Sunday, February 28, 2010

Susan Wise Bauer's "The History of the Medieval World"

Susan Wise Bauer is the best-selling author of the Story of the World series for elementary students, author of The Art of the Public Grovel, The Well-Educated Mind, The History of the Ancient World and The History of the Medieval World, and the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. She is a faculty member in English at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, where she teaches writing and literature.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade and reported the following:
It’s impossible to write a world history. I didn’t realize this when I decided to write one. In fact, I got all the way through the first volume (The History of the Ancient World) and halfway through the second before I figured out just how impossible it was. All of these little countries were arising, each with their own separate written history, and there seemed to be no way to pull all the narratives together into one.

After writing six hundred thousand words, I was completely submerged in stories and couldn’t see my way out. Finally a friend pointed me in the right direction: “Forget that you’re writing the history of the whole world,” he said, “and instead write the story you find.”

I’m not exactly sure how he meant me to take that Zen-like advice, but that’s when I saw how to finish the book. Instead of writing “The History Of The Entire World And All The Countries Therein,” I had to find the one thread that seemed to run the strongest through that history and follow it. So I didn’t write the history of the medieval world; I wrote the history of how medieval kings and generals used religion to get what they wanted--and of how their subjects let them get away with it.

This turned out to be a good strong thread. It pulled together a lot of gaping seams in the narrative, and it allowed me to decide what events (and people) to ignore. It united the narratives of east and west, and even connected them with the pre-Columbian Americas. It also allowed me to chop that huge bloated narrative down to a trim, readable (I hope) 250,000 words.

I love page 99 in The History of the Medieval World because it shows how religion--not just Christianity and Islam, but religion-- pervaded medieval statebuilding. It’s the last page of Chapter Fourteen, “The Gupta Decline,” which chronicles the fading of the Gupta empire of India between 415 and 480. The page begins in the middle of a sentence, which starts, “Theraveda Buddhism, dominant in India, taught that
reasoning, mindfulness, and concentration would lead the mind to enlightenment; in slight contrast, Mayahana Buddhism, which tended to dominate the Chinese experience, stressed prayer, faith, divine revelation, emotion.

With its greater emphasis on reasoning and thought, Theravada Buddhism placed a higher value on the monastic existence, which allowed the believer to put all of his energies into study and meditation. Certainly Theravada Buddhism gave no help to an army officer or minor king who wanted to conquer an empire. It was diametrically opposed to earthly conquest, and rather than binding its adherents together under one flag, it encouraged them to live side by side while seeking individual enlightenment.

Which is exactly what the landscape of India in the fifth century reflected. Perhaps Theravada Buddhism helped to produce the patchwork profile of India; or perhaps the Indian patchwork made the country particularly suited to Theravada Buddhism. Either way, the result was the same. All across the Indian countryside, kingdoms existed side by side: each pursuing its own individual goals, none of them dominating the rest.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Wise Bauer's blog and website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 26, 2010

Suzanne E. Smith's "To Serve the Living"

Suzanne E. Smith is Associate Professor of History, George Mason University, and author of To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book and reported the following:
I am happy to report that my new book, To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, passed the "Page 99 test" with flying colors. In the book, I argue that funeral directors have been central figures in African American culture from the time of slavery through the present and their efforts to "serve the living" are as important—if not more important—than their work burying dead. As entrepreneurs in a largely segregated trade, they were among the few black individuals in any community who were economically independent and not beholden to the local white power structure. For this reason, they often became important community leaders, politicians, and civil rights activists. During the Jim Crow era, black funeral directors both relied on racial segregation to secure their foothold in America's capitalist marketplace, but also used their funeral homes to fight against racial segregation. They did this by offering their funeral homes as sites for civil rights organizing and also more directly as a refuge from the indignities of racial segregation. This quote from page 99 of my book specifically addresses this phenomenon:
In 1937, Robert A. Cole marked his tenth anniversary as president and owner of MFSA [Metropolitan Funeral System Association] by announcing plans to build a new company headquarters as well as a separate new building for the Metropolitan Funeral Parlors. Cole's vision for this project again reflected the belief that black businesses and funeral homes should serve their communities by offering much-needed space for public gatherings and social events. When it opened in September 1940, the new MFSA headquarters, located at 4455 South Parkway, was described by the black press as "a modern business palace [with] beautifully appointed air conditioned offices." The main floor housed the company's offices while the second floor featured the elegant Parkway Ballroom, which--like Nashville's Greenwood Park--offered black Chicagoans an entertainment venue free from the humiliations of Jim Crow discrimination.
My book also examines how African American funeral directors' skills at embalming and managing funerals could have direct political implications during the civil rights era. Specifically, I analyze famous civil rights funerals including Emmett Till's funeral, Medgar Evers's funeral, and Malcolm X's funeral to illustrate how African American funeral rituals could easily become politically charged events. Finally, the book uses the funerals of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King to give new historic perspective on the election of President Barack Obama.
Read an excerpt from To Serve the Living, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jason K. Dempsey's "Our Army"

Jason K. Dempsey is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan. He has a PhD in political science from Columbia University and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations, and reported the following:
Conventional wisdom holds that the American military is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, and extremely political. Our Army: Soldiers, Politics and American Civil-Military Relations paints a more complex picture, demonstrating that while army officers are likely to be more conservative, rank-and-file soldiers hold political views that mirror those of the American public as a whole, and army personnel are less partisan and politically engaged than most civilians.

The book is based on two groundbreaking studies of the social and political attitudes of military personnel conducted prior to the 2004 election. The primary study, of the active-duty army, was the first ever to address the attitudes of junior officers and enlisted soldiers in addition to studying the army’s senior ranks. The second study was a similar survey of West Point cadets conducted on the eve of the election.

Page 99 of Our Army is a fortuitous choice for discussion as it presents one of the key findings to come from my analysis: Members of the army are much less likely than civilians to consider themselves a member of either the Republican or Democratic Party. Only 43% of those serving in the army identify themselves with a party, compared to 65% of the broader American population. While this may be surprising to many, it makes sense when one remembers that the bulk of the military is made up of 18 to 24 year-old males—a demographic not prone to political participation. Indeed, the data reveal that there are two distinct populations in the army. There are senior officers, whose attitudes and opinions are the most likely to be studied and discussed, and the rest of the army, who are rarely studied but often assumed to mirror those in the senior ranks. This study reveals that this is not the case, and that the majority of the military looks very much like the population from which members of the military are drawn.

For those interested in military attitudes and public opinion polling, the analysis around page 99 presents data and findings that have previously been unavailable. The earlier chapters place these findings in historical context while the later chapters discuss the implications of these findings for the relationship between Americans and their military.
Read an excerpt from Our Army, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iain McLean's "What's Wrong with the British Constitution?"

Iain McLean is Professor of Politics at Oxford University, and a fellow of Nuffield College. He has previously worked at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Warwick, and held visiting appointments at Washington & Lee, Stanford, Yale and Australian National universities. He has written copiously about UK public policy, political history, and historical applications of rational choice theory. McLean is a Fellow of the British Academy. His book State of the Union was awarded the W. J. M. McKenzie Book Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What's Wrong with the British Constitution?, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, What’s wrong with the British constitution? begins alas with a tired metaphor, but as it happens gets to one of my main themes. The book is an attack on the heirs of Sir William Blackstone and A. V. Dicey, who argue that the British constitution is (and/or ought to be) based on unlimited parliamentary sovereignty. If Diceyan parliamentary sovereignty is correct, then the parliament of the United Kingdom can do anything except bind its successor; and if later statutes contradict earlier ones, the later repeals the earlier even if it does not explicitly say so.

I contest this on various grounds, one of them being that this view is determinedly English, and ignorant of Scotland and Ireland. As regards Scotland, the Acts of Union 1706-7 are three fundamental constitutional documents, which contained provisions for their own entrenchment. They are still in force. As regards Ireland, my book studies the constitutional crisis of 1909-14 at length. The elected house of Parliament, the House of Commons, wanted to tax land values and to grant ‘home rule’ – that is, a measure of devolution – to Ireland. But the two unelected houses, the House of Lords and the monarchy, blocked the elected house with all their might and main. One of the main blockers was the same A. V. Dicey, who primordially hated home Rule. He therefore did all in his power to ensure a deadlock such that Parliament could not be sovereign. Page 99 explains the contradiction in the thought of Dicey and other Unionists (as those opposed to Irish Home Rule were called):
The elephant in the room was the Irish Party – the partisan veto player in the Parliaments of 1910-18. That party, although internally fissile, had totally dominated parliamentary representation in Ireland since the franchise extension of 1884. Its bloc of at least 80 seats gave it partisan veto power in the Parliaments of 1885-6, 1892-4, January - December 1910 and 1910-18. That is no disproof, but rather a confirmation, of Duverger’s Law. Understood properly, Duverger’s Law operates at district level, not at national level. In the Catholic five-sixths of Ireland (and the Scotland division of Liverpool), Duverger’s Law delivered such hegemony to the Irish Party that many of its seats were uncontested (hence the apparent, but not real, over-representation shown in Table 4.1). Given that, all the responsiveness of the plurality electoral system was insufficient to deliver a single-party Commons majority in these four Parliaments. The Unionists were determined that Ireland must remain in the Union; but they overlooked the fact that as long as it remained in the Union, it would send a disaffected bloc of 80 MPs determined to weaken the Union and in a position to insist on their programme in every hung parliament. Despite their three election victories, Liberal and Irish Party voters remained beggars with the ballot in their hands. Land value tax, the subject of this chapter, was but one of several policies vetoed or delayed, because they threatened the material interest of the landowning class.

Thus, while the Lords’ victory over the 1909 Budget was Pyrrhic, their victory over land taxes was real. The conventional, ‘forward-marchish’ view of British political history holds, in caricature, that the bad guys won in 1909; the People then intervened and the good guys won in 1911, putting the bad guys back in their red padded box. Actually, the Lords, and the landed interest that they represented, did better than that. We return to this in Chapter 7. Meanwhile, we turn to the even bigger upset of Ireland.
Learn more about What's Wrong with the British Constitution? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jennifer K. Stuller's "Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors"

Jennifer K. Stuller is a writer and journalist, specializing in gender and sexuality in popular culture. She has been researching and speaking internationally on superwomen for over a decade.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors is in the chapter titled, “Love Will Bring You to Your Gift” – a chapter that explores how themes of redemption, collaboration and compassion play out in the lives of female heroes and what they might say about gender. The majority of the page uses examples from Dark Angel and Xena, Warrior Princess to illustrate specific points, but one passage in particular exemplifies larger themes that appear throughout the book, as well as the underlying mission that drove the project itself:
Compassion is an act of selfless love often born out of empathy and an essential component of the love ethic that drives heroes to action without expectation of reward. Superman acts out of his love for his adopted home world, and as that great mantra from the Spider-Man mythos points out, there is an understanding that “with great power comes great responsibility,” which underscores that our gifts are to be used for the greater good. They protect because it is just, as do superwomen, but again, the latter take heroic themes to a higher level. Their compassionate actions not only save others, but also inspire them to find and perfect the heroic in themselves.
When looking at how the journey of the female hero differs from the traditional Campbellian model, it’s obviously necessary to question the ways in which each are gendered, something I do throughout this section of the book. (In the previous section I explore how ideas about gender, sex roles, and indeed heroism, are influenced by the social mores of a particular time and place.) The whole of this chapter looks at the emphasis on “love” as motivation for female heroes, and whether that is empowering or reinforces cultural ideas about women as nurturers. This passage from page 99 looks at how both male and female heroes act out of compassion and how superwomen have taken it a step further to inspire people to be heroes too, working with others instead of merely for them. So in a sense, the page does reflect the “Page 99 Test” – and reveals the quality of the whole – because it touches on themes that are addressed throughout the book: female heroes, gender & storytelling, inspiration & social responsibility, friendship, and the history of popular culture.
Read more about Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology.

Visit Jennifer K. Stuller's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 22, 2010

William A. Callahan's "China: The Pessoptimist Nation"

William A. Callahan is Professor of International Politics and China Studies at the University of Manchester, and Co-Director of the British Inter-University China Center at Oxford University. His recent publications include Cultural Governance and Resistance in Pacific Asia (2006) and Contingent States: Greater China and Transnational Relations (2004).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, China: The Pessoptimist Nation, and reported the following:
The goal of China: The Pessoptimist Nation is to offer a new approach to understanding China. It does this first by showing how positive and negative factors (e.g. optimism and pessimism) are intimately intertwined in Chinese understandings of China’s politics. Hence to understand China’s dreams of national glory, we also need to understand its nightmare of national humiliation.

The book’s second strategy is to shift from answering the standard social science question “what is China?” with statistics of economic and military power, to ask “when, where and who is China?” The aim is to explore how identity and security inform each other. Page 99 is part of Chapter 3, “Where is China?” The answer to this question seems obvious. We just need to look at a proper map. But this chapter digs up different maps from the early twentieth century, when China was emerging as a nation-state after two millennia as an empire, to show how the proper shape of China was not at all clear. Rather than treating such maps as objective presentations of the facts, the chapter uses the concept of “geobody” to see maps as social artefacts that are instruments of political power.

To recall China: The Pessoptimist Nation’s first strategy, I point out how these maps are both positive and negative, recording China’s dreams of continental grandeur, alongside its nightmare of “lost territories.”

Conveniently, Page 99 opens with a new section:
Defining China’s Borders (1): Outside/In

To understand how the geobody emerged through an interplay of imperial domain and sovereign territory, it is helpful to see how on Chinese maps the outside defines the inside, and the inside defines the outside. The first official map of the Republic of China, which was published in the Republic’s founding Almanac (1912), graphically shows the ambiguity of China’s borders (see Figure 4.4). This Almanac is interesting precisely because it does not simply list dates and places. As we saw in Chapter 3, the Almanac actively asserts a new time for a new China by instituting a new calendar, complete with tables to convert dates from the old imperial Lunar calendar to the new Republican Julian calendar. Likewise, the Almanac’s “Map of the Republic of China” carves out a new space for this nascent nation-state; as with the new calendar, the new map was “issued for enforcement.”1

Still, this map of China and its Asian neighbors does not assert clear boundaries between the ROC and other sovereign states; it is actually hard to pick “China” out from the rest of the continent. The map is thus like the first constitutions of the Republic, which state that “The sovereign territory of the Republic of China continues to be the same as the domain of the former Empire.”2 But this simply begs the question of defining the domain of the Qing dynasty – which as we saw above relied on a different way of mapping the world. While maps of the late Qing empire are characteristically dotted with textual annotations,3 the Republican map is largely blank. On this 1912 national map, physical and economic geographies are more important than political geography: the lines marking rivers and railroads are more prominent than those defining international boundaries. The first official map of China thus shows that in the early twentieth century it was not clear how the Qing imperial domain would map onto the sovereign territory of the new Republic: if we look closely we can see that this map is already claiming much of Central, East and Southeast Asia as lost territory for the Republic. While the Qing dynasty’s late imperial maps marked various places as vassals, the Almanac’s map of the Republic marks Korea, Vietnam and other territories as “originally our vassal, now a vassal of Japan/France/Britain.” Like on the untitled map of civilization and barbarism (1743, Figure 4.3), China is Asia. China’s first national map thus reproduces the logic of imperial cartography to frame neighboring territories as part of China’s domain.

The “Map of Chinese National Humiliation” (1916, Figure 4.5) and the “Map of China’s National Humiliation” (1930, Figure 4.6) graphically
The sentence continues on page 100: “demonstrate both the anxiety of China unravelling, and the importance of asserting a new unity through the Republic.4” The point is that Chinese understandings of their territorial identity are still framed by this positive/negative, unity/disunity dynamic. Even though China has enjoyed fabulous political and economic success recently, new maps of national humiliation have been issued in the past decade. Such maps also help us understand the Han majority’s remarkably unsympathetic view of ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang. Rather than seeing peoples who want to express their distinctive identities, Han Chinese see territories that risk being “lost.”
Read an excerpt from China: The Pessoptimist Nation, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rebecca Nedostup's "Superstitious Regimes"

Rebecca Nedostup is Associate Professor of History at Boston College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese Modernity, and reported the following:
In Superstitious Regimes I look at the social and cultural impact of the near-simultaneous development in China of the concepts of nationalism and secularism -- by which I mean the idea that religion is a separate sphere of human pursuit from politics, philosophy, economics, etc. The idea that China’s fate in a social Darwinian struggle of nation-states depended on the beliefs of its citizens dated back at least to the turn of the 20th century, when the Chinese neologisms for “religion” and “superstition” were coined, hinting at the process of cultural critique that was already underway. After the fall of the imperial state in 1911, though, the architects of popular sovereignty began to question the public role of Chinese religion in very comprehensive and material fashion. My book looks at the social effects of the policies of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to regulate religion and eradicate superstition during the 1920s and 1930s. In many ways the Nationalists created the system of state control that remains in the PRC today.

In the most dramatic episodes in the book, party operatives and government officials smashed temples and their contents, arrested monks, and banned fireworks and parades on the lunar New Year. In response, blind fortunetellers organized support from Shanghai powerbrokers and published angry petitions, and displaced worshipers rioted and held government officials hostage. The incidents I recount on page 99, however, are less juicy but perhaps more representative of the everyday transformation of public life that the book portrays. On that page I describe two court cases in which people who had donated money to or oversaw the affairs of City God temples argued in vain to retain control of the shrines. Temples to local City Gods constituted prime real estate in county seats, large towns and cities; they were markets, meeting places and courts of popular recourse as well as ritual centers. Thus the Nationalists eagerly converted them into government and party offices or schools, or merely sold off the property.

Whereas in the late imperial era City God temples served as a nexus between local society and the state – very often, local donors paid for the shrines and their upkeep, but officials recognized and supported them – that bond was no longer of importance to the state. Using slim legal pretext, the government claimed both the property and the roles it once played in public life: economic, educative, social, moral and judicial. Even though much of what the Nationalists attempted during this time did not succeed as expected, this basic calculation about the role of the state and the shape of secular-nationalism seems very much to me to be one of their lasting legacies.
Learn more about Superstitious Regimes at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2010

Howard Jones' "Blue and Gray Diplomacy"

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. His books include Mutiny on the Amistad, Death of a Generation, and The Bay of Pigs.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99:
The Palmerston ministry clung to neutrality in the face of a growing popular clamor for war. [British foreign secretary Lord John] Russell responded to the three southern commissioners' call for recognition with another affirmation of British neutrality, but his stand did not diminish their expectations. The Bee-Hive of London, whose editors supported the Confederacy because of the Union's restrictive commercial policies, urged the government to break the blockade to secure cotton and ally with France in a war against the Union. Slavery should pose no obstacle. An independent South, the journal argued, would have to accept emancipation once encased by free territory. William S. Lindsay, a shipping magnate and perhaps the Confederacy's strongest supporter in Parliament, called for an offensive and defensive treaty with the Confederacy before England and the Union went to war.

Meanwhile, the French stridently condemned the Union's seizure of [James] Mason and [John] Slidell. Nothing, [Union minister to France William L.] Dayton declared with concern, had matched the 'outburst' of anger in his host country. If the United States did not renounce that action, 'the almost universal impression here is that war will follow.' Dayton had thought the French would stay back and let the British and Union 'fight it out!' But France needed cotton, and the nation's industrial interests might push its government to intervene. Some of the French press wanted the emperor to act with England on the issue. The French joined other Europeans in believing the Union had no respect for international law and had tried 'to pick a quarrel' with England.
The passage above relates to the Trent crisis of November 1861 between England and the Union, in which US Navy Captain Charles Wilkes seized two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, from the British mail packet above Cuba and raised angry cries in England for war. An Anglo-American war would doubtless have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and near certain independence. Fortunately for the Union—not so for the Confederacy—the Palmerston ministry and the Lincoln administration managed to avert war.

The Trent affair highlighted the central importance of foreign recognition in Union and Confederate diplomacy during the Civil War. If one or more European nations had recognized the South as a nation—particularly in the crucial first eighteen months of the war—they would have virtually assured its independence by permitting Richmond's leaders to negotiate military and economic alliances vital to winning the war. Strategists in London, Paris, and other European capitals knew the danger in a premature recognition—that there was a narrow line between the Confederacy's status as a traitor and as an independent nation and that extending recognition before the South had won independence was tantamount to allying with a people rebelling against their duly authorized government. The Union considered the matter so critical that it warned of war with any nation that recognized the South.

Why didn’t the Confederacy win diplomatic recognition? Primarily because it did not possess anything vital to either British or French interests that made intervention worth the risk of going to war with the Union. The Palmerston ministry came close to a mediation offer based on recognition but had no solution to the war and did not want to alienate the Union; Napoleon came even closer with his Machiavellian scheme to restore French power in the New World with the help of a Confederate buffer state, but, like the British, he shied away from fighting a war against either the Union or a reunited American nation. In one of those rare instances in history, nations with histories of acquisitive instincts realistically assessed the dangers of intervention and resisted the temptation.

Thus the Confederacy never resolved its greatest dilemma: To achieve recognition, it had to win a decisive battle; yet to win that decisive battle, it had to have the foreign military and economic assistance that could come only from recognition. In more ways than one, the South had fought a lost cause.
Read more about Blue and Gray Diplomacy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jeffrey Edward Green's "The Eyes of the People"

Jeffrey Edward Green is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of scholarly essays on various topics including political apathy, disenchantment, and ignorance, Green has taught previously at Harvard and at Gothenburg University in Sweden.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds me discussing the democratic theory of John Stuart Mill, arguably the greatest student of democracy from the middle of the nineteenth century—in particular, Mill’s claim to be providing a superior, second generation take on the meaning of modern democracy. Whereas the first generation, epitomized by figures like Mill’s father James Mill and Jeremy Bentham who had lived through the rebirth of democracy in the West, had assumed that representative democracy would empower “the people,” John Stuart Mill argued that in fact what representative democracy meant was that only the majority—and not the entire people—would be able to write laws and shape policies. This corrective was important because it showed that minority rights needed to be protected within a modern democratic society.

My interjection into this history is to accept the wisdom of Mill’s revision of an earlier generation of democratic theory, but to argue that we today likewise can and ought to revise Mill’s own findings. Both the first and second generation of democratic thought assumed that the electorate was above all a legislative entity: whether it took the form of the entire “people” or only a “majority”, the electorate’s function, on both views, was to dictate a set of laws and policies the elected representatives needed to take heed of should they wish to stay in office. The third generation view, which I defend, breaks from this assumption. It does not assume that the mass citizenry plays a legislative function. This may seem somber if not outright cynical. But my claim is otherwise. Once we break from the assumption that the “people” or “majority” is a would-be legislator—once we confront the silence of the people on most issues—we can reimagine the meaning of democratic empowerment. Because the mass citizenry is not only a warehouse of preferences waiting to be represented, we should expect from our politicians not only that they say and do the right thing—since it many instances it is simply unclear what this is—but that their speech and deeds be conducted in properly democratic form. I argue that leaders who appear and speak extemporaneously before the public satisfy this extra-legislative democratic need.

Mill was confident that he was right in his critique of his father’s generation because his own generation had more hands-on experience with the actual functioning of democratic life. By the same logic, we today ought to have, on the basis an experience with democracy that probably exceeds that of any other age in history, an understanding of democracy that goes beyond the naïve idealism of nineteenth century authors. Overcoming the naïve view that the majority makes law in contemporary mass democracy need not terminate in despair, but as I have suggested can reset the plane on which democratic progressivism is conceptualized and pursued.
Learn more about The Eyes of the People at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

David Cressy's "Dangerous Talk"

Born in England and educated at Cambridge, David Cressy is currently Humanities Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio State University. A social and cultural historian of early modern England, concerned with the intersections of elite and popular culture, central and local government, and official and unofficial religion, his books include Birth, Marriage and Death (1997), Agnes Bowker's Cat (2001), and England on Edge (2006).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England, and reported the following:
The page 99 test works remarkably well for Dangerous Talk. It captures both the flavour and the argument of the book. We learn here that ordinary Englishmen called Henry VIII "a most vicious king," and claimed that the Protestant Reformation sprang from his codpiece. Some called Elizabeth I a "bastard," a "usurper," or "pisskitchen," a word unknown to OED but which is clearly derogatory. Subjects called James I "an ass" and "a fool," and wished "a turd" to him. These words were typical of the scandalous, seditious and treasonable speech that worried the authorities of early modern England. Dangerous Talk argues that ordinary people spoke vigorously and sometimes disgracefully about the monarchs who ruled them, despite strong cultural pressures for their silence and deference. Under Henry VIII such words could take you to the gallows, though offenders under James I would more likely stand in the pillory. Later chapters show how different regimes handled these offences of the tongue, which by the eighteenth century were considered "the birthright of an Englishman."

Page 99 :
Most outrageously, More said that ‘Henry VIII was a tyrant, a most vicious king, a sacrileger, and that the protestant religion now professed within this realm did spring out of King Henry’s codpiece, and that... King Henry was a very devil in hell’. He also said ‘that Queen Elizabeth was a bastard, a tyrant, an usurper of the throne, a parallel with Pope Joan [who was a whore and had a bastard], and a pisskitchen, and... was in hell with her father’. Each of these insults against the reforming Tudors served to scandalize their Stuart successor.

A Turd to the King

As in other ages, a background murmur of seditious speech echoed through Jacobean England, rising in intensity with changing political circumstances. Country magistrates wrote regularly to London citing ‘words against the king’s sacred majesty’, enclosing copies of examinations, and acknowledging their ‘duty to acquaint one of his majesty’s honorable council with it’, and ‘to acquaint the king with it’ himself. The assize courts heard dozens of cases of this kind, and their records preserve scraps of remarks against royal authority. The Council generally pounced upon every hint of sedition, and attempted to distinguish disloyal language from ill-considered badinage. Seditious utterances were often rooted in local and petty grievances, fuelled by alcohol and fury, as well as religious and political frustrations. The words could be reckless, scatological, and undutiful, though the speakers often pleaded mitigating circumstances.

Thomas Huddeswell, labourer of Bonnington, Kent, allegedly declared to a neighbour in 1605, ‘a turd for thee and the king’, but the assize jury found him not guilty. Another man, Daniel Taylor, appeared before the Middlesex sessions in May 1606 ‘for speaking certain scandalous and traitorous speeches against his majesty’, though the offending words are not recorded. Thomas Gibson, a sailor of Erith, Kent, spoke seditiously in 1607, claiming ‘that the king’s majesty was an ass, and that he, Thomas, would make a fool and an ass of him’.In Jacobean Wales in1613, when the mayor and sergeant of Machynlleth attempted to arrest Humphrey Thomas, explaining that they were the king’s officers, Thomas replied, ‘turd to thee, turd to thy master, and turd to the king for appointing such officers as you to poll the town’.
Read more about Dangerous Talk at the Oxford University Press website, and learn more about David Cressy and his scholarship at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alan Allport's "Demobbed"

Alan Allport is a postdoctoral lecturer at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demobbed: Coming Home After World War Two, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demobbed is devoted to adultery and murder, and I suppose if that doesn’t grab the reader then nothing will. It’s part of an account of the notorious ‘honour killings’ that took place in Britain in the first months after the Second World War, when returning servicemen who discovered that their wives had been unfaithful to them during their absence killed them, often with extraordinary violence – by stabbing, suffocation, gunfire. These tragic incidents were very small in number – Britain in the 1940s remained by today’s standards a remarkably lawful society – but I think they caught the public imagination because they encapsulated in its most lurid form a widespread anxiety about the state of the postwar nation.

Demobbed is a history of the homecoming experience in 1945 and the ways in which ordinary Britons came to terms with the changes that had taken place in their society and in themselves during half a decade of total war. It examines the release and repatriation of over four million men and women from the armed services, many of whom had been out of contact with their families, friends, and workmates for years. It’s a story about a particular time and place: Britain at the end of the Second World War was exhausted by the long struggle, and the civilian population which had gone through its own fair share of danger and sacrifice was in no great mood to laud the returning troops as homecoming heroes. But it’s also a study of longstanding fears and suspicions about the soldier that have long preoccupied Anglophone culture. The horror stories in ‘Demobbed’ about brutalized ex-servicemen returning from the battlefield to wreak havoc at home aren’t so very different from earnest warnings in today’s American media about disturbed veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s much the same mixture of pity and fear, much the same anxiety about how an overwhelmingly civilian society can hope to reabsorb men who have been through such an alien and traumatic experience as war.
Learn more about Demobbed and the author at the Yale University Press website and Alan Allport's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stephen Tuck's "We Ain't What We Ought To Be"

Stephen Tuck is University Lecturer in American History, Pembroke College, Oxford University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We Ain't What We Ought To Be: The Black Freedom Struggle from Emancipation to Obama, and reported the following:
Page 99:
In many ways, the final appeals for justice underlined just how weak black southerners had become. In South Carolina, the elderly Robert Smalls took his place as one of just six black delegates, out of 106, at the 1895 state constitutional convention called to introduce a literacy test. For comparison, there were seventy-one black delegates to the 1868 convention. With typical bravery, he spoke up. The Democratic Charleston News and Courier reported somewhat wistfully on the last hurrah of an old foe: “No one can fail to be impressed with Gen Smalls’ earnest protestation, before God.” Maybe so, but delegates failed to be moved. All but the six black delegates voted for disfranchisement. Smalls refused to sign the new constitution. When the convention proposed not to pay the travel costs of anyone who refused, Smalls — in a final gesture of defiance — said “he would rather walk home than sign.” As it turned out, in the rush to disfranchisement the convention failed to vote down his costs.

In a sign of changing times, Democratic publicists — not black southerners, as during Reconstruction — now used southern white violence to appeal to the nation as a whole. It worked. Outlook magazine — a liberal religious journal founded by former abolitionists — published a roundtable on the Atlanta riot. Writing as the “northern black” voice, women’s reformer Carrie Clifford pointed out that violence was “directed at the ... progressive negro [and not] the vicious negro” and reminded white Christians of the command to love thy (Negro) neighbor. But the response of a “southern white” laid the blame for the violence at the feet of black men: “If there had been no assaults upon white women there would have been no mobs.” The editor concluded by calling for black self-restraint, thus accepting the demonization of black men as debased criminals. In the light of the riot, Clifford reckoned the “lecture to blacks on self-restraint becomes indeed a roaring farce.”

To win support, black critics of white supremacy looked abroad. The foremost anti-lynching campaigner of the day, Ida B. Wells, traveled to England. Born a slave and orphaned in her teens, Wells began her career as a teacher while she supported her siblings. She then switched to journalism, and in 1889 she was elected as the first woman secretary of the Afro-American Press Association. Fortune reckoned “she has plenty of nerve; she is smart as a steel trap, and she has no sympathy with humbug.”

Though Wells had long challenged racism (she once bit a conductor who threw her off a segregated train, and then sued the company), it was the lynching of three friends in Memphis on account of their business success that prompted her campaign. She thundered that the charge of rape was a “threadbare lie” — most lynchings were not on account of interracial sex; and where sexual encounters did occur, it was to satisfy white women’s longings rather than black men’s lust.

Both the message and the messenger (a single black woman with a confrontational style) provoked far more criticism than support among white Americans. Her enemies — who included some nervous black leaders — called her a “black harlot.” Not so in England. During a four month tour in 1894, Wells gave over a hundred lectures, breakfasted with MPs in the Houses of Parliament, was interviewed by leading newspapers, and inspired the formation of an influential anti-lynching committee. By now a celebrity, Wells took the opportunity to denounce the leading American white women’s temperance leader, Frances Willard, who happened to be in Britain at the same time. Willard was a social reformer who did not condone lynching, but to boost her cause she criticized black men for their love of “demon rum” and their resulting lust for pure white women.
Sure enough, the p99 test works rather well. The first paragraph reminds us that the long struggle for freedom was not one of inexorable progress, that white supremacy was about more than vigilante violence, and that black resistance continued in downturns. Ultimately what mattered most was not the desire or even strategies of African Americans to seek meaningful freedom, but who had the power to pursue their agenda -- by the late c19th century, the celebrated civil war slave runaway Robert Smalls (who had stolen his confederate ship) could not hope to turn back the juggernaut of white supremacy. This power struggle, between those seeking liberation and those opposed to it, is the main organising theme of the book, and what accounts for the shifting power balance is what makes the African American freedom struggle so fascinating, perplexing and instructive. (The fact that that the convention ended up in such a rush also reminds us how messy and chaotic -- how human -- politics and race often was.)

The second paragraph points us to the fluidity of racism -- where Southern white violence had prompted many white northerners to support freed slaves after the Civil War, the very same violence was now seen as a reaction to black sex crimes ... and thus a reason to endorse white supremacy and segregation. The multiple constructions of race stereotypes throughout the period show the utility of race, and thus its power.

The third and fourth paragraphs show that black Americans placed their struggle in a global frame -- the celebrated campaigner Ida B. Wells took her campaign to England, to good effect. Again, sex and race are inextricably intertwined. Wells claimed that any interracial sex was on account of white women's longings. Meanwhile, criticism of Wells focussed on the fact that here was a single black woman speaking out of place. The fact that she used her platform abroad to land a punch on a leading white women's reformer also points to the complex relationship between black and white women reformers throughout the period, and the narrow ground black women often found themselves on, caught between a (male) race struggle and a (white) womens' movement. What struck me is how often black women managed to clearly espouse a call for full human rights that transcended the narrower agendas of many reform movements.
Learn more about We Ain't What We Ought To Be at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kathleen Rooney's "For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs"

The writer and poet Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test appeals to me as a form of bibliomancy—the use of a book in divination. As fate would have it, page 99 of For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs contains the first page of an essay that you could say is about apartment-o-mancy. It’s called “To Build a Quiet City in My Mind,” and in it, I attempt to visit all the New York City apartments of my favorite poet, Weldon Kees (1914-1955?).

Divination, of course, is “the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of a standardized process or ritual.” In New York I was trying to gain insight into what Kees’ life in the city might have been like, and, more broadly, what might have eventually driven him either to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, or to vanish to start a new life in Mexico.

The essay begins with an epigraph from Kees’ poem, “Return of the Ghost”: “Your absence breeds / A longer silence through the rooms. We haunt ourselves,” and the first sentences are: “I am in love with another man, but my husband doesn’t mind. I have come to the city to find this man’s apartments. Over the course of the week, I will seek out all nine—one in Brooklyn, eight in Manhattan—but I will never find the man himself. I am in love with a dead man.”

This piece is the sixth essay (out of eleven total) in the book, and Ford Madox Ford’s method applies in that it does give an accurate impression of the quality of the whole. The book operates as kind of a memoir in essays, but I did my best to avoid making it only about me me me, and to try to give readers a sense of wider subjects. I hope that in reading this particular piece, people who don’t know about Kees might be intrigued enough to seek out his Collected Poems.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Rooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tim Brookes' "Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment"

Tim Brookes is the author of A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow (one of the Top Travel Books of 2000–the New York Times and Booklist) and Guitar: An American Life (one of the Best Books of 2005–Library Journal).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment, and reported the following:
On the face of it, Page 99 isn’t some quintessence of the book.

The book falls into three parts. The first represents what I initially thought was my subject—namely, weather forecasting, the topic of my initial assignment for National Geographic. The second represents the reason why I went to India—namely, the monsoon. It wasn’t until I had been in India long enough for all my original purposes to fail that I realized I was getting close to the truth, and the truth had something to do with the subject of part three: water. So the book is a journey in many senses, external and internal, intentional and unintentional, and as always it’s the unintended journey that takes us where we ought to be going.

Page 99 turns up not quite halfway into the second section. By this point, the three defining points of my trip have taken place: I’ve gone to India, I’ve seen the monsoon come ashore near the southern tip of the subcontinent, and I’ve discovered that I have been banned from every office of the India Meteorological Department, and I can’t possibly do what I was sent to do. Page 99 can’t possibly encompass my subject because I haven’t yet got a clue what it is.

On the other hand, Page 99 is a close-up of a figure who is central to the book: Rajesh, my driver and guide. Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment is a kind of essay, and any essayist is only half a step away from being an asshole. What redeems me and the book is Rajesh’s affection, his studious concern for goodness and his interest in truth. Page 99 sees us on a long journey into the rural Indian night; it’s the transition between the planned and the unplanned, and he is crucial to my making that transition in safety, my good spirits and my curiosity intact.

How did we achieve this? We talked about the subject that every Brit and Indian have in common: cricket. Cricket was the Englishman’s gift to India, and now it was acting as the Indian’s way of making the Brit feel at home.

“When I think back on that drive, it all seems dark, even the three hours or so before nightfall—the darkness of trees, close on both sides of the road, and the darkness between trees, illuminated only by far-off cricketers endlessly playing famous games in the sun.”
Read an excerpt from Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment, and learn more about the book and author at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kristin J. Anderson's "Benign Bigotry"

Kristin J. Anderson is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, in Houston, Texas.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Benign Bigotry: The Psychology of Subtle Prejudice, and reported the following.
Benign Bigotry is about subtle forms of prejudice, so-called benign bigotry. Benign bigotry represents thinking and behavior that appears to be innocent and harmless but actually fosters some of the most insidious kinds prejudice. In the book, I address six common myths that reflect subtle forms of bias. For instance, one chapter is entitled, “They Must be Guilty of Something”: Myths of Criminality. Many Americans believe that the world is a just place--that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Just-world thinking leads people to believe that when someone is accused of a crime, the accused is probably guilty of something. It is too difficult to conceive the possibility of an innocent person wasting away in jail.

Page 99 of the book lands the reader in the middle of a discussion on false confessions. Most people find it impossible to imagine themselves offering a false confession. Why would anyone ever admit to a crime they did not commit? False confessions are not necessary the result of “weak personalities” or a “guilty conscience” but rather the result of specific situations and processes that produce confessions from innocent individuals. On page 99 I describe three specific processes used by interrogators that are most often associated with false confessions. The first step is isolation. When any person is detained, held for long periods, deprived of sleep and rendered exhausted, they become susceptible to influence and their ability to make complex decisions is compromised. Typical criminal interrogations last 3-4 hours, but interrogations that produce false confessions average around 16 hours. Once a suspect is isolated, interrogators can confront them with false DNA evidence supposedly linking them to the crime. Interrogators can present phony eyewitnesses and can claim the suspect failed a polygraph. These techniques are admissible in U.S. courts. Confrontation then is the second process that can induce false confessions. The third process is minimization. To encourage a confession, an interrogator might use techniques to minimize the crime or the suspect’s culpability. For instance, the interrogator might provide a moral justification for committing the crime such as, “I’m sure he had it coming,” or face-saving excuses explaining why the crime was accidental. Minimization techniques can also include promises of leniency by the court. All the while, suspects believe that as soon as they confess, they can go home.

These three processes work together to form conditions in which people are likely to confess to crimes they did not commit. The “They Must be Guilty of Something” chapter addresses other illustrations of the important and often ignored powerful relationship between specific aspects of crime and bigotry, such as the depictions of black and brown criminal suspects in television news, the explanations people use to explain the criminal behavior of black and brown people versus white people, the bias inherent in death penalty cases, and more.
Read an excerpt from Benign Bigotry, and learn more about the book and author at the Cambridge University Press website and at Kristin J. Anderson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christine Haynes' "Lost Illusions"

Christine Haynes is Assistant Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Lost Illusions: The Politics of Publishing in Nineteenth-Century France, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“.... In their effort to obtain absolute freedom and property in the book trade, publishers relied increasingly on associations, both formal and informal.

These early associations were composed of a relatively constant group of publishers. Over and over in the rosters of the petitions and associations organized by publishers, the same names appeared: J.-B. Baillière, Bossange (both Martin and Hector, his son), Didot (both Firmin and Ambroise), Charles Gosselin and later his successor Laurent-Antoine Pagnerre, Louis Hachette, Victor Masson, Panckoucke (first C. L. F., then Ernest), and Treuttel and Würtz. Most of these publishers were located in the 11th (now 6th) arrondissement of Paris. They were thus neighbors as well as colleagues. Members of the generation of éditeurs who came of age with the Restoration, these men would rise to dominance in the book trade by the 1830s and 1840s. As business leaders, many of them served in official institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of France, and the Chamber of Deputies. Firmin Didot, for instance, was a representative in the legislature in the late 1820s and early 1830s. He also served on the government commission on literary property established by Charles X in 1825. His son Ambroise Firmin-Didot was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as of the government commission on literary property of 1836-1837. Drawing on their experience in civic affairs, these men were instrumental in forming associations among publishers.

In the late 1820s, this core group of publishers attempted to formalize their relationship with each other by establishing a cercle, or circle, in the book trade....”
While it is not necessarily the section of the book that I would have chosen to excerpt, this passage does pass the “Page 99 Test” in that it encapsulates the book’s main subject, which is how entrepreneurial publishers used association to persuade the government to liberalize the “literary market” in France. The cercle described here did not last very long, because it was prohibited by the government of the Restoration (1815-1830). However, it would provide the model for a later association in publishing, called the Cercle de la Librairie. Founded in 1847, this second Cercle proved far more successful. Enduring through the end of the nineteenth century (and up to the present day), it was instrumental in obtaining the two main demands of publishers in the post-revolutionary period: the abolition of licensing requirements for printers and bookdealers, which had been instituted by Napoleon in 1810, and the extension of literary property rights beyond the brief term guaranteed by revolutionary and Napoleonic legislation. Under pressure from the publishers in this later Cercle, the government of the Second Empire (1851-1870) moved to abolish licensing and strengthen literary property, thereby establishing a free market for literature in France. By highlighting the role of this association in influencing government policy toward the book trade in nineteenth-century France, this passage—and the book as a whole—emphasizes the importance of lobbying by networks of businessmen in shaping the “market.” This topic is of not just historical but of contemporary relevance, as evidenced by the amount of money spent in recent years by the telecommunications industry to block government regulation.
Read an excerpt from Lost Illusions, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thomas Laub's "After the Fall"

Thomas J. Laub teaches history at James Madison University and is currently working on a study of the French army during the Algerian Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, After the Fall: German Policy in Occupied France, 1940-1944, and reported the following:
Current events in Afghanistan and Iraq have encouraged discussion of the rules of war, but few journalists identify, analyze, or explain these regulations in satisfactory detail. After the Fall studies German policy in occupied France during World War Two, and chapter four discusses the laws of war that informed German behavior between 1940 and 1944. Based on the code of chivalry, vague historical precedents, and international agreements such as the Hague Convention, the laws of war can be used to evaluate the legality of German policy and assess responsibility for atrocities carried out during the Occupation.

The 1907 Hague Convention obliged signators to “issue instructions to their armed forces which shall be in conformity with the regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land.” Page 99 explains how British, French, and American military regulations advised officers to deal with a hostile population. All three nations viewed irregular combatants with a jaundiced eye and allowed commanders to seize hostages to ensure the peaceful behaviour of enemy civilians. Subsequent passages analyze German military regulations governing the occupation of hostile territory, and ensuing chapters analyze how German leaders applied these military regulations in occupied France.

Although the persecution of Jews violated legal standards in force during World War Two, the German practice of countering widespread resistance activity with hostage executions did not. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill condemned the German practice as barbaric, but their military regulations sanctioned a similar policy as described on page 99. Legal standards and practices described in chapter four explain why many Nazis escaped the hangman’s noose.

Revised in 1949 and 1977, the laws of war continue to bedevil soldiers fighting the so-called war on terror in the contemporary world. As they translate legal theory into practice on the field of battle, soldiers must treat alleged terrorists and unlawful combatants in accordance with the laws of war. They grapple with many of the problems faced by members of the German military government and Charles de Gaulle’s resistance organization during World War Two. After the Fall studies the occupation of France, but it sheds light on contemporary insurgencies.
Learn more about After the Fall at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

James McGrath Morris' "Pulitzer"

James McGrath Morris spent five years working on his new book, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. His previous book, The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism, was selected as a Washington Post Best Book of the Year for 2004 and was optioned as a film and released as an audio book.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Pulitzer and reported the following:
Frankly, I was terrified—well, maybe anxious, nervous, worried, filled with trepidation (hard to find the right word here)—to go and read page 99 of my new book, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power (HarperCollins, 2010).

“What if it is really boring?” I thought.

Whew, it’s not bad.

In fact it contains some of the favorite things I liked doing when writing. For instance, I was able to work in the trial of George “Charcoal” Botts who shot his General O.S. “Pet” Halstead. I mean, who has names like that today?

I also was able to bring dialogue into play. This is hard with biographies of people long since dead but it adds such vitality and life to a book. I spend a lot time reading fiction to figure out how my colleagues on the dark side of writing pull it off. I don’t have to invent the words but I need to learn how to select them and how to weave them into the book.

Lastly the page features a description that one can only write after completing a lot of research. It’s the kind of thing that other writers appreciate but readers rarely notice. My job was to let people know just enough about Charles Dana and the Sun in order to understand why getting a job there was an accomplishment. But I couldn’t spend too many words on this because it would take the reader away from the story. The sentences at the top of the excerpt contain few words but lots and lots of hours of research to have the confidence to distill this explanation down. I love doing this.

So, go ahead and read my page 99. I don’t mind.
original mission, Dana inspired and enforced a regime of tight, coherent, bright, lively writing intended to provide “a daily photograph of the whole world’s doings in the most luminous and lively manner,” as he put it in his first editorial. The paper was a pastiche or quilt of urban tales. It was an irresistible feast of information that won wide attention in an era of generally dull journalism.

Under Dana’s regime, the paper prospered even more, and its circulation rose to new, unheard-of heights. Whereas Joseph could only dream of working for Dana, Albert was not intimidated. He walked up the flight of stairs to the Sun’s newsroom and spoke to the night editor. The editor asked Albert how long he had worked for a city newspaper.

“Only a short time, sir,” Albert replied.

“That’s rather vague,” the editor said, adding, “You have a slight accent.”

“I shall not have the accent long, sir. And I write better than I speak.”

The editor decided to give Albert a test assignment, a rather difficult one intended to discourage the youth. Albert “made a Parisian bow and disappeared,” said the editor. But to his surprise, Albert returned with the story and won himself a trial period on the staff of what many considered the best-written paper in town. In fact, soon after Albert landed this job, a letter appeared in the Sun from one reader in St. Louis. “I read The Sun regularly,” Joseph Pulitzer wrote. “In my opinion it is the most piquant, entertaining, and, without exception, the best newspaper in the world.”

Albert rose rapidly in the ranks of city reporters. His big break came when he was assigned to cover the Halstead murder in Newark, the city’s first murder in four years. General O. S. “Pet” Halstead had been shot dead in the rooms of Mary S. Wilson, described by the New York Times as “a woman of the worst character.” Apparently George “Charcoal” Botts, a charcoal peddler who paid for her lodgings and company, did not take kindly to the presence of Halstead in Wilson’s bedroom. Albert wrote colorful accounts of the courtroom scenes and even obtained an interview with the condemned man a few days before his execution. “It was a kind of reporting that was new in those days, especially in Newark, and made a decided hit in this city,” a writer for the Newark Advertiser recalled.

In February 1873, Albert moved to the New York Herald. Started by
Browse inside Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power, and learn more about the book and author at the official James McGrath Morris website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sharon Davies' "Rising Road"

Sharon L. Davies is the John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Designated Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America, and reported the following:
Rising Road is a nonfiction account of the 1921 killing of Father James E. Coyle in Birmingham, Alabama. An ordained Methodist minister named Rev. Edwin R. Stephenson shot and killed Father Coyle for marrying Stephenson’s 18-year-old daughter, Ruth, to a Catholic migrant from Puerto Rico named Pedro Gussman. Stephenson was a Klansman during the time that the revived KKK had expanded its portfolio of targets to include Catholics, Jews and ‘Fern’ers,’ and had successfully rebranded itself as a “patriotic” fraternal organization. Catholics were not “True Americans,” the Klan fumed—they owed their allegiance to a foreign leader (the Pope) whose plot was to “Make America Catholic.”

To the horror of Ruth Stephenson’s parents, Ruth had been attracted to Catholicism from an early age. Edwin Stephenson had tried unsuccessfully to beat the idea out of the girl, and Ruth had run away several times, but she was always forcibly returned with the help of local lawmen sympathetic to the Stephensons’ battle for their daughter’s soul. Page 99 describes one of those failed escape attempts, and Ruth’s decision to marry Pedro as the way out of her troubles:
It is hard to think what the Sisters of Charity must have thought when the companionless youngster arrived unannounced, only to be followed not long after by a group of lawmen and her furious mother. The authorities made it clear that the teenager was to be turned back over to her parent, Ruth told a reporter later, and Mary Stephenson dragged her back to Birmingham more convinced than ever that she could not be trusted. For the next two weeks, Ruth recalled, she was “mistreated many times” and kept “under constant watch,” until finally her parents relented a bit and allowed her to return to her job. But even then it was clear that they believed she would run off again. Every morning Edwin Stephenson walked her to the front door of the department store just to be sure.

That was why Ruth and Pedro had agreed to make August 11, 1921 look like a normal workday. They had agreed to meet at noon, with a plan to take the streetcar to Bessemer where they would apply for their license to avoid running into Ruth’s father at the courthouse in Birmingham. But when the time came for Ruth to meet Pedro that day and she moved toward the front door of the store, one of her uncles was just walking in. She was sure she would be caught, she said later, but by some act of heaven the man failed to see her, and Ruth willed her feet to keep moving until she reached the spot outside where Pedro was waiting.

In Bessemer, they were nearly foiled again. After they had obtained their license from the probate judge, they walked the few blocks to the local Catholic church, St. Aloysius, and asked to speak with Father Callahan, its presiding priest. But the priest was out. He would not be back in time to perform their rites, they were told. How strange the things that can unravel a plan—the possibility that Father Callahan might be away had obviously not occurred to them. After formulating a secret meeting place, dodging Ruth’s relative, sidestepping the place her father was most likely to be, and obtaining the state’s official permission to wed, the last critical ingredient need to accomplish their plan—a priest!—was missing.

It could not have been easy for the couple to decide to return to Birmingham. The Bessemer marriage license authorized any official pastor in the state to marry them, so if they could make it to St. Paul’s unseen, they could ask Father Coyle for his help. But the rectory was terrifyingly close to the courthouse where Ruth’s father conducted marriages in the hallways.”
Read more about Rising Road at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brian Locke's "Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present"

Brian Locke teaches comparative race studies and cultural studies for the Union Institute & University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from WWII to the Present: The Orientalist Buddy Film, and reported the following:
My book, The Orientalist Buddy Film, focuses on a number of Hollywood movies that debuted between WWII and 9-11, approximately: Tay Garnett’s Bataan (1943), Samuel Fuller’s China Gate (1957), Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958), Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill (1959), Hall Bartlett’s All the Young Men (1960), several 1970s blaxploition films, Mike Hodges’s Flash Gordon (1980), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon series (1987-1998), Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun (1993), Andy and Larry Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999), Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai (2003), and Paul Haggis’s Crash (2005). Most fit the well-known interracial buddy film plot in which a white buddy and a black buddy face a common enemy. According to the formula, the two hate each other initially because of racial difference, but by the end of the film they realize that they must submerge their animosity in order to defeat the mutual threat. In the process, they recognize their shared humanity. Thus, the villain of the film acts as a bonding agent for white and black.

Part of what makes the villain such an effective bonding vehicle is the figure’s status as even more racist toward black people than the white buddy. A few film scholars, most notably Robyn Wiegman in American Anatomies, argue that the interracial buddy film’s transfer of the stigma of American racism from the white buddy to the villain has two important political effects. It creates a cinematic illusion of harmony between white and black that forestalls rather than promotes actual equality of opportunity; it allows white America to disavow its long history of anti-black behavior. My book argues that after WWII, at least until 9-11, many interracial buddy films represent the common enemy as Asian. This is the Orientalist buddy film, a movie that scapegoats Asians for white America’s history of racism toward black people.

Page 99 is the last page of the chapter that focuses on the Platonic form of the Orientalist buddy film, Rising Sun, which pits two Los Angeles homicide detectives (Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes) against a yellow peril horde of Japanese businessmen who threaten American sovereignty. The page notes that the LAPD’s 1991 beating of Rodney King forces the 1993 blockbuster to create a means of cleansing the stigma of racism from Connery’s character. The scapegoat is a fellow detective, Graham (Harvey Keitel), who refers to the Japanese as “nips” and “Japs.” Like the portrait in Oscar Wilde’s tale of Dorian Gray, Graham carries the defect, in this case bigotry, so that Connery’s figure, the white male who represents mainstream America, may face the world clean.
Read more about Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present at the publisher's website, and visit Brian Locke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Joel Mokyr's "The Enlightened Economy"

Joel Mokyr is Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History, Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850, and reported the following:
The page contains, amazingly enough, two statements that summarize much of what the book is about.
The technological revolution that created the modern industrial age cannot be fully understood without its intellectual underpinnings. All the same, inventions and improvements by informed and ingenious minds opened doors but could not force a society to walk through them.
The first statement is the main reason why I wrote the book. Many economists write about economic growth as if what people knew and believed mattered but little. People just want to maximize their income and will learn whatever there is to learn. I argue in 550 pages that this is too simplified a view of the world: some societies have the intellectual and cultural proclivity to do what needs to be done to bring about economic progress. Britain in the eighteenth century had what it took, and hence its economic leadership that lasted for a century and took much of the world into a different economic life, in which more and more people live lives of economic and material comforts that in 1700 only Kings and Popes (if them) could dream about.

A second statement is this:
[e]conomies do not grow just because they want to consume more. Indeed, the desire for more income is shared by all economies; the ability to satisfy it is what makes all the difference.
This, too is central to the argument. Necessity is NOT the mother of invention, which is a statement that manages to be simultaneously a cliché and false. The parents of invention are, above all, the belief in the possibility and desirability of technological progress and the useful knowledge (science, engineering, chemistry, whatever necessary) that was needed to bring it about. The book deals with the question where that knowledge came from, and what incentives and institutions were necessary to produce it.
Learn more about The Enlightened Economy at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mary Heimann's "Czechoslovakia"

Mary Heimann is senior lecturer in the history department at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed, and reported the following:
Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed is a revisionist history of the state which preceded today’s Czech and Slovak republics, and which experienced democracy, Nazi rule, Fascist and Communist dictatorships, Soviet invasion and democracy again, all within the space of an average person’s lifetime. The book is based on original research in the national archives in Prague, but is aimed at the English-speaking general reader and assumes no specialist knowledge. Page 99 [inset, click to enlarge] touches upon one of the central themes of the book: how the persecution of minorities came to be justified in the name of nationalism and codified in legal statutes right across Central Europe: not only, infamously, in Nazi Germany; but even in a democratic state like Czechoslovakia, which was brought into being in the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War.

On p. 99 of the book, which falls in 1938, the groups being targeted by the Czecho-Slovak authorities are Czechs living in the (at the time autonomous) region of Slovakia, and Jews (especially German-speaking Jews) living in the territories of Bohemia and Moravia. At other points in the story, the victims of legalized discrimination are Slovaks, Gypsies, Ruthenians, Germans or Hungarians. Sometimes the oppressors in one chapter become the victims in the next; elsewhere it is former victims who become oppressors.

The purpose in showing the darker side of nationalism is not to single out Czechoslovakia as better or worse than other states; still less to try to discredit the Czechs (among whom I count many friends, my husband and my son) as a people. Rather, it is to illustrate for the general reader – of whatever ethnic background or nationality – the danger of perpetuating nationalist myths in which one’s own side is presented as the righteous victim, and the injury done to others ignored or downplayed.

The dramatic, and sometimes tragic, history of Czechoslovakia is fascinating in its own right and deserves to be better known in the English-speaking world. Its achievements were remarkable, and the difficulties with which it had to contend at times exceptional. The variety of ways in which its various regimes were established, suffered, challenged, tolerated, supported or overthrown also sheds light on familiar twentieth-century political problems, from how to protect minorities and sustain democracy to how to account for the Holocaust, understand the spread of Stalinism, or explain the collapse of East European Communism in 1989.
Learn more about Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue