Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rachel Plotnick's "Power Button"

Rachel Plotnick is an Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in The Media School at Indiana University Bloomington. She received her PhD from the Media, Technology and Society program in the School of Communication at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching focus on information, communication and media technologies from an historical and critical/cultural perspective.

Plotnick applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In an article titled '"The End of War," author J.F. Sullivan envisioned a world where "war seemed to grow ever more terrible; until it came to such a pass that a single human being could destroy a whole nation by simply pressing a small button with his finger." As Sullivan imagined, it was not a crazed dictator or power-hungry politician who blew up the world, but rather a bumbling gentleman who unwittingly and effortlessly pushed a button that he happened to encounter without realizing what effects the button would trigger.
This passage details a couple of core themes that repeat throughout the book. First, it points to the fact that dystopian fears have often manifested around button pushing because buttons' effects are perceived to be swift and irreparable - once you push a button you can't undo the process you've set in motion. In this imagining, buttons function more like triggers because they can't be "unpressed." Second, and related, those potentially catastrophic effects can (theoretically) be controlled by any person and by any person's hand. The subtext, here, is that you don't need special strength, skill or knowledge to push buttons, and this notion of universality - anyone can push a button - has made buttons both seductive and terrifying for more than a century.

While manufacturers and advertisers of consumer goods have sold this concept of accessibility to the masses, I note throughout Power Button​ how the potent simplicity of buttons destabilized social relations in really important ways. The act of button pushing occurred in the context of a late nineteenth and early twentieth century society grappling with big questions about machine labor versus manual labor, bureaucracy, and skill, and buttons were perhaps one of the most iconic (and lasting) technologies to come from that time period which challenged what human beings could (and should) do with their hands.
Visit Rachel Plotnick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Clare Mulley's "The Women Who Flew For Hitler"

Clare Mulley is an award-winning biographer, and contributes to various historical and current affairs journals, TV and radio.

Her latest book, The Women Who Flew for Hitler (2017), is a joint biography of two extraordinary women whose skills put them at the heart of the Third Reich but whose choices meant they ended their lives on opposite sides of history.

Mulley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Women Who Flew for Hitler and reported the following:
Melitta posed for British press photographers “where the huge ‘D’ for Deutsche was painted, rather than beside the swastika on the tail” of her light aircraft, page 99 of The Women Who Flew for Hitler opens. In a way, this gets right to the heart of things.

This is a book about the only two women to serve the Third Reich as test pilots during the Second World War. That they were both brilliant pilots is a given; the Nazis would not have let any women near an aircraft if they did not need their skills. As the only female Flight Captains in Nazi Germany, and recipients of the Iron Cross, Melitta von Stauffenberg and Hanna Reitsch were also great patriots and shared a strong sense of honor and duty. Their concepts of ‘patriotism’, however, were very different. Hannah was a fanatical Nazi. Melitta was secretly Jewish and loyal to an older, pre-Nazi Germany. In 1944 she would become closely involved in her brother-in-law Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to assassinate Hitler.

Back in 1938, where page 99 finds us, Melitta had been sent to England to show the British what German female pilots were made of. As it happened, her visit coincided with Chamberlain’s trip to Munich. British journalists were on standby for major news, and rather frustrated to be reporting on “two pretty young German pilots in cotton skirts and light woolen cardigans”. So when Melitta was suddenly ordered to report to her Embassy without delay, it caused something of a media frenzy.

“Nervous excitement grew around the possibility of being the first to hear the news, and break the story, that the whole country was dreading…”

By the end of the page, however, we know that the intriguing urgent call to the Embassy has come from Melitta’s husband, unexpectedly on business in London and hoping to arrange a dinner date with his wife. “We trust that the dinner went off satisfactorily”, the British papers dryly concluded their reports.

This is a book full of high drama in the skies, and collaboration but also courage and defiance down below. There is also plenty of humor and humanity in the small details of life. Above all, this is the true story of two real women with soaring ambitions and a searing rivalry, making seemingly impossible choices under the perverting conditions of war and dictatorship. While Melitta chose to position herself by the ‘D’ for Deutschland, Hanna would always stand by the Nazi swastika. They would end their lives on opposite sides of history.
Visit Clare Mulley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Women Who Flew For Hitler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Marcia Bjornerud's "Timefulness"

Marcia Bjornerud is the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Geology at Lawrence University. She is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth and a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker’s science and technology blog.

Bjornerud applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, and reported the following:
From page 99 of Timefulness:
There were oceans on this ancient Earth, and the nearness of the Moon would have made tides significantly higher. Tides would also have been more frequent, because the day was shorter, probably less than 18 hours (making a year of about 470 days). Over time, friction between the ocean-atmosphere system and the solid Earth has acted like a soft brake that has gradually slowed the planet’s rotation.
Page 99 falls in the early part of a chapter called “Changes in the Air”, about the evolution of the atmosphere and ocean over geologic time. My hope is that by taking a deep dive into the story of the atmosphere, readers might better appreciate each breath they take and understand that the clement and hospitable conditions that prevail today on this planet are not the only mode Earth has.

A central idea in the book is that Earth and Life have co-evolved, and that as long as the surface environment has not changed too quickly, lifeforms have been able to adapt. Occasionally, however, a rogue asteroid or a ‘perfect storm’ of internal factors has led to such rapid changes in climate, atmospheric composition, and/or sea level that the biosphere has not been able to keep pace. These mass extinction events are sobering reminders that there are limits to life’s resilience -- and cautionary tales for a species that is cavalierly altering the atmosphere and hydrosphere at rates almost unprecedented in Earth’s history.

More broadly, understanding the history of the atmosphere is part of “Timefulness” – seeing the back stories that are embedded everywhere in the natural world, and shifting our perception of our place in the cosmos.
Learn more about Timefulness at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2018

Eric Jay Dolin's "Black Flags, Blue Waters"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of Leviathan and Brilliant Beacons. His new book is Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates. Dolin and his family live in Marblehead, Massachusetts, from which the pirate John Quelch departed in 1703, and returned to in 1704, only to be hanged in Boston.

Dolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to Black Flags, Blue Waters and reported the following:
Black Flags, Blue Waters is about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy, which started in the late 1600s, and ended in the mid 1720s. This was the most dramatic era of maritime marauding the world has ever known, when pirates wreaked havoc across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Much has been written about that time period, and this book adds to that literary lineage, but with a twist. Rather than focusing broadly on this era, Black Flags, Blue Waters zeros in on the history of the pirates who either operated out of America’s English colonies or plundered ships along the American coast.

The following excerpt from page 99, introduces us to the infamous Captain Kidd.
The battle against piracy was furthered by the English government’s reaction to the ill-fated voyage of Captain William Kidd, arguably the world’s most famous pirate, who really wasn’t much of a pirate at all. Kidd’s story is full of many twists and turns and a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. Entire books have been written about his exploits, and no doubt there are others to come. But, for the purposes of our tale, only the outline of his story is necessary, just enough to understand how his actions in the Indian Ocean affected the course of piracy in America.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1654, the son of a mariner, Kidd was a powerfully built and voluble man with a quick temper, and a streak of arrogance that was often on display. He served as a buccaneer and then privateer in the Caribbean before arriving in New York City in 1691, where his help in putting down a political rebellion made him a favorite of the incoming governor. His entrée into the upper reaches of local society was further cemented by his marriage to Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, a recent widow who brought with her a considerable estate. With his strong ties to the sea, Kidd, however, soon grew tired of his patrician life and, at the age of forty-one in 1695, desirous of adventure and a highly reputable position, he set sail for London to obtain an officer’s commission in the Royal Navy.
As for Ford Madox Ford’s pronouncement, I think it holds fairly well for this book. After all, you have a bit of mystery, a bit of debunking of mythology, and a taste of the beginning of a really good story – and this book is, more than anything, a narrative compilation of great and surprising stories.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

Writers Read: Eric Jay Dolin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tanya Marquardt's "Stray"

Tanya Marquardt is an award-winning performer and the author of ten plays, which have been produced across Canada and the United States. Transmission was published in the Canadian Theatre Review, and Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep was the subject of an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia. A Hertog Fellow and graduate of the MFA creative writing program at Hunter College, Marquardt splits her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Brooklyn, New York.

Marquardt applied the “Page 99 Test” to Stray: Memoir of a Runaway, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
...After Liz and Kristian had asked me to leave, I'd asked everyone I knew if I could stay with them. Garret's place was a no - there was no room and his father was still grieving the loss of his wife. Abby was a kind-of - her parents said I could spend the occasional weekend there if I needed to, but were noncommittal. I went back to Garret to see if I could stay for a couple of weekends a month and started to plan a piecemeal schedule - a night here, two nights there. I was trying to stay focused on the task, furiously committed to staying away from Mom. But as the deadline loomed, I stopped sleeping altogether, lying on the couch, thinking that maybe the painful springs weren't that painful and wondering where I would be sleeping next.
When I was a runaway, food, shelter, and a place to sleep caused me anxiety on a daily basis, and I was constantly in search of what most of my friends took for granted. In this paragraph I am attempting, and failing, to provide myself with some kind of structure, a modicum of security in the midst of my life at that time, which was chaotic and unpredictable. Here I let the sentences have a kind of runabout quality to them because I wanted to let the reader see how I was frantically trying to find a home, doubling back to people who had said no, begging and pleading and not getting anywhere. The language acts as to stand in for my emotional life when I was sixteen - high strung, in survival mode, with little support. Things change later, and obviously, since I am writing this, I did survive, and even thrive. Stray is about that survival, and about the process of discovering oneself and ones chosen family.
Visit Tanya Marquardt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Stray.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Adam Kotsko's "Neoliberalism’s Demons"

Adam Kotsko is on the faculty of the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College, where he teaches widely in the humanities and social sciences. His research on political theology, continental philosophy, and the history of Christian thought. He is the author of The Prince of This World, a study of the political legacy of pre-modern Christian ideas about the devil, and the newly released Neoliberalism’s Demons, which argues that the contemporary political-economic order functions on the basis of a logic of moral entrapment that echoes the theological concept of demonization.

Kotsko applied the “Page 99 Test” to Neoliberalism’s Demons and reported the following:
On page 99 of Neoliberalism’s Demons, I am discussing Will Davies’ periodization of the neoliberal era, as laid out in his New Left Review article “The New Neoliberalism.” He characterizes the late 70s and 80s as the era of “combative neoliberalism,” when Reagan, Thatcher, and others were implementing the profound political and economic changes—most notably, the dismantling of the welfare state and the reduction in taxation and regulation—that would mark the shift from the postwar economic model to neoliberalism. By the 90s and early 2000s, the neoliberal mantra of “there is no alternative” shifted from being an aspiration (or a threat) to a reality: essentially all developed nations had adopted neoliberal reforms and the general ethos of endless competition. At this stage, which Davies calls “normative,” more progressive parties took the lead and aimed to ensure that the competition was fair. Finally, though, in the wake of the financial crisis, neoliberalism enters into a “punitive” stage characterized by endless austerity, justified by public debt.

This page exemplifies my approach in a few ways. First, it highlights the importance of the development and transformation of the neoliberal regime over time, and the shift to “punitive” neoliberalism lays the groundwork for my account of how the right-wing reaction (represented by Trump and Brexit) grew out of the neoliberal model. It also obviously illustrates my debt to Will Davies, whose Limits of Neoliberalism is one of the few books prior to my own to ask about the sources of the legitimacy of neoliberalism. Many books can tell you where neoliberalism came from, how it developed, and what (mostly negative) effects it has had on people around the world—but very few have asked the question of why people would go along with the neoliberal system. That is the core question of my book and, though he approaches it from a very different disciplinary background, of Davies’ as well.
Visit Adam Kotsko's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Prince of This World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Timothy Larsen's "John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life"

Timothy Larsen is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life, and reported the following:
I must admit I had never heard before of Ford Madox Ford’s page ninety-nine test, but I think my John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life passes it reasonably well. The book is actually in Oxford University Press’s Spiritual Lives series and thus it is really about the collision in Mill’s own life between the series title (spiritual) and the book’s subtitle (secular). In other words, the book is about the extraordinary amount of religion in Mill’s thought despite his being a famous rationalist.

Page 99 is in a section analyzing Mill’s classic work, A System of Logic (1843). This book is surprisingly filled with religious examples, discussion, and language. Mill actually refers to God directly over eighty times in it. This seems rather gratuitous given that there are even entire books of the Bible that never mention God. Page 99 offers as evidence some of the syllogisms that Mill uses to teach the principles of logic. I show how in just one, short chapter, “On Propositions”, he repeatedly uses startlingly religious examples such as “Peter and James preached at Jerusalem and Galilee” (the point being to discern that it contains four, separate propositions) and “The Founder of Christianity was crucified.” There is even a discussion of the filioque clause in the western version of the Nicene Creed. As I write on page 99, “I defy anyone to find a modern work on logic being used as a textbook in national universities today that includes a reference to the question of the double or single procession of the Holy Spirit in the Triune Godhead!”

In fact, throughout the mature decades of his life, Mill believed that it was perfectly rational on the grounds of strict logic alone to hope in God and in Jesus Christ. He repeatedly confessed his reverence for Jesus and his teachings. This book is about the Mill that you never knew; the Mill that even some of his closest disciples never knew. This is John Stuart Mill the Saint of Rationalism—a secular life and a spiritual life.
Learn more about John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mohamed A. F. Noor's "Live Long and Evolve"

Mohamed A. F. Noor, besides being a Trekkie, is a professor in the Biology Department at Duke University. He is the editor in chief of the journal Evolution and author of You’re Hired! Now What?: A Guide for New Science Faculty.

Noor applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics, and Life on Other Worlds, and reported the following:
Although Live Long and Evolve uses Star Trek to engage readers, the purpose of the book is to teach fundamental concepts in genetics and evolution. Page 99 introduces the concept of "genetic drift".

The term "genetic drift" appears twice in Star Trek, but it is used inappropriately, both times referring to an individual. Instead, genetic drift is an evolutionary process that occurs in a population of individuals, just like the more familiar "natural selection". With natural selection, often called "survival of the fittest" in popular media, individuals bearing a particular trait or attribute are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation than individuals lacking this particular trait or attribute. For example, natural selection happens because an individual has keen eyesight for hunting, or a color that matches their tree's bark so they're not easily spotted by predators, or a particular tail ornament that's attractive to females. Because the best-surviving or reproducing individuals have that "fittest" trait, those individuals have more offspring, and more individuals in the next generation will inherit that trait.

Genetic drift also changes the abundance of variants (and their underlying genes) in natural populations, but the changes are random rather than directional. Genetic drift is similar to the concept of "sampling error"—if few samples are studied, then one can have a very different view of a population than was true in the original population. Imagine one wants to know the frequency of heads vs. tails in a coin flip. If you only flip a coin twice, you may decide that the coin "always" lands on heads. If you flip it 4 times, you may decide that the coin lands on heads 75% of the time. However, if you flip it 1000 times, you'll know that very close to 50% of flips result in heads.

The same sampling error happens in natural populations based on the number of individuals. If a population is very large, then the next generation (assuming it is also large) will have similar representation of whatever feature (e.g., red hair, and its underlying genes). However, if the population is very small, then big changes can happen each generation. Those changes resulting from small population size are "genetic drift", and that is the subject of page 99 of my book.
Learn more about Live Long and Evolve at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Candice Delmas's "A Duty to Resist"

Candice Delmas is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Northeastern University and the Associate Director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Program. She previously served as a Dworkin-Balzan Fellow at New York University School of Law from 2016 to 2017. She works in moral, social, political, and legal philosophy.

Delmas applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil, and reported the following:
Page 99, which is situated toward the end of the third chapter, is representative of the book. The book argues for political obligations in the face of injustice, on the basis of several grounds that philosophers commonly use to support the moral duty to obey the law. It also conceptualizes and defends uncivil disobedience, that is principled lawbreaking that deviates from the standard norms of civility (publicity, nonviolence, nonevasion, and decorum).

Chapter 3, “Justice and Democracy,” uses the natural duty of justice—which requires supporting just institutions—to defend a duty to resist injustice in basically legitimate states. The chapter develops a typology of injustice ranging from democratically sanctioned violations of basic rights to official abuses, and defends a series of political obligations corresponding to the contexts of injustice identified: obligations to engage in education efforts, protest (including civil disobedience), covert disobedience, vigilante self-defense, and whistleblowing. Page 99 discusses this last political obligation:
The duty of justice can thus support special obligations to blow the whistle against public ignorance, even if doing so involves breaking the law by disclosing state secrets. Snowden’s leaks educated the public about digital rights infringed upon by government surveillance; and the Panama and Paradise Papers exposed systematic tax evasion by the wealthy and politicians’ conflicts of interest. Government whistleblowing can remedy significant cognitive deficits in the public sphere, thereby enabling a deliberative environment. It can also frustrate injustice by halting or diminishing the wrongdoing in question as soon as it is exposed. These functions make it a particularly powerful way of addressing democratic deficits (in the form of public ignorance) and enhancing justice and the rule of law (when the state uses secrecy in order to conceal its own wrongdoing). Government whistleblowers can thus appeal to the duty of justice to justify their actions.
On my view, government whistleblowing should not be understood as a kind of civil disobedience. Indeed it often fails to satisfy the basic norms of civility, especially publicity (the Panama Papers were leaked anonymously) and nonevasion or acceptance of legal sanctions (Edward Snowden sought asylum in Russia to escape U.S. prosecution). In addition, whereas civil disobedients protest laws without being able to change them, government whistleblowers unilaterally undo state secrets, imposing serious national security risks in the process. It is thus important to keep these two kinds of principled disobedience distinct—and to evaluate them using different lenses.
Learn more about A Duty to Resist at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sarah Anne Carter's "Object Lessons"

Sarah Anne Carter is the curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee. She has published, lectured, and taught courses on material culture, museum practice, and American cultural history.

Carter applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings readers directly into some of the most challenging aspects of my book: the racist implications of object lessons. The larger study considers the history of object lessons, a nearly forgotten pedagogy that was employed across the United States to teach children about the world. This approach had been designed to open children’s minds, to teach them how to think broadly and expansively rather than relying on rote learning and memorization. It intended to teach students how to move from concrete observations to abstract thinking. By the turn of the twentieth century the actual practice disappeared from common school curricula into metaphor, becoming a way to talk about object-based reasoning more broadly. In chapter 4, “Object Lessons in Race and Citizenship,” I focus on the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. There, African American and Native American students were taught using object lessons and referred to as living object lessons in the transformative potential of these educational methods.

The top of page 99 describes the Native American prisoners of war brought to Hampton by Captain Richard Henry Pratt from Fort Marion:
When Pratt first brought the group of Plains Indian prisoners of war to Hampton in 1878, the school responded with “object lessons.” Ludlow described the curriculum intended for students in the Indian Department as initially centered around the study of things, “The methods of teaching are those in modern use for their grades, with adaptations to the conditions: Language and number lessons with objects, geography with molding sand and map drawing; reading.” Later they were to move on to “arithmetic, history and drawing.” Only then did they enter the normal school’s junior year, usually spending five years in all at the school. For younger native students, objects and object lessons, lessons on pictures, and basic drill usually replaced books for the first three years of classroom study. Because of their perceived abilities to observe, these Native American students were believed to have a “native keenness of perception” that fitted them to the study of natural history, which they pursued through Prang’s lithographs.
This passage explores how those students were educated and the ways teachers at Hampton linked the presumed benefits of object-based learning to the perceived, racially determined abilities of Native American students. Not only does it remind us that some students at Hampton arrived as prisoners of war, but it also highlights the connections between the assumptions teachers made about students’ needs and abilities and the methods and topics used to teach those students. These choices were often based on racial stereotypes.

Page 99 continues by addressing the application of object lessons as a new and popular pedagogy at Hampton, and how parents of African American children in Virginia, many of whom had been denied education under slavery, may have viewed this approach:
Hampton was, as its name indicated, also a normal school. Teachers were trained in pedagogical methods and permitted to teach and observe instruction in the school’s practice school in preparation for their own mandatory teaching experiences. In 1878, Armstrong invited Colonel Francis Parker and his students from Quincy, Massachusetts, known for the “Quincy method” of object teaching, to give a teacher’s institute. Parker’s hands-on methods emphasized students’ real-world knowledge and skills. For example, Quincy was known for its granite quarries. Parker used a specimen of granite from their quarries and another from a New Hampshire quarry as the foundation of a conversation lesson in comparison for his students. The children of granite men could tell the difference between the two samples, and in looking closely at the materials with this in mind, were able to understand the nature of physical evidence.

Through the work of Parker’s teachers, the students in the normal school were explicitly instructed in how to teach with objects. Of course, this mode of teaching was not exactly what some parents were expecting, even though it was employed in various forms in northern schools. In 1879, the Southern Workman, Hampton’s newspaper, reported on the new pedagogy: “The object lessons given to the little children of the Butler School this winter by a trained teacher from Col. Parker’s famous schools in Quincy, Mass. have proved quite trying to the faith and patience of some of the parents, who thought that because the little ones did not bring home books to study they could not be learning anything.” Directing the focus away from literacy was clearly troubling to parents who viewed it as the central goal of primary education and a tool they had been denied under slavery.
For some African American parents at Hampton, many of whom had once been enslaved, a pedagogy that did not focus on reading did not meet their expectations for their children’s education. Many prioritized the development of their children’s literacy skills.

While page 99 does not encapsulate the whole book, it still passes the test. It reminds us that researchers should endeavor to understand the ways instruction and learning unfold in real classrooms for diverse students. We must be attentive to these realities and responsibilities both as scholars and as teachers.
Learn more about Object Lessons at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Anne Balay's "Semi Queer"

Anne Balay graduated with a PhD from the University of Chicago, after which she promptly became a car mechanic. Though in subsequent years she returned to academia as a professor both at the University of Illinois and Indiana University Northwest, she never lost her interest in blue collar work environments. Balay moved to Gary, Indiana to teach, and was immediately interested in the steel industry of the region. Her coworker and mentor, Jimbo Lane, suggested that she would be perfectly suited to meeting with and writing about the LGBT workers within the mill community, and Steel Closets was born. Balay then attended commercial truck driving school, got her CDL, and drove over the road. Oral histories of truck drivers she did in 2015/16 have led to her new book, Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Haverford College.

Balay applied the “Page 99 Test” to Semi Queer and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with a general claim about the contradictions of trucking: though truckers are exposed to trauma via the road accidents they witness, they receive no training in how to handle this, and in fact typically avoid getting treatment because they believe their employers will let them go if they have a history of seeking mental health support.

It then makes a further claim about how queer, trans, and black truckers add this under-treated trauma to the extra weight they carry of family rejection, outsider status, low pay, medical neglect or worse. I allude to the fierce pride they feel in persevering in spite of all this, and the way the movement – the transitoriness – of the job echoes their sexual/gender expression or their racialized visibility in ways that feel affirming and fun.

And then it turns to the story of one particular trucker: Donovan. Though her story extends through many pages and weaves through many of my book’s themes, here I emphasize how her low pay combined with her company’s flagrant disregard for her need to make it home for medical appointments target her. If she can’t maintain her hormone regimen, she is prone to panic attacks and to depression. She is so lonely out there on the road. After we had talked for about 20 minutes, she started to cry. I asked why, and she said this was the longest conversation she had had with a human in months.

I try to impart a sense of Donovan as a person, on page 99 and elsewhere. We can know things as readers, but I also want us to feel these stories as they shape the lives of my narrators. If I can leave readers with a sense that they “met” Donovan, it might change their queer activism, their policy work, or their engagement with others in this brutal, beautiful world.
Learn more about Semi Queer at The University of North Carolina Press website.

Visit Anne Balay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2018

Brian Murphy's "Adrift"

Brian Murphy is the Russia and East Asia editor at The Washington Post. He is the author of four nonfiction books, including The Root of Wild Madder: Chasing the History, Mystery and Lore of the Persian Carpet and 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness.

Murphy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Man who Lived to Tell about It, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Over the next half hour or so, the commotion on deck grew more troubling. More movement. Shouting. Heavy footfalls.

This didn’t seem routine at all.
Page 99 comes just before the heart of the book: the sinking of the ship John Rutledge and the life-and-death struggles of 13 people on a lifeboat. The page, however, touches on a critical part of the narrative. We get a glimpse of the harrowing conditions and great risks for emigrants crossing the Atlantic in the mid-19th century.

Let me set the scene for page 99.

Hours earlier, the hull of the ship John Rutledge had been gouged open by an iceberg. It is February 1856. They are 450 miles off Newfoundland, an area of the North Atlantic known as Ice Alley. Down in the steerage, more than 100 emigrants – mostly Irish bound for New York – are listening to the chaos on deck as the crew struggles to save the ship. The steerage passengers do not yet know the ship is doomed. But the sounds from above are ominous. Panic begins to feed more panic. Soon – later in this chapter – the ship begins to slip into the sea. Five lifeboats get off, quickly disappearing into the fog. Thirty other souls are left onboard to be taken by the Atlantic.

I came across the story of the John Rutledge at an exhibit on shipwrecks in Centerville, Mass., the hometown of the captain. There was the obvious tale of the lone survivor, a young sailor from near New Bedford, who was picked up by a ship after nine days adrift. It was remarkable on many levels. There were rarely survivors from wrecks on Ice Alley. And Nye was from a prominent family in shipping and whaling, adding another element to his brief celebrity and the subject of sensational headlines. He was the man who watched 12 others perish around him from cold, exposure and the horrible madness and pain brought on by drinking seawater.

But I hope this book is considered more than just a survival story.

I strived to give readers a sense of the incredible perils of sea travel in the 19th century age of immigration.

Tens of thousands of people were lost at sea in those decades. It became so common that the loss of ships merited little more than a passing notice. Early 1856 was particularly cruel. The ice was heavier than anyone had seen in generations. Three other ships were lost without a trace about the same time as the Rutledge: two American clipper ships and a transatlantic steamer, the Pacific, carrying many well-known figures from Britain and New York. More than 800 people were gone. (In an incredible twist, one of the owners of the John Rutledge was on the Pacific.)

As I wrote in the Author’s Note: “The sea is good at swallowing lives without a trace. This is my belated elegy for them all and the risks they faced on the North Atlantic.”
Learn more about Adrift, and follow Brian Murphy on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley's "Elusive Lives"

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley is Reader in International History in the Department of History at the University of Sheffield.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia, and reported the following:
Elusive Lives is a book about gender, autobiography and the self in Muslim South Asia. A consciously feminist project, it focuses on women who refused to respect cultural taboos against women speaking out and instead told their life stories in the form of written autobiography. Because I am a historian, the sources are highly varied in temporal terms – dating from the sixteenth century to the present in order to give a sense of how autobiography as a literary genre has evolved over time. They also cover a broad geographical area, including present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Women’s voices and stories are thus recovered in a wide range of South Asian languages, including Urdu, English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Malayalam.

Page 99 outlines the structure and question for Chapter 3 on ‘The Autobiographical Map’:
This chapter… is divided into three main sections, each of which addresses autobiography’s geography in a different way. In the first, I map authors in regional, local, and religious terms in order to understand how specific locations may have stimulated autobiographical production… The second section then turns to autobiography’s linguistic geography for what it reveals about changing readerships and forms of expression… Readerships are addressed again in the third section, but with a more particular aim of identifying how real and imagined audiences shaped the way in which a life was written… I conclude by considering the model of performance as a theoretical frame.
It is revealing of the book as a whole in that, like each of the five chapters, it asks a simple question of women’s autobiographical writing in Muslim South Asia – in this case, where? Other chapters consider, in turn, what, who, how, and why – with when, the eternal question of the historian, woven throughout.

The quotation above points to how I interpret geography – the where – broadly. How does an author’s physical location, religious affiliation, linguistic choice, and (un)intended readership affect why and how South Asian Muslim women write their lives?

In terms of motivation – the why – I come to two main conclusions. First off, I suggest that the reformist and princely locations that acted as hubs for women’s autobiographical expression reveal autobiography’s important links to sharif redefinition – in other words, the reworking of elite status among Indian Muslims after 1857. An explicit link is thus uncovered between women, reformism, and autobiography in Muslim South Asia.

Secondly, I point to how the socioeconomic, cultural and historical characteristics of different localities enabled women’s autobiography to flourish in certain Muslim locations in the modern era – for example, Bangladesh over Pakistan, Bombay over Lahore, or even one Delhi neighbourhood over an another.

In terms of construction – the how – I employ performative models to show how specific audiences shaped how South Asian Muslim women crafted their autobiographical outputs in terms of content, tone and language at different historical moments: from the colonial to the postcolonial, the reformist to the nationalist, the regional to the global.
Learn more about Elusive Lives at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lilian Calles Barger's "The World Come of Age"

Lilian Calles Barger was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and immigrated to the United States as a child. She received her PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas and is the author of Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body and Chasing Sophia: Reclaiming the Lost Wisdom of Jesus.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology, and reported the following:
The intellectual origins of liberation theology that includes the first generation of Latin American, Black and feminist theologies of the late 1960s and 70s, are diverse and multiple. On page 99, I examine one of those streams of thought. Theology crossed paths with the American philosophy of pragmatism espoused by Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, liberal theologians took up the challenge of pragmatism that experience was the test for any proposition. Theologians moved away from an abstracted concept of truth, or revelation, to social ethics as the measure of good religion. The theologian Douglas C. Macintosh, an alumnus of the influential Chicago Divinity School, embraced the claims of pragmatism in his book Theology as an Empirical Science (1919) and argued that belief “can be transformed into a categorical knowledge only by empirical verification.” The pragmatic approach to theological reasoning inspired the popular social gospel, in which the social effects of any belief determined its truth and value.

Pragmatism spread quickly to Latin America where quick translation allowed it to join the currents of positivism, the philosophy that had the greatest influence on the continent. The hemispheric spread of pragmatism prepared the intellectual environment for conceptualizing liberation theology in which the experience of the oppressed became the interpretive lens for reading the Bible. Unlike Protestant liberation theologians, Latin American Catholics had to transverse a greater distance between a pragmatic stance and Catholic orthodoxy. The Magisterium rejected pragmatism and in the words of Pope Pius X, it was the Protestant “synthesis of all heresies” that set the active virtues above passive values. The global spread of pragmatism also influenced the work of the Catholic French philosopher Maurice Blondel with his idea of truth as “critical reflection on action.” Blondel contributed a key idea later taken up and developed by liberation theologians.
Visit Lilian Calles Barger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Laura Tunbridge's "Singing in the Age of Anxiety"

Laura Tunbridge is Professor of Music and Henfrey Fellow and Tutor in Music at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. She is the author of Schumann’s Late Style and The Song Cycle.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performances in New York and London between the World Wars, and reported the following:
“Who was excluded, inevitably, was as significant as who was included.” (p. 99) The archives of New York music clubs in the interwar period provided some crucial evidence for the argument of Singing in the Age of Anxiety. It is always difficult to find out who made up the bulk of concert audiences, but examining membership lists provided a more nuanced idea of who attended and where they came from. It became apparent although the First World War reduced the influence of “Old New York” and of the German community over musical life in New York City, it had certainly not disappeared. There may well have been new audiences for classical song in the 1920s and 30s, but there were also still prized by exclusive societies, membership of which was determined by ethnicity, race, religion, wealth and social connections rather than artistic interests (though that’s not to say the art was of no consequence). In other words, while societies such as the Bohemians or clubs such as the Knickerbocker were devoted to nurturing communities, those groups were selective. The city was partisan and divided as well as a “melting-pot.”

Singing in the Age of Anxiety compares interwar musical life in New York to London, discussing transatlantic connections and changing attitudes towards the performance of lieder or German art song. It is a complex story, starting from the prohibition of Schubert during the First World War and ending with British and American support of musicians fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This was also an era of profound technological changes in musical life: gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts and sound film all transformed the ways in which music was performed, sold and heard. These new media opened up possibilities for a greater democratization of musical appreciation but it is important to remember that they did not supplant live music-making but rather complemented and influenced it – and vice versa. The clubs and societies explored on page 99 were replicated, with slightly different constituencies, around gramophone societies, for example. Determining what represented nineteenth-century practices and what belonged to the twentieth century, then, becomes much more difficult to ascertain.
Learn more about Singing in the Age of Anxiety at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Alexandra Gheciu's "Security Entrepreneurs"

Alexandra Gheciu is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Associate Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Her research interests are in the fields of international security, international institutions, Euro-Atlantic relations, global governance, state (re)building, and International Relations theory. Her publications include The Return of the Public in Global Governance (co-edited with Jacqueline Best,  2014), Securing Civilization? (2008), and NATO in the New Europe (2005).

Gheciu applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest monograph, Security Entrepreneurs: Performing Protection in Post-Cold War Europe, and reported the following:
Can a single page really reveal the quality of an entire book? When I was invited to apply the “page 99 test” to Security Entrepreneurs, I was a little skeptical. Still, I could see no good reason not to play this game. So I promptly opened the book and was surprised to see that page 99 does reveal at least one important aspect of the core argument. The book focuses on the commercialization of security provision in post-Cold War Eastern Europe. It seeks to challenge conventional thinking about the field of security by showing how functions traditionally attributed to the state are now performed by hybrid networks of actors that transcend traditional boundaries between domestic/international, public/private, legitimate and illicit arenas. Participants in those networks behave, in many ways, as entrepreneurs; they also resort to a multitude of “staging” techniques in an effort to secure broad support for their actions.

Page 99 gives the reader some sense of one of the key facets of security commercialization: how private security companies (PSCs), as key actors in the contemporary security field, both cooperate and compete with public agencies as they seek to play increasingly powerful roles both in national settings and at the international level. Thus, we learn on page 99 that:
we can conceptualize PSCs’ strategies deployed in struggles over positions as [...]being designed to demonstrate partial compliance with the basic rules of the game, while at the same time challenging the field setting and seeking to partly redefine the roles of the private security industry. What is being fought over in this context is the definition of the roles of PSCs as producers of public security. The aim pursued by private security actors is to broaden the mandate of PSCs as key producers of public security, with the ability to perform a more prominent position in the governance and provision of security than is currently allowed. To this end, PSCs enact performances of security in which they deploy strategies aimed at accumulating capital to support their positions in the security “game,” and to effectively compete and struggle over definitions over who has what rights and responsibilities in the governance and provision of security.
Of course, this is part of a much larger story—and many aspects of that story are not revealed on page 99. Hopefully, though, this page will inspire the reader to read the entire book, and in so doing to learn about other aspects of security commercialization, such as: 1. the ways in which a potent commercial logic has come to permeate public security institutions, altering in problematic ways the relationship between the state and its citizens; 2. the links between changes in former communist countries and the redefinition of “rules of the game” of security provision at the European level; and 3. the dark side of security commercialization, including the powerful roles played by illicit businesses and criminal groups in contemporary (in)security provision.
Learn more about Security Entrepreneurs at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2018

Magda Konieczna's "Journalism Without Profit"

Magda Konieczna is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia. She first became interested in the sustainability of journalism when she was the city hall reporter at the Guelph Mercury, a newspaper outside of Toronto. Her research on the business of journalism has appeared in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the International Journal of Communication, Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, and Digital Journalism.

Konieczna applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Journalism Without Profit: Making News When the Market Fails, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Journalism Without Profit focuses on the details of foundation funding for nonprofit news. Which foundations have offered the most support, and why? Nonprofit news organizations have been proliferating in the United States for the last ten years in response to the failing business model for journalism. They include large, wealthy organizations that you’ve probably heard of like ProPublica, and tiny, on-a-shoestring projects that you probably haven’t. For all of them, foundation funding has been essential, at least at the start. Some nonprofit newsrooms have managed to earn a sometimes significant portion of their revenue from other sources. NPR sells programming to its member stations, and Mother Jones sells a magazine.

Still, the groups I’m really interested in, the digital-native organizations that have sprung up in almost every state in the US to try to continue to produce quality journalism as the business model falters, remain heavily foundation funded. Understanding the magnitude and nature of that is key to understanding the structure of the field.

That’s why I see page 99 as a necessary but ultimately dry part of the book. I use these details of the field – how many news nonprofits are there? How long have they been around? What do they do? – to sketch out its dimensions. Page 99 does the support work necessary for the rest of my argument – the explanation of how the market never did support the journalism our democracy needs in the first place, and why it makes conceptual sense for public service journalism to be structured in a nonprofit field.

In all, the book attempts to make sense of a burgeoning field of nonprofit news organizations. While nonprofit news has been around at least since the Associated Press was founded in the 1840s, the idea of a field that connects these entities is new. Many of them are pioneering new, more collaborative ways of interacting with other journalists, other news outlets, and their audiences, and while it wasn’t clear what would happen to the field when I started this book – in the form of my dissertation – in 2009, it’s evident now that, in one way or another, it’s here to stay.

Still, I hope that when you start to learn about it, you start at the beginning, not at page 99.
Learn more about Journalism Without Profit at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lisandro Pérez's "Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution"

Lisandro Pérez is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is the author, with Guillermo Grenier, of The Legacy of Exile: Cubans in the United States.

Pérez applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The public attention did not end with the ceremony. Immediately the finger pointing started on how a wedding had been turned into such a public spectacle, something that violated social convention of the time. The New York press was chastised by a Philadelphia newspaper for sensationalizing the event, something, argued the newspaper, which would not have happened in genteel Philadelphia.
Page 99 is the last page of my description (which starts on page 95) of the extravagant wedding of Frances Amelia Bartlett and Don Esteban Santa Cruz de Oviedo in Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The year was 1859 and New York had not yet entered the Gilded Age. The wedding’s crass public demonstration of unlimited wealth both shocked and enthralled New Yorkers. Every detail was widely reported in the press: the $5,000 bridal gown, the four $3,000 alternate gowns, a trousseau of some seventy-five dresses, and the jewelry ensemble worn by the bride, manufactured under special order by Tiffany and Company. Two-thousand invitations were sent, far more than the capacity of the church, and traffic had to be rerouted to accommodate the flow of carriages. Oviedo, the press reported, was a very rich Cuban sugar planter, the owner of “some of the most valuable estates in Cuba,” and slaves “without number.”

The public’s interest in the wedding was stoked not just by its ostentatiousness, but by the descriptions of the conjugants. The bride was eighteen, tall, elegant, fair, and blonde, the daughter of a distinguished ex-officer of the U.S. Navy. The groom was fifty-five, shorter than the bride and “darkishly disposed in the matter of complexion,” according to the Daily Tribune. The Cuban could not only afford a lavish wedding, but he was also buying a young and fair American bride.

My detailed description of the Bartlett-Oviedo wedding is important to the book’s narrative, for it illustrates two themes of Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution. One is my insistence in telling the social, cultural, and economic story of Cuban New York, beyond its political activism, the topic that has dominated the literature on Cuban émigrés. Indeed, one contribution of the book is to understand the better-known revolutionary activities within the broader context of the community’s life. The other theme is that the early Cuban presence in New York was shaped by the island’s elites, especially the planter class, which sold its sugar to the city’s many refineries. Wealthy Cubans spearheaded the early flow of sojourners and migrants to the city. This created a certain perception of Cubans among New Yorkers of the era. It is on that point that I end in page 99 the passage on the wedding:
One consequence of the wedding was to reaffirm the image of Cubans as the prototype of the wealthy foreigner of the day. [Simón] Camacho, the Venezuelan writer who lived in New York, devoted an entire chronicle to the wedding. He concluded it by reporting a conversation near Gramercy Park with a lady who, upon learning that Camacho was Latin American and clarifying that her sister was single, asked him: “Do you know a Cuban like Mr. Oviedo?”
Learn more about Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Alanna O'Malley's "The Diplomacy of Decolonisation"

Alanna O'Malley is Lecturer in History at Leiden University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Diplomacy of Decolonisation: America, Britain and the United Nations during the Congo Crisis 1960-64, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…on 27 November Lumumba decided to make a break for the northern city of Stanleyville in the Orientale province, his home base where the majority of his supporters were gathered. The reasons for his decision to leave the protection of the UN at this precise moment are unclear.
Page 99 of my book outlines the escape of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba from the protective custody of the United Nations in November 1960, a high point in the political crisis into which the Congo was plunged following its independence from Belgium on 30 June. Lumumba’s escape, an attempt to relocate to the northern city of Stanleyville (now Kisangani) in order to rally his supporters and reassert his political authority, having been removed as Prime Minister by his rival President Joseph Kasavubu, was an ill-fated effort. In a matter of days, he was captured by the Belgian secret police working with the Congolese army, and transported to prison, where he was later assassinated by his political rivals, at the urging of Belgium, Britain and the United States.

The Congo crisis from 1960-1964 was a period of high-drama in international affairs, combining internal Congolese politics with the overarching process of decolonisation against the backdrop of the Cold War which drew the super-powers into Africa. The assassination of Lumumba was one of the most important turning points of the conflict as it led to widespread outrage among his supporters, not just in the Congo but among oppressed peoples around the world, for whom he quickly became a martyr for freedom. The role of Belgium, Britain and the United States in his assassination, widely believed by many to be a plot to ‘recolonise’ the Congo in order to control its vast supplies of natural resources, was publicly criticised from Cairo to Moscow. At the United Nations, an angry mob broke into the headquarters in New York, threatening the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold for not protecting Lumumba.

My book argues that the Congo crisis was not just a Cold War conflict but was the key turning point in the process of decolonisation. Through the example of the fractious and violent early years of independence in the Congo, many other newly-independent states in Africa and Asia began to assert their authority. Believing their hard-fought freedoms may be transient and holding up the Congo as the worst-case scenario for decolonisation, they utilised their solidarity to shape UN Congo policy and position the crisis as a lightning rod in the broader interaction of decolonisation with the Cold War, exploding North-South tensions. Attempts to direct the UN mission led to the creation of permanent mechanisms through which the Afro-Asian bloc used the Congo as a paradigm to determine the course and the pace of decolonisation. For the first time, the crisis should be considered as a moment which consolidated the impact of decolonisation as not just a process that transformed the world of empires into nation-states, but one which elucidated a wider Third World critique of imperial internationalism. Drawing on a wide range of archival sources from Accra, Brussels, Delhi, London, New York and Washington D.C., the book argues that the Congo crisis was not just another episode of the Cold War but a conflict of multiple dimensions which, as it evolved, demonstrated the potential and the limitations of UN agency and Afro-Asian solidarity.
Learn more about The Diplomacy of Decolonisation at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Philip Murphy's "The Empire’s New Clothes"

Philip Murphy is Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth History at the University of London. He has published extensively on the history of British decolonization and, recently, on the Commonwealth-wide role of the British monarchy.

Murphy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Empire's New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth, and reported the following:
I must confess to having only just heard of Ford Madox Ford’s ‘page ninety-nine’ rule. But in relation to my new book, The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth, it performs a particular sort of magic. Page ninety-nine, and the chapter to which it belongs, deal with the role of Queen Elizabeth II. No surprise there, you might think. After all, in so far as international media pays any attention to the Commonwealth anymore, it is as a peg on which to hang stories about the British royal family. The Queen is its ‘Head’ as well as being the sovereign of 16 of its 53 member states, nearly all of which were formerly part of the British Empire. It is an entirely voluntary association of states, the post-imperial foundations of which were firmly laid in 1949 when the continued membership of recently-independent and soon-to-be republican India was confirmed. The latest meeting of its national leaders, which took place in London in April (just as my book was published in the UK) served only to reinforce the royal connection. Keen to cement the country’s extra-European relationships in anticipation of leaving the European Union (EU), the British government put a large amount of effort into preparations for the Summit. It anticipated, correctly, that a gathering based at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, with almost a full complement of the junior royals floating about like caddies at an international golf tournament, would be an irresistible draw for Commonwealth leaders. And (in the Summit’s sole, really tangible outcome) it managed to secure confirmation that Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, would be the organisation’s next Head.

So how important has the Queen been to the story of the modern Commonwealth? Well very, in the sense that someone who has been sovereign for 66 years can exert a subtle but profound influence over the basic terms of political debate within a country. Page ninety-nine of my book says this about the Queen:
In her public utterances, she frequently speaks of the importance of her Christian faith and of the value of the Commonwealth. Perhaps the greatest mark of her achievement in negotiating all the pitfalls of constitutional monarchy, is that over decades in which adherence to Christianity has been in steady decline in the UK, and the Commonwealth has come under fire from senior politicians and the press, she has succeeded in presenting both as being somehow ‘above’ any sort of controversy. An extremely long reigning monarch can shape the political landscape like an iceberg: by slowly maintaining the same course they can exert a powerful influence on our collective values.
But the prominence given to the Queen in recent years is also a result of the fact that the Commonwealth hasn’t really achieved anything very newsworthy. And in the seven out of its eight chapters which deal with matters other than her role, my book seeks to explain why. Essentially, the Commonwealth is a Potemkin village among international organisations: behind a façade of bright promises to be tackling an impossibly wide range of global ills lies almost precisely nothing. But while the reality of the organisation clearly poses no real threat to anyone, the the book argues that the myth of the Commonwealth – that very idea of getting something for nothing – remains a real danger to UK foreign policy, as the reckless suggestions that the Commonwealth might in some sense provide an alternative to British membership of the EU have recently demonstrated.
Learn more about The Empire's New Clothes at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Vince Beiser's "The World in a Grain"

Vince Beiser is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Wired, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Los Angeles.

Beiser applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization, and reported the following:
Page 99 reads in its entirety as follows:
Part II: How Sand is Building the Twenty-First Century’s Globalized, Digital World

“And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.” Matthew 7:26
That’s a pretty good summary of the book’s message. It's story of the most important overlooked commodity in the world--sand--and the crucial role it plays in our lives.

After water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other--more than oil, more than wheat. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every window, computer screen and silicon chip, is made from sand. From Egypt's pyramids to the Hubble telescope, from the world's tallest skyscraper to the sidewalk below it, from Chartres' stained-glass windows to your iPhone, sand shelters us, empowers us, engages us, and inspires us. It's the ingredient that makes possible our cities, our science, our lives--and our future.

And incredibly, we're running out of it.

The World in a Grain is, I hope, the compelling true story of this hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more important every day, and of the people who extract it, use it, sell it—and sometimes, even kill for it. It's also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand.
Visit Vince Beiser's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dawn Raffel's "The Strange Case of Dr. Couney"

Dawn Raffel is a journalist, memoirist, and short story writer whose work has been widely anthologized. A longtime magazine editor, she helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine. She has also taught creative writing in the MFA program at Columbia University; at Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia; Montreal; and Vilnius, Lithuania; and at the Center for Fiction in New York. She now works as an independent editor and book reviewer.

Raffel applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, and reported the following:
Applying the page 99 test to The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, we find an anomaly—which might be fitting since the book is itself about an outlier. From 1898-1943, Dr. Martin Couney ran sideshows where visitors could pay a quarter to gawk at premature infants in incubators—right next door to the sword swallowers and strippers.

The incubator shows were blockbuster attractions on Coney Island and in Atlantic City because people had no idea that tiny preemies could survive. And outside of the shows, they rarely could. Hospitals didn’t have the technology.

Although Dr. Couney’s European credential were fabricated, he was decades ahead of the American medical establishment, and his results were so good that most of the major New York hospitals were sending him their patients!

Dr. Couney liked to say he was making propaganda for preemies—proving again and again that they could and should be saved. One way he did that was by staging shows at world’s fairs, including those in Omaha and Buffalo. But he lost his bid for the St. Louis World’s fair of 1904. The officials awarded an incubator concession to a rival showman with insider connections. This man had no idea how to save preemies, so he hired a physician—who also had no idea how to save preemies.

Page 99 is a full-page photograph of the outside of the opulent-looking exhibition that the Humane Society [which attended to humans, not animals] would call a “charnal house.” Amid filthy conditions and overheating machines, almost all of the babies died. The gruesome spectacle gave doctors one more reason to dismiss the idea of using incubators in hospitals.

Martin Couney never gave up. He continued his lifesaving shows at the San Francisco, Chicago, and New York world’s fairs, as well as the boardwalks. He didn’t retire until 1943, when Cornell New York Hospital opened the city’s first comprehensive incubator station. But while his shows were swell looking places, none was ever quite as grand-looking as the “charnal house.”
Visit Dawn Raffel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ann Travers's "The Trans Generation"

Ann Travers is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. They live in Vancouver with their partner, three kids and a dog named Thunder.

Travers applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) are Creating a Gender Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Trans Generation is right in the middle of my chapter on the disabling impact of sex-segregated bathrooms and sex segregated and sex-differentiated sport and physical leisure programs and facilities on trans and gender nonconforming kids. Spaces and activities that many people take for granted place trans kids in crisis. Some trans kids are willing and able to resolve this crisis via binary transition (including accessing affirming healthcare) but for many, this is undesirable (in the case of non-binary trans kids or binary kids who don’t want blockers or ‘cross-sex’ hormones) or inaccessible (for trans kids who lack access to affirming healthcare). I also locate sex-segregated and sex-differentiated sporting spaces and activities in the damaging structures of hetero-patriarchy that take for granted fundamental differences between only two sexes and assumed across-the-board advantages to men over women. This is rather fitting because the first research and writing I engaged in with regard to trans issues concerned sport participation (transgender inclusion in lesbian softball leagues).
Seeing the so-called sex differences in gymnastics produced through social practice and repetition gave Sean’s father, Hal, a more critical perspective. Hal observed how sex-differentiated activities in gymnastics actually created gendered bodies. When Sean first enrolled in gymnastics, she was deeply disappointed to learn that she would not be able to work on the rings because they are designated as an apparatus for men and boys. According to Hal, “Sean had her heart set on doing the rings, but the rings are not allowed to her. But she started gymnastics with a Brazilian coach, who came and asked the girls, ‘Can anybody do a chin-up?’ But nobody could. And then Sean came and just ripped off nine chin-ups, and he was so excited he took her to all the other coaches. But she came back to me and said, ‘I dunno what to do because I can’t do the rings.’” Hal observed how this rule reinforced assumptions about sex differences: “The thing, too, that strikes me is that the boys that are struggling. They’re not as strong as her, but they’re doing it every day. And in a few years hence, they will become proficient, strong at this. And if Sean does not end up doing those exact muscle-building things, she will not. So then it will become this self-perpetuating dynamic that’s going on.” This is an example of the way that the “gender continuum” of overlapping sport performance is rendered invisible via social practices, with the result that the natural basis of sex segregation, sex differentiation, and male “unfair advantage” goes unquestioned.

Even in integrated community-center dance classes, it is often impossible to register kids without sharing information about their sex. Such information is assumed to be essential and is used to organize children’s participation in gender-appropriate ways. Many feminist parents who actively resist sex stereotyping are deeply troubled by the way sex markers are deployed to socialize children in distinctly gendered ways.
The page 99 test works a little well in the case of my book because I started doing work on trans issues with regard to sport. But it's not the most compelling.
Learn more about The Trans Generation at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2018

John A. Fliter's "Child Labor in America"

John A. Fliter is associate professor of political science at Kansas State University. He is the coauthor of Fighting Foreclosure: The Blaisdell Case, the Contract Clause, and the Great Depression.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Child Labor in America: The Epic Legal Struggle to Protect Children, and reported the following:
From page 99:
On August 21, 1918, representatives from the American Federation of Labor, National Child Labor Committee, Women’s Trade Union League, National Consumers’ League, and various government officials who were responsible for enforcing the Keating-Owen Act met to draft a new child labor bill. The committee had decided early on not to seek a constitutional amendment but to find some path under the enumerated powers of Congress and Supreme Court precedents. The Kenyon postal bill was promptly rejected because there were too many questions over using the postal service as a federal police power and implementation would be difficult. Several of the pending tax bills were also found unsatisfactory. After numerous meetings and discussions, the group coalesced around a plan to levy an excise tax upon the products of any mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment in which children under the age of fourteen were employed, or children between fourteen and sixteen years had worked more than eight hours in any day, or more than six days a week. President Wilson approved the proposed legislation, and it was submitted to Senator Pomerene with the recommendation that it be attached to a pending revenue bill.
On page 99 of my book, I discuss how Progressive Era reformers sought a new strategy to curb child labor exploitation after the Supreme Court struck down the first federal law, the Keating-Owen Act, in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918). In a closely divided opinion, the Court held that Congress could not regulate child labor under its constitutional authority over interstate commerce because local labor conditions were the responsibility of the states.

Some states had restricted child labor since the 1840s but many of the laws were weak and lacked enforcement mechanisms. By the early 1900s, reformers lobbied for tougher, uniform regulations using federal power. Unfortunately, page 99 doesn’t include any compelling quotes or anecdotes, but it represents an important stage in the decades-long struggle to end oppressive child labor through national legislation.

When the tax measure was submitted to Congress, Senators Atlee Pomerene, Irvine Lenroot, and William Kenyon jointly revised the bill. First, instead of taxing products made with child labor, they imposed an excise tax on the profits of companies that used child workers. Second, responsibility for enforcement was given to the commissioner of internal revenue rather than the Labor Department. The senators believed that their strategy strengthened the bill against any constitutional challenges.

The Child Labor Tax, as the provision was called, passed by huge majorities in both chambers of Congress as part of a massive revenue bill. Most reformers, politicians, and even business owners anticipated that the Supreme Court would uphold the law. During the nearly three years it was enforced, many employers stopped using child workers. The Supreme Court, however, struck down the tax law in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company (1922).

The rest of my book chronicles the subsequent legal battles over oppressive child labor in America. With the adverse decisions in Hammer and Bailey, reformers turned to amending the Constitution to give Congress the explicit enumerated power to regulate child labor. An amendment was passed in 1924 but the measure failed ratification in the states. A third attempt to restrict child labor under the National Industrial Recovery Act as part of FDR’s New Deal was also struck down by the Supreme Court.

The final victory over child labor was not achieved until the Supreme Court upheld the Fair Labor Standards Act in U.S. v. Darby Lumber (1941). By that time, however, the worst forms of child labor exploitation had ended. It’s fair to conclude that the Supreme Court was not a catalyst for social change on the issue of child labor.
Learn more about Child Labor in America at the University Press of Kansas website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

David R. Coon's "Turning the Page"

David R. Coon is an associate professor of media studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. He is the author of Look Closer: Suburban Narratives and American Values in Film and Television.

Coon applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Turning the Page: Storytelling as Activism in Queer Film and Media, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While many spy stories feature a heteronormative relationship to provide romantic tension and ultimate closure, D.E.B.S. foregrounds a lesbian relationship, placing lesbians at the center of a genre where they have traditionally been excluded. Meanwhile, heterosexual men, usually the drivers of this genre, are relegated to the roles of expendable henchmen, emphasizing the film’s effort to rewrite the frequently exclusionary espionage narrative so as to open up possibilities for a more inclusive genre.
Turning the Page examines the work of LGBTQ storytellers in film and television over the past couple decades, paying particular attention to how these acts of storytelling advance the social justice efforts of various LGBTQ communities. Early sections of the book talk about the harmful narratives that have oppressed queer people for generations and how counter-storytelling is an important step toward combating the damage done by the myths and lies that have long portrayed queer people as sick, deviant criminals. Page 99 is about midway through chapter 3, which focuses on POWER UP, a nonprofit educational organization and media production company dedicated to training women and queer filmmakers while producing high quality LGBTQ-oriented content. Using POWER UP as an example, the chapter considers the importance of various kinds of education, including training people in a field that has traditionally excluded them and challenging what audiences think they know by offering new narratives that reimagine possibilities for queer people.

Page 99 is part of a discussion of two short films produced by POWER UP – D.E.B.S. and Little Black Boot. These films provide new takes on familiar genres by incorporating queer characters and relationships into a comedic spy thriller and a modern spin on the fairy tale Cinderella. The page includes a still image from D.E.B.S., featuring a young woman named Max, played by out lesbian actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, with a gun in each hand, shooting at her enemies while working to rescue a fellow spy who has been kidnapped.

The image and discussion on this page feed into the book’s larger arguments by providing examples of films that reimagine possibilities for queer people by rewriting familiar narratives in more inclusive ways. Like many of the films and organizations discussed throughout the book, those covered on page 99 engage in counter-storytelling as a way of challenging the restrictive narratives that have long supported the oppression of LGBTQ people.
Learn more about Turning the Page at the Rutgers University Press website.

Writers Read: David R. Coon.

--Marshal Zeringue