Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Michael Dumper's "Power, Piety, and People"

Michael Dumper is professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. His many books include Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City (2014). His most recent edited volume is Contested Holy Cities: The Urban Dimension of Religious Conflicts (2019).

Dumper applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power, Piety, and People: The Politics of Holy Cities in the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 contrasts the actions of the Diocese of Cordoba, Spain with the actions of religious leaders in Banaras, India when they were confronted with events which questioned the pre-eminence of their religion in the city. The page then refers to my personal experience of ecclesiastical decision-making as the son of an Anglican bishop, before continuing to narrate a conversation with a senior clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate regarding their strategy of dealing with state authorities in Jerusalem over the centuries.

The Page 99 test works well for this book. It introduces the reader to what I regard as one of the distinctive features of the book as an academic work: its accessibility and ability to engage the reader. A few years ago I read WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and also Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory and was amazed at the liberties they took with the conventional academic form, weaving personal observations, anecdotes and imaginary scenes into their examination of landscape, history and literature. It emboldened me to shake off the rather turgid cautious style I usually employed to become a bit more adventurous in the way I wrote.

So in this book, although it is thoroughly referenced and carefully argued (I still feel, even at this stage of my career, that I have to watch my back), I include travelogue, memoir, ethnographic observation, humour and ruminations with the result that it is more engaging than my previous writing. The book, covering Jerusalem, Cordoba, Banaras, Lhasa in Tibet and George Town in Malaysia, compares the management of religious conflicts in those cities and has ample scope to bring drama, colour and pageantry to the text. For example, in describing Muslim-Hindu tensions in George Town, although I was not present to observe a particular riot, I am able to draw a vivid picture of the violent night-time confrontation, partly based on reports but partly also based upon my own experience of similar tensions in Jerusalem and my own personal knowledge of everyday religious life in George Town. Page 99 gives a flavour of this way of writing which runs through the book.
Learn more about Power, Piety, and People at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Jerusalem Unbound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Daniel Marwecki's "Germany and Israel"

Daniel Marwecki is a (senior) teaching fellow in Politics & International Studies at SOAS University of London. He also teaches at the University of Leeds School of History, and is a co-editor of ldis:orient, a German-language magazine on Europe and the Middle East. He formerly taught at the University of Leipzig and worked for a German NGO in Jerusalem.

Marwecki applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding, and reported the following:
The title of my book gives away the main argument. I argue that we need to understand the origin of German-Israeli relations as a deal between whitewashing and statebuilding and that this deal continues to shape the relationship until today. By whitewashing, I mean that postwar West Germany decided to support Israel in order to blur the fact that Nazis continued to serve in high places and that society, overall, did not confront the crimes it had so shortly before committed. By statebuilding, I mean that we need to rethink the German role in the Middle East. I show that Germany, especially before the crucial year of 1967, has been the most important supporter of the Jewish state, more important even than the U.S.

I am happy to report that page 99 of my book precisely illustrates this argument. The test works! As there is a chapter transition on that page, it is divided into two parts, illustrating both parts of the argument.

The first half of the page closes a discussion on how West Germany reimagined its Jewish Other along lines that continued to be antisemitic. I show how German officials perceived of their Israeli counterparts during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and how these officials lauded what they saw as the “Prussian” or even “Aryan” qualitites of the “new” Israeli Jews. The subchapter that then starts on page 99 discusses the question of whether German financial support for Israel was actually used to help Israel build its nuclear arsenal.

To give a taste of the book, here is page 99 almost in full. Please note that in the beginning, I refer to an especially outlandish quote on the previous page by a German observer of the famous Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.
Here, Jews seem to have finally become German. This perhaps rather astonishing type of openly racist German over-identification with Israeli Jews starkly illustrates how continuities of German antisemitism can express themselves in a pro-Israeli attitude. In this case, Israel is represented in terms of German self-descriptions of a distinctly pre-1945 era, whereby Israel becomes Aryan. The German identification with Israeli military capacity in terms such as these is a corollary to the fact that in their formative phase under consideration in this chapter, German politics towards Israel served not to confront the past but to whitewash its continuities, a rationale accepted by Israel in return for the means to build the state.

Business friends: Did the FRG finance Israel’s nuclear project?

In 2015, Hans Rühle, an expert on nuclear proliferation who had held high positions in the BMVg and NATO, published an article in the conservative newspaper Die Welt, known for its staunch support of Israel. The article claimed that the FRG had financed Israel’s nuclear project with the ‘Operation Business Friend’ loan in the 1960s, promised to Ben-Gurion at the Waldorf Astoria and paid out after the Eichmann trial. Rühle argues that while the French technical help for the construction of the nuclear power plant at Dimona is well-known, the question of who paid for the project had remained a riddle, as the costs far exceeded Israel’s budget at the time. Contrary to normal development loans, ‘Operation Business Friend’ was never explicitly tied to any specific projects; in fact, the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, the state-owned German development bank in charge of the loan, has not disclosed its files on the topic to this day.
Learn more about Germany and Israel at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 7, 2020

Mark Tushnet's "Taking Back the Constitution"

Mark Tushnet is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. His books include Why the Constitution Matters and In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court.

Tushnet applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Taking Back the Constitution: Activist Judges and the Next Age of American Law, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Taking Back the Constitution is the first page of a brief chapter on the Supreme Court’s decisions on constitutional questions associated with the culture wars, including LGBTQI rights and abortion.

The chapter’s theme is a small version of the book’s overall argument, that the best way to understand the Court’s decisions on high-profile constitutional issues is to map the issues onto our political landscape. Justices nominated by Republican presidents will generally, though not always, decide the cases as the Republican caucus in the Senate would deal with them – and similarly for justices nominated by Democratic presidents.

Most of the book applies that argument to cases the Court has decided over the past decade, and projects the argument into a future that might resemble the present (divided government), or differ from it a lot (a consolidated “Trumpist” government or an invigorated Democratic regime). Along the way the book explains how the Court is both an umpire calling balls and strikes and a thoroughly political institution – how, that is, deciding cases according to “the law” allows the justices to translate their ordinary political preferences into constitutional law.

The book concludes with a discussion of several forms of constitutional transformation, ranging from changes in the way we choose justices to the possibility of calling a new constitutional convention to revise the Constitution top-to-bottom. I favor doing so, but you’ll have to read the book to understand why, and to see how a new constitutional convention might work.
Learn more about Taking Back the Constitution at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Erin Mayo-Adam's "Queer Alliances"

Erin Mayo-Adam is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department and the Human Rights Program at Hunter College, CUNY.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Queer Alliances: How Power Shapes Political Movement Formation, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Queer Alliances features a quote from the former leader of an LGBTQ organization describing how opponents assisted in the formation of political movement coalitions by convincing different groups that they were allies. In the quote, the former organization leader explains how labor organizations became more supportive of LGBTQ rights as they came to realize that the labor and LGBTQ movements shared the same opponents. According to the former leader, labor organizations used to not be on board with “what they called the 3Gs: Guns, Gods, and Gays.” That is, labor organizations generally held more conservative positions on these issues in the past. However, through a series of campaigns, labor organizations started to see the same opponents fight against pro-LGBTQ and pro-labor issues. Under the belief that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” labor organizations shifted positions and ultimately became some of the strongest LGBTQ allies.

The passage is an illustration of the one component of the book’s central argument, that coalitions can form when groups realize they have common opponents and a shared social movement past. However, Queer Alliances also argues that these coalitions are often volatile and fragile, that they are prone to breaking apart as groups that compose them come to see themselves as part of different political projects. This is especially true of organizations that are beholden to the cyclical nature of campaigns. Thus, in the concluding chapter, Queer Alliances argues that groups must also commit to an expansionist vision of movement in order to avoid the dissolution of alliances.
Visit Erin Mayo-Adam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Eric Jay Dolin's "A Furious Sky"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire, When America First Met China, Brilliant Beacons, and Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates.

Dolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes, and reported the following:
Applying The Page 99 Test to A Furious Sky poses an interesting dilemma: do you include only the text, or the text and the image? That is because half of the page is a black-and-white image. To honor Ford Madox Ford's dictum, I think you have to consider both the text and the image, since they are so intimately intertwined. So, here they are.
A body in the wreckage on the wharf after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900
Dead and mangled bodies were found under, over, within, and next to the wreckage. Bloated corpses, covered in silt and sand, with arms and legs contorted into unnatural positions, littered the macabre landscape—a silent testament to the hurricane’s power. Most contemporary accounts place the number killed at 6,000, but since the real number cannot be known, there is little doubt that it was higher still. The unusually hot weather had brought numerous visitors to Galveston to enjoy the surf and sand, but just how many of them died is unknown. An untold number of people were also swept out to sea or into the bay, and never seen again. Thus, the death toll might have been 8,000, 10,000, or even more.
This image and passage is part of the chapter on the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which is the deadliest natural disaster in American history. It is the storm against which all others are measured, and every year it becomes part of the national conversation swirling around the relentless march of hurricane season, as news outlets trot out the Galveston Hurricane’s gruesome particulars for comparison’s sake.

For A Furious Sky, The Page 99 Test captures the raw drama and human tragedy that is on display in the book, but it fails to grasp the great breadth and depth of the book. While A Furious Sky profiles many of the most significant and deadly hurricanes in American history, such as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, it is not simply a parade of horribles, and a portrait of death and destruction. The book uses hurricanes to tell a much richer and fascinating story about American history and the 400-year evolution of our interactions with, and understanding of, hurricanes. This includes, among other things, intriguing accounts of advances in meteorology, communications, forecasting, computer modeling, satellite technology, emergency response, and weather reporting. A Furious Sky also shows how hurricanes have changed the course of history, and how climate change and global warming will likely make future hurricanes worse than they have been in the past.

Every year, America is pummeled by hurricanes. A Furious Sky will help you put that pummeling into historical context, and add to the majesty, as well as the horrors, of the greatest storms on earth.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Lawrence Roberts's "Mayday 1971"

Lawrence Roberts has been an editor of investigative journalism for most of his career. He’s worked at ProPublica, the Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Hartford Courant, and was executive editor of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

Roberts applied the “Page 99 Test” to his first book, Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest, and reported the following:
A casual browser checking page 99 of Mayday 1971 would encounter themes strikingly similar to the present day, when another embattled U.S. president coming up for re-election deployed federal agents and the military to counter the rage of a social movement. That president was Richard M. Nixon. On Page 99, we learn that his administration was stepping up activities, including illegal surveillance, against activists who were trying to pressure the government to end America’s war in Vietnam. Nixon and his men viewed the antiwar protests as a serious political threat:
A few months after Nixon took over as president, the army’s intelligence command directed agents to collect information on “Anti-War/Anti-Draft Activities, Militant Organizations, Extremists in the Armed Forces, Demonstrations, Rallies, Parades, Marches, Conventions, Conferences, Picketing Activities, Strikes and Labor Disturbances… It turned out that army and navy agents had posed as newsmen to interview and photograph New Left leaders… A newspaper reported that the FBI leased 450 lines from the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company to handle all its wiretaps in Washington.”
I admire and enjoy the Page 99 test; in this case it gives the browser an important but nevertheless partial view of the larger book. Mayday 1971 focuses on the most intense season of dissent ever seen in Washington, and how it set the stage for Watergate and Nixon’s epic fall. During the spring of that year, myriad groups frustrated with Nixon’s expansion of the war into Vietnam’s neighbor, Laos, descended on D.C. for weeks of nearly continuous demonstrations. One group was Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and page 99 lands in the middle of a chapter about one of its key organizers, an Air Force vet named John O’Connor. O’Connor is one of the eight characters whose personal stories I use to tell the larger tale. I won’t spoil the big surprise about him that we learn later in this chapter.

The climax of the book is the climax of that spring’s demonstrations, and the action that most worried the White House: Tens of thousands of people, calling themselves the Mayday Tribe, vowed to mount a blockade of streets, bridges and federal buildings, under the slogan, “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.” It remains the largest act of civil disobedience in American history. How Nixon and his men worked to foil it, and in so doing sowed the seeds of their own demise, is the lesson of Mayday 1971, and one that other leaders ignore at their peril.
Visit Lawrence Roberts's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Mark Evan Bonds's "Beethoven: Variations on a Life"

Mark Evan Bonds is the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he has taught since 1992. A former editor-in-chief of Beethoven Forum, he has written widely on the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Bonds applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Beethoven: Variations on a Life, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford would be happy. Page 99 actually gives a very good sense of my approach to Beethoven, which tries to get us to think about him and listen to his music in ways that go back to his own lifetime. Page 99 points out that Beethoven’s reputation has rested from the very beginning almost entirely on his instrumental music, in spite of the fact that he wrote enormous quantities of vocal music, including an opera, two settings of the Mass, an oratorio, more than a hundred songs, and dozens of choruses. It must have galled him, as I point out on page 99, to read repeated references to himself not simply as the greatest living composer but as the greatest living composer of instrumental music.

In fairness to those critics, this was not so much a dismissal of his vocal works as a recognition of his unique genius for writing for instruments alone. Setting a text to music, as one anonymous critic of a set of six songs argued in 1811, actually “inhibited” Beethoven because it deprived him of the “broad, free field of play” he needed to display his creative gifts to the fullest. And indeed, it was this sense of free imagination—“fantasy,” to use the favored term of the day—that made his music so distinctive. His fantasy took listeners to places they had never been before. Some found the path too difficult to follow, but by the end of Beethoven’s life he had changed the way audiences listened by demanding more of them.

Beethoven’s one opera, Fidelio, also discussed on page 99, provides a case in point of this perceived imbalance between vocal and instrumental music. The work began life as Leonore in 1805, but the composer made substantial revisions to the music, writing no fewer than four different purely instrumental overtures along the way before re-launching the work as Fidelio in 1814. Overtures typically set the mood for the drama to follow, and through all its various versions that drama remained serious indeed. Leonore, who has disguised herself as a man (“Fidelio”), secures employment in a prison in order to free her husband, Florestan, who has been unjustly incarcerated because of his political beliefs. One of the four overtures, now known as the “Third Leonore Overture,” is a brilliant encapsulation of the plot through instruments alone; it was so powerful, in fact, that it effectively overwhelmed the stage action that followed, and Beethoven wisely wrote an entirely new and much shorter overture. He published the earlier one separately in tacit acknowledgment that it was, in effect, too dramatic in spite of—or more to the point, because of—the absence of words. Thus even Beethoven recognized a sizable grain of truth in what contemporary critics had to say about him.
Learn more about Beethoven: Variations on a Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue