Friday, September 25, 2020

Michael J. Schreffler's "Cuzco"

Michael J. Schreffler is associate professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Design at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuzco: Incas, Spaniards, and the Making of a Colonial City, and reported the following:
I can't help but wonder if the designer of my book knew about the observation attributed to Ford Madox Ford, because the photograph and accompanying text on page 99 are surprisingly effective in encapsulating the themes of the book. The photo shows a trio of massive undulating stone walls rising on a hilltop above Cuzco, a city situated more than 11,000 feet (3353 m) above sea level in the Andes of Peru. Cuzco was the sacred center and capital of the Inca Empire, which by the early-sixteenth century extended from Quito (Ecuador), in the north, to Santiago (Chile) in the south. It housed palace compounds for the Inca rulers and their kin, festival halls and plazas, and a temple dedicated to a solar deity. The walls in the photograph form part of a complex known as Sacsahuaman, whose relationship to the city it overlooks remains the subject of debate. Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards he led in the invasion and conquest of Inca Peru (1533-34) called it a fortress, a designation that has shaped understandings of the site to today.

The text beneath the photograph on page 99 considers why the Spanish identified Sacsahuaman and other works of Inca architecture they encountered as fortresses. Pizarro and many of his followers had spent their earlier years in Spain, where towns overshadowed by hilltop fortresses took shape throughout Castile in the wake of the "reconquista," the fall of the kingdoms of Islamic Iberia to the forces of Christian kings. The hilltop fortresses built for caliphs became the castles of feudal lords and royal governors, a transformation demonstrated most famously by the Alhambra, the Nasrid dynasty's sprawling citadel in Granada taken in 1492 by the armies of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs. For the Spanish, the Inca city and its hilltop fortress constituted a coherent urban form that was eminently suitable for adaptation as a colonial town. Other parts of the city, too, seemed familiar. At the foundation of Spanish Cuzco in 1534, Pizarro appropriated the Inca plaza as a plaza mayor, an adjacent festival hall as a church, and palaces and temples throughout the city as residences for the first Spanish settlers. Unlike the case of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, where widespread destruction preceded the establishment and construction of colonial Mexico City, the initial transformation of Inca Cuzco to Spanish Cuzco occurred through ritual, writing, and speech. The Spanish would soon come to realize, however, that the infrastructure of the Inca capital, which for many Andean men and women embodied aspects of Inca sacred history, was more resistant to adaptation than they had imagined.
Learn more about Cuzco at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Benno Weiner's "The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier"

Benno Weiner is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University and co-editor of Conflicting Memories.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Concerned that elites often expressed enthusiasm but harbored anxieties, the provincial directive added that propaganda needed to be carried out first among indigenous Tibetan leaders. Having secured their support ‘in action’ as well as ‘in words,’ ordinary herdsmen would also develop faith in the [Chinese Communist]Party. By paying close attention to propaganda work, assigning local leaders to appropriate positions with real responsibility, and consulting with them in good faith, provincial leaders insisted, “We can win over the majority and minimize resistance.”
When the Chinese Communist Party marched into the Sino-Tibetan borderlands of Amdo in late-Summer 1949, its leadership was painfully aware that it lacked a pre-existing presence in the region, could count on few friends, and had only a rudimentary understanding of the region’s demographic, economic, or sociopolitical makeup. Given these obstacles, obtaining the cooperation of indigenous Tibetan, Mongol and Muslim elites was considered absolutely vital. Page 99 is part of the introduction to a chapter focusing on these relationships. It is not the sexiest chapter. There are no armed confrontations between the state and local Tibetan communities, for example. Instead, there are seemingly endless meetings—to which Tibetan headmen rarely show up on time, if they show up at all. While a browser who opened the book directly to page 99 would be hard pressed to grasp its scope, the issues that are introduced are crucial for understanding the CCP’s early and ultimately failed efforts to “gradually,” voluntarily,” and “peacefully” integrate the Tibetan frontier into the new Communist state and nation.

The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier argues that the CCP’s goal in 1950s Amdo and other ethnocultural borderland regions was not just to construct a state, but to create a nation. While the former might have been accomplished through force, the latter required the construction of narratives and policies capable of convincing Amdo’s inhabitants of their membership in a wider political community. For this reason, the CCP employed a strategy known as the United Front. In short, this referred to a transitional period during which class struggle would be deemphasized in favor of forming alliances with the region’s religious and secular leaderships. As outlined in the quote above, the idea was that through the charisma and authority these people possessed, the Party would be able to implement its progressive program while gaining direct access to the masses. Eventually, the fruits of these policies would convince the masses to request full political integration and the transformation to socialism. At that point, the period of the United Front would draw to its peaceful conclusion.

As I note on page 99, however, the CCP’s program was riddled with “ambivalences and tensions embedded in a system that combines centralized political power with meaningful popular participation.” First, it relied on indigenous elites to create the conditions for their eventual elimination as a privileged class. Second, although the United Front was meant to operate through “consultation” rather than compulsion, power relationships between the CCP and society ensured that both decision making and coercive capacities were always in the hands of Party elites. This came to head in 1958 when the United Front was abandoned in favor of immediate, forced collectivization. This led to large-scale rebellion, which was brutally put down with tens of thousands arrested and many thousands killed. Amdo and the rest of the Tibetan Plateau were integrated through overwhelming and often indiscriminate use of state violence, a violence that persists in the memories of Amdo Tibetans and others. Six decades later, history confirms that Party leaders had been correct about one thing: while ethnocultural violence can be an effective tool of state making, rarely is it a successful means of nation building.
Learn more about The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jack Meng-Tat Chia's "Monks in Motion"

Jack Meng-Tat Chia is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at the National University of Singapore. His research focuses on Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia, Buddhist modernism, Chinese popular religion, and Southeast Asia-China interactions.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Monks in Motion: Buddhism and Modernity across the South China Sea, and reported the following:
Monks in Motion tells the story of Chinese Buddhist migration in the twentieth century. It explores the connected history of Buddhist communities in China and maritime Southeast Asia through the lives and careers of three prominent monks: Chuk Mor (Zhumo, 1913–2002), Yen Pei (Yanpei, 1917–1996), and Ashin Jinarakkhita (Tizheng, 1923–2002). In this book, I coin the term “South China Sea Buddhism” to refer to the forms of Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia—which use Mandarin Chinese, Southern Chinese dialects, and Southeast Asian languages in their liturgy and scriptures—that have emerged out of connections across the South China Sea.

Page 99 of Monks in Motion falls in Chapter 3, “Yen Pei: Humanistic Buddhism in the Chinese Diaspora.” This chapter of the book introduces readers into Yen Pei’s religious career, offering a window into larger and more complex dynamics of Chinese migration and transregional Buddhist circulations in the South China Sea, during the second half of the twentieth century. On page 99, Yen Pei had just migrated to Singapore and assumed the abbacy of Leng Foong Bodhi Institute in 1964. I explain why Yen Pei saw an urgent need to reform and restructure his temple:
… Mahāyāna Buddhism as practiced by the Chinese majority in Singapore was “mainly ritualistic.” This was because the religious activities in Chinese Buddhist monasteries and temples were limited to lighting joss sticks and the chanting of scriptures. Ong also notes that most Buddhists visited temples to seek blessings and recite the sutra, but they had little knowledge and understanding of the Buddhist doctrines. Furthermore, Buddhist temples and organizations organized few Dharma lectures and propagation events. Although many Chinese Buddhist monasteries had resident monks, many of them were ritual specialists rather than Dharma teachers. In addition, Ong notes that the lack of suitable religious spaces could also be attributed to the dearth of Dharma propagation activities.
In essence, page 99 pretty well sums up the developing situation of Buddhism in a newly independent Singapore and sets the stage for deeper discussion on Yen Pei’s career. The following pages of this chapter examine Yen Pei’s Singapore career in two phases: the first as the abbot of Leng Foong Bodhi Institute (which he later renamed as Leng Foong Prajna Auditorium) from 1964 to 1979, and subsequently, as a social activist and founding chairman of the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services from 1980 to his death in 1996. Throughout his career in Singapore, Yen Pei promoted ideas of Humanistic Buddhism which began in China during the Republican period, brought over to Taiwan, and later transplanted to Singapore.

Going beyond page 99, the book demonstrates how Chinese migration contributed to the spread of Buddhism and establishment of new Buddhist institutions in maritime Southeast Asia. As I write on page 11: “Chinese migration and the spread of Buddhism cannot be understood in isolation, and each monk is treated as a case study to show different aspects of Buddhism in particular locations. These three cases do offer a range of diversity by which to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of South China Sea Buddhism.”

Yet, there remains much to learn about patterns of Buddhist circulations in the South China Sea and the ways in which modernist Buddhist ideas overlapped with, and perhaps, facilitated one another. I hope as readers learn about Yen Pei and the other monks in Monks in Motion, they will look and re-look at the connected histories of Buddhist communities in this region with fresh eyes—More stories of South China Sea Buddhism remain to be told.
Visit Jack Meng-Tat Chia's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 21, 2020

Imraan Coovadia's "Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela"

Imraan Coovadia is a writer and the director of the writing programme at the University of Cape Town. He has written a number of novels, essays, and critical works on authors from Adam Smith and George Eliot to V.S. Naipaul and Vladimir Nabokov.

Coovadia applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela, and reported the following:
From page 99 (without footnotes):
Several insights in this passage attracted Gandhi’s attention. First was the out-of-date description of a ‘commercial company’ as the agent of empire, a commonplace about the subcontinent before the 1858 assertion of royal power over the East India Company after the previous year’s mutiny. Gandhi interpreted Tolstoy’s description to mean a mercantile policy imposed for the benefit of the centre. Then there was the disproportion in numbers which Tolstoy observed (‘a nation comprising two hundred millions’ versus ‘thirty thousand’). Next came the unexpected and pleasing comparison of national characters (‘weak and ordinary people’ versus ‘vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people’).

Taken together, these directed Tolstoy’s verdict that ‘the Indians have enslaved themselves’. It would be echoed in Hind Swaraj: ‘The English have not taken India; we have given it to them.’ The argument suggested that imperial power could be undermined by a withdrawal of cooperation, as recommended in The Kingdom of God, but experience showed the limitations of the proposal. The relative durability of the empire led to fruitful speculation on Gandhi’s part as to how the cooperation of the dominated was secured and what the process of decolonization would involve.

The literary device employed in the passage is the one long associated with the style of Tolstoy: defamiliarization. Defamiliarization, or estrangement, reveals an apparently ordinary state of affairs as extraordinary, producing wonder or horror at some circumstance which has been hidden in plain view. Custom, habit, tradition, and ideology conceal themselves by the fact of long familiarity, requiring the application of estrangement to be raised to consciousness.

Victor Shklovsky, the Russian Formalist critic, placed Tolstoy at the centre of his investigations into the nature of literary discourse, while identifying defamiliarization or estrangement as the structuring element of imaginative texts. For Shklovsky, defamiliarization is the essence of literature: ‘Defamiliarization [ostranenie] of that which is or has become familiar or taken for granted, hence automatically perceived, is the basic function of all literary devices’ (emphasis added).
I think this page gives browsers a fair idea about the book's contents. The book has to do with the connections between Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela--how they related to each other, how they tried to understand the world around them, and how they connected our perceptions to the realities of politics. It also has to do with the connection between radical politics and reading.

But really this is a book about the single most important theme of this year: non-violence and the creation of a non-violent relationship between the people and the state. It is about three leaders, who were very familiar with the use of violence, who turned against it and spent their lives trying to reduce violence and antagonism (this is an interesting paradox not just in the case of Mandela, who actually set up an organisation for guerrilla warfare, but also for Gandhi, who served in the armed forces of the British empire, and Tolstoy, who was a lieutenant in the artillery). It's a book about Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela as readers as well as writers (of books, memoirs, stories, letters, and speeches). And writing it was one of the most surprising experiences of my life as I came to appreciate how deep the thinking and feeling of these three revolutionaries went.
Learn more about Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Erica Wright's "Snake"

Erica Wright's essay collection Snake was recently released as part of Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series. Her latest crime novel Famous in Cedarville received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She is the author of three previous novels including The Red Chameleon, which was one of O, The Oprah Magazine's Best Books of Summer 2014. Her poetry collections are Instructions for Killing the Jackal and All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned.

Wright applied the “Page 99 Test” to Snake and reported the following:
From page 99:
All of which is to say, nature has a better handle on its business than humans, but that doesn’t stop us from meddling. […] Like birds, reptiles can also redistribute seed and are a food source themselves. If that doesn’t turn your head, there are plenty of nonvenomous snakes that kill and eat the venomous ones. In North America, we have the indigos and the kingsnakes. In South America, there’s the bona fide assassin the mussurana that dines on vipers. (The mussurana is technically venomous, but harmless to humans.) Snakes’ potential for advancing life-saving drugs seems endless.
The short answer is yes, page 99 is a pretty good representation of the book as a whole. This excerpt falls in the last essay where I make a final plea for why the snake should be appreciated rather than feared. There are always unforeseen consequences when messing with ecosystems. Consider the python invasion of the Everglades. (Not for nothing, invasive plant species are doing just as much damage—if not more—and receiving a lot fewer headlines.) In this chapter I discuss the owner of a dog kennel in Florida who killed the snakes he found in his facility only for the place to be invaded by rats. It took years and thousands of dollars to fix the problem.

Also, researchers learn so much from snakes. Not only does venom have a wide variety of medicinal uses (and is being explored as a treatment option for diseases ranging from cancer to muscular dystrophy), but snake movement is currently being studied in hopes of improving search-and-rescue robotics. The Georgia Tech Complex Rheology and Biomechanics (CRAB) Lab studies sidewinders and western shovelnose snakes for their ability to navigate tricky terrains.

Page 99 also hints at a theme I explore throughout the book: humans are a lot more dangerous than snakes.
Visit Erica Wright's website.

My Book, The Movie: Famous in Cedarville.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 19, 2020

James R. Skillen's "This Land is My Land"

James R. Skillen is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Calvin University. He teaches at the intersection of environmental history, law, and science, including regular field courses on federal lands in California, Nevada, and Oregon. He is author of The Nation's Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West and Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise, Fall, and Afterlife.

Skillen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, This Land is My Land: Rebellion in the West, and reported the following:
When readers turn to page 99 in This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West, they find a map of federal lands in Catron County, New Mexico. The county is 4.5 million acres, roughly the size of New Jersey, with a current population of around 3,500. The federal government owns and manages about three quarters of the county and pays no property tax, so federal management decisions about logging and grazing are critical to the county’s economy.

The test works remarkably well in this case. Page 99 has one of eight maps that I included in the book, and these maps capture fully half of book’s broader story.

Geographer John Wright once wrote that land tenure is the spatial musculature of the American West, “and places are best seen as shifting stages where the exercise of power and resistance to it vie for dominance.” The distinctive character of the West stems from the fact that the federal government owns roughly half of all land in the eleven western states and Alaska, which means that land use decisions are public and overtly political. Legal title to these lands may be clear, but the meaning of federal ownership and management is hotly contested, particularly by those who have mixed their labor with the land. This Land Is My Land tells the story of public land conflicts over the last forty years, as older claims to these lands have been challenged by new public values.

What page 99 does not capture, though, is the broader context of these conflicts. I explain how “sagebrush rebellions” shifted from regional protests, waged by westerners with a material interest in federal lands, to a national protest against federal authority itself, waged by a growing infrastructure of conservative think tanks, foundations, law firms, and politicians. And that shift is a microcosm of the politics that elected Donald Trump president in 2016 and may reelect him in 2020.
Learn more about This Land is My Land at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2020

Mary Rizzo's "Come and Be Shocked"

Mary Rizzo is a writer and educator specializing in modern U.S. cultural history, urban studies, public humanities, and digital humanities.

Her book, Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, examines battles over the image of Baltimore by famous and infamous artists and city agencies trying to woo tourists and residents, showing how culture shapes cities and vice versa.

Rizzo applied the “Page 99 Test” to Come and Be Shocked and reported the following:
Page 99 of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire focuses on one of my research favorite finds for this book about cultural representations of Baltimore. Chicory magazine was a poetry and arts magazine published from 1966-1983 by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Funded by the War on Poverty, Chicory published the unedited writing of black working-class and poor residents. As this page suggests, it had multiple audiences. For white liberals, Chicory offered a peak into the ghetto and was intended to channel rioutous impulses into writing during an era of civil unrest. Black authors, however, also used its pages to offer, “counternarratives to sociological theories like the culture of poverty and to urban and human renewal…[and] critique the institutions of the state,” including the police. Chicory, which has been digitized, is as relevant now as it was then as an indicator of debates in the black community.

While I love this chapter on Chicory, readers would get a distorted view of the book from it. They might expect that most of the book is about grassroots cultural production by people of color. While there are other examples, sadly, they were difficult to find. White writers, filmmakers, and other artists dominate the representation of Baltimore, even though it has been a black majority city for decades. Readers are more likely familiar with high-profile representations of the city like John Waters’ movies (including three iterations of Hairspray) and David Simon’s TV shows, Homicide and The Wire. I struggled to find black people representing their city, scouring sources and archives, not because they weren’t making them, but because they were not given the funding and distribution of Waters or Simon. In addition to Chicory, I discuss Baltimore club music, a sexually-explicit dance music pioneered by African American producers and the novel Poor, Black and In Real Trouble by Jerome Dyson Wright, and other examples of urban fiction, an often-disparaged literary genre written by African Americans that tells stories of drug dealers, sex workers, and street life. What these few examples show is not a lack of cultural production by African Americans in Baltimore but how the residential segregation of Baltimore into the “two Baltimores,” as Lawrence Brown and others have said, has shaped cultural representations of the city as well.
Visit Mary Rizzo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Meredith Wadman's "The Vaccine Race"

Meredith Wadman is a reporter at Science magazine in Washington, D.C. Her gripping book, The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease, tells the tale of WI-38, a fascinating cell line with a colorful and controversial history and a huge public health impact.

The Vaccine Race was shortlisted for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize, named a Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2017, and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie 2018 Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. The Guardian named it the second-best science book of 2017.

Wadman applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Vaccine Race and reported the following:
Page 99 of the Vaccine Race: Science, Politics and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease, comes in Chapter Seven, which is entitled “Polio Vaccine `Passengers.’” Page 99 situates the reader at a 1960 conference where scientists are holding their collective breath in anticipation that a new, improved polio vaccine will be delivered any day. Instead, Merck’s venerated vaccine czar, Maurice Hilleman, stands up and delivers a blow that calls into question the safety of every polio vaccine made in the U.S. since the much-hailed launch of the Salk vaccine in 1955. Merck researchers, Hilleman announced, had discovered a silent monkey virus lurking in the monkey kidney cells that were then used as miniature “factories” to pump out the Salk vaccine.. And this wasn’t just any monkey virus: when it got into certain cells it went on a rampage, tearing holes that left them looking like Swiss cheese. The Salk vaccine had already been given to 70 million Americans, many of them children Soon, researchers would demonstrate that the virus caused cancer-like changes in human cells in lab dishes – cells from people’s skin, and the inside of their cheeks. Cells from three-month-olds and adults.

By and large, the assembled scientists, and the regulators who approved US vaccines, presumed that formaldehyde that was used in producing the Salk vaccine killed the silent monkey virus before it found its way into people’s arms. But this couldn’t be known for sure. (Hilleman was so worried that he soon shut down Merck’s production of the Salk vaccine, never to resume it.)

Just as worrisome was the fact that the same monkey kidney cells that were susceptible to the silent virus were being used to produce the nearly-ready Sabin vaccine, which would be licensed in 1961 and delivered to tens of millions more Americans. And because the Sabin vaccine used a live, weakened version of the polio virus, it didn’t contain formaldehyde, unlike Salk’s killed-virus vaccine. So, any live monkey virus in Sabin’s vaccine would be swallowed along with the sugar cube that delivered it.

The page 99 test turns out to be an excellent one for The Vaccine Race: page 99 touches on so many of my book’s themes and preoccupations. These range from the difficulty of vaccine development and the unexpected obstacles that scientists encounter in that process to the fierce competition to license longed-for vaccines, to the part that politics and personalities play in such approvals.

The reader wouldn’t know it from reading page 99 alone, but the fact is that scientists listened to Merck’s Hilleman and respected him because he was not only an excellent scientist but a prototypical hard-charging male: a tough-talking, no-nonsense Montanan who in his career would develop more commercially successful vaccines than any scientist to this day.

Yet, a quiet, unsung woman from Auburn, West Virginia, population 199, had warned of a cancer-causing substance in the monkey kidney cells even before Hilleman. She worked at the National Institutes of Health and her name was Bernice Eddy. She had injected fluid from the monkey kidney cells being used to make the Salk vaccine into 154 laboratory hamsters. Seventy percent of them developed lethal tumors. (She later proved that the cancer-causing “substance” was the same virus, dubbed SV-40, that Hilleman had described.) But when she warned her boss – another hard-charging, tough-talking man -- about the danger, she got stripped of most of her lab staff, removed from her duties policing polio vaccine safety and relocated to a former storage closet.

Page 99 also sets up a series of events which reveal the power – and potential damage – caused by obdurate regulators. The chief of U.S. vaccine approvals would take fully three years after that 1960 conference to require polio vaccine makers to stop using the species of monkeys whose cells housed the silent virus. He preferred, as one aggrieved character put it, the devil he knew to the one that he didn’t.

There is another big theme of my book that is not apparent on page 99. It is the abuse of captive populations of human beings --- from the babies of prisoners to intellectually disabled children --- to test medicines and vaccines in the mid-20th century. This appropriation of the bodies of powerless people was widely approved by the medical establishment, from funding agencies to research universities to medical journals. My book brings some of the people who suffered into clear focus, like premature babies at Philadelphia General Hospital, nearly all of them African American, and orphans in the care of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Also not present on page 99 is Mrs. X, the anonymous Swedish woman whose fetus was taken by researchers without her knowledge or consent after her 1962 abortion, and used to develop cells that have led to the production of billions of doses of vaccines, from rubella to chicken pox to rabies to shingles.

Finally, to state the obvious, page 99 centers on a theme that is hugely relevant today: vaccine safety at a time of intense public pressure to fend off a horrifying disease. Perhaps not surprisingly, regulators are again on the hot seat: Will senior FDA brass bow to pressure to approve a COVID-19 vaccine before it has been proven safe and effective?
Visit Meredith Wadman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Jennifer Hull's "Shook"

Jennifer Hull is a writer and teacher. She grew up in New York, graduated cum laude from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in history, and has a master’s degree in education. She has taught K-12 students as well as college freshmen at the University of New Mexico. She lives in New Mexico with her husband, twin sons, and cocker spaniel.

Hull applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Shook: An Earthquake, a Legendary Mountain Guide, and Everest's Deadliest Day, and reported the following:
If a browser were to open to page 99 of Shook: An Earthquake, A Legendary Mountain Guide and Everest’s Deadliest Day, they would come upon the first page of "Chapter 17: The Khumbu Country Club." At the top of the page is a blog entry by renowned mountain guide and the protagonist of this narrative nonfiction story, Dave Hahn. At the bottom of the page is the first paragraph of the rest of the chapter. The entire page reads as follows:
17 The Khumbu Country Club

April 10, 2015
Posted by: Dave Hahn
Categories: Expedition Dispatches; Everest
Elevation: 17, 575 feet


One of the finer days we’ve seen on the trip, weatherwise. Clear skies and calm as anything in the morning, which made us forget the cold. We were out in the glacier again, at our jungle gym of ladders and fixed lines and ice walls… In the afternoon on this fine day, our Base Camp manager, Mark Tucker, took a foursome out for the first day of a planned four-day golf tournament in the mellow section of glacier close to camp. Tuck showed his party around the Khumbu Country club, scoring a hole-in-one in the process. (His partners now each owe him 100 rupees.) Newcomer Robbie came away with the low scholar for the round however, with a nine under par performance.

Best regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Glacier golf, chess, scrabble, and various versions of poker became popular ways for the team to unwind at Base Camp after mornings of concentrated activity. Peter enjoyed learning to play poker when he wasn’t writing in his journal. Robbie was a natural on the “golf course.” Hans loved a good book. Dave’s favorite game was Scrabble; he had carried a pocket dictionary with him to Base Camp. On the dry-erase board used to communicate messages to the team each day, he scrawled today’s message in red marker: “Learn your two-letter words.” Hao especially liked playing chess when he didn’t have a strong enough Internet connection to get work done on his laptop.
Page 99 of my book is a short page but does give a decent sense of the structure of the story, particularly of the interplay between the protagonist’s first-person blog posts and the third-person “behind the scenes” narration of the story. The overall chapter, however, gives a very accurate idea of the book, beginning with this light and breezy passage listing some of the pleasurable Base Camp activities enjoyed by the climbers and culminating in a detailed and visceral and somewhat horrifying account of what it feels like to be the victim of a slab avalanche versus being the victim of an ice avalanche;
An ice avalanche is a different beast. Like the more common slab avalanche, the first signal of an ice avalanche might be an ominous crack, in this case when a giant, overhanging chunk of ice calves off the snout of a glacier and drops. The chunk of ice, which might be the size of a building, shatters upon impact. This may trigger secondary slab avalanches all around. The ice accelerates down the steep mountain slope, pushing a massive powercloud of snow, rock, and ice pellets ahead of it. Ahead of the powder cloud, an invisible and immense air blast travels fast enough to easily uplift and overturn a train car. A victim of an ice avalanche is lifted from the hurricane-wind force of the blast and then hurled back down on the ice, rocks, and glacial moraine…
The chapter illuminates just how high the stakes are for the climbers, contrasted with the less serious diversions they use to happily distract themselves as they nervously and patiently bide their time at Base Camp, waiting out storms.
Visit Jennifer Hull's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Karen M. Johnson-Weiner's "The Lives of Amish Women"

Karen M. Johnson-Weiner is a Distinguished Service Professor Emerita of anthropology at SUNY Potsdam. She is the author of Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools and New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State and a coauthor of The Amish.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lives of Amish Women, and reported the following:
Those opening to page 99 of The Lives of Amish Women will find themselves at the end of a discussion of wifely submission. Part of a section entitled “When Submission is a One-Way Street” in Chapter 3, “Marriage and Ever After,” that page begins with a quote from an Amish woman who felt alone and was having suicidal thoughts until “looking back I can see that God was with me, and my husband did listen if I spoke, even if he didn’t understand, he did care.” Reading page 99 alone, one becomes aware that Amish women have diverse opinions of what it means to be a submissive wife, that submission is also important for men, that Amish churches often find it difficult to deal with church members who pay lip service to biblical teachings, and that change and assimilation in the Amish world may exacerbate problems by redefining male and female roles in the church-community.

However, the broader discussion explores the complicated place of gender in Amish society, highlighting the tension between a divine hierarchy that makes women submissive to men and the understanding that the church is the body of Christ in which there is neither male nor female. As the book makes clear, Amish communities resolve this tension in diverse ways as each responds to the profound social, economic, and technological changes going on in the non-Amish world with which they must interact daily.

In short, page 99 reflects important issues raised in The Lives of Amish Women, so in that sense the book passes the test. However, because page 99 focuses particularly on submission and abuse, the book also fails the test. Page 99 suggests a darkness to women’s lives that the rest of the book does not support. Page 99 also fails to capture the breadth and depth of the experience of Amish females, and their active role in maintaining and shaping the spiritual and economic health of their church-communities.

Committed to remaining separate from the secular world, even as they must interact with it daily, Amish life is shaped by the tension between faith and worldliness. Each church-community is a unique response to the challenge of living in the world while resisting assimilation to it. As a result, today’s diverse Amish church-communities may be as different from each other as they are from their non-Amish neighbors. Nevertheless, Amish women’s lives reflect a continuity in which daughters grow up to live lives much like those of their mothers and grandmothers, engaging in many of the same activities: gardening, homemaking, and childrearing. Yet, as church-communities change technologically and grow to depend more on economic engagement with the non-Amish world to feed families, Amish women may also find themselves owning businesses and working in factories. In some communities, technological changes and greater economic integration may make women’s work easier, but women may also be working more independently than their sisters in communities more insistent on keeping traditional ways. How is an Amish woman farming with her husband and living in a home without running water or indoor plumbing similar to or different from an Amish woman who runs a large business employing many of her neighbors, enjoys solar power, and works on a computer? This book explores Amish women’s lives, looking at the contexts in which they grow up, the activities in which they engage, the values they come to espouse as members of particular church-communities, and the roles they define for themselves.
Learn more about The Lives of Amish Women at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 14, 2020

Jon T. Coleman's "Nature Shock: Getting Lost in America"

Jon T. Coleman is professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, winner of the W. Turrentine Jackson Award from the Western History Association, and Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation.

Coleman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nature Shock: Getting Lost in America, and reported the following:
Opening Nature Shock to page 99 may disappoint a reader hoping to encounter a lost person. Instead of a crazed hiker or a hyperventilating backwoodsperson, we meet a thoroughly anchored New Hampshire woman named Miriam Newton who made history by staying put and jotting daily notes in a journal.
Miriam Newton kept a diary for sixty years. In it, she collected a handful of natural occurrences that swerved from the norm. The weather events that drew her attention tended to uproot trees, lift houses, and stun people. The Dark Day lived alongside freak whirlwinds, cold snaps, wild thunderstorms, and “dreadful gales.” Against these outbursts, Newton banked hundreds of uneventful dates. She paused to write terse descriptions of daily life, marking a pattern in time that absorbed the shock of the occasional disruption.
Newton’s appearance, however, comes at a pivotal moment in the book. In Nature Shock, I recount many dramatic episodes of people who got totally lost, but I also explore the shifting conception of what it meant to get lost. Over five centuries, I argue, North Americans traveled from relational space, where people navigated by their relationships to one another, to individual space, where people understood their position on earth by the coordinates provided by mass media, transportation grids, and commercial networks. The best vantage point to see this transition and thereby understand its consequences is on the edge of those spaces where people sometimes got terribly lost. I call the experience of utter bewilderment nature shock.

In her eighteenth-century diary, Miriam Newton patrolled the edges of relational space. She noted the comings and goings of neighbors, the passing of the seasons, and the changes in the weather. She described the remarkable day in May in 1780 when an “uncommon darkness” blotted out the midday sun and Thaddeus Hastings lost his way in the woods. Through her keeping track, Newton along with hundreds of other New England diarists mapped the out of bounds for her family and community. Getting lost in relational spaces was as much about losing connection with other people as it was becoming geographically disoriented. Newton’s diary helped spin a web of connections that held people in place, and it epitomized the social nature of nature shock throughout most of American history. Page 99 is the perfect introduction to a key concept of the book, especially since relational space may seem strange to those of us who are used to navigating alone with aid of a blue dot pulsing on a display screen.
Learn more about Nature Shock at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Samantha Pinto's "Infamous Bodies"

Samantha Pinto is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, author of Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic, and coeditor of Writing beyond the State: Post-Sovereign Approaches to Human Rights in Literary Studies.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Infamous Bodies: Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights, and reported the following:
What is it possible to feel when encountering Black women’s sexuality in the public sphere and historical record? What are the unacknowledged possibilities of Black vulnerability? What can texts--and critical readings of them-- that fall outside of diagnosing resistance or complicity do in the study of Black feminism, and in the thinking of the political? Page 99 of Infamous Bodies starts with a thick description of a Saturday Night Live sketch with Maya Rudolph as Sally Hemings and Robert De Niro as Thomas Jefferson— the climax of the sketch being when Jefferson asks her when she gets off of work and she deadpans “uh, never.” What do we do with this moment in a historically white show with overwhelmingly white writers, where liberties are taken with historical accuracy to think about the ludicrous idioms of seduction appended to our understanding of sexuality when faced with enslaved women’s sexual lives (following Saidiya Hartman, Brenda Stevenson, Ann Laura Stoler, and Emily Owens)? The humor of this scene exposes that logic, calls it out, and yet underscores the inevitability of Hemings’s sexual entanglement with Jefferson—coerced, forced, terrorized, privately contracted, ambivalent, and/or wholly expected sexual experiences between white enslavers and Black women were the “normal” of antebellum life.

My book, like the work of Danielle Fuentes Morgan, Racquel Gates, Jennifer Nash, Aida Levy-Hussen, Kali Gross, and Nicole Fleetwood, investigates the difficult political binds of “bad” representation of Blackness, and Black women in particular. On page 99, I ask what organizing around Black feminism’s complex and competing desires might look like— around those affects and attachments that don’t fit or can’t be disciplined into critical scripts of recognizably good politics. Early Black women celebrities, with their repeated public histories re-performed in art, culture, literature, and criticism, give us a glimpse into alternate genealogies of the political in the modern world— Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta. They help us see a black feminist politics invested in black women’s vulnerability as the base of all political subjectivity, not the lack that needs to be repaired to attain it, or ascend to it. My book delves into difficult moments of representation, consistently troubling the link between Black self-authorship and resistance (and Black performance beyond Black authorship as complicity, tragedy, minstrelsy) in order to ask what work pleasure, desire, humor, and ambition might do alongside and always tethered to histories and regimes of racial-sexual terror.

The understandable mood of the field of Black Studies and the ethical world is decidedly not bent toward humor right now, nor should it be. Infamous Bodies does not aim to wholesale diagnose and cure, but to gently press on assumed certainties and well-worn arcs of anti-Racist, Black Feminist, and Black Studies narratives to imagine, even briefly, what other scenes, affects, and attachments might bring to these fields, and to thinking about this dire political moment. What if Black study brought significant critical eyes to the attachments brought to the table in criticism that delimit the questions we are wil

ling to ask or perform, and that tacitly discipline our texts, our tastes, our readings? In embracing the “radical temporariness” of embodied existence that these five early Black women celebrities performed in their moments and in their popular repetitions, Infamous Bodies and its page 99 try to imagine different horizons and trajectories for the political that take Black feminist thought as its foundation, not its savior.
Visit Samantha Pinto's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Ming Hsu Chen's "Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era"

Ming Hsu Chen is Associate Professor of Law, Political Science, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is Faculty-Director of the Immigration and Citizenship Law Program and co-edits the ImmigrationProf blog.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Limits on Formal Citizenship Erode Equality

Temporary visa holders, undocumented immigrants, and DACA recipients are keenly aware of how limitations on their legal status interact with other markers of substantive equality to place them in a subordinate position to formal citizens. In a country where race is linked with inequality, the visible minorities in every legal category recognize the interlocking stereotypes of criminality with unlawful status (for Latinos), economic threat with foreign status (for Asians), and national security threats with terrorism (for Muslims).

The erosion of substantive belonging for those lacking formal citizenship arises in different ways for temporary visa holders and undocumented immigrants that map onto table 5.

Table 5.1 Intersection of formal/substantive for temporary and undocumented immigrants
Would a browser opening to page 99 get a good idea of the whole work?

Yes, page 99 gives a summary of the main argument and a visual for how it plays out. The main argument is that formal citizenship (short hand: legal status) intersects with substantive equality. An immigrant’s placement at the intersection of formal and substantive impacts how well they fit into society (short hand: integration).

This academic argument takes life through the interviews with multiple categories of immigrants whose pathways to citizenship are blocked. On page 99 the focus is temporary visa holders with middling levels of formal citizenship: high skilled workers and international students who are legal and can someday become citizens if they find someone to sponsor a green card, but whose temporary visa restricts their ability to travel, vote, and work. Also, even though these tend to be economically privileged immigrants, their sense of belonging is limited by their temporariness. The story of Dazhen, a Chinese immigrant on an H1-B who is eligible for a green card and deciding whether to apply, bleeds over from page 99 to 100.

Hopefully, the casual reader can appreciate the argument and enjoy the stories in the book. Since I interviewed 100 immigrants, there are 99 more in the book. Earlier in the book, there are green card holders who are almost citizens and yet who do not fully belong: long-time residents eligible to naturalize but who don’t, and refugees who nearly always naturalize but never fully belong. Later on there are undocumented immigrants who lack legal status and the prospect of citizenship, even if the DREAMers among them have lived their whole lives in the United States and feel American.
Learn more about Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 11, 2020

Richard Toye's "Winston Churchill: A Life in the News"

Richard Toye is Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. He previously worked at the University of Cambridge. He has written widely on modern British and international political and economic history. His critically acclaimed book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness won him the 2007 Times Higher Young Academic Author of the Year Award.

Toye applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Winston Churchill: A Life in the News, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Winston Churchill: A Life in the News is fairly typical of the book as a whole, in that it finds Churchill worrying about his image. It is 1915 and he faces one of the greatest crises of his career. He has been dismissed from his position as head of the Admiralty, though he remains for the time being a Cabinet minister. Churchill’s fall was intimately wrapped up with, though not wholly caused by, the Dardanelles fiasco: the failed naval assault on Turkey for which he attracted considerable blame. The Gallipoli landings that followed had become horribly bogged down, but it was not yet clear that they would fail utterly. As I relate:
Churchill remained obsessed with vindicating his Admiralty record. He buttonholed any journalist who would listen, on one occasion staying up till 2 a.m. to try to prove to an unconvinced Charles Repington [of The Times] that he had been right about Antwerp and the Dardanelles. Churchill showed confidential documents about these and other episodes to [Manchester Guardian editor] C. P. Scott, and even offered to let him take them away to study, before having second thoughts.
However, Churchill’s preoccupation with his own reputation, and his attempts to influence the media, are only one part of the story that the book relates. Churchill, from his early twenties onwards, was a skilful and prolific journalist. He kept up this work, to some degree or another, until the late 1940s. It helped keep him in the public eye and was a means of funding his extravagant lifestyle. Yet there were times too when – usually due to the pressures of office – he gave up writing for the papers for significant periods. The time of Gallipoli overlapped with one of these fallow spots though Churchill would return to journalism later in the war. As C.P. Scott recorded in his diary at the end of 1916:
I urged him to make a business of Parliament and make himself a figure there, but he said the papers (with the exception of the Manchester Guardian) would not report him and on the contrary ill natured remarks were always made, as that ‘There were few members present and no one troubled to come in’ or ‘what a contrast with the days when his rising was the signal for the House to fill’ & so on. Therefore he preferred to find his public in the Press. Then at least every word he wished to say was printed and it took him no longer to write an article for the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ for which he got £250 than to prepare a speech which was not reported.
Thus, the events that are covered on page 99 are quite consistent with Churchill’s long-term behaviour, but they do not fully represent the many ebbs and flows of his long and complex career.
Learn more about Winston Churchill: A Life in the News at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Christopher Capozzola's "Bound by War"

Christopher Capozzola is professor of history at MIT. Author of the award-winning Uncle Sam Wants You, he is also a cocurator of “The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914-1919,” a traveling exhibition that originated at The National WWI Museum and Memorial to commemorate the centennial of the First World War.

Capozzola applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America's First Pacific Century, and reported the following:

From page 99:
Despite their enthusiastic endorsement of Filipino service [in World War I], military officers and Wilson administration officials hesitated when it came time to stand up the [Philippine National] Guard. U.S. Army soldiers who had waited years for promotion opportunities and battlefield glory dreaded the prospect of staying behind in the Pacific to train troops who would likely never see combat, and with more American troops leaving the Philippines on every ship out of Manila, Army officials wondered whether they could really spare experienced officers for training. […]

The bigger obstacle was Jim Crow. The National Defense Act [of 1916] clearly stated that federalized Guard troops would carry their ranks with them into the U.S. Army, so federalizing the Philippine National Guard could potentially mean placing Filipino officers in command of white men. Woodrow Wilson had brought to Washington an administration committed to Philippine independence, but he also drew the color line within the federal bureaucracy. Equally committed to white supremacy and global warfare, and dependent on the votes of southern Democrats on Capitol Hill, Wilson and his officers confronted an impossible dilemma: either leave power in Manila in the hands of an armed and trained Filipinized military unsupervised by the "older and stronger brother" of the U.S. Army—or incorporate the Filipino troops.

Rather than confront this dilemma, they avoided it. Civilian politicians in Washington dragged their heels, military officers in Manila dug theirs in, and only a few insistent voices joined [Filipinos' demands] for action.
The Page 99 Test captures the big themes of Bound by War: two nations, a war, and what's at stake when the United States mobilizes soldiers for service without extending equal rights to them.

You've probably never heard of the Philippine National Guard. That's because it only existed for three months, at the very end of World War I. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, the Philippines didn't have a state militia. Wartime officials in the Philippines—especially leaders of the colony's independence movement—wanted to create one. But the dilemma posed by including soldiers of color into an all-white officer corps delayed its establishment. The Guard first gathered for training on November 18, 1918. That's right: one week after the armistice that had ended the First World War.

On the one hand, this is a familiar story: of dedicated military service of people of color, and of the deeply-rooted racism that accompanied the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. And yet, from a Pacific perspective, this history looks different. Filipinos fought hard to establish the Guard, not because they wanted to win equal citizenship with white Americans, but because they believed the creation of a national army was a stepping stone to Philippine independence. The Philippine National Guard embodies the contradictions of the United States: a nation that thinks like a republic and acts like an empire. I wrote Bound by War to explore these contradictions from the point of view of the ordinary soldiers who served in America's forgotten Filipino forces.
Learn more about Bound by War at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Jesse Wegman's "Let the People Pick the President"

Jesse Wegman is a member of the New York Times editorial board, where he has written about the Supreme Court and legal affairs since 2013.

He previously worked as a reporter, editor, and producer at outlets including National Public Radio, The New York Observer, Reuters, The Daily Beast, and Newsweek. He graduated from New York University School of Law in 2005.

Wegman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins a new section of Chapter 3, which focuses on the actual functioning (or dysfunctioning) of the Electoral College in the Republic's early years. On that page I describe how the most significant founders, including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, came quickly to understand how poorly designed the system was, and I noted their efforts to change it. Madison proposed amending the Constitution to fix the College in two ways: First, prohibit the winner-take-all rule, which states were widely adopting by the early 19th century, even though the framers never discussed it. Second, eliminate the back-up election procedure in the Constitution's text, which throws any contested election to the House of Representatives, where each state gets a single vote for president. Madison called this an "evil"; Jefferson called it "the most dangerous blot in our Constitution." It has been triggered twice, in 1800 and 1824, and never since. (And I hope never again.)

Page 99 neatly conveys a central pillar of my book's argument: The Electoral College was not, as we were led to believe in school, a crucial component of the framers' brilliant constitutional design. To the contrary, it was a last-minute compromise thrown together by a few delegates in a side room in order to get the Constitution completed and sent to the states for ratification. They didn't fully consider the ways in which it might backfire, and when it started doing so only a few years later, they quickly came to regret the system they'd built.

The book goes into much more detail about the history of the College's adoption, the role of slavery, the role of state power, and the ways the winner-take-all rule has always bedeviled us as a country and made millions of citizens irrelevant to the outcome of the election, but this basic idea is very important: The founders were brilliant political thinkers, and they got a lot of things right. They were also flawed, biased human beings who got a lot of things wrong. The Electoral College was one of these things. We will never be able to fulfill the framers' original vision of a nation in which all people are equal until we treat people that way in the process of choosing our leader.

I like what's on Page 99 because it illustrates a feature of my book that many readers have told me they appreciate: the excavation of the "backstory" of the constitutional convention and of the framers' conflicted feelings about their creation. Our history has too often been told in an overly neat way, and I believe a lot of the myths and misconceptions that burden us today are the result of what we've left out. My book is an attempt to bring that complexity back into the picture, in a way that regular readers can relate to, and to demystify the Electoral College in particular, so that we may soon advance our democracy forward once again, toward a nation in which all people are equal.
Visit Jesse Wegman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 7, 2020

Katja M. Guenther's "The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals"

Katja M. Guenther is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Making Their Place (2010). Her research focuses on gender, social movements, human-animal relationships, and the state.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals is one of several places in the text where I reflect on my relationship to the research I conducted as a volunteer at a high-intake, high-kill public animal shelter that I call the Pacific Animal Welfare Center, or PAW. On this page, I specifically focus on how fostering dogs from PAW for animal rescue groups who would find homes for them shifted my thinking about how kill shelters like PAW often justify putting dogs and cats to sleep: there are simply not enough homes for all of the shelter animals, and too many shelter animals are unadoptable. On page 99, I also begin a discussion about how fostering dogs deepened my appreciation for members of this species in ways that undercut PAW’s—and our society’s—dominant messaging that not all shelter animals can find homes and that their deaths are a tragic but necessary reality of the human relationship with companion animals.

The content of page 99 doesn’t reflect the core elements of the analysis I present in The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, but it still provides the reader with a good idea of the whole work. The text on this page makes clear that this is a book about animals without homes, and that I am an author who is problematizing myths about these animals and the humans with whom their lives intersect. Importantly, this page, among many others, illuminates how I approached the research and research site, and how my experiences changed me and my own views. People often take the path of least resistance when faced with complex problems: identify and accept the simplest explanation that best resonates with existing explanations for similar problems. In the context of animal sheltering in the United States, there are a number of such easy explanations that have become dominant myths, including that some people (especially poor people of color) are “irresponsible” guardians for animals, some animals (notably pit bulls) are dangerous and pose a particular risk to public safety, and some animals (particularly those who are most vulnerable because of their health, age, behavior, or breed) must die in shelters. What page 99 makes clear is that I questioned and came to doubt these easy explanations, to instead discover that these myths reflect and reinforce hierarchies of race, class, gender, species, and breed.
Visit Katja M. Guenther's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Kenneth Austin's "The Jews and the Reformation"

Kenneth Austin is a senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of Bristol, UK, and the author of From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Jews and the Reformation, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Jews and the Reformation falls four pages from the end of chapter 4, ‘People of the Book’, which is concerned with the relationship between the Reformed religion (more commonly known as ‘Calvinism’) and Judaism, in the sixteenth century. Over the previous couple of pages I provided a number of examples intended to demonstrate that members of the Reformed faith often looked to the fortunes of the Jews in the Old Testament as models for their own experiences. On page 99 I then move on to propose a couple of reasons which might explain this phenomenon. First, I argue that this was one manifestation of the profound attention devoted to the Bible by Calvinists in this period. While the Reformation as a whole had encouraged Christians to give renewed attention to the bible (encapsulated in the famous Latin tag ‘sola scriptura’ – ‘by the scriptures alone’), some groups were principally concerned with the message of salvation that they found in the New Testament; but members of the Reformed faith gave almost equal attention to the Old Testament, contending that the two parts of the bible needed to be seen as a unified whole. Secondly, I argue that this identification with the Jews of the Old Testament was linked to their theology, and particularly the Reformed idea of providence, according to which God was responsible for everything – good and bad – which happened to an individual or a community. The relatively limited successes of the Calvinists by the 1560s had been a source of great disappointment, and might have suggested that God was not on their side; but the Old Testament showed how the Israelites, God’s chosen people – a role that the Calvinists assumed for themselves – had previously been subjected to great difficulties, and their message rejected. Indeed, the identification with the Jews of the Old Testament allowed the Calvinists to transform their apparent lack of success into evidence of their special status.

At least in certain respects, the page 99 experiment does work for my book. In The Jews and the Reformation, I am attempting to discuss the different ways in which different groups – Protestant (Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist etc.) and Catholic – viewed Jews and Judaism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, in the wake of the Reformation. In particular I was keen that Martin Luther (the founder of the Reformation, and often the only Protestant figures whose (abhorrent) views on Jews are discussed in discussions of this theme, should be considered as part of a much broader spectrum of viewpoints. It is therefore quite a relief that there is no mention of Luther on this page! Secondly, in the book I am trying to reflect the views both of leading theologians and the experiences of their ‘ordinary’ followers. This theme of identification between members of the Reformed faith and biblical Jews (exemplified by the fact that many Calvinists were given names such as Abraham, which were derived from the Old Testament) nicely illustrates how this intersection between the two groups might happen. Third, the theme of identification demonstrates some of the complexities and nuance which characterised Christian attitudes towards Jews and Judaism in this period. Certainly, the anti-Semitic (or, more correctly for this period, anti-Jewish) dimension needs to be properly acknowledged and understood, but it should be seen, in my view, as part of a wider range of sometimes complementary, and sometimes contradictory, Christian attitudes. Of course, given that my book aims to open up the wide variety of Christian attitudes towards Jews, Jewish culture and the Hebrew language, across a diverse group of Christian confessions, and across a period of approximately two centuries, much of this complexity is not revealed in a single page; even so, this exercise does a remarkably good job of drawing attention to some of the most important and recurring themes in my book.
Learn more about The Jews and the Reformation at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 4, 2020

Emine Fidan Elcioglu's "Divided by the Wall"

Emine Fidan Elcioglu is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Divided by the Wall: Progressive and Conservative Immigration Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border, and reported the following:
Divided by the Wall tells the story of why ordinary Americans join volunteer organizations and mobilize in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, either in the pursuit of helping undocumented immigrants or to aid immigration enforcement. Though the terms are not very nuanced, I refer to the former group as ‘pro-immigrant’ activists, and the latter as ‘immigration restrictionists’. What makes my research unique is that I study “conscience constituents”, a fancy sociology term to refer to social movement participants who do not stand to gain personally from the movement’s successes. In this case, these are folks who, because of the privileges of whiteness and U.S. citizenship, are not directly impacted by immigration policy, but who nonetheless work to change it. The big question I ask is: why?

Now, let’s skip over to page 99. Page 99 introduces the book’s second part, which examines how these two politically opposed groups wrestled with the accusations of their opponents—and how they tried to refute these allegations. I write, “When challenging the actions of their left-wing opponents, restrictionists activists like Rick repeatedly raised the topic of organized crime and drug smuggling. […] [Meanwhile] Pro-immigrant activists, like Mariela, argued that restrictionists were motivated, above all, by their hatred of people of color, particularly people of Latin American descent.” As much as I would have loved the page 99 test to work, it alone wouldn’t give an interested reader a very clear sense of what the whole book is about.

But the page is still intriguing! It clues in the reader to the fact that the book is an ethnographic study, involving hours upon hours of me talking to people like Mariela and Rick to figure out who they were, how they made sense of the world, and why they did what they did. Page 99 also highlights another unique feature of the book: that I studied both sides of this political struggle. Social scientists tend to shy away from this kind of holistic research design. After all, it is far easier to study one side of a contentious debate, especially the side with which we personally sympathize. But Rick was keenly aware of what people like Mariela thought about him, just as Mariela knew what people like Rick thought about her. This fact—that activists are quite mindful of their political adversaries when they mobilize— suggests that we would miss important data were we to confine the study to just Rick or just Mariela. As a wise mentor once told me (echoing the famous sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu): How can you follow a game of soccer by fixating on one side? You have to watch both teams play.

So what did I learn as I watched this soccer game? Well, a lot. Most importantly, I learned that when people hold strong convictions about ‘the wall’, they’re not just articulating concerns about ‘the wall’. As I write on page 233: “the polarization of immigration politics is a symptom of worsening inequality and the expression of local communities’ desire to do something about that inequality.” So, when we debate immigration policy, let’s not just talk about walls. Let’s also talk about the underlying issue: how to eradicate the insecurity and inequality that makes immigration a needlessly contentious topic.
Visit Emine Fidan Elcioglu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Ned Dobos's "Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine"

Ned Dobos is Senior Lecturer in International and Political Studies at The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He is the author of Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sovereignty (2012) and co-editor of Challenges for Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical Demand and Political Reality (2018).

Dobos applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military, and reported the following:
Whether or not going to war is morally justified depends, in part, on whether the expected benefits of the war would outweigh its foreseen costs. Is the death and destruction “worth it”? This is the principle of proportionality. Page 99 makes the observation that, due to a well-documented psychological bias known as “hostile attribution error”, government officials will usually fail to accord sufficient weight to enemy combatant and civilian lives in their proportionality calculations.

The moral of the story is supposed to be this: Political decision-makers, even if they are sincerely committed to never waging “unjust wars”, will probably still wage them sometimes, on account of the unconscious biases that warp human judgment. Therefore, the military is an instrument that is very likely to be misused by the state. Since this point does not come across clearly on page 99, the test does not amount to a particularly good browser’s shortcut on this occasion. To be sure, the test does give the reader a sample of the kinds of evidence and argumentation to be found in the book, but it does not provide the reader with a clear sense of the conclusions that the book reaches.

Militaries certainly benefit their parent societies in various ways, but they are also incredibly costly institutions—financially, environmentally, morally, and culturally—not to mention dangerous. Because of this, some countries (most notably Costa Rica) have decided to unilaterally demilitarize. I am not saying that all countries should do the same. But all thoughtful citizens should understand the costs and risks associated with their national armed forces, and openly debate whether these costs are really worth bearing.
Learn more about Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Jay Kirk's "Avoid the Day"

Jay Kirk is the author of Kingdom Under Glass, named one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2010 by the Washington Post. His award-winning nonfiction has been published in Harper’s, GQ, the New York Times Magazine, and anthologized in Best American Crime Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper’s Magazine. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and was a finalist for the 2013 National Magazine Award. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded, a journal of experimental nonfiction.

Kirk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Avoid the Day: A New Nonfiction in Two Movements, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I can hear something distorted in the way I'm speaking: a little trancy as I talk about Clyde, savage exhumer of the dentist's Night Gladiolus. This slurred story being a chapter from my most intimate folk oeuvre, a way to signal my gothic origins to new friends. The mad pastor for a father. A childhood in the shadow of the asylum.
This is the second graf on Page 99. I am in the midst of telling a childhood story (after a moonshine session with a local singer) to the musicians I'm traveling around Transylvania with: how my pet dog, Clyde, was given away to the state hospital, that being the main industry of the town I grew up in, in Vermont, the warehousing of the insane, circa early eighties. I think in this case the Page 99 Test definitely works. This brief excerpt gets at the central expression of the book, and part of the central struggle, which is, how much does perception define character? It also gives a glimpse of the scene of the crime, where I will return repeatedly over the book, and where any resolution, if resolution can be said to exist, can be found.
Learn more about Avoid the Day at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Kingdom Under Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Frank A. von Hippel's "The Chemical Age"

Frank A. von Hippel is a professor of ecotoxicology at Northern Arizona University. He has taught ecology field courses in over twenty countries, and conducted research in the Americas, Africa and Australia. He hosts the Science History Podcast.

von Hippel applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Chemical Age: How Chemists Fought Famine and Disease, Killed Millions, and Changed Our Relationship with the Earth, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Chemical Age continues a sentence from page 98:
…from plague and mice, and why, in the fifteenth century, the Jews of Frankfurt were forced to pay a tax each year of five thousand rat tails. But the greatest misery that rats conveyed was not typhus—rather, it was an unparalleled pandemic that destroyed civilizations of the Old World, twice.
Browsers opening my book to page 99 would have both a good and terrible idea of the content. The Chemical Age is the story of how scientists developed chemicals to fight famine, plagues, and other people, as well as the emergence of the environmental movement. Page 99 gives an inkling of the coverage of famine and plagues - famine, because rats were responsible for many famines and their associated diseases (hence why Jews were forced to kill rats), and plagues, because the text refers directly to one of the pandemics covered in the book (typhus) and indirectly to another (bubonic plague). But because page 99 is the tail end of the chapter on typhus, with only 1.5 sentences of content, the browser would be forgiven for having no inkling of what the book is about. Indeed, the book’s coverage of famine focuses on the Irish Potato Famine, not on rats. And the book’s coverage of pandemics does more than discuss their impacts on history; it chronicles discoveries of the responsible pathogen and animal vector and the struggle to eradicate the disease with chemicals. Chemical innovations to fight famine and pandemics comprise the first two sections of the book. Section 3 centers on innovations in chemical weaponry, and cross-talk between development of chemical weapons and pesticides. Section 4 discusses how widespread pesticide pollution led to the environmental movement. Clues to these sections are not revealed on page 99. Even a Talmudic scholar would find it difficult to infer how rat tails, typhus and taxes relate to chemical warfare and ecology.

Nevertheless, the page 99 test reveals something else about The Chemical Age. The book is also a story of racism, slavery, genocide and misogyny told within the context of colonialism and war. The scientists are the story – their struggles toward discovery, their competitions for renown, and their personal paths in a chaotic world. For Jewish scientists, anti-Semitism often overwhelmed their hopes to dedicate themselves to science. They were, in their own way, collecting rat tails as a tax on their existence. Similarly, The Chemical Age reveals how former slaves struggled against white supremacy as they cared for yellow fever patients in 18th century Philadelphia, how Irishmen responded to famine brought about by English subjugation, and how Rachel Carson overcame misogyny to alert humanity about corporate and government malfeasance. Each of these struggles redirected society’s trajectory to a better place.
Learn more about The Chemical Age at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 31, 2020

Hilary Levey Friedman's "Here She Is"

Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist and expert on beauty pageants, childhood and parenting, competitive afterschool activities, and popular culture who teaches courses in the Department of Education at Brown University. She holds degrees from Harvard University, Princeton University, and the University of Cambridge.

Levey Friedman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America is in Chapter 3, “Burning versus Padding Bras: The Establishment of Second Wave Feminism.” This part of the book begins with the 1968 protest outside of the Miss America Pageant, describes the following year when my mother competed at (and won!) Miss America, and connects the growing organization of the feminist movement (like the National Organization for Women) to changes in Miss America and other pageants in the 1970s.

Which brings us to Page 99, which details results of my original data analysis of pageant program books, beginning in the 1970s. To test pageant stereotypes (i.e. they are all blonde and blue-eyed women from the South) I collected and coded program books not just from Miss America but also Miss USA, America’s Junior Miss/Distinguished Young Woman, and the National Sweetheart Pageant. With Miss America I went even further, getting historical books from nine state pageants. These program books present information on contestants, judges, prizes, and more.

The first paragraph on Page 99 reads:
That Miss America’s state pageants would be focused on higher education during Second Wave feminism would not be an unreasonable assumption. But it would be wrong, at least when it comes to the information conveyed in the program books. Of the states in my sample, only three list college major in their program books, and not one of them for the entire time period. Mississippi listed it most frequently, for six of the years. Mississippi is often stereotyped as a state focused much more on how their Southern belles look than on how they think. But the Miss Mississippi program books suggest that education was a big focus of their program, and in these years, contestants’ measurements or their height and weight were never listed. While majors related to business and communications were the most common every year in Mississippi, among the winners the most common majors were science related.
In case you could not tell by now, Here She Is tells the story of feminism using the lens of beauty pageants. It begins in 1848 at Seneca Falls and goes up to the present day. Because Page 99 shows the originality of the data and argument in Here She Is, and showcases how I connect the history of pageantry to the present day, I do think it illustrates the book—even if it doesn’t have as much descriptive or personal details as other parts of it.
Learn more about the book and author at Hilary Levey Friedman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Playing to Win.

--Marshal Zeringue