Friday, March 31, 2023

James O. Young's "A History of Western Philosophy of Music"

James O. Young is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Victoria. His books include Art and Knowledge (2001), Cultural Appropriation and the Arts (2008), and Critique of Pure Music (2014) and Radically Rethinking Copyright in the Arts (2020).

Young applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A History of Western Philosophy of Music, and reported the following:
Fortuitously, page 99 would give a reader a good idea about my book. At the highest level of generality, a major claim of A History of Western Philosophy of Music is that the central debate in philosophy has always asked whether music is appreciated as contentless form or whether it is heard as having a relation to something extra-musical (usually emotion). In other words, the question of whether musical beauty is autonomous or not has been ubiquitous.

In the ancient world, several writers on music believed that music is primarily appreciated for formal qualities such as proportion and balance. Some of these writers, notably Ptolemy, believed that music’s proportion and balance are appreciated for their own sake. Many of these writers, including Augustine and Plotinus, believed that listeners appreciate these formal properties because they reflect the proportion and order of divinely-created reality. Other ancient writers held that music is an imitative art was widespread and it was adopted by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Aristides Quintilianus is typical of such thinkers when he writes that “music imitates the characters and passions of the soul.” In the middle ages, the view that music is valuable due to its order and harmonious proportions was widely-adopted and very little is said of musical expression or music’s relation to emotion. In the early modern period the same division of opinion about music re-emerges. One school of thought, which stretches from Gioseffo Zarlino in the sixteenth century to Descartes in the seventeenth and Rameau in the eighteenth, held that music was valuable as a result of its harmonic form. The other early modern school begins with the revival of ancient philosophy of music by the Florentine Camerata and continues into the eighteenth century in thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These thinkers adopted a version of the resemblance theory of musical expressiveness and held that music is expressive of emotion by resembling human expressive behaviour. In the contemporary world, the debate is between formalists and their anti-formalist opponents but the debate has raged from the earliest days of philosophy of music.
Learn more about A History of Western Philosophy of Music at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Kimberly Quiogue Andrews's "The Academic Avant-Garde"

Kimberly Quiogue Andrews is an assistant professor of English at the University of Ottawa. She is the author of two collections of poetry, A Brief History of Fruit, winner of the Akron Prize for poetry, and BETWEEN, winner of the New Women’s Voices award.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Academic Avant-Garde: Poetry and the American University, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Academic Avant-Garde contains a break that moves the reader from the second to the third section of my chapter on Jorie Graham and the work of teaching. The end of the section (at the top of the page) reads as follows:

“The freedom, in other words, comes from speaking a private language. The pleasure comes from giving that language away.”

That’s how I describe the peculiar situation of being an “experimental” creative writer: on the one hand, you retain a degree of autonomy by producing relatively hermetic work—work, that is, that isn’t beholden to market expectations. On the other hand, though, you still need readers, and of course there’s always pleasure in the idea that others are reading your writing, even if (or maybe particularly when) it’s very difficult. So the “private language” of avant-garde literature is always, one way or another, giving itself away, and that dynamic—particularly the way it structures the interplay between poets who work in the university and the critics that are often just down the hall from them—informs the entirety of The Academic Avant-Garde. So the top of the page absolutely passes the test.

The rest of the page delves a little more deeply into the particular contradiction of teaching at the university level, which is both the thing that buys many writers the chance to write while also (a) taking time away from writing (this is why professors, despite the job title, complain so much about teaching) and (b) forcing one to “disclose” the tricks of the trade. I don’t really deal with this specific matter anywhere other than this chapter, and if one were to only read this page, they might get the impression that the book is entirely about creative writing pedagogy. But there’s a focus on labor, here, that underlies how the book itself is organized. “Teaching,” the page says, “is very obviously labor in the traditional sense” because “it is a specific service done for a wage”—this is why “it is the [type of academic work] that feels the most like work.” The rest of the book deals with activities that feel less like waged work: reading and research. Nevertheless, these too are part of the job, and they all find their way into American avant-garde poetry as that poetry gets written more and more under the auspices of that very job.
Visit Kimberly Quiogue Andrews's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Geoffrey Block's "A Fine Romance"

Geoffrey Block is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music History and Humanities at the University of Puget Sound. He is the series editor for Oxford's Broadway Legacies and has published widely on American musical theater and film. His books include Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from “Show Boat” to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber and The Richard Rodgers Reader.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A Fine Romance: Adapting Broadway to Hollywood in the Studio System Era, and reported the following:
This is what happens when you turn to page 99 in A Fine Romance: the page begins with the final paragraph of a discussion of Call Me Madam, a popular stage musical from 1950 that was successfully adapted into a film musical three years later. The musical features music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and the huge star Ethel Merman on both stage and film versions. So far in the chapter readers have learned how the stage and film versions are both similar and different, including how and why one major song was replaced in the film and two others were deleted entirely in the transfer from stage and film. The first lines of page 99 come at the end of this story when they explain how the film version alters the context of the song “It’s a Lovely Day,” which appears in both versions, and alters its presentation from a non-diegetic stage song (a song in which the characters don’t know they’re singing) to a diegetic film song (where the characters are fully aware they are singing a great tune by Berlin). Both the characters and film viewers even get to see a close-up of the sheet music with Berlin’s picture on the cover.

What happens next on page 99 is the beginning of a new section about the last song to be introduced in the stage version, an “11 o’clock number”—“a show-stopping song designed to wake up an audience toward the end of an evening about 11:00 P.M. in the days when musicals started at 8:30 P.M and ended about 11:30 P.M.—called “You’re Just in Love” (99). The text explains that this song was a late addition that came about when Merman asked her friend Berlin to write a song that featured the star in a duet with her talented young co-star Russell Nype. “You’re Just in Love,” which quickly became the hit of the show, is a counterpoint song, “a Berlin specialty, a song-type that presents two (usually) contrasting melodies and lyrics successively before combining them simultaneously” (99). Nype sings a romantic love-song type of tune against Merman’s rhythmic and faster-moving counter line. The rest of the page is devoted to an explanation of the song’s context and what the characters are conveying in their individual tunes both before and after they sing them together.

Overall, browsers looking at page 99 would get a good idea of the work as a whole, which devotes considerable attention throughout to how stage musicals and their film adaptations treat songs and dances both similarly and differently. At the top of the page they get a sense of how one song (“It’s a Lovely Day”) was used in the film version and after that how another song, “You’re Just in Love,” was used on the stage. Browsers who turn the page would learn the song’s screen treatment and discover a musical example of the two melodies sounding together in counterpoint. And if browsers continued to break the rules and turn one more page they would discover an entire page devoted to a both a stage photo of Merman singing “You’re Just in Love” with Nype and a screenshot of Merman and Donald O’Connor singing the same song in the film. Thus with only a little cheating page 99 could serve as a reliable shortcut to the book’s content and approach. All that’s missing is one of the periodic connecting links that convey the central conclusions of this chapter and the book as a whole.

The larger context of the musical and dramatic changes from stage to film in Call Me Madam hinted at on page 99 is the transition between two sharply differing approaches to the adaptation process. Before 1950, film studios were not particularly concerned with producing faithful adaptations and employed studio composers to replace stage songs with new film songs that catered to their stable of popular film stars. The first film musical discussed in this chapter, On the Town (1949), illustrates this approach when it removed most of Leonard Bernstein’s now-acclaimed stage score. The new decade brought with it a new desire for more faithful film adaptations that preserved most of the original stage score and often one or more cast members from the original stage version. The film adaptation of Call Me Madam illustrates this now marketable approach with in which the film studios preserved nearly the entire Broadway score and Ethel Merman repeated her starring stage role. By converting the non-dancing Russell Nype with Donald O’Connor, who both sang and could make a suitable partner for great dancer Vera-Ellen, the film version also added an exciting new dimension destined to please a new film audience.
Learn more about A Fine Romance at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

William Jankowiak's "Illicit Monogamy"

William Jankowiak is professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the author of Sex, Death, and Hierarchy in a Chinese City: An Anthropological Account (1993) as well as the editor of Romantic Passion: A Universal Experience? (1995) and Intimacies: Love and Sex Across Cultures (2008), among other books.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Illicit Monogamy: Inside a Fundamentalist Mormon Community, and reported the following:
Page 99 is close but incomplete in encapsulating a recurrent theme: the tension between embracing a cosmologically inspired ideal that says plural love is superior to monogamous love, while often lapsing into unvoiced non-pluralistic pair bonds. The page also summarizes the community’s folk idea that a “good” wife is obedient, devoted, and kindhearted and the “ideal” husband has leadership ability, can provide for his growing family, and is fair to all his wives. The ideal in practice is seldom achieved with husbands often disdaining wives who embody the ideal in preference for a wife who is smart, opinionated, and interesting to converse with.

The book strives to divert the readers’ attention from the expected political economy and sexual economy which has been most of the popular discourse on polygynous families recently, and take them into the psychodynamics of it all, and especially the tension between the cosmological-theological rationale and the psychodynamics of everyday life.

Unlike the usual journalism that names names or the usual ethnography that names fake names, the book dispense with that style out of sensitivity to the community’s wants and gratitude for their cooperation to make a more vivid argument grounded in individual examples that become archetypes of people in a matrix of social relations, but at the same time highlighting how different people act and react, think and feel, differently even in the same structural matrix.
Learn more about Illicit Monogamy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2023

Zachary Jonathan Jacobson's "On Nixon's Madness"

Zachary Jonathan Jacobson is the author of On Nixon’s Madness: An Emotional History. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in U.S. History with a focus on the Cold War. He is a Community Scholar with the Society of U.S. Intellectual History and the American Institute of Thought at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Chronicle of Higher Education as well as journals including Presidential Studies Quarterly and Cold War History. He is currently writing The Saints and the Navigators: A Storied History of the Early Cold War.

Jacobson applied the "Page 99 Test" to On Nixon’s Madness and reported the following:
Rather than expound on the many themes of On Nixon's Madness, half of page 99 is taken up with a photograph of First Lady Pat Nixon on a diplomatic trip to a Polynesian village in January 1972, poised, bedecked in a crown of flowers. On first glance Pat appears to live up to her image as "Plastic Pat," ever a plastered smile across her face, her posture "stiff as an asparagus." Like her husband, Pat was a great performer. Her husband called her one of the great actresses of her time. Her cheeriness appears instrumental, a political trick to fashion the pleasing image of a satisfied wife. During her husband's time in office, she indeed garnered laurels for the Housemaker of the Year and Mother of the Year. Yet as I write in this book, as for Richard's pleasant stories of his childhood, Pat's sentimental sheen served not just political ends but a way to protect her from more unsettling feeling. "Plastic Pat" was not forever poised. She did not grow up in Camelot but in a dirt-poor tent community with a mother who died young and an abusive father. Pat soon learned how to take care of herself. She had little choice. She developed a constricted, ascetic ethos from early on to persevere and never to complain. On Nixon’s Madness examines the complications of such an ethos for both Nixons. Contrary to the former president’s image as a grump nonpareil, he also relished in the sentimental, time and again demanding from his speechwriters more schmaltz in his speeches, more stories of “warm instead of brittle,” of impossibly good children. Like Pat, Richard had a terribly difficult childhood that he found difficult to remember in the raw. As he told Kissinger, “Like Lot’s wife, Henry, never look back.” As this book explores, for both Richard and Nixon, their sentimentalism allowed them to emote a tremendous amount of care to the American people and, at the same time, protect them from more troubling feeling that might overwhelm.
Visit Zachary Jonathan Jacobson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Stevan M. Weine's "Best Minds"

Stevan M. Weine is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, where he is also Director of Global Medicine and Director of the Center for Global Health. He is the author of When History Is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Testimony and Catastrophe: Narrating the Traumas of Political Violence.

Weine applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poetry from Madness, and reported the following:
Most of Best Minds’ page 99 is a 1953 photograph of Ginsberg’s lifelong friend Carl Solomon smiling and sitting cross legged on a bed, with two short paragraphs above which read:
When in 1986 I told Allen his diagnosis at PI was “pseudoneurotic-type schizophrenia,” I was surprised to hear he thought the diagnosis was accurate and to his liking. Allen said the constructs of pan-neurosis, pan-anxiety, and pan-sexuality were fairly apt descriptions of his situation, although he said he was not having much sex in those days. He really liked the idea that psychosis is near and accessible, which, notably, he saw as a good thing.

At PI, Allen had the amazingly good fortune to meet another patient named Carl Solomon, a young Dadaist from the Bronx who had read Genet, Artaud, Breton, Rimbaud, and Gide. They first met in the clinic, a week before Allen’s admission. Allen wrote in his journal, “This is a real madhouse—what a weird feeling,” and was taken by “a secret conspiracy of the great dichotomy—the lunatic v.s. society.”
In Best Minds, the Page 99 Test partially works. Page 99 contains several key elements of the overall book: new revelatory information about Ginsberg’s experiences of psychiatric treatment from never before seen psychiatric records and direct interviews with Ginsberg; fresh and revealing looks at key people in Ginsberg’s life - such as Carl Solomon; evocative photographs and other images; and a multidisciplinary lens where the literary and the psychiatric perspectives speak to one another.

On the other hand, unmentioned on 99 are: Allen’s mother Naomi, diagnosed with schizophrenia and lobotomized, but nonetheless his muse; new readings of Allen’s poems which deal with madness, including of course “Howl” and “Kaddish,” as well as poems inspired by his 1948 Blake visions; understanding how Ginsberg ended up at PI (the New York State Psychiatric Institute), how he was treated there, and the impact of this experience on his development as a young man and as a poet.

I like that page 99 shares Ginsberg’s belief that psychosis, or more broadly madness, is a key part of life which should be acknowledged, accepted, even embraced. This from a man who didn’t romanticize mental illness or madness, and knew very well the suffering it could entail, but nonetheless, saw its value, for individuals, culture, and society.

I love that page 99 introduces Carl Solomon, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions in New York City in the 1980’s. I knew of Solomon from “Howl,” which turned Carl into a Beat legend (“Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland”), but I came to know him as a sweet, humorous, and brilliant man and accomplished author in his own right. Solomon memorably said that he didn’t fit in so well with the other Beats who had celebrated madness, such as Jack Kerouac, because he was a genuine psychotic, unlike the others who he said were more neurotics.

Ginsberg maintained a friendship with Solomon over many years, as well as several other writers and artists with mental health problems who needed his support to keep them out of trouble. This is one way he stood by his belief that madness wasn’t something to hide from, shut up, or put away. Rather, it is an essential part of life that must be acknowledged and engaged and if handled with care and respected and heard with compassion and support for its miseries, may lead to spiritual, political, and social breakthroughs.
Learn more about Best Minds at the Fordham University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Ari Joskowicz's "Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust"

Ari Joskowicz is associate professor of Jewish studies, history, and European studies at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Modernity of Others: Jewish Anti-Catholicism in Germany and France.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust, and reported the following:
Page 99 concludes the end of my discussion of a major postwar survey conducted by Belgian administrators during the early 1950s. By this point, readers have learned that the people behind this initiative had invited 403 Jews to speak about their persecution under Nazism—and, surprisingly, also decided to ask them about the experiences of people persecuted as “Gypsies.” I seek to understand why they did this and what we can learn from their choice to venture beyond a focus on Jewish suffering alone, concluding with this paragraph:
Goldstein’s survey was revolutionary in the Belgian context. It not only identified but also singled out Jews as victims of racial persecution and prepared reports on their deportation from Belgium and France that could support Jewish claims for compensation and recognition. Originally “forgotten victims” themselves, Belgian Jews were asked to speak about the experiences of another largely ignored victim group whose fate they only knew from distant observation. Even those Jews who suggested that Roma had been treated worse than Jews indirectly found their experiences recognized as the benchmark for the treatment of racial persecutees. The questionnaires that illustrate the silencing of Roma thus enabled the empowerment of Jews. This is the enduring paradox of the Goldstein commission’s documentation work.
A new section entitled “The First Romani Archives of the Holocaust” then begins. Placing this Belgian survey into its larger context, the first paragraph of this section tackles the question of why so few people cared to talk to Roma themselves about their experiences. It reads:
Just as the Belgian questionnaires produced knowledge about Roma while centering the position of Jewish victims, Romani Holocaust Studies would eventually emerge as a field dominated by historians trained to study the Jewish Holocaust, while Romani Studies largely remained the domain of linguists, musicologists, anthropologists, social workers, and folklorists. […] This bifurcation meant that those who could speak to large numbers of Roma and had the resources to record their statements for posterity gave little support to historians who began their work decades after the fact.
The discussions that appear on page 99 are surprisingly representative and central to the argument of Rain of Ash. In the book, I trace the story of the unusual relationship between two heterogeneous groups both operating in the shadow of a shared genocide. I start with the little-known story of how Roma and Jews suffered next to each other, exposed to the images, sounds, and smells of the other group’s destruction, even as they remained largely ignorant of each other’s histories. I then show how initiatives such as the one in Belgium brought Jews and Roma together in unexpected ways, as Jewish survivors started to organize to demand justice and seek recognition, first for the genocide experienced by their own people and, with time, also for Romani victims of Nazi genocide. Such efforts first took shape as individual Jewish scholars, community leaders, and lawyers began to write about the Romani Holocaust in the 1950s and 1960s—and to use that knowledge to fight for compensation for them. By the 1980s, Romani and Jewish activists and intellectuals began to work cooperatively toward similar ends, yet the asymmetry of their relationship remained palpable throughout. The book follows this story through the contemporary moment, at a time when Jewish and Romani youth have for the first time created shared spaces of commemoration, regularly campaign for each other’s rights, and find new means of speaking about a relationship that remains unequal into the present.

The passages on page 99 mark one crucial turning point in how these developments played out in the immediate postwar period. They also offer an example of the complicated dynamics that shape this unequal relationship. While later parts of the book revolve around the experiences of Romani survivors in a world shaped by the memory of the Jewish Holocaust, in this early period of testimony collection Roma often remained completely unheard. As in many court cases, legal proceedings, and early historical works, the example above Jewish experiences served as a yardstick that could be used either to make the untold story of Romani suffering audible or to downplay the suffering of Roma. Ultimately, this is a book about the monetary, legal, and conceptual structures that shape how we get to know the past, as well as the moral choices entailed in the writing of history.
Learn more about Rain of Ash at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2023

Christine Kenneally's "Ghosts of the Orphanage"

Christine Kenneally is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, Time, New Scientist, Scientific American, The Monthly, and other publications. Her book, The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures, was a New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014, winner of the Bragg UNSW Prize for Science Writing, shortlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize and the 2015 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, and appeared on many "best of" lists. Her first book, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Before becoming a reporter, Kenneally received a Ph.D. in linguistics from Cambridge University and a B.A. (Hons) in English and Linguistics from Melbourne University. She was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, and has lived in England, Iowa, and Brooklyn, New York. She was a senior contributor at BuzzFeed News for 4 years, working on an American orphanage story. Published in August 2018, the story was viewed more than six million times in six months. It won a Deadline Award and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, a Michael Kelly Award and an Online Journalism Award. It was shortlisted for the Fetisov Prize. Her book, Ghosts of the Orphanage: A Story of Mysterious Deaths, a Conspiracy of Silence, and a Search for Justice, expands the story told in the article.

Kenneally applied the "Page 99 Test" to Ghosts of the Orphanage and reported the following:
Page 69:
Chapter 6
We must be aware my dear Sisters that education is by far the most excellent art of reaching the students. We must first show them dignity and Christian upbringing. It is the Holy Spirit that elevates these young people’s soul.

—Reports of Provincial Superior of Official Visits to St. Joseph’s Orphanage, April 23, 1948
It turned out that the nuns were right about Sally bringing back things from the outside world into the closed world of the orphanage. She has changed. They still beat her and lock her into frightening spaces, but after her time with the Pelkeys, Sally decides she isn’t going to scream any- more. She is going to stick up for other children, too, and when she is in trouble, she is not going to cry. Sometimes after she had been in the attic or the nuns beat her for doing something wrong, she makes a point of folding her arms and smiling at them once they are done.

Her refusal to cry makes all the nuns angry, but Sister James Mary seems to take it the most personally. Sally no longer fits into the pad box, so Sister James Mary tells her to climb inside a big empty metal water tank in the attic. Sally was so stubborn, Sister James Mary said, she wouldn’t cry or do anything. This may be the most confusing part of life with the nuns. They want Sally to cry when they want her to cry. It shows they can make her do what they want. But if she cries when they don’t want her to cry, then they really give her something to cry about. When they do that, they won’t stop until Sally stops crying.

Sister James Mary makes Sally climb up a little ladder on the outside of the tank. Then she pulls the lid shut.

At first, alone in the dark, Sally screams to be let out. But the echoes in the tank make it sound like other people are in there with her. It just about scares her to death. So she makes herself very quiet instead.

Sally tries not to move and doesn’t push against the lid. It is hard to tell how much time has passed. It is so still and so black, she is pretty sure that two days have passed by the time Irene finds her.
In fact, page 99 of Ghosts of the Orphanage aptly demonstrates one of the book's most important themes--the enormous gap between the written record and life as it was really lived. The page begins with a quote from a 1948 supervisor's report for the Sisters of Providence at St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont. The supervisor reminds her sister nuns that dignity and christian values are paramount. It's characteristic of much of the Sisters' documentation, which is aspirational, positive, even noble. Page 99 then goes on to describe an episode in the life of the orphan Sally Dale, one of the book's real life protagonists. Sally had recently been returned to the orphanage from her stay with a family in the outside world. The orphanage nuns were clearly terrified that she would bring 'bad things back with her, which I believe meant they were afraid they wouldn't be able to control her as easily. The nuns were cruel and abusive, but indeed Sally had gained strength from being treated well in a family. Now when the nuns mistreat her, Sally refuses to cry. Provoked by this, the nuns escalate their terrible treatment. Sally still won't cry, and in doing so, she becomes stronger and stronger. Of course there are other themes and surprising counter examples to this theme in the book. One of the most striking elements in the documentation of the order is how often the nuns are enjoined to stay silent and never comment on or discuss what priests in the orphanage are up to. Over and over, the written record makes a virtue of what now looks a lot like explicit collusion.
Visit Christine Kenneally's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Word.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gary Smith's "Distrust"

Gary Smith is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University and was an Assistant Professor there for seven years. He has won two teaching awards and written (or co-authored) more than 100 academic papers and 15 books. He is the author of The AI Delusion (2018) and co-author with Jay Cordes of The 9 Pitfalls of Data Science (2019), which won the 2020 Prose Award for Excellence in Popular Science & Popular Mathematics by the Association of American Publishers.

Smith applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Distrust: Big Data, Data-Torturing, and the Assault on Science, and reported the following:
I was skeptical when asked to try the Page 99 Test: Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.

I appreciate the power of random sampling but I also recognize the importance of sampling size. One page? Yet, if it can only be a single page, the number 99 is appealing. The initial and last pages are likely to be unrepresentative. Page 100 is closer to the middle of most books but it is a suspiciously round number. The number 99 sounds like it has been selected on the basis of some kind of scientific study. So, page 99 it is.

Here is page 99 of Distrust (the initial bracketed text is from the bottom of page 98 and is included because it is needed to understand the beginning of page 99):
[Page and Brin’s 1998 graduate school paper describing the Google algorithm anticipated the inability of search engines to distinguish between fact and] fiction and their vulnerability to manipulation by corporations peddling products:
There is virtually no control over what people can put on the web. Couple this flexibility to publish anything with the enormous influence of search engines to route traffic and companies which deliberately manipulate search engines for profit become a serious problem.
They did not anticipate manipulation for political reasons.

The easy access and wide reach of the Internet in general and social media in particular allows pretty much anyone to say pretty much anything and perhaps find a receptive audience, including such evidence-free assertions as the Earth is flat; school shootings are false-flag operations; and Bill Gates orchestrated the COVID19 crisis so that he can use vaccines to insert microchips in our bodies.

Ironically, such far-fetched nonsense is the kind of dragon that science was intended to slay, but now the dragons of fanciful delusion are more powerful than ever because of the Internet and social media that science created and developed. Like a Frankenstein monster that has gotten out of control, the Internet powers the anti-science movement. Too many people have reacted to the heroic successes of scientists in developing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with distrust, disinformation, and refusals to be vaccinated.

The costs of rejecting science are enormous, not just for scientists and anti- scientists, but for society as a whole.
I am definitely surprised by how well page 99 captures the content and style of the book. It may not be the very best page—it may not even be above-average—but it is remarkably apt. On the other hand, Distrust argues that there are three ways (disinformation, data torturing, and data mining) in which the hard-won reputation of science is being undermined. Page 99 only touches on the disinformation prong of the three-pronged assault, so it may mislead browsers into thinking that Distrust is just a book about the internet and social media.

I wager that this myopia is common. If a book covers a variety of topics or makes a complex argument, a single page is unlikely to capture the breadth of the work. On the other hand, the Page 99 test asserts that this page will reveal “the quality of the whole,” which may have more to do with the style of writing than the content. If so, then—for better or worse—I think a Page 99 Test of Distrust succeeds.
Visit Gary Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Dean King's "Guardians of the Valley"

Dean King is an award-winning author of ten nonfiction books. He crossed the Sahara on camels and in Land Rovers while researching Skeletons on the Zahara, trekked the Long March trail in the mountains of Western China for Unbound, and was shot at while researching The Feud in Appalachia. For his most recent book, Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship that Saved Yosemite, King traveled to John Muir’s boyhood homes in Dunbar, Scotland, and rural Wisconsin and spent months roaming Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.

King applied the "Page 99 Test" to Guardians of the Valley and reported the following:
Alas, page 99 of Guardians of the Valley is a service page and prelude to “Part 2: Making the Mountains Glad,” Muir’s phrase explaining his reason for founding the Sierra Club, which he will soon do. While this page, containing two brief lists of presidents and interior secretaries, does not give you a sense of the narrative style or soul of the book, it does tell you a few things.

The epic story of John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson’s efforts to create and shape Yosemite National Park and to save the American landscape take place over four decades, involving six presidents, even more interior secretaries, and countless Congressional leaders, state politicians, and powerbrokers. The political landscape is an essential element of the story. This page tells you that the action in the next seven chapters takes place during the administrations of Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley, from 1889 to 1901. Five secretaries of the interior served during that time, and Johnson would call the first of these, John Noble, in the role from 1889 to 1893, “officially the pioneer of the conservation movement in this country” (a veiled dig at the attention-grabbing “Wilderness Warrior,” Theodore Roosevelt).

Page 99 of Guardians shows that the book’s historical context is accessible and handy. If the ghost of an image on the preceding blank page tempts you to turn it, a spectacular century-old photograph of Half Dome on the other side just might hook you. And if you flip forward from page 99, you will find one of my favorite chapters, which recounts the rather humorous first meeting of Muir, the California nature savant, and Johnson, an urbane New York City magazine editor, at the grand Palace Hotel in San Francisco, followed by their groundbreaking visit to the even grander Yosemite Valley, a visit that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Dean King's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Feud.

--Marshal Zeringue