon sources from Julius Caesar to Julia Child, Words to Eat By traces the stories of five of our most everyday foods and the names we know them by, highlighting the inextricable interweaving of what we put into our mouths and the sounds that come out of them. Although today we English speakers prefer sophisticated French and Italian food and their beautiful-sounding names—all of which derive from the Latin of the Roman conquerors—when we stay at home, the foods we cook and eat the most often, as well as the names we know them have remained staunchly Germanic: apples, leeks, milk, meat, and bread.

This split culinary personality is by no means a new phenomenon. From Caesar’s disparaging comments about the diet of the northern barbarians to the former French president Jacques Chirac’s joke at the expense of the English—“you can’t trust people who cook as badly as that”—we Northerners and English speakers have been the targets of derision for millennia. And we have so taken the barbs to heart that we have become our own worst enemies. We agree with Caesar and Chirac, we have made their attitudes our own, and we have come to prefer all things Italian and French. Yet the words that we English speakers have never stopped using to name our foods tell another story. As much as we may have been civilized over the centuries, we English speakers still eat with barbarian appetite.
Learn more about Words To Eat By at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Daniel Kelly's "Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust"

Daniel Kelly is an assistant professor in the philosophy department at Purdue University. His research interests are at the intersection of the philosophy of mind, cognitive science and moral theory. In addition to his work on disgust he has published papers on moral judgment, social norms, racial cognition, and cross-cultural diversity.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, and reported the following:
It isn’t news that philosophy can get pretty abstract and confusing. One way to temper this is to follow the Aristotelian advice to “tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em; tell 'em; then tell 'em what you told 'em.” Another is to provide pictures. Readers turning to page 99 of Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust will see both strategies in action.

First to catch the eye will be the picture, a psychological model of humans’ disgust system. This is pretty representative of what I’m up to in the book – I trot it out at the end of chapters, incorporating insights worked through within. I needed a way to gather together and represent what was known about the emotion, and show how more specific ideas fit into the bigger picture. The first chapter gets the model up and running; it gathers all kinds of recent findings about disgust, and walks through how the pieces of this model capture and explain the broad themes of that work. It might be surprising that there is a lot of research on disgust, but it turns out that the emotion provides an intriguing window into human nature: only humans have it (why?), it’s shaped by both nature and nurture (how so?), it’s been shown to inform morality in a number of ways (what ways?), leading some ethicists to imbue the emotion with a kind of moral authority (are they right to do this?) I try to answer these questions throughout the book.

The text of page 99 – a little jargony without context – is me tellin’em what I told’em in more detail in the body of the chapter. Its main claim is about how the emotion is influenced by both nature and nature:

“disgust’s sentimental signaling system is a crucial part of disgust’s acquisition system.”

People instinctively signal to each other when they are disgusted by something. The propensity to make that grossed out facial expression (called the gape face) is largely innate, as is the capacity to recognize that another person is disgusted when she is making it (nature). But there is also variation in what different people and different cultures find disgusting; that not everything that triggers disgust is innate points to a role for learning as well (nurture). Page 99 is the summation of my case that it’s the innate psychological machinery underlying expression and recognition of disgust that allows the social learning of different disgust elicitors.
Learn more about Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eric MacGilvray's "The Invention of Market Freedom"

Eric MacGilvray is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Ohio State University. His first book, Reconstructing Public Reason, draws on the pragmatic theory of justification to explore the problem of political legitimacy in pluralistic societies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Invention of Market Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the midpoint of The Invention of Market Freedom, coming halfway through the third and central chapter. The aim of this chapter, called "The Rise of Commerce," is to show how the language of freedom that was handed down from classical antiquity was used both to challenge and to celebrate the emergence of commercial societies in the early modern period.

The classical republicans associated freedom with the possession of a certain social status — above all, with not being a slave — and with the display of the kind of character, the virtue, that was expected from people holding that status. Markets, of course, are supposed to be blind to status distinctions, and the acquisitive habits of homo oeconomicus are anathema to the kind of virtue that was traditionally expected of the free man. And so we find that the classical language of freedom was used to oppose the rise of commerce, most notably (or at least most radically) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

However, the language of freedom is now so closely associated with the market that the phrase "free market" sounds almost redundant to our ears. The aim of the book is to show how this reversal of usage came about. In chapter 3 we find that the early defenders of market society, thinkers such as Charles de Montesquieu, David Hume (both of whom make an appearance on page 99) and of course Adam Smith, were as indebted as Rousseau was to classical republican ideas about freedom, and that they used those ideas to develop a republican defense of commercial society — a defense that became one of the main building blocks of the market conception of freedom that's now so familiar.

Page 99 itself is a little unusual in that most of the words on it aren't mine. I've already mentioned that Montesquieu and Hume are quoted there, but I'll close with a passage from a less familiar figure: Alexander Carlyle, a Scottish churchman and friend of Hume and Smith, whose letter to the Duke of Buccleugh (1778) provides one of the earliest critical reactions to Smith's seminal book The Wealth of Nations (1776). "It is surely better," Carlyle writes, "to be a little less rich and commercial, than by ceasing to be men, to endanger our existence as a nation." He goes on to warn his fellow Scots that they must "guard with jealous vigilance the constitution of our country, lest, like the greatest empire that ever was, that of the Romans in their decadency, we become so luxurious or effeminate, as to leave the use of arms to strangers and mercenaries."

Carlyle's letter captures well the hopes and anxieties that were associated with the rise of commerce, and it's a mark of how important the debate in which he was engaged turned out to be that his hopes and anxieties are very much our own.
Learn more about The Invention of Market Freedom at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ann Morning's "The Nature of Race"

Ann Morning is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at New York University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Textbooks’ messages about the nature of race are not only obscured by the relative lack of discussion that characterizes the newer books relative to the older ones. In addition, the phenotype-to-genotype shift ‘buries’ racial difference both literally and figuratively. Literally, of course, the source of racial difference goes from being highly visible, an aspect of our surface appearance, to becoming a virtually invisible part of our internal makeup. Figuratively, by embedding race more deeply within the human body, it comes to seem more essential, closer to the core of who we are… Relocating racial essence from skin color to DNA also buries it—or shields it—by making it visible only to the expert, not the layman. The determinants of racial difference can be apprehended only by a trained few, armed with the most sophisticated equipment.
The Nature of Race is a study of how contemporary scientists think about the concept of race, and how they convey their ideas about it to the public, especially through formal education. In the chapter from which this excerpt is taken, I take a look at the lessons about racial difference that can be found in American high-school biology textbooks. What I find striking is that older textbooks, from the 1950s and 1960s, devoted a lot more space to identifying and describing “the races of man,” even though they did so with very rudimentary tools like skin and hair color classifications (this is the “phenotypic” approach to race I describe on p. 99). Today’s textbooks in contrast mention race very little, yet they claim to draw on more precise knowledge of human beings derived from the science of genetics. Students are left with a puzzle: if biologists now have a deeper understanding of race than previous generations did, why don’t contemporary textbooks provide the wealth of information that older textbooks did (for example about the number and key characteristics of the world’s races)? After all, today’s biology textbooks have not abandoned the claim that races are biologically distinct entities; they are far from promoting the idea that race is “socially constructed,” that is, a human invention.

The textbooks offer a nice example of the way that beliefs and claims about the nature of race are—and always have been—pretty loosely linked to empirical fact. In the book I explore how scientists’ thinking about race reflects their personal backgrounds, institutional affiliations, and moral appraisals of different definitions of the race concept. As a result, there is a lot of variety in the ways that academics think about race, not just between the social and natural sciences but within them as well. My aim is not to proselytize one viewpoint or another, but rather to understand how and why experts manage to hold such divergent perspectives on race—usually with a great deal of conviction—even though they overwhelmingly agree on the fundamentals of human biological variation.
Learn more about The Nature of Race at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rachel Shteir's "The Steal"

Rachel Shteir is the author of three books: Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (2004), Gypsy: the Art of the Tease (2009), and The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting (2011).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Steal and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Steal deals with Jean Genet, the famed thief and book thief, writer and iconic figure. In the book, I was trying to talk about different kinds of stealing or rather different kinds of shoplifting and why people did it. I was trying to talk about how the reasons for stealing are always more complicated than we think and how actually the language we have to talk about it is not sufficient.

Genet wrote about his own stealing in vivid, romantic language and without the Puritanical point of view that Stealing Is Bad. For him, it was transformative. In this section of the book, I was also trying to talk about the link between thinking about stealing and actually stealing, which is a sort of theme in the book. In other words, the connection between dreaming of stealing and stealing--what is it, do we have a collective dream about it beyond the literal rendering.
Learn more about the book and author at Rachel Shteir's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Gypsy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Susan K. Harris's "God’s Arbiters"

Susan K. Harris is the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas. She has written on both Mark Twain and on 19th-century American women’s writing, including The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain and 19th-Century American Women’s Novels: Interpretive Strategies. She is currently working on the culture of uplift and American attitudes towards immigration.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902, and reported the following:
I never imagined I’d write a book about the Philippine-American War. I didn’t even know there was one. God’s Arbiters originated when I found myself teaching a Mark Twain course the semester the U.S. invaded Iraq. Suddenly Twain’s anti-imperialist writings made new sense to me—and I began investigating U.S. intervention in Cuba (which Twain approved) and in the Philippines (which he did not). The project turned into a full-scale exploration of the national conversation about the U.S.’s first overseas experiment in nation-building—a venture President McKinley called “civilizing and Christianizing” and Mark Twain called “pious hypocrisy.” Twain is the book’s major spokesman.

Historians rediscover the P/A War every time the U.S. finds itself entangled abroad. Not surprisingly, recent books have focused on race and/or gender. I bring religion into the mix. In 1899 most Americans believed that only a homogeneous people—the homogeneity that, they maintained, characterized the white, Protestant, normative American--were capable of practicing self-government. When the U.S. decided to prepare the Filipinos for independence by exporting American civilization, arguments erupted about the likelihood of such a heterogeneous population ever becoming capable of governing itself. The Americans considered the Filipinos both racially and religiously inferior, yet still felt a duty to bring them the “blessings” of American civilization. The conversation spread beyond U.S. geopolitical borders: to England (Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,”), Latin America (Rubén Darío’s “Á Roosevelt”), and of course to the Philippines (Apolinario Mabini’s refutations of American policies).

The chapter in which pg 99 appears brings together Twain’s Connecticut Yankee with textbooks the Americans wrote in their effort to educate Filipino schoolchildren. I compare the uplift strategies of Twain’s Hank Morgan and textbook author Prescott Jernegan. Hank tried to modernize Arthurian England by introducing Protestantism, literacy, and technology. He failed. The Americans used the same strategy in the Philippines, with similar results. This should have taught us something about the dangers of exporting our form of modernity, but it doesn’t seem to have done so. My epilogue is titled “Bush, Obama, Ahmadinejad.” I think the conversation about the Philippines helps us understand how the “normative American” still plays, both at home and abroad.

From pg. 99 (and a bit from 100):
…Jernegan’s History insists that only a homogeneous population can be self-governing. His discussion of Filipino racial and cultural landscapes suggests that the entire archipelago is hopelessly heterogeneous, a situation that will require centuries, rather than years, to remedy. … The flip side to teaching Filipinos how to become citizens of a republic is teaching them to devalue any sign of cultural difference.

Jernegan’s texts rarely mention religion directly, largely because the Education Act had forbidden religious teaching in the public schools. It was, however, very much an underlying theme. The uneasy balance between demands for homogeneity and order, on the one hand, and the celebration of individualism, on the other, was especially evident in nineteenth-century discussions of the differences between Protestant and Catholic sensibilities, at least as portrayed by the mainstream. For Protestants, as [Twain’s] Hank Morgan made abundantly clear, multiple sects were to be valued because they gave individuals choice (Free Trade) and also prevented the development of a centralized power (anti-monopoly). In this reading, the Catholic Church was a monopoly, dangerous because centralized and univocal. At the same time, Protestants also saw Catholicism as philosophically unruly, with too many kinds of deities and too many options. … For Americans, to civilize meant to put everything in order … including a religion in which all parts fit together…. [and] facilitated progress. “The most important fact about any people is its religion. The religion of a people tells us what they value most, and how well they can think,” [Jernegan] tells his readers (J, 1905, 47).
Learn more about God’s Arbiters at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brenda Elsey's "Citizens and Sportsmen"

Brenda Elsey is Assistant Professor of History at Hofstra University. Her research interests focus on politics and popular culture in Latin American history.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile, and reported the following:
Citizens and Sportsmen tells the story of a group of amateur football, or soccer, players whose dedication to civic engagement had long-term political significance in Chile. The stability of the Chilean political system and degree of democratic representation, relative to the rest of Latin America, has intrigued historians of the region. The violent collapse of this democracy in 1973 prompted a reevaluation of the country’s history. Inspired by social scientists that argued for the importance of voluntary organizations in creating democratic societies, I decided to study football clubs.

Page 99 reflects the messy task of building a narrative of local history. I am in the midst of discussing Bellavista, a football club from La Florida, located on the outskirts of Santiago. Housing shortages and rural labor conditions motored urbanization of La Florida during the 1930s. Football clubs served as a hub of community activity that connected residents to state agencies and local politicians. Women’s exclusion from clubs meant they were removed from an important forum of public debate. Neighborhood clubs like Bellavista included women only in auxiliary capacities, such as for the “Spring Queen,” beauty pageants, until the 1950s.

Chapter three, in which page 99 lies, analyzes the construction of the National Stadium, completed in 1938. Through the lens of the stadium’s construction, I analyze the emergence of a critical public in Santiago’s cafes, newspapers, and football fields. Local sportsmen denounced the stadium as emblematic of the populism and corruption of President Arturo Alessandri’s administration. Football clubs mobilized in support of the Popular Front, a new Center-Left political coalition that repudiated Alessandri’s conservative policies. I explain, however, that, “a small but significant minority of sportsmen in La Florida felt that local football clubs (including Bellavista) had become too political and should depend less on parties for resources. Their editorials accused these clubs of violating a set of ‘universal values’ to which all true sportsmen adhered. These critics claimed that the political tendencies of clubs had begun to sully the ‘sacred terrain’ of football. “The debate over the proper forms and spaces for political expression was an important one throughout the twentieth century.

So, page 99 is a page full of nitty-gritty details, provided to demonstrate the importance of popular culture in shaping people’s everyday ideas about citizenship, the role of the state, and class identity. I wouldn’t say it is the most gripping or elegant page of the book, but it is representative of the deeply-researched local history that I am writing.
Learn more about Citizens and Sportsmen at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peter Mauch's "Sailor Diplomat"

Peter Mauch is Lecturer in International History in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sailor Diplomat: Nomura Kichisaburo and the Japanese-American War, and reported the following:
This book, as the title suggests, constitutes a diplomatic-naval biography of Nomura Kichisaburo. He originally caught my interest because he served as Japan’s ambassador to the United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He also happened to be an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and he was serving as foreign minister when World War II broke out in Europe. After the war, he re-emerged as spiritual godfather of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces. All of this means that, for those with so much as a passing interest in Japan’s disastrous war with the United States, Nomura is an immensely important figure. Happily for me, he also turned out to be an intensely interesting – even likeable – character.

I should note that this book received a huge boost from Nomura’s surviving family, who granted me full access to the admiral’s papers. His papers had hitherto been off-limits to scholars; I had them to myself for twelve months. They are now stored in the National Diet Library (which is, roughly speaking, the Japanese equivalent of the Library of Congress). The papers include diaries, memoranda, and letters, and compelled a major rethink of many key issues in Japanese-U.S. relations either side of World War II. I trust I have done them justice.

Now, to p. 99: it draws on a memorandum from Nomura’s abovementioned papers to examine his thoughts on (1) Japan’s ongoing war in China, (2) Japan’s uneasy relationship with the Soviet Union, and (3) Japan’s attitudes towards the German-Italian Axis. The page makes apparent that Nomura is expressing these thoughts in late September 1940, just after he was first approached regarding the foreign minister’s post. It also makes apparent that he is addressing Prime Minister Abe Nobuyuki, War Minister Hata Shunroku, and Navy Minister Yoshida Zengo – three men with whom Nomura would work closely over the ensuing months.

My only disappointment with p. 99 is that it makes no mention of Nomura’s thoughts on Japan’s fraying relationship with the United States. The Japanese-U.S. relationship was, after all, the central theme in Nomura’s life. It is also, not at all coincidentally, the central theme in this book. The good news is that the book doesn’t keep readers guessing on this score. It receives treatment on p. 100.
Learn more about Sailor Diplomat at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hannah Nordhaus's "The Beekeeper’s Lament"

Award-winning journalist Hannah Nordhaus has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, the Village Voice, Outside magazine, and other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America, and reported the following:
Right again, Ford Madox Ford! Turn to page 99 in The Beekeeper’s Lament, and you won’t just see the horizon-view of the book—you will literally see the horizon, from a high point in an almond orchard, where mile after monocropped mile of pale pink petals extend from the western delta to the to eastern mountains: “a monumental reshaping of the landscape,” I say, “grass- and shrubland eclipsed by a bloom so enormous you could certainly glimpse it from space.”

There are 750,000 acres of almond trees planted in California’s Central Valley, and they all bloom in February, and each and every single blossom requires the visit of a bee to produce an almond—a commodity that has become so valuable that every Valley farmer with a pulse has ripped up his cotton and peaches and grapes and alfalfa, and grafted almond trees in their stead. Almond growers pay beekeepers well to haul their hives (1.5 million of them; 2/3 of all the beehives in the country) to California for the almond bloom. With honey prices depressed, most beekeepers make all of their profit during those three fertile weeks of February. But the almond orchards have also vectored all sorts of horrible pests and pathogens through the nation’s apiaries. The Central Valley almond belt has been compared to a “giant brothel,” where bees from all over the country “swap spit” and emerge the worse for it.

The Beekeeper’s Lament follows John Miller, a fourth-generation migratory beekeeper, as he drags his 10,000 beehives across the American West, pollinating almonds, oranges, cherries and apples in California and Washington State, and making honey in North Dakota. It is a labor of love: between stings, mites, mystery diseases, bad weather, poor harvests, cut-rate imported honey, nasty neighbors—and did I mention stings?—there is nothing easy about keeping bees these days. But Miller does it anyway. He persists—even though it’s backbreaking work; even though it pays poorly; and even though—worst of all—he is now fighting a relentless tide of pests and pathogens invading beehives, faster and faster, in wave after breathless wave. “And for that,” I say in the book, “we have the almond to thank.”
Learn more about the book and author at Hannah Nordhaus's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Charles Kurzman's "The Missing Martyrs"

Charles Kurzman is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His books include Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, and Democracy Denied, 1905-1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Missing Martyrs looks back at Islamic debates of one century ago, when constitutionalism and democracy first became mass movements in Muslim societies. In the Ottoman Empire, the sultan's proclamation of the constitution in 1908, after a mutiny by pro-democratic officers, was greeted with huge celebrations. On Page 99, the governor of Jerusalem describes one such event: "The voices of joy in the city of Jerusalem, which has no equal in the world to the contrast of religions, sects, and races in it, were raised to the heavens in a thousand languages and styles. Speeches were given. Hands were shaken. Pleasant tunes were played. In short, the proper things were expressed for the honor of liberty." But liberty had its opponents, too. Despots and authoritarian Islamic movements schemed to thwart democratization, and to undermine the new democracies before they grew too strong.

This debate continues today in Muslim societies. Pro-democracy movements remain hugely popular among Muslims, as we have seen this year in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. Yet this unmet demand for democracy faces resistance from despots and from authoritarian Islamic movements, including revolutionary movements such as al-Qaida. The Missing Martyrs examines why these revolutionary movements and their terrorist methods have failed to mobilize many Muslims. This may sound counterintuitive, since terrorism is such a scourge in the contemporary world, but the terrorists' public statements routinely complain about their recruitment troubles, and the scope of the threat is not nearly so large as many of us feared it might be. If even one tenth of one percent of the world's billion Muslims were committed to martyrdom and revolutionary violence, we would see attacks everywhere, every day -- but fortunately, we do not. Page 99 of the book describes one reason why: Liberal Islamic values have century-old roots in Muslim societies that provide a bulwark against terrorism.
Learn more about The Missing Martyrs at the Oxford University Press website and Charles Kurzman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Democracy Denied, 1905-1915.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 8, 2011

John Tirman's "The Deaths of Others"

John Tirman is the author or coauthor and editor of 12 books, including Spoils of War and 100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World. He is Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of MIT’s Center for International Studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars, and reported the following:
I am relieved to report that page 99 of The Deaths of Others does faithfully reflect the book’s themes—that the U.S. pursues war making with great avidity and does so with scant regard for the people that war affects. Appropriately, perhaps, page 99 is describing the Korean War, an immensely violent affair (3 million dead in 3 years) that is almost always called “The Forgotten War.” Why forgotten? Well, forgetting (and neglecting, ignoring, denying, etc.) is the typical response to America’s post-1945 wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We forget because acknowledging the scale of mayhem is too upsetting.

In Korea, as page 99 helpfully explains, the U.S. military stood aside and permitted South Korean Army atrocities to proceed—mass killings of “leftists” ordered by Syngman Rhee, the South Korean tyrant—resulting in 200,000 or more civilian deaths. But page 99 mainly focuses on “strategic bombing,” the massive leveling of North Korea after MacArthur retreated from the Chinese border (he aspired to destroy the Chinese Reds with nuclear attacks, and, of course, was hailed as a hero). Curtis LeMay, the legendary air force general who firebombed Tokyo and 60 other Japanese cities in 1944-45, was pushing the same for Korea, and indeed the U.S. leveled virtually every building in the North over two years, often using napalm. No concern for civilians was evident.

“The decision to bomb dams in the north when the armistice talks stalled in the spring of 1952 is an example of this set of attitudes,” I wrote. Catastrophic flooding ensued. Similarly, electric plants were destroyed. These acts mainly overwhelmed civilians, not the North’s war efforts. The U.S. did the same in Vietnam. In Iraq, the formal war ended quickly, but the attitudes toward civilians were persistent and devastating in other ways.

It’s an old American story: cowboys and Indians, but all over the world. The savage wars of peace are a national habit, but the peace is not for the “savages”—theirs is the peace of the grave.
Learn more about The Deaths of Others at the Oxford University Press website, and visit John Tirman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eric R Dursteler's "Renegade Women"

Eric R Dursteler is a professor of history at Brigham Young University and the author of Venetians in Constantinople.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean, and reported the following:
Although renegade seems like a retro motorcycle brand name, in the early modern Mediterranean it had a very precise meaning: it described an individual who renounced his or her religion through conversion. In Renegade Women I have expanded this definition to include Mediterranean women who transgressed religious, but also political, cultural, social, and geographical boundaries as a means to assert a degree of shaping power over their own lives in the face of often potent cultural, social, and political limitations.

Page 99 drops the reader into the middle of the story of a family of renegade women who have fled their home on the Ottoman-Greek island of Milos, and sought refuge on Venetian Corfu. The mother, Maria, was a Christian who had married a Muslim, thus her three daughters were born in that faith. Following their flight, however, they converted to Christianity, and the eldest, Aissè, wed a local Christian by whom she claimed to be pregnant, despite still being married to the chief Ottoman official on Milos, the kadi Mustafa Efendi. Not surprisingly, this created a thorny situation, and in this section of the book Venetian officials are struggling to ascertain the truth behind the women’s story, to establish their religious identity, and to resolve the political imbroglio they have precipitated.

An excerpt:
Another vital issue in the Venetian inquiry was the women’s religious status. Maria had remained a fervent Christian throughout her years in Milos, but her daughters’ situation was more ambiguous. All witnesses acknowledged the girls had been raised as Muslims. Maria claimed, however, and her daughters verified, that they had been baptized and had lived secretly as Christians. The question of whether the girls’ decision to abandon Islam had been voluntary was pivotal; if they had acted of their own free will, there was a broad consensus that “it was not in the interests of the Republic’s piety to return them.”
This incident hints at many of the larger themes of Renegade Women. On its simplest level, the book tries to recover the lives of Mediterranean women, about whom we know very little. Through the comparison of four microhistorical narratives of the lives of Christian and Muslim women from the Venetian and Ottoman empires, we find many similarities in their experiences with marriage, divorce, motherhood, childhood, patriarchy, honor, religious identity, conversion, and the manipulation of the region’s numerous borders. The common elements in their experiences suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of the Mediterranean that transcends the stark boundaries that are often erected to divide it into antagonistic religious blocks. The tales also challenge assumptions about women’s religiosity and identity, and suggest some of the means that early modern Mediterranean women possessed to shape their own lives by traversing the region’s political and religious frontiers.
Read more about Renegade Women at The Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Henry Nicholls's "The Way of the Panda"

Henry Nicholls's first book, Lonesome George, was a story of one giant tortoise, Galapagos and global conservation.

Nicholls applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal, and reported the following:
On page 99, we find ourselves in the 1960s, the decade in which the giant panda made its most confident leap from the zoological into the human world. This is a pivotal moment in The Way of the Panda, the tale of the giant panda’s journey from 19th-century obscurity to global zoological domination. It was then that East and West made two independent and largely rival claims on the panda’s alluring form.

It was exactly 50 years ago that the founding members of the World Wildlife Fund settled on the panda as the fledgling charity’s emblem, a decision that allegedly took about twenty minutes. When conservationist, wildlife artist and WWF founder Peter Scott rationalized this moment years later, he claimed the founding committee was after an endangered animal that looked good and would print well in black-and-white. According to his widow, who I interviewed for my book before her death in late 2009, it was the printing budget that drove the decision. In this single, swift and somewhat serendipitous moment, the giant panda became more than just a zoological curiosity. It became the face of global conservation.

Less well known, at least to the Western mind, is Chairman Mao Zedong’s entirely independent effort to turn the giant panda into a unifying, uplifting symbol for modern China. It was perfect for the job: a uniquely Chinese animal, stunning to look at, rare, hence precious, and coveted by the West. Hard as it is to believe, the panda had not come to mainstream cultural attention during China’s Imperial era. So whilst Mao clamped down on anything with the merest whiff of an association with the Imperial past during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the panda was a fair, even desirable, artistic game. For the US historian Elena Songster, who has written a great PhD on the emergence of the panda as a Chinese national icon, “studying it, painting it, and mass producing it were all means of glorifying one of China’s prized possessions, and thus China itself” and so, for a quarter of the world’s population, “the panda became synonymous with modern China.”

This is the first time that the East showed a serious interest in the giant panda. From the “discovery” of the species by a French Catholic missionary in 1869 right up until the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, the story of the giant panda is one dominated exclusively by Western voices: collectors sought specimens for museums; hunters tried to shoot them for “sport”; zoos fought to get hold of one to show off to the fee-paying public. I cover this in the first part of the book. The middle section, on which the story turns, homes in on the 1960s. In the final section, which brings us from the 1970s to the present, China gradually comes to dominate the panda’s story (and, in case you hadn’t noticed, the world).

There, in a nutshell, is what The Way of the Panda is about. When I read what I have written in the prologue, that “thinking about pandas helps make sense of modern China’s rise to global domination”, there is a bit of me that still wonders if this is just a little too bold. But it’s a small bit of me and one that gets smaller every day. The giant panda is a species with such huge popular appeal, powerful symbolism, comedic potential and political value, it would actually be pretty surprising if what I call “the way of the panda” did not reveal a fascinating human history. It really, really does.
Learn more about the book and author at Henry Nicholls's website.

The Page 99 Test: Lonesome George.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jamie Malanowski's "And the War Came"

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. A member of the original staff of Spy, where he worked seven years, Jamie has also been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor. Currently he is the lead writer of the Disunion Blog, about the Civil War, for The New York Times; the series was presented with the 2010 Cliopatria Award for Best History Writing on the web.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, And the War Came: The Six Months That Tore America Apart, and reported the following:
And the War Came is about the six months between the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, six months during which the country argued, blustered, manipulated, stole, bluffed, bumbled, and denied its way into the greatest tragedy in our nation's history. Those six months were an intensely political period during which the country wrestled through issues first of union and disunion, and then of war and peace. Among the things that makes the period so rich is that the crisis inspired enormous creativity, especially in argument, justification, and rationale.

The book takes the form of weekly dispatches about the events of the preceding seven days, and how they fit with recent developments, and what they might portend for the murky future. On Page 99 of the book, we are in the midst of the dispatch from the week of February 9, 1861. This is quite a good place to get a sense of the aforementioned creativity, because the events of that week had rather little to do with President Buchanan or President-elect Lincoln or other main players. Instead, it was one of those weeks when everybody was getting into the act. In Washington, a Peace Convention—a collection of former officials and other public men—had come together under the leadership of former President Tyler, to see if they could work out a compromise that their hopelessly deadlocked successors could not. On the face of it, there is something emotionally gripping and even majestic about these old patriots braving winter to once again ride to the aid of their nation. But soon it’s clear that these are mostly a bunch of windbags, vain has-beens who are in no better position to rescue the nation than their stubborn sons.

To underscore the hopelessness of their cause was, even if they had fashioned a compromise, the leaders of the already-seceded states had no interest in making a deal. Those states had split, and their leaders were at that moment in Montgomery, Alabama, writing the constitution of the Confederate States of America (which, as it turns out, bears a strong similarity to the US Constitution, departing most notably to state the legality, and the centrality, of slavery in the new government.) It was also at this time that the delegates began to give serious consideration to choosing Jefferson Davis as president. The leading contender had been Robert Toombs, the fire-eating Senator from Georgia. But the bibulous Toombs showed up drunk at too many receptions, and his dreams were dashed.

Finally, what really shows the creativity of the moment were reports from that week that William Seward, the prominent senator who was to become Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was busy floating one of his pet solutions—start a war with a European power. It didn’t much matter to Seward if it was Great Britain over Canada or Spain over Cuba, or somebody else over something even less pressing; he just thought that a European war would reunify the country, and, once won, would deliver sufficient spoils to placate even the rebels. Evidently Lincoln did not take the sly, cynical Seward very seriously; otherwise we may today never think of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator who ended slavery, but the Great Imperialist, the one who conquered Cuba, Salavador, Nicaragua, and so on.

Anyway, the events go to show that history seldom moves in a straight line, but instead by fits and starts, with plenty of room for error and missed opportunity.
Watch the trailer for And the War Came, and learn more about the book and author at Jamie Malanowski's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 3, 2011

F. Bailey Norwood & Jayson Lusk's "Compassion, by the Pound"

F. Bailey Norwood is an associate professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University. Jayson L. Lusk is a professor and the Willard Sparks Chair in the agricultural economics department of Oklahoma State University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare, and reported the following:
Readers who turn to page 99 of Compassion, by the Pound will be immediately confronted with the debate concerning the welfare of chickens raised for eggs. Half of page 99 is consumed with pictures of chickens, along with information on the amount of space the hens are given on traditional, large-scale egg producing facilities. Most eggs come from farms where 4-6 hens are placed in a barren cage, where they will remain throughout their life. The illustration makes it clear that some farms in the U.S., which provide only 48 square inches per bird, are not providing adequate animal welfare. On the other hand, farms meeting the United Egg Producers requirements are largely meeting the birds’ needs for space…or are they? Even if they meet the hens’ space requirements, what about hens’ desire to perch and forage?

The livestock industry and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are in a battle over how farm animals should be raised, and given that actions by the HSUS have forced many states to ban cage egg production, it would appear that the HSUS is winning. But are the animals winning? How can one tell when animal advocacy groups seem to suggest it is impossible to raise farm animals without cruelty, and livestock industry groups assert nothing they do causes misery? There needs to be an objective, dispassionate source for farm animal welfare information, and Compassion, by the Pound is intended to be this source.

Is cage-free better than cage eggs? We believe so, and discuss why, but we also give proper respect to those who disagree. Is veganism an ethical diet, in regards to animal welfare? It depends. Eggs and pork are produced from animals that seem to live a miserable life, so abstaining from eggs and pork might be an ethical choice. However, one can easily argue that beef cattle experience a largely pleasant life, and abstaining from beef discourages cattle production, and thus reduces the number of happy cows that can exist. What is better: eliminating the misery of hogs through veganism, or allowing the merriment of cattle by eating beef?

Do consumers want their pork and eggs to be raised under better conditions for farm animals? It depends. If you ask consumers this question, and they know you are watching them, they will gladly pay the cost of more humane egg and pork production. However, when shopping in the grocery store, where their purchases are unobserved, they tend to purchase the cheapest food and ignore animal welfare. The desirability of animal welfare regulations thus depends on whether what consumers say they want is more or less important than what they actually buy.

There are some easy answers in the farm animal welfare debate, but there are complex, nuanced issues as well. If you force a sow to live in a cage so small it cannot turn around, there should be no debate that the animal lives in misery. However, asking whether people really care about the sow when compassion comes at the expense of their food bill is a frustratingly difficult question to answer. Even if you believe hens are happier in a cage-free farm than a cage farm, if you apply rigorous logic towards your purchasing decisions, buying cage eggs might still be the more ethical choice. The reason is that hens are more productive on a cage farm, requiring fewer hens for every 100 eggs produced, and if you believe hens suffer on both farms, it might be better for a few caged hens to suffer a lot than many cage-free hens to suffer a little less—thus making cage eggs the ethical choice.

Readers desiring easy answers to ethical food should consult the website of an interest group. Those wanting the truth about animals raised for food, regardless of the answer’s complexity, will find all the information they need at Compassion, by the Pound.
Learn more about Compassion, by the Pound at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 2, 2011

L. D. Mueller, C. L. Rauser and M. R. Rose's "Does Aging Stop?"

Laurence Mueller is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. His research interests are in life-history evolution, aging, and the population genetic aspects of forensic DNA typing. Dr. Mueller is the author of over 100 research papers in these fields as well as two books: Stability in Model Populations and Evolution and Ecology of the Organism.

Casandra Rauser is the Assistant Director of Research Development for the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

Michael Rose is Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Evolutionary Biology of Aging, and was awarded the Busse Research Prize by the World Congress of Gerontology in 1997.

Rauser applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Does Aging Stop?, and reported the following:
Opening up to page 99 immediately took me back to 2001 when it dawned on me that we could test a number of the competing evolutionary and heterogeneity theories of aging at the same time using fecundity instead of mortality. Up until that point, mortality had been the character of choice, as it is the most obvious character related to aging itself; but selection acts very similarly on fecundity, so why not study that?

Page 99 describes some of the competing heterogeneity hypotheses for why several biologists had observed a slowing in late age mortality rate giving rise to plateaus in a number of different species in the early 1990’s. Many of these hypotheses were post hoc attempts at explaining away the observed data – data that didn’t seem to make much sense to anybody at the time. That is, mortality was supposed to continuously increase with age, but researchers were instead observing a slowing of mortality rates at very late ages when large cohorts of individuals were investigated.

Together we refer to these heterogeneity hypotheses to explain late age plateaus in mortality rates as “Vaupelian theory,” which had not been extended to include fecundity. On page 99 we verbally extend this theory to apply to fecundity, and explain that “regardless of the numerous conceivable lifelong heterogeneity in fecundity hypotheses, all of them have in common the ability to infer late-life fecundity patterns from attributes of young individuals in a cohort, just as demographic theories of late-life mortality hypothesize that mortality rates plateau because of individual heterogeneity effects that are present throughout life.”

So, all we had to do to test these theories was “simply” follow the individual fecundity patterns of thousands of female flies from one cohort over their lifetime; a task that in the end was, of course, not so simple. In fact, this most arduous task involved an army of undergraduate students, several sleepless nights, naps on the cot set up in the lab, numerous shots of espresso, and most importantly the counting of millions of fly eggs. In the end this much experimental evidence could not be ignored – all of our results failed to support any heterogeneity hypothesis that one could dream up, and added even more credence to evolutionary theories explaining the cessation of aging in late life.
Learn more about Does Aging Stop? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue