Friday, November 30, 2012

Mario Erasmo's "Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy"

Mario Erasmo is professor of classics at the University of Georgia and the author of four books on ancient Roman culture and the legacy of classical antiquity, including Reading Death in Ancient Rome and Roman Tragedy: Theatre to Theatricality. His forthcoming Strolling Through Rome: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City (IBTauris) guides visitors step by step through the historic areas and eras of Rome.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy, and reported the following:
The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius (18- 12 BCE) is unique among surviving monuments from ancient Rome. As a funerary monument, it commemorates where Cestius is buried but its form owes to the "Egyptomania" introduced by the emperor Augustus following his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Egyptian monuments included two obelisks that Augustus transported from Egypt - one for the Circus Maximus and the other that served as the sundial of the Horologium in his Mausoleum complex.

That was just the beginning of the Pyramid's interesting history. It was incorporated into the Aurelianic Walls and despite its unmistakable pagan form and function, it survived the destruction of ancient monuments that supplied building materials in the medieval period and that later made the architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque possible. It was known as the "Meta Remi", the Tomb of Remus, the brother of Rome's legendary founder Romulus and the counterpart of a pyramid that stood near St. Peter's Square that was known as the "Meta Romuli", the Tomb of Romulus that was demolished in 1499. Yet another pyramid tomb was at the start of Via del Corso in Piazza del Popolo that was demolished for the construction of the church of S. Maria dei Miracoli. The demolition of this last pyramid is ironic since the Piazza would be transformed into a Neoclassical showpiece by Giuseppe Valadier (1816-20) with an Egyptian obelisk at its centre - the very obelisk that Augustus had erected in the Circus Maximus. The Pyramid of Cestius however, as sole survivor, influenced the funerary monument designs of the Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.

Page 99 follows the Pyramid's "reuse" as a funerary marker for visitors on the Grand Tour to indicate the burial place of the English Romantic poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Protestant Cemetery. The poem "Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius near the Graves of Shelley and Keats (1901) by Thomas Hardy prioritizes the Pyramid's commemorative role:
     Who, then, was Cestius,
     And what is he to me? -
Amid thick thoughts and memories multitudinous
     One thought alone brings he.

     I can recall no word
     Of anything he did;
For me he is a man who died and was interred
     To leave a pyramid

     Whose purpose was exprest
     Not with its first design,
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest
     Two countrymen of mine.

     Cestius in life, maybe,
     Slew, breathed out threatening;
I know not. This I know: in death all silently
     He does a finer thing,

     In beckoning pilgrim feet
     With marble finger high
To where, by shadowy wall and history-haunted street,
     Those matchless singers lie...

     - Say, then, he lived and died
     That stones which bear his name
Should mark, through Time, where two immortal Shades abide;
     It is an ample fame.
Today, the Pyramid lends its name to the Piramide Metro Station outside Porta S. Paolo that connects travelers to the trains that go to Ostia Lido, the beaches south of Rome, away from the city centre and its storied past of which the Pyramid has played a unique part.
Learn more about Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2012

John Hannigan’s "Disasters Without Borders"

John Hannigan is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Environmental Sociology (1995, 2006) and Fantasy City: Pleasure and Profit in the Postmodern Metropolis (1998).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Disasters Without Borders: The International Politics of Natural Disasters, and reported the following:
Did Hurricane Sandy tip the 2012 presidential election towards Barack Obama? It’s difficult to know definitively. Still, the ‘super-storm’ was a welcome gift for the Obama campaign just days before voters went to the polls. The incumbent could look ‘presidential’ and the challenger was left to explain why he opposed federal disaster aid. Disasters Without Borders came out in North America only a week before this. Presciently perhaps, the book includes a box comparing the performance of three high-profile east-coast politicians – Cory Booker, Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo – during Hurricane Irene, which struck the very same region the previous August.

On Page 99, I review some key studies by political scientists that uniformly found that governments usually make decisions about how much disaster assistance to approve and where it should be directed not according to victim need, but rather in light of perceived political advantages and imperatives. Domestically, states that are politically important to the President are more likely to be declared disaster areas, making them eligible for federal assistance. In the case of foreign disasters, it clearly helps to be a friend of the United States. Time and again, altruism is trumped by political calculation.

More broadly, Disasters Without Borders is an account of key milestones, debates, controversies and research relating to the international politics of natural disaster. In the book, I highlight the ongoing disjuncture between how disaster has been conceptualized and the institutional architecture put in place to manage it. Mostly governments have ceded responsibility for disaster response and planning to the humanitarian community. Tellingly, with the exception of a minor convention on sharing telecommunication resources in disasters, there are no legally binding, multilateral treaties.

All this may be about to change. Alarmed by predictions of more frequent and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy that are possibly provoked by climate change, the Pentagon, the World Bank and the re-insurance industry are increasingly engaging with the disaster sector, importing a more aggressive and politicized form of intervention. Soon, we could see the confluence of four trends – securitization, catastrophic scenario building, the privatization of risk, and quantification – that promise to create a new global system of disaster management wherein ‘insurance logic’ will replace humanitarian concern as the guiding principle.
Learn more about Disasters Without Borders at the John Wiley & Sons website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Oren Bar-Gill's "Seduction By Contract"

Oren Bar-Gill is a Professor of Law and co-Director of the Center for Law, Economics and Organization at the New York University School of Law. Bar-Gill joined the NYU faculty in January 2005 from Harvard University, where he was a Fellow at the Society of Fellows, as well as an Olin Fellow at Harvard Law School. Bar-Gill holds a B.A. (economics), LL.B., M.A. (law & economics), and Ph.D. (economics) from Tel-Aviv University, as well as an LL.M. and S.J.D. from Harvard Law School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Seduction by Contract: Law, Economics, and Psychology in Consumer Markets, and reported the following:
Opening Seduction By Contract on Page 99 takes you to the book’s Credit Cards chapter – a case study of contracting practices in the credit card market, how these practices hurt consumers and what the law can do to help. Earlier in the chapter, I explain how the interaction between market forces and consumer psychology distorts competition in the credit card market. Many consumers are myopic and optimistic. They care more about short-term prices and less about long-term prices. Accordingly, issuers compete by offering short term-perks, like no annual fees and low (or zero) introductory interest rates; and recoup their losses by imposing high long-term costs, like late fees and penalty interest rates. Page 99 asks whether this distorted competition hurts consumers. It may be thought that consumers are not harmed by these temporal pricing shifts, that the short-term perks compensate consumers for the long-term costs. But, the chapter shows, this is not the case. The deferred-costs strategy distorts both product-choice and product-use decisions, hurting consumers and reducing market efficiency. Page 99 goes on to evaluate how the pricing distortions in the credit card market increase the likelihood of financial distress or exacerbate the costs, to cardholders, from financial distress.

The credit cards case study is followed by two other, detailed case studies – of the mortgage market and the cellphone market; and it is preceded by a general chapter that offers a theoretical analysis of contracting practices in consumer markets and their normative implications. Consumers routinely enter into contracts with providers of goods and services. These contracts are designed by sophisticated sellers to exploit the psychological biases of consumers. They provide short-term benefits, while imposing long-term costs – because consumers are myopic and optimistic. They are excessively complex – because complexity allows sellers to hide the true cost of the product or service from the imperfectly rational consumer.

The book outlines a promising legal policy solution to these problems: Disclosure mandates. Simple, aggregate disclosures can help consumers make better choice. Comprehensive disclosures can facilitate the work of intermediaries, enabling them to better advise consumers. Effective disclosure would expose the seductive nature of consumer contracts and, as a result, reduce sellers’ incentives to write inefficient contracts.
Learn more about Seduction by Contract at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

M. Todd Bennett's "One World, Big Screen"

M. Todd Bennett is assistant professor of history at East Carolina University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, One World, Big Screen: Hollywood, the Allies, and World War II, and reported the following:
Throughout most of its history the United States remained allergic to international alliances. Heeding the advice given by George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address, Americans traditionally steered clear of foreign entanglements, charting an independent course in the world. However, today’s United States is an international power enmeshed, albeit reluctantly, in a wide array of external relationships, from the UN to NATO to ANZUS.

When and why did this historic shift in U.S. foreign policy as well as the American worldview happen? World War II arguably marked the tipping point. Isolationists were ascendant prior to 1941, and even after Pearl Harbor many Americans expressed reservations about U.S. participation in the Grand Alliance, which grew to include almost four-dozen countries spread across the globe, making it by far the largest foreign entanglement in U.S. history. Within only four short years a remarkable change occurred, however, such that by 1945 most Americans supported not only strong overseas action on the part of the United States but also U.S. involvement in such multinational alliances or organizations as the UN.

Several developments caused that transformation, which affected U.S behavior in the world long after World War II’s last shots had been fired. My book, One World, Big Screen: Hollywood, the Allies, and World War II, addresses one overlooked cause: the extensive wartime propaganda campaign spearheaded by Washington and Hollywood that taught Americans to see themselves as internationalists, as citizens of the world whose well-being depended upon greater connectivity with other, non-American residents of the international community. That campaign depended heavily on cinema, culture’s centerpiece during Hollywood’s pre-television “golden era.” Throughout the war years, 85 million Americans – 85 million, more than three-fifths of the overall U.S. population, which totaled less than 140 million at the time – attended movie theaters each week. Unlike the printed word or radio, films combined audio and video into a sensuous whole projected onto the big screens of darkened theaters, creating an immersive theatergoing experience that, it was widely thought, strongly influenced the behavior as well as the beliefs of viewers. Add to that the fact that Hollywood movies were entertaining, that they educated fans without appearing to do so, and it is easy to understand why wartime officials and filmmakers presumed that motion pictures could effectively “sugarcoat” propaganda and remake the American worldview.

With oversight from the Office of War Information (OWI), the U.S propaganda ministry, Hollywood produced dozens of features designed to model good world citizenship. Some, like Mrs. Miniver or Casablanca, the Best Picture winners of 1942 and 1943 respectively, are considered classics today. Page 99 deals with a lesser-known picture, Action in the North Atlantic (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart. The rollicking Warner Bros. adventure followed the travails of an American merchant vessel that, sailing as part of a multinational convoy, navigated treacherous waters filled with German U-boats to deliver Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union, a wartime ally. Although some opposed Hollywood’s editorial policy – conservatives called Action in the North Atlantic pro-communist propaganda – the film “beautifully and effectively” illustrated internationalism at work, according to the OWI, thereby contributing to the “one world” spirit considered necessary to win the war as well as the peace that followed.
Learn more about One World, Big Screen at the the University of North Carolina Press website.

Writers Read: M. Todd Bennett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2012

David Orrell's "Truth or Beauty"

David Orrell is an applied mathematician and popular author. He studied mathematics at the University of Alberta, and obtained his doctorate in the prediction of nonlinear systems from the University of Oxford. His work in applied mathematics has taken him to diverse areas including particle accelerator design, weather forecasting, economics, and cancer biology. In early 2012, he completed an honorary visiting research fellowship at the Oxford University Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Orrell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Truth or Beauty: Science and the Quest for Order, and reported the following:
Truth or Beauty is about the role of aesthetics in science. The book is divided into three sections – Infatuation, Complication, and Maturation – which chart the relationship between science and beauty throughout history. Page 99 is found in the first chapter of Complication: the topic is relativity and quantum theory, and this page is discussing the period a hundred years ago when Niels Bohr and other scientists were developing a new model of the atom.

The classical model of the atom had electrons orbiting a nucleus like planets in a solar system. While this picture had an appealing simplicity, physicists knew that it couldn’t be right: according to theory, an orbiting electron should emit electromagnetic radiation, lose energy, and collapse into the nucleus, all in less than a billionth of a second. Bohr got around this problem by asserting that electrons were restricted to certain energy levels – described by so-called quantum numbers – and could only switch between them in discrete hops, emitting a pulse of electromagnetic radiation (light) as they did.

A triumph of Bohr’s model was that it explained in a stroke how atoms of a particular substance (for example, the neon found in neon lights) would emit radiation in certain discrete, characteristic wavelengths, known as spectral lines. As in a musical instrument, where sound wavelength corresponds to the note heard, each element produced a unique mix of tones. This was reminiscent of the Pythagoreans’ idea of the music of the spheres, a music which they believed permeated the cosmos but only Pythagoras could hear (ordinary mortals having tuned it out). On page 99 I quote the physicist Arnold Sommerfeld: “What we are listening to nowadays in the language of spectra, is a genuine atomic music of the spheres, a richly proportioned symphony, an order and harmony emerging out of diversity.”

Unfortunately, further experiments showed that the predicted spectral lines did not quite match observation. More quantum numbers had to be added to the model, a development which (the page continues) “seemed like a step in the wrong direction. The model had so many parameters that it had lost any pretense of simplicity or elegance.”

Page 99 therefore captures the fundamental tension which runs through the book, between the aesthetic desire for simplicity and beauty, and the contingencies of messy reality. The same conflict is found today between the proponents of supersymmetric string theory (a more modern attempt to link physics with vibrating strings) and its critics who describe it as motivated more by aesthetics than by experimental evidence.
Learn more about the book and author at David Orrell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2012

David Cunningham's "Klansville, U. S. A."

David Cunningham is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at Brandeis University. He is the author of There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence (University of California Press, 2004).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Klansville, U. S. A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era KKK, and reported the following:
Page 99 closes a chapter that explains one of the book’s key puzzles: why the civil rights-era’s Ku Klux Klan resurgence was not in fact centered in the Deep South, but rather in ostensibly progressive North Carolina. The Tar Heel State was far and away the KKK’s stronghold throughout the 1960s, with its estimated 10,000-12,000 dues-paying klan members eclipsing that of the rest of the South combined by 1965. Page 99 summarizes one key reason that was true:
By 1964 the state’s overriding emphasis on perpetuating an image that was progressive, friendly to business, and – unlike the hard-line Deep South – precluded any coordinated effort to protect and preserve segregation at all costs. The failure of state leaders to employ proactive policing measures to stanch the resulting segregationist furor meant that KKK organizers, prior to 1966, confronted no serious repressive action from state police agencies. As a consequence, [KKK leader and North Carolina “Grand Dragon”] Bob Jones and his organizers found the Tar Heel State to be fertile organizing ground.
On any given night beginning in 1963, often more than a thousand spectators turned out to partake in the KKK’s “skewed county fair”-style rallies, enjoying refreshments and music by the klan’s house band; hoping to win raffled-off cases of motor oil, shotguns, or used cars; listening to a slate of KKK leaders, preachers, and rabble-rousers espouse the virtues of segregation; and gaping at the ritualized burning of a 70 foot-tall cross. Failing to “employ proactive policing measures” to hinder such events meant that officials talked tough about keeping tabs on KKK rallies but in fact limited themselves to passively monitoring klan proceedings and directing traffic to prevent gridlock before and after the events. Records from the state’s Highway Patrol and Bureau of Investigation, and the first-hand accounts offered by former police officials in interviews, make clear that agents frequently developed collegial relationships with KKK leaders and sometimes outwardly displayed their sympathies for the klan’s stances. Such tactics, of course, only emboldened KKK recruiters.

Page 99 also shows how such passive stances played a role in state officials’ broader strategies. By ensuring that a “contained, but nonetheless highly visible” KKK existed alongside the NAACP and other groups operating at the opposite end of the civil rights spectrum, North Carolina’s political leaders were able to “reinforce their reasonable, moderate position.” In a time and place where the governor could routinely refer to the NAACP as a “militant and selfish organization” and win votes by claiming that political rivals were “captive” to civil rights interests, simultaneously demonizing the KKK allowed the state to retain a sheen of progressive enlightenment. Occupying this delicate middle-ground allowed North Carolina’s leadership to promote the state as an ideal destination for new industry: flush with a low-wage non-unionized labor force and also miles away from the unsavory “massive resistance”-style white supremacy espoused by their cohorts in Mississippi and Alabama.

Klansville, U.S.A. shows how such factors created an ideal environment for the KKK’s rise, and also how and why a shift in the state’s policing priorities beginning in 1966 spurred the klan’s spectacular fall later in the decade.
Learn more about Klansville, U. S. A. at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2012

John Marzluff and Tony Angell's "Gifts of the Crow"

John Marzluff is Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. The author of four books and over one hundred scientific papers on various aspects of bird behavior, he is the recipient of the A. Brazier Howell, Board of Directors, and H.R. Painton awards from the Cooper Ornithological Society. Tony Angell has authored and/or illustrated a dozen award-winning books related to natural history. Their 2005 book is In the Company of Crows and Ravens.

Marzluff applied the “Page 99 Test” to their latest book, Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Gifts of the Crow captures several important themes of our book. First, it extolls an amazing gift that these birds—the corvid family including crows, ravens, magpies, and jays—possess. This is the gift of insight. Yes, some birds use insight, a full understanding of a problem and the steps needed to solve it, to survive in their worlds. The New Caledonia crows I discuss on p. 99 use insight to obtain out of reach food. This brings up the second theme—the reporting of scientific details to back up a claim about brainy birds. Many anecdotes exist about how smart crows are, and I recount many of these throughout the book, but I also review the science that now exists to back up many seemingly impossible observations. I try to bring this science to the reader in an easy to grasp way. Here, with respect to insight, I discuss an experiment done by New Zealand researchers: to obtain food crows had to pull up a string containing a small stick, use that stick to rake a larger stick out of a grill-fronted box, and finally use the large stick to scoop a piece of meat out of a long tube. That the crows did this, on average in minutes without missing a step in the sequence, demonstrates that they fully grasped the problem and the solution mentally. They clearly thought before acting, working out the necessary steps in their minds, rather than with errant physical flailing.

Page 99 intrigues in telling the reader how scientists investigate another being’s mental ability. It highlights one important “gift of the crow.” But it fails to represent the entire book. Missing are the many examples of other gifts: language, delinquency, frolic, passion, wrath, grief, risk taking, and awareness. Missing is a background discussion of bird brains that concludes the term “birdbrain” should now be considered a compliment, not an insult! Also missing are the elegant illustrations by Tony Angell of crow behavior. Page 99 introduces the crow, but it takes a book to fully describe the amazing advances science has made toward understanding the crow. This leads the reader to reconsider the crow, as a companion in our world that challenges and inspires. The true “gift of the crow” is the ability of these birds to take us beyond our technological and urban lifestyles and lead us into an exploration of nature that truly expands our minds.
Learn more about Gifts of the Crow at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: In the Company of Crows and Ravens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2012

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa's "Crooked Paths to Allotment"

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa is assistant professor of history at Illinois College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War, and reported the following:
Jumping in to page 99 of my book places readers directly into the heart of the conflicts and contestations that drive Crooked Paths to Allotment. On a basic level, it is a book about the politics of federal Native policymaking following the Civil War. In particular, I seek to interrogate the standard historical narrative that views the nineteenth century in terms of steadily declining Indigenous sovereignty, from removal of southeastern tribes to the 1887 General Allotment Act. I argue that at several particular moments in the mid- to late nineteenth century, Native American reformers and their white allies challenged coercive practices and offered visions for policies that might have allowed Indigenous nations to adapt at their own pace and on their own terms.

The Reconstruction period was especially important because it was a time when white Americans emerged from the Civil War searching for meaning out of their recent traumas and sacrifices and were willing to consider, at least initially, a drastically reconfigured nation that would be fundamentally more inclusive. These moments, though, also illuminate the strength and pervasiveness of American settler colonial thought as state actors consolidated or reconsolidated political power and repressed alternative pathways, and that’s what I’m discussing on page 99. It falls in the middle of a chapter called “A Contentious Peace Policy, 1871-1875” that charts the efforts of mainstream assimilationists (especially the Board of Indian Commissioners and a Philadelphia merchant named William Welsh) to repress the policy alternatives championed by Native activists (such as Ely S. Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca and the first Commissioner of Indian Affairs who was Indigenous himself). Here are the two full paragraphs on the page:
The BIC [Board of Indian Commissioners] could have provided transparency and public oversight of the policy-making process. It did not. Instead, it sought to limit public access to Indian policy, while placing it in the hands of a small circle of respected white elites who shared similar religious, business, and social interests. When the OIA [Office of Indian Affairs] drafted its communications with contractors in 1871, the BIC sought to signify its (perceived) superior position by adding “under the supervision of the Board of Indian Commissioners.” Welsh and the BIC campaigned against and successfully removed federal officials who did not agree with their positions: first Ely Parker and then his successor, E.P. Smith, and Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano. Most significantly, in 1874, the BIC proposed to separate the OIA from the Interior Department and establish it as an independent, executive-level agency. They argued that this would protect it against political patronage, a broader Reconstruction-era issue that had become a rallying-cry for disaffected Democrats and reform-minded Republicans in the Republican-dominated years of the Grant administration. But their proposal also bore the marks of an effort to control access to the mechanisms of political power. Ultimately, it failed, and in response, six of the original members resigned en masse.

Prior to this development, in the years between 1869-1874, Welsh and the BIC established a policy framework that at its foundation held a belief in Indian confinement and assimilation by any means necessary, animated by an expressly elitist, evangelical Christian approach to policy making. Advancing their agenda between 1869 and 1874, these reformers effectively derailed any progress Parker and his compatriots had made in developing an alternative agenda. Indeed, their programs helped cement, for the next several generations at least, the notion that non-Native people understood the best interests of Native communities and the idea that the federal government could, in a short period of time, destroy Indian autonomy and distinct Indigenous communities for the betterment of Indian people and the United States.
Although there are other historiographic contributions I attempt to make throughout, the material summarized on page 99 is an accurate reflection of what the book does. It’s a story of paths that might have been taken in Indian policy, but were not. These paragraphs also represent my effort to connect developments in Indian Affairs to the larger context of the Reconstruction Era and in so doing, to suggest that any attempt to make sense of late-nineteenth-century US history has to take seriously Indigenous histories and experiences.
Learn more about Crooked Paths to Allotment at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Steven Strogatz's "The Joy of x"

Steven Strogatz is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. He holds a joint appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences (Mathematics) and the College of Engineering (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering). He is the author of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (1994), Sync (2003), The Calculus of Friendship (2009), and The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity (2012).

Strogatz applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Joy of x and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Joy of x gently explains the proof that the angles of any triangle always add up to 180 degrees. What I love about it -- and what makes it so representative of the book as a whole -- is that this proof showcases a side of math that most of us never encountered in school. As I write on the next page,
This is one of the most bracing arguments in all of mathematics. It opens with a bolt of lightning, the construction of the parallel line. Once that line has been drawn, the proof practically rises off the table and walks by itself, like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation.

And who knows? If we highlight this other side of geometry—its playful, intuitive side, where a spark of imagination can be quickly fanned into a proof—maybe someday all students will remember geometry as the class where they learned to be logical and creative.
Learn more about the book and author at Steven Strogatz's website.

Writers Read: Steven Strogatz (August 2009).

Writers Read: Steven Strogatz (November 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eric Lohr's "Russian Citizenship"

Eric Lohr is Susan E. Lehrman Chair of Russian History and Culture at American University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in the middle of my chapter on emigration and denaturalization, a chapter that begins with the sentence “Few countries have had such a deep tradition of opposition to emigration or denaturalization as Russia.” The first section of the chapter explains historically-grounded reasons for that tradition. Page 99 discusses a 1909 proposal to “legalize” emigration and delves into the human costs of the continuing sanctions on emigrants. To leave the country, they had to pay emigrant smuggling rings exorbitant fees. Once abroad, they were often left at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. Page 99 gives a few examples. A group of 10,000 Russian workers ended up stranded on Hawaiian plantations, suffering from tropical illnesses, but were not released from obligations to work for subsistence level wages. The Russian workers spooked the local authorities with their socialist agitation, but still were held in bondage to their unfair contracts. Another group of Russian workers arrived in Germany appalled to find they had been hired as scabs to replace German workers on strike. German employers in this and other cases held Russian workers in the country by seizing their passports and holding them until the end of the work season. But, as later pages detail, despite an overwhelmingly reasonable case to join the rest of the world and legalize emigration, the proposals failed to pass due to fears that the precarious ethnic balance in many parts of the empire could be upset if Russian peasants were suddenly free to leave.
Learn more about Russian Citizenship at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2012

R. Kent Newmyer's "The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr"

Kent Newmyer is Professor of Law and History at the University of Connecticut School of Law. His books include The Supreme Court Under Marshall and Taney, John Marshall & the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court, and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation, and reported the following:
Rather than page 99, let's move the action back to page 97-98 beginning with the last paragraph on page 97 and ending with the next-to-last paragraph on 98:
The subpoena motion also dramatized the fact that the president himself was on trial. The man chosen to drive the point home was Luther Martin. The Marylander’s style set him apart from the other two great lawyers in the trial: Wickham, who appeared to soar above the fray while being fully engaged in it, and Wirt, whose soaring rhetoric was always self-consciously proper. In contrast, Martin was down-home, rough-hewn, and unrestrained. He was also a passionate friend of Burr and Theodosia. Fresh from defending Justice Chase in the impeachment trial in 1805, he was an equally passionate hater of Jefferson. He was also a great trial lawyer, a street fighter with a copious legal mind and a quiver of poison arrows that he now let fly at Jefferson.

One of those arrows carried an American message delivered in a distinctive American idiom, the first of several more to come. The legality of the subpoena motion, which Martin discussed with learned references to English authorities and American practice, was his segue to Jefferson’s un-republican behavior. “Surely these gentlemen,” he said, referring to Hay and company, “do not intend to represent the president as a kind of sovereign, or as a king of Great Britain. He is no more than a servant of the people.”

And what did this humble servant do? “He has assumed to himself the knowledge of the Supreme Being himself, and pretended to search the heart of my highly respected friend. He has proclaimed him a traitor in the face of that country, which has rewarded him. He has let slip the dogs of war, the hell-hounds of persecution, to hunt down my friend.”

So much for the author of the Declaration of Independence and the self-appointed defender of American liberties. As for James Wilkinson, the president’s chief hell-hound: why shouldn’t the defense have access to his letters to the president regarding Burr’s alleged treachery? Perhaps, the general “is not as pure as an angel.” Before you buy his story—this to the grand jury and the assembled worthies--remember “that this man has already broken the constitution to support his violent measures; that he has already ground down the civil authorities into dust; and subjected all around him to a military despotism.” No wonder Jefferson dubbed Martin “an impudent federal bull-dog” and suggested to Hay that, “as particeps criminis with Burr,” he might be prosecuted for “misprision of treason at least.”
This passage occurs in Chapter 3, "Legal Theater in Richmond," which sets the stage for the trial and for the remarkable performance of the lawyers involved, whose role has never been fully told before. Whether contemporaries loved or hated Luther Martin, he was a show-stopper in Richmond. He was a master of invective, a brilliant lawyer--an American original. His personal attack on the president was heartfelt, but it was also a bold, calculated adversarial tactic.

The point of Martin's tirade was to demonstrate that Burr was the innocent victim of a personal vendetta carried on by a vengeful and ruthless president whose hatred of Burr caused him to run roughshod over due process of law and the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. The sources indicate that Jefferson was in fact guilty on both counts. The president's personal involvement in the conduct of the government's case also came out during the trial.

Burr's lawyers also succeeded in associating Jefferson with the government's chief witness James Wilkinson, the flamboyant general of the army who in fact had been associated with Burr in his "conspiracy" and who turned states evidence to save his own hide. Wilkinson proved to be the prosecution's weakest link and the general pulled the president down with him.

Jefferson's involvement in the prosecution, unprecedented in American history, brought him into conflict with his old enemy Chief Justice Marshall. Jefferson was convinced that Marshall was out to embarrass him as he had done in the recent case of Marbury v. Madison. By the end of the trial the president was as interested in getting Marshall impeached as he was in getting Burr convicted. In addition to adding spice to the drama, the confrontation between the president and the chief justice turned a great criminal trial into a major contest over judicial independence and the constitutional meaning of separation of powers.

While there were no perfect heroes in the case, Marshall comes the closest. For seven long, hot months he managed to keep brilliant and overwrought counsel in line. As a trial judge he was eminently fair. His ruling on evidence, which all but guaranteed Burr's acquittal, was a signal victory for the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. And when, in one of the most dramatic moments of a drama-packed trial, Marshall issued a subpoena to the president ordering him to produce documents in his possession necessary for Burr's defense, he struck a powerful blow for both due process of law and the independence of the federal judiciary. Marshall's ruling on the subpoena also proved to be the foundation of the Supreme Court's famous decision in the Watergate tapes case of U.S. v. Nixon. Finally, Marshall's narrow definition of treason (in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution) reduced the likelihood that treason would become an instrument of political coercion. With the help of the lawyers, Marshall made some good republican law that even Thomas Jefferson should have liked.
Learn more about The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stephen T. Asma's "Against Fairness"

Stephen T. Asma is Distinguished Scholar and professor of philosophy in the Department of Humanities as well as Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science, and Culture at Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of several books, including On Monsters, Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, and Following Form and Function.

Asma applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Against Fairness, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Against Fairness is arbitrarily chosen, but it’s still somewhat indicative of the overall thesis. Our contemporary ideas of ethics revolve around the concept of fairness, but I argue that this is an unfortunate oversimplification of justice and the good life. Most of us are not daily engaged in writing constitutions or nation building directly, and so our ethical lives are more personal, biased, and fraught with competing loyalties. Even the egalitarian “saints” like Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi –who preached indiscriminate love –still had favorites or best friends whom they privileged.

On page 99, I’m discussing the way that other cultures and other eras think about ethics and justice without our familiar emphasis on fairness and equality. Traditional Chinese and Indian cultures, for example, are hierarchic and preferential, but I show how these more biased ethical paradigms foster positive virtues of loyalty and allegiance. Family devotion is the core of ethical life in these cultures, and the circle of favors is drawn tightly around kin. I contrast this kind of ethical favoritism with the universal egalitarian “world savers” of our own culture. I’ll take the favoritists any day.

Until we figure out how to incorporate our own natural nepotistic tendencies into Western liberalism, we will be forever doomed to fail our naïve ethical standards. So my book, which favors favoritism, is a start in that direction.
View the trailer for Against Fairness, and visit Stephen T. Asma's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 17, 2012

David B. Williams's "Cairns: Messengers in Stone"

David B. Williams is the author of Stories in Stone: Travels through Urban Geology, The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist, and A Naturalist's Guide to Canyon Country. He has written for Smithsonian, Popular Mechanics, and National Wildlife, and is a regular contributor to Earth.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cairns: Messengers in Stone, and reported the following:
On the ninety-ninth page of Cairns: Messengers in Stone, we learn the shocking revelation that Englishmen once ate other Englishmen. While this may not seem germane to the subject of my book—small heaps of stone, or cairns—the story of cannibalism occurs in the middle of my chapter about the importance of cairns on expeditions. In such situations they functioned, and still function, as a mailbox, a territorial marker, or guidepost.

The cannibalism took place on Sir John Franklin’s infamous expedition, which set sail from England in 1845 in hopes of finding the northwest passage across the Arctic. After hearing no word from Franklin for two years, the British Admiralty sent three expeditions in search of Franklin. They found nothing. The searches continued for years. In 1854, one expedition talked to Native people who told of seeing Franklin’s men and how they had resorted to cannibalism. Not until 1859, though, did anyone find any written information from Franklin. One piece of paper buried in a cairn told the fate of the men. It was the only written evidence ever discovered from the Franklin Expedition.

I told this story to illustrate how people have long used cairns as a means of communication. When we didn’t all carry smart phones or GPS units, cairns provided an enduring message from one person to another. The message didn’t require any special knowledge or tools to send or receive. It could be communicated no matter the weather or season. When you saw a cairn, you knew what it meant: follow this trail, look for a message here, this is a good hunting spot, something important happened here.

My goal in writing the book was to take something that many people have noticed and probably thought little about and to reveal its complexity. If you read the other 144 pages of Cairns, you will find a combination of natural and cultural history from around the globe and spanning thousands of years of history, woven together with personal observation, my quirky humor, interviews, and science. I hope you will come away thinking that cairns are more than just a pile of stones; they help people connect to landscape, find their paths, and communicate with others.
Learn more about the book and author at David B. Williams's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 16, 2012

Alison Pace's "You Tell Your Dog First"

Alison Pace's novels include If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend, Pug Hill and its sequel, A Pug’s Tale, and City Dog.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, You Tell Your Dog First, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book You Tell Your Dog First is from an essay called “Carlie is Ready for Her Close-Up” in which my dog, Carlie, was photographed by renowned dog photographer Amanda Jones. It zeros in on the moment when, after much preparation (grooming, traveling, negotiating), the camera starts clicking. In many ways this page is very representative of the book as a whole. It shows right off the bat that I’m a person who has such a high level of into-it-ness about her dog that I’m willing to travel long distances to have her photographed. I’m pretty into my dog. It also captures a really nice side of Carlie’s personality –this joie de vivre she brings to so many things—and touches a little bit on how Carlie has, in many situations, been instrumental in getting me out of my own comfort zone. This essay ends with a comparison of dogs and cameras, how they both encourage you to slow down and take notice of the world around you. That’s a pretty big theme of the book: the ways in which dogs connect people to their worlds. I’m not sure that comes across entirely in this excerpt, but it does to some extent. My hope: readers will want to continue on after this page.

Here’s the page in its entirety:
it has been my belief ever since that day that Carlie is very aware of what a camera does and what happiness it brings. She looked backwards over her shoulder. She raised her chin skyward. She gamely ran after bounced tennis balls. When Amanda held her camera in front of her to check something, Carlie went over to investigate, possibly assist. When Amanda’s assistant’s dog Milo scooted onto the photo shoot, Carlie moved to the back of the frame, clearly, obviously, anyone could see it, horrified.

Amanda made a noise like a cat, and when that didn’t get a response she asked “do you want to go for a ride in a car” and “where’s the squirrel?” At one point she brandished a rubber chicken. Carlie loved it. I watched her, so joyous, so in the moment, so happy, and I thought how much I loved her.

Along with “who’s my gorgeous, gorgeous girl,” I also often say to Carlie, “you are an amazing, amazing animal.” I think it started that day.

Amanda asked if I wanted to get in the shots. I wasn’t sure. She said we could get one to use it for your author photo. I put on lipstick. I took off my shoes, and feeling tremendously awkward and not at all at ease I sat next to Carlie. In a brazen attempt to channel a picture Amanda had shown me of a beautiful woman sprawled on the floor with her Rhodesian ridgeback, I sprawled across the paper. It did not have the desired effect. I said, “What do you think if we take a couple with Carlie over my shoulder?” I rotated myself around.
Learn more about the book and author at Alison Pace's website.

The Page 69 Test: City Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Max Glaskin's "Cycling Science"

Max Glaskin is an award-winning science and technology journalist with a special interest in cycling. He has contributed to a vast range of publications, including New Scientist, Reader’s Digest, and the Times (London).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together, and reported the following:
To be brutally frank about my own book, page 99 of Cycling Science fails the test. It simply doesn't work on its own. That doesn't mean the book is anything less than wonderful (I'm allowed to say that as a less than modest author, aren't I?).

It's just that Cycling Science works two pages at a time – which is called in the trade "a spread".

Put page 99 together with page 98 and you get a very good spread. It answers the curious scientist's question "How does a bike turn effort into speed?" and, at the same time, the curious cyclist's question, "Why do I need all those components?"

There are 350 words describing how the rider's pedalling is converted and transferred through each part of the machine. There's a graceful line drawing of a bicycle, highlighting the components crucial for making it move and there are two fine graphics whose caption explains how one innovation leads to another.

If we divide 99 by 3 and take a look at page 33, that, too, needs its left-hand partner to make a functioning spread. This one answers the questions, "How much power can a cyclist generate?" and "How many cyclists does it take to charge a lightbulb?"

The charts, graphics, formulae and tables on this spread, combined with the captions and text give the answers clearly and simply.

Pages 66 and 67 not only explain why riding a tricycle can be more difficult than a bicycle but also show how to overcome the challenge created by the third wheel. 172 and 173 show in startling clarity how the newsworthy issues of blood doping and boosting by professional cyclists are being thwarted.

Much of what I'm praising in my own book isn't by my own hand. The vast numbers of lively infographics have been perfected by a team of excellent artists.

They make each spread accessible. Reluctant as I am to admit it, a picture can be worth a thousand words, but only if it is well executed. I'm lucky in that the artists involved with Cycling Science are very skilled.

By all means look at page 99 on its own. But I guarantee you a richer experience if you take it a spread at a time.

Then follow the tweets @cyclingscience1 and the blog, where the stories continue.
Visit Max Glaskin's website, and follow Cycling Science on Facebook.

Writers Read: Max Glaskin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Daniel Swift's "Shakespeare's Common Prayers"

Daniel Swift is a literary journalist and a professor of English at Skidmore College. He is the author of Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War, which was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize. His writings have appeared in the Financial Times, The Nation, New York Times Book Review, and Times Literary Supplement.

Swift applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Shakespeare's Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Shakespeare's Common Prayers begins: "Here we have a junction and are torn between two stories." The two stories are one of doubt, and one of certainty, and both are contained within the Anglican rite for the Marriage as set out by the Book of Common Prayer. At a famous junction in the prayer book service, the priest asks the congregation whether anyone present knows "any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together": he demands if they have reason why the man and woman here standing before them ought not to be married, and anyone who has attended a wedding in England knows this moment. It is a moment of deliberate uncertainty, a question for all present, and in introducing uncertainty it enrolls all the congregation into the collective holiness of what is happening now. Shakespeare loved this moment, and he borrowed it. He borrowed its language, in the strange divisions of that strange play All's Well That Ends Well, when Bertram cruelly insists upon his apartness from Helena, who loves him, and he borrowed it too in his great play As You Like It, when Rosalind and Orlando play wedding games out in the woods. More broadly, he remembered this moment when he wrote the early play Romeo and Juliet and the late play Macbeth, all of which depend upon the drama arising from a tense, worried, playful shimmer around the exact conditions of proper marriage. And Shakespeare himself had an unconventional marriage. He married an older woman, who was already pregnant with his child. His poetry and his plays are always double, always torn. In Shakespeare's Common Prayers, I hope to put the doubles, the junctions, and the tears of 16th century devotion back at the heart of his plays and his imaginative invention, which is where they belong. I hope to picture Shakespeare in his time, and looking at ours. If ever you had second thoughts or worries about the one you love, then Shakespeare is your playwright. If ever you hoped your love was certain, then Shakespeare, again--another double--is your poet. Here we have a junction, and are torn between stories.
Learn more about Shakespeare's Common Prayers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jon Wiener's "How We Forgot the Cold War"

Jon Wiener is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine and teaches 20th century US history at the University of California – Irvine. He sued the FBI for their files on John Lennon — the story is told in his book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files and at the website The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before most of the outstanding issues were settled in 1997.

Wiener applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America, and reported the following:
The book reports on my visits to monuments, museums and memorials to the Cold War, where I try to figure out people’s views of the well-known argument that “Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.” I found that many of the monuments had few visitors, while others had changed their focus to more popular topics – both of which suggested there was little public interest in visiting sites where people would be told that Reagan’s refusal to compromise with evil led to the eventual collapse of the USSR.

Page 99 deals with another pattern: historic landmarks where the message is not celebration of America’s victory, but rather reassurance about the dangers posed by Cold War weapons production. The Hanford site, a former nuclear weapons production complex in eastern Washington state, includes America’s newest National Historic Landmark, the Hanford B reactor, which produced plutonium, the most dangerous substance on earth. Hanford is the most contaminated site in the Americas, and the cleanup underway is the most expensive in US history.

In the Reagan version, visitors on the official tour bus ought to be told that the weapons produced here helped preserve freedom when the Soviets threatened to destroy us. But instead the Cold War is barely mentioned. The message is, basically, you won’t get cancer at Hanford today, because the cleanup is working.

From page 99:
The bus passes some low, abandoned factory buildings undergoing demolition. This is the fuel fabrication plant, which made twenty million pieces of uranium fuel, the first step in the manufacture of plutonium for weapons. Each piece, the guide explains, looks like “a roll of quarters.” But quarters never gave anybody cancer.

The tour has had some skeptics, like James Long, who wrote for the Portland Oregonian for more than forty years. As his bus headed out, he wrote, the view out the big windows “looks more like a national park than a nuclear wasteland.... There’s the occasional ugly building, of course. But no bubbling pools of waste. Nothing that glows. The damage isn’t easy to see.”
See more about How We Forgot the Cold War at the University of California Press website, and read Chapter 1, "Hippie Day at the Reagan Library."

Learn more about the book and author at Jon Wiener's website.

Writers Read: Jon Wiener.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jason Shelton & Michael Emerson's "Blacks and Whites in Christian America"

Jason E. Shelton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. His articles have appeared in Social Science Quarterly, Du Bois Review, Sociological Perspectives, Journal of African American Studies, and other respected publications. Michael O. Emerson is the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. He is author or co-author of several books, including Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Transcending Racial Barriers, and Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions, and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book finds us near the end of an in-depth discussion on differences in how black and white Protestants view the Bible. A few pages prior, we present results from a widely-respected public opinion poll – the General Social Survey – that clearly shows that African Americans are more likely to interpret the Bible literally. For example, 71% of black Protestants in the survey feel that the Bible is “the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word-for-word.” However, only 41% of white Protestants feel this way. In fact, most white Protestants (50%) say that “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything should be taken literally, word for word.” These sharply divergent views, as well as others that we present in Chapter 5, strongly suggest that racial group membership color-codes beliefs about the Bible.

We realized early in the process of researching this book that statistics alone could neither explain the rich complexity nor real-world consequences of our findings. Therefore, we complement our analysis of survey data with one-on-one interviews and focus groups with Christians across various denominations and regions of the United States. We specifically asked high-ranking clergy members (including senior pastors) to comment on the stark racial differences in our survey findings. On page 99, we find Rev. Shannon – an African American female pastor from Cleveland – describing a personal tension that she sometimes feels when reading and interpreting the Bible. Her words are especially powerful considering that she is a volunteer counselor at a battered woman’s shelter:
“I believe [literally] in everything in the Old and New Testament. But I am informed by how the word inspires my heart to exegete it, to understand it.

“There are some things I’m going to interpret differently in the Bible, like when Paul said women should be seen and not heard. In the Bible, you can’t be a preacher and be a woman. It’s right there, in black and white. But the Bible is God’s infallible word [her emphasis].

“I have women who come to me for religious counseling, who say: ‘My husband beat me up and he pointed to a passage in the Old Testament where a man beat up his wife and he says that’s okay? He stripped her naked. He killed her and that’s okay because man controls his wives? My husband beat me. Why is that alright?’

“So I say to Him: ‘Okay, Lord. I’m putting my hand on your word. Now what am I supposed to tell these women who are abused? I need for you to breathe some life into this.’ And He does. It is still His infallible word… and I’m sold.”
Learn more about Blacks and Whites in Christian America at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 11, 2012

William Kerrigan's "Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard"

William Kerrigan is the Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
Like most Americans, I was first introduced to the story of Johnny Appleseed in elementary school, as one of the frontier heroes who made up the cast of the American national origin story. My interest in him as a subject of scholarly inquiry emerged when I returned to the Midwest twenty-five years later. Johnny Appleseed is a curious outlier in our national origin story. Violence, directed at Native Americans and nature, is central to the stories of other members of this “team” of nation builders—Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and the thoroughly mythical Paul Bunyan—while Appleseed is remembered for his extraordinary meekness and generosity, and for sowing, not destroying. My book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard is a biography of John “Appleseed” Chapman, an examination of the meanings of the Johnny Appleseed myth, and a history of the Old World apple in North America.

Page 99 comes near the end of Chapter Three, “Suckers,” a term used to describe the unwanted root sprouts that emerge at the base of an untended apple tree. In the early 19th century, some Americans also used the term to describe the emigrating rural poor. “Suckers” places John Chapman in that class of emigrating rural poor, who were busy carving out homesteads on the borderland between white and Indian Ohio in the first years of the 19th century. The chapter concludes with an examination of Indian-white violence during the War of 1812 in central Ohio, and the local traditions about Chapman’s possible role in that conflict. Page 99 does indeed pass the page 99 test, addressing all three of the book’s themes:
Chapman’s real role in these events is not preserved in credible sources. But in local mythology, Chapman was able to exploit the trust Indians placed in him to travel unharmed through this region and alert whites to the presence of Indian belligerents in the area. These stories, of course, expose the contradictions and tensions within the Johnny Appleseed legend as it emerged in central Ohio in later decades. Was he a pacifist, a man who stood perfectly between the worlds of Indian and white Ohioans, innately trusted by both? The evidence seems to suggest that his fundamental allegiance was to his white neighbors. Was that allegiance limited to protecting families from harm, or would he, as is recounted in the Caleb Palmer story, shoulder a rifle and use it if necessary when violence broke out? The collective evidence suggests that Chapman was a man of unusual meekness and gentleness in a rugged and violent frontier world. But he ultimately was allied with the white, not Indian, vision for the Midwest. He dreamed of a world of farmhouses, fields and orchards.... This [dream] was achieved largely by plough and pruning hook; the musket and the rifle played only a minor role at the end of the drama. And it was by and large the suckers like John Chapman—the emigrating rural poor—who brought about this transformation.”
Learn more about Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 9, 2012

Robin Marantz Henig & Samantha Henig's "Twentysomething"

Robin Marantz Henig wrote an article that went viral in 2010, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" for The New York Times Magazine, where she is a contributing writer. It was so popular she was asked to write a book on the topic. She wrote the book, Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, with her younger daughter Samantha Henig, a twenty-something herself, who is now a web editor for... that very same publication, The New York Times Magazine.

Robin Marantz Henig applied the “Page 99 Test” to Twentysomething and reported the following:
I was skeptical about the Page 99 Test when asked to apply it to Twentysomething, a book I co-wrote with my 27-year-old daughter Samantha about what it's like to be a young adult today, and how that compares to young adulthood back in the Baby Boomers' day. In the book Samantha and I focus on the decisions young people must make in their twenties, learning to close some doors after being told their whole lives to keep their options open.

So imagine my surprise when I turned to page 99 and found that it was smack in the middle of our chapter on Love and Marriage, a section we called "Settling versus Settling Down." I don't know that I'd say this single page reveals "the quality of the whole," but it does raise a lot of our central themes.

In earlier chapters, we write a lot about the process of decision-making: how it goes against the grain of most young people to watch doors close (we describe a psych experiment in which young people played a video game and literally resisted letting the door icons disappear), how it becomes more complicated the more options there are (the so-called "paradox of choice"), and how different people favor different styles of decision-making (social scientists call them "maximizers" versus "satisficers").

On page 99, we're writing about decisions about love and marriage, specifically about the resistance a lot of twentysomethings have to committing to marriage -- as reflected in the increase in the age of first marriage in the past 50 years, to about 26.5 today for women, 28.7 for men. But what Millennials might not realize, as we write on page 99, is that "the search for a partner can get harder with age."

Here's how we describe the "settling versus settling down" quandary (this chapter is written in Samantha's voice):
It’s not that there are no great guys out there. There are plenty. Most of the ones I’ve dated, whether we met through mutual friends or an online dating site, have all the basic requirements. They’re smart, good-looking, and funny enough that you can tell yourself they’re funny. They value time with friends, care about their jobs, love their mothers. But they all have flaws. Nothing major, but little things: this one interrupts a conversation to make you sit in front of his sound system so you can really feel the music; that one posts too many black-and-white glamour shots on Facebook of himself wearing old-fashioned hats.

If all these guys I’ve dated seem roughly equal, does that mean it’s in my power to decide which quirk is the one I’ll spend the rest of my life gently chiding someone about—whether to resign myself to a life of turntables or fedoras? How does one choose such a thing?

Five years ago it would have been easy: I’d have picked the quirks of R., the one I was with.... [But] once you open the field to all players, it gets tough to handicap them.
I took the chance to weigh in with my own observation about not only Samantha's love life and marital options at age 22, but my own.

When Sam followed R. to Cambridge when she was twenty-two, I half-hoped it was the prelude to marriage, just as my first cohabitation had been the prelude to mine. But I realize now that their arrangement, and even their apartment, looked like my dream of being twenty-two, not hers. Such a pretty apartment, with its French doors and eat-in kitchen—it fit my picture of young-couple domesticity perfectly, even more perfectly than the actual apartment Jeff and I moved into, which had a kitchen so cramped we couldn’t both stand in it at the same time. It’s not that I wanted to be a wife and mother only—I always intended to have a career, as did all the twentysomething women I knew—but I wanted to be a wife and mother also. In a way, marrying early made my life easier; I chose a husband, which imposed enough constraints on my subsequent decisions to offer a kind of clarity. Sam has no such clarity. I feel for her (while at the same time admiring and even envying her independence). I’ve read enough studies about the paradox of choice to know how tough that wide open field can be.

And that’s something else this page "reveals" about the rest of the book: we talk back and forth to one another, using our own life stories to illuminate the experiences of twentysomethings in general. We bolster our first-person anecdotes with lots of social science research findings, but here on Page 99, talking about love, we go heavy on the personal.
Learn more about the book and authors at Robin Marantz Henig's website and Samantha Henig's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Matthew Gordon Lasner's "High Life"

Matthew Gordon Lasner is assistant professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century, and reported the following:
Providing safe, sanitary housing for workers in the capitalist city emerged as the housing question as early as the 1840s. In the decades that followed, architects and philanthropists puzzled through how to meet this goal. One solution was revolution and collective ownership of housing. Another was “philanthropy and five percent”: production of high-quality housing on a low-profit basis. Such projects, often models of good architecture and hygiene, went up by the dozens in London and New York.

In the 1910s, a new solution emerged: the profit-restricted for-sale apartment. The for-sale apartment had been around in Europe for centuries and the U.S. since the 1880s as a form of luxury housing. In the 1910s, however, Finnish immigrants began building small apartment houses in Brooklyn on a non-profit consumers’-cooperative basis. Drawing from the experience of non-profit co-op groceries and the like—businesses owned by customers in which profits were shared—they pooled resources to construct buildings at cost, with each family taking ownership of a unit.

As housing reformers learned of these experiments, in the 1920s, many became convinced they should replicate the model. Even more so than philanthropy and five percent, the plan appealed to both the left and the right. Progressive reformers supported anything that lowered rents and did away with the landlord and speculation while improving living conditions. Conservatives appreciated that this system relied on self-help. More importantly, they believed it could make public housing redundant.

On this page of my book, right not only meets left but, in a reversal of the usual, leads it. Abraham Kazan, a socialist, labor activist, and advocate for consumers’ cooperation, emerged in the late 1920s as the nation’s leading advocate for non-profit (or “limited-equity”) apartments. But he got the idea—by way of a progressive architect, Andrew J. Thomas—from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a staunch enemy of virtually all that Kazan stood for. They disagreed, to be sure, on the role of government: Kazan argued tirelessly for state support of limited-equity housing, even after introduction of public housing in the 1930s. Rockefeller, by contrast, refused all help. Both, however, agreed that cooperative effort was crucial to answering the housing question.

Like other episodes in High Life (and the history of condo living), this one challenges any simple categorization of homeownership as inherently conservative.
Learn more about High Life at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mike Goldsmith's "Discord: The Story of Noise"

Mike Goldsmith is the former Head of the Acoustic Group at the United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory and an author of many books for general readers. Two of his books have been short-listed for the Aventis prize (now the Royal Society prize) for science books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Discord: The Story of Noise, and reported the following:
One of the things I love about the subject of noise.... no, really, there is lots to love... is that it is full of mysteries, from the sources of strange undersea sounds to the mechanism by which some meteors can be heard long before sound waves have time to get from them to the hearer. And page 99 is about one of these: the Railway Bonus. The Bonus is a mark of the strange affection that humans have for the sounds of trains: many experiments and surveys over many decades have established that listeners are significantly less annoyed by railway noise than they are by that made by other traffic. So well-accepted is this that planners knock 5 or even 10 dB off their noise predictions if the noise source is a railway train.

In writing Discord: The Story of Noise I learned many things, and one of them is the antonym for bonus: "malus". And the reason I learned it is that the Railway Bonus has a sinister relative: the Aircraft Malus. If the Bonus is a blessing for railways companies, the Malus is a curse for aerospace agencies, and it means that people are as annoyed by an aircraft flying over as they are by a car driving past whose sound output is objectively about 5 dB more intense.

For some time, the supposed explanation for this referred to the "flying over" element. Of course, experts said, a large object thundering by above your head is bound to generate at least a fleeting fear that it might stop flying and start falling. Or maybe not, they added in 2005, when experiments showed that aircraft noise from above is less annoying that aircraft noise from other directions.

Mysteries. There to make life interesting.
Learn more about the book and author at Mike Goldsmith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lee Cronk & Beth L. Leech's "Meeting at Grand Central"

Lee Cronk is professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. He is the author of That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Beth L. Leech is associate professor of political science at Rutgers University. She is the coauthor of Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Meeting at Grand Central: Understanding the Social and Evolutionary Roots of Cooperation, and reported the following:
The goal of Meeting at Grand Central is to connect the evolutionary and social science approaches to understanding human cooperation, and page 99 comes at a critical point of baton-passing from the evolutionary approach to the social scientific one. In this chapter, entitled “Cooperation and the Individual,” we describe important theories that evolutionary scientists have used to explain why humans tend to be so cooperative with one another. These include such ideas as reciprocity, cooperative partner choice, cheater detection, indirect reciprocity, the effects of reputations and audiences, and, lastly, signals that individuals send regarding their commitments to cooperative groups. For reasons that scientists do not yet fully understand, religious signals of commitment, which can be onerous, time-consuming, and sometimes quite painful, seem to be particularly good at engendering high levels of cooperation within groups of co-believers.
The irrationality of religious beliefs and practices enhances their effectiveness as signals of commitment. Because committing oneself to acting against one’s own short-term interests is in itself irrational, irrational acts can be convincing displays of such commitments. Robert Frank has suggested that emotions may play an important role in such displays. Consider, for example, romantic love. Committing oneself to a single man or woman is, in most circumstances, irrational. … By blinding us both to our partner’s shortcomings and to the competing charms of other prospective mates, romantic love makes our commitment believable. The power of emotional signals is also evident when we compare religious signals, which typically have a powerful emotional element, and secular ones, which typically appeal more to the head than to the heart.
On page 99, we describe work conducted by anthropologist Montserrat Soler on cooperation among practitioners of an Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomblé. Soler found that members of Candomblé congregations who made more displays of commitment to the religion were more cooperative in an experimental game. In addition, members of the congregations who were more likely to be in need of support from the congregation made more displays of commitment to the group. Other scholars have argued that the high levels of cooperation in religious groups might be due to a fear of supernatural punishment rather than because of the signaling of commitment going on among group members. One nice thing about Candomblé in this regard is that it does not include any beliefs in supernatural punishment. As we say on page 99, “Signals appear to be doing all the work.” This example provides a nice segue into the next chapter, “Cooperation and Institutions,” which explores the ways in which organizational structures combine with our evolved psychology to help us achieve our remarkably high levels of cooperation.
Learn more about Meeting at Grand Central at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 5, 2012

Benjamin Wardhaugh's "Poor Robin's Prophesies"

Benjamin Wardhaugh is a historian and writer. He is the author of several successful books about mathematics, music, and history, most recently the anthology of popular mathematics writing A Wealth of Numbers ("a unique book that is equal to far more than the sum of its parts").

His new book is Poor Robin's Prophesies: A Curious Almanac, and the Everyday Mathematics of Georgian England, an account of the wonderful world of popular mathematics in eighteenth-century Britain.

Wardhaugh applied the “Page 99 Test” to Poor Robin's Prophesies and reported the following:
From page 99:
I look upon Money itself to be a Commodity, which like others rises and falls as there is a demand for it.
There's a thought. It was written in 1726, by a man who'd come through the great financial disaster of the South Sea Bubble six years before, so he had every reason to know. His name was John Smart ('gent.'), and his book for accountants would be used in reprinted and plagiarized form for nearly two hundred years. I talk about a copy of the book whose owners included Frederick, Baron North and Edwin Bayford's Family Mourning Warehouse of Barnsley. Even an accountants' manual can go on an entertaining journey.

Despite projecting some self-confidence about prediction and control in his book, Smart knew perfectly well - don't we all? - that financial events take their own path. Money, like other things, 'rises and falls' according to whim, chance, fashion, and laws that no-one can know.

Smart's book and its story come in a chapter called 'My Scarbrough Expenses', a tour of everyday mathematics in use: keeping accounts, measuring fields, measuring beer barrels. The chapter title comes from an account-book kept by a young woman early in the eighteenth century. She wrote down every penny she spent at home and on her travels. Her trip to the spa town of Scarbrough involved gifts for the servants and 'the poor people', three shillings 'for going into the sea', and the splendid indulgence of '8 pound of Coffee'.

Although John Smart isn't the most important or the most charismatic of the people I talk about, page 99 does illustrate the themes that run throughout my book: mathematics with a human face; what it could do and what it couldn't do; where mathematics was and what it was doing in Georgian Britain. The Poor Robin of the title was the author of a long-running almanac, an annual calendar and book of general knowledge, full of bad jokes and silly rhymes, but also a route map for just that subject: everyday mathematics in Georgian Britain.
Learn more about the book and author at Benjamin Wardhaugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Christopher Morris's "The Big Muddy"

Christopher Morris is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is the author of Becoming Southern: The Evolution of a Way of Life, Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi, 1770-1860.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples, from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina, and reported the following:
On page 99 is an illustration of the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Red River. It was drawn in 1839 by an engineer named George Dunbar, who was a member of a team of engineers hired to improve the channel at this location. Forty years earlier the Spanish colonial governor of Louisiana, Manuel-Luis Gayoso de Lemos, had listened while his engineers told him of their plan to reduce flooding by shortening the river so that excess water could run more quickly to the Gulf of Mexico. The governor asked his engineers if they were certain of how the river would respond to their modifications. They were not, and so he asked them to leave it alone. In 1831, Henry Shreve and the US Army Corps of Engineers did precisely what the Spanish engineers had wanted to do, with the results Gayoso had feared. Shreve’s modifications had caused the channel between the Mississippi and the Red rivers to fill with silt, limiting steamboat passage. The Red River was at risk of becoming disconnected from the Mississippi. Dunbar was assigned the task of fixing Shreve’s mistake, but he never entirely succeeded.

As explained on page 99, “Six hundred years ago the Red and Ouachita Rivers merged to form the Atchafalaya, which flowed to the gulf independently of the Mississippi River. Four hundred years ago a Mississippi River meander loop cut into the intersection of the other rivers, and some portion of the Red River started flowing into the Mississippi while some portion of the Mississippi spilled into the Atchafalaya. In 1831, Henry Shreve and the US Army Corps of Engineers completed the cut-off Gayoso had refrained from undertaking.”

Today, about half the Mississippi flows into the Atchafalaya, and it would all go but for concrete structures put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers.

What happened in this location has happened to the Mississippi Valley more broadly. On the one hand, for centuries people living in the valley have altered the course of the Mississippi River. On the other hand, the Mississippi has a history of doing its own thing. People may change it, but it is quite capable of changing on its own. There have always been people who understood this, the last Spanish governor being an example, and there have always been people, such as Henry Shreve, who instead believed they could tame the Mississippi and make it serve human purposes.

Participating in the ongoing debates over the reconstruction of New Orleans post-Katrina and the future of the Mississippi Valley are many Manuel Gayosos and Henry Shreves.
Learn more about The Big Muddy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue