Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Robert Lane Greene's "You Are What You Speak"

Robert Lane Greene is an international correspondent for The Economist, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on Slate, and in other publications. He also wrote a biweekly column for The New Republic from 2002 to 2004. Greene is a frequent television and radio commentator on international affairs, an adjunct assistant professor in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He speaks nine languages and was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a M.Phil. in European politics and society.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity, and reported the following:
On page 99 of You Are What You Speak I work pretty blue – it contains more swear words than almost any other in the book. (Its predecessor, 98, is the winner.) That page is also pretty personal, since I discuss my favorite all-time YouTube video, and how my Danish wife swears.

But 99 is representative in that it introduces a one of the intellectual pillars of the book. Both a black reporter and my wife demonstrate the same feature: on a nasty surprise, they switch to their home language or dialect. The reporter drops Standard English and lets loose a foul-mouthed tirade in what some would call Ebonics when a bug flies into his mouth; my wife, whose English is flawless, always curses in Danish when she smashes a toe on the bed.

But this puts Black English, scorned as “slang” at best and “ghetto” at worst, on par with a great European language, Danish. The point is to introduce to the reader a fundamental principle of linguistics: there are no broken or ungrammatical languages, and that all natural languages share an underlying psychological reality. The following discussion of Black English and the 1997 Ebonics controversy explains that what linguists call African American Vernacular English is a highly regular dialect, no different from Scots or Southern English that way. As different as languages are on the surface, I’m sympathetic to those like Steven Pinker who emphasize the similarities that bind all human speech into a single human faculty called “language”.

But people really don’t want to believe this about Black English. On 99 I quote some of the YouTube commenters under the video of the reporter. I saw a man who was fluently (and in this case hilariously) bidialectal. But the commenters wrote things like “i love how his voice is so pro in the beginning then the real side of him shows!”, and “it is funny how he goes like HICCUM when he gets bug in his mouth fucking nigger! haha lolz.” At the opposite end of the decency spectrum come people like Bill Cosby and Malcolm X who have encouraged blacks to abandon “slang” and learn Standard English to better themselves.

But a man like the reporter in the video shows that one doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other. For many black Americans, the vernacular is part of their soul, signifying friends, family, warmth and home. Learning standard English is a tool that doesn’t need to replace that; it can complement it instead. As someone who grew up with a very Southern-inflected and often very non-standard in English in the home, this argument is dear to me.
Read an excerpt from You Are What You Speak, and learn more about the book and author at Robert Lane Greene's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Justin J. Wert's "Habeas Corpus in America"

Justin J. Wert is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and recipient of the 2006 American Political Science Association’s Edward S. Corwin Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Habeas Corpus in America: The Politics of Individual Rights, and reported the following:
Fortuitously, page 99 of my new book describes the most important changes to habeas corpus in American constitutional and political history, specifically the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867. Passed during the height of Reconstruction, the Act provided for the first time that those held for crimes on the state level could challenge the constitutionality of their detentions in federal courts. Before these changes, state defendants (including slaves) had virtually no opportunity to challenge unconstitutional actions by their states. Combined with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment a year later, we see in 1867 the (slow) beginning of modern habeas corpus law.

Habeas Corpus in America: The Politics of Individual Rights accounts for the development of one of the most important – but least understood – components of American constitutional law. Scholars, legal practitioners, politicians, and citizens alike, hold deeply divergent views about the writ’s historical development and normative function. As a result, we still tend to ask very different questions – and therefore always produce very different answers – about habeas’ function in American constitutional law, theory, and history.

In the book I show how habeas has served as a potent tool of political regime change, enforcement, and dissolution in American politics. Often enough, the most significant changes to habeas corpus rarely come exclusively from the oracular pronouncements of judges. Instead, habeas changes are often initiated and led by a coalition of other institutions in American government, including congress, the president, political parties, state governments, legal academics and jurists, and even interest groups. These political regimes sought to undo the political and legal legacies of the past through strategic changes to habeas corpus in order to establish and then enforce their own vision of constitutional governance in the United States. These regimes certainly understood and took seriously the legal foundations of the writ, but more often than not they looked past existing legal precedents and constraints and, often with the aid of courts that were sympathetic to these regimes, fashioned habeas’ legal structure to reflect the new ideals of their regime’s governing principles. Habeas corpus thus serves as a vehicle through which political regimes attempt to re-order American governing institutions.
Learn more about Habeas Corpus in America at the publisher's website, and visit Justin J. Wert's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2011

Joel Best's "Everyone's a Winner"

Joel Best is Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware and the author of Damned Lies and Statistics, More Damned Lies and Statistics, Flavor of the Month, and Stat-Spotting.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Everyone's a Winner: Life in Our Congratulatory Culture, and reported the following:
I like to tell people my book is about kindergarten soccer trophies. At the end of the season, each player on the team receives a trophy, so that by the time they reach third grade, lots of kids can cover the top of their dressers with awards for participating in sports. Of course, this is just the foot in the trophy-case door. We live in a an era of status affluence, in a congratulatory culture that must distribute tens–probably hundreds–of millions of awards, prizes, and honors each year.

My book seeks to explore the process of prize proliferation. It turns out that everyone favors more prizes, not just those liberals who insist that giving recognition to the disadvantaged can help build self esteem, but also those conservatives who argue that honoring excellence will foster better character. The result is a status cycle: giving more prizes to the hoi polloi justifies new honors to distinguish the elite; while honoring the elite leads to calls for more awards for ordinary folk.

Page 99 finds us in the middle of the chapter on heroes. Just as we’re distributing more trophies and naming more valedictorians, we are labeling more people as heroes. Page 99 offers some examples: Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address characterized Americans--“the citizens of this blessed land”–as heroes; Stephen Colbert uses the term to refer to his audience; and so on. If everyone is a hero, what should we call people who display extraordinary bravery? The word superhero is already taken.

We seem to have a marvelous ability to ignore status inflation. It is nice to be singled out for honors, but much of the satisfaction depends upon viewing the honor as special, and this requires ignoring the larger reality that more and more of us are receiving those honors.
Read an excerpt from Everyone's a Winner, and learn more about the book at the University of California Press website. Visit Joel Best's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kathryn Lofton's "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon"

Kathryn Lofton is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, and reported the following:
Can an icon make a mistake? This is where page 99 of my book finds us. The answer, it turns out, is an absolute no. An icon cannot make a mistake. Icons incorporate every hiccup, confusion, or missed step into their definitive ubiquity, so that potential “mistakes” transform into additional signs of their incorporative brilliance. Here we find Oprah Winfrey trying to recoup her iconic decency through her iconic confessional formats as she grapples with the lying memoirist James Frey. Of course, to some the phrase “lying memoirist” may seem an oddly redundant indictment, but when the crisis of Frey’s factual fudging emerged, Oprah lost no time, sermonizing almost immediately on the importance of Truth.

I use the James Frey episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show also to elaborate a broader argument about the modes of “evangelical disclosure” (a phrase other scholars have used to describe the compulsively exposing revelations on talk show television) Oprah utilizes. Every chapter of the book links aspects of O programming with formats, theologies, and idioms from U.S. religious history. In other chapters I take up comparisons between her work and scriptural interpretive communities or global missionary projects. In this chapter, “Diverting Conversions: The Makeover as Social Rite,” I show how her discursive set-up repeatedly brings sinners to climactic—even orgiastic—release through her cajoling and absolutist solicitations. James Frey becomes then not a singular moment in the Oprah empire, but a powerfully indicative one: how even when she consumes something that causes her some emotional food poisoning, she is still able to use that suffering to her hermeneutic perpetuation. “It made me sick inside,” she shares, speaking about her reaction to his deceptions, connecting her very personal reaction to a set of products (her TV programs, magazine, web site, and nonprofit organizations) bent upon transfiguring the uniqueness of her spiritual insides to a commodity purchasable for your nursing survival.
Learn more about Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sabine Feisst's "Schoenberg’s New World"

Sabine Feisst is Associate Professor of Music History and Literature at Arizona State University. She published a book on concepts of improvisation in new music as well as numerous articles on Arnold Schoenberg and American music in essay collections, professional journals, and encyclopedias.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Schoenberg's New World: The American Years, and reported the following:
Schoenberg’s New World is the first full-length study dedicated to the American years (1933–51) of Arnold Schoenberg, the Viennese-born polarizing pioneer of musical modernism. On page 99 of this book I address Schoenberg’s Jewish identity with which he came to terms privately and professionally while grappling with his German roots and forming a new American identity. Page 99 specifically examines the possibility of Jewish thought inherent in Schoenberg’s approach to music composition. Even though Schoenberg himself never discussed this issue in depth, such scholars as Steven Beller, Leon Botstein, Steven Schwarzschild and André Neher came up with an intriguing array of interpretations. In Beller’s and Botstein’s view, Schoenberg’s modernist musical critique of beauty- and style-obsessed Viennese culture was an ethical stance indebted to the expression of truth and the musical idea, and directly points to the Jewish tradition of ethical stoicism. Schoenberg believed that music should avoid ornaments and other decorative elements and instead focus on earnest and essential expressivity. Further Beller sees in Schoenberg’s use of one musical idea and one twelve-tone row underpinning an entire composition a reflection of the idea of “ethical monotheism,” a secular expression of Jewishness. Schwarzschild compared the idea of a twelve-tone row and its transformations to “variations of the alphabetic acrostic in the Biblical book of Lamentations and indeed, the kabbalistic uses of this practice.” Neher associated Schoenberg’s twelve-tone rows to the number of tribes of Israel or the sons of Jacob. Page 99 is a small puzzle piece within a chapter on Schoenberg’s socialization in America and negotiation of three identities. The discussion of Schoenberg’s Jewish identity from pages 81–112 is preceded by an examination of his German heritage and followed by an in-depth exploration of his socialization in America, his friendship with Americans, and his contributions to American music.

The book also traces Schoenberg’s earliest champions in America, his American works and his music’s performance and publication in the United States. Further the volume elucidates his teaching activities and impact on American music after 1945. Schoenberg’s New World contributes to a new understanding of Schoenberg.
Learn more about Schoenberg’s New World at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Sabine Feisst's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bradford Martin's "The Other Eighties"

Bradford Martin is an associate professor of history at Bryant University in Rhode Island. He is the author of The Theater Is in the Street: Politics and Public Performance in Sixties America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan, and reported the following:
Of course p.99 is representative of the book—though not in entirely obvious ways. On this page, I sketch the boundaries of what I call “post-punk” rock, the marginally commercial, independently produced music in the 1980s that germinated underground, far from the MTV music videos that were the decade’s signature cultural product. Post-punk blossomed from a vast network of subterranean roots. In hundreds of dive bars and clubs, scores of local independent record stores, and dozens of dedicated fanzines, musicians honed an authentic sound drawn from diverse and often whimsical influences, and communities of fans created a distinct shared identity.

So who do I include? My discussion ranges from the Dead Kennedys, to the Minutemen (“America’s Most Conceptual Bar Band”), to R.E.M. Then I claim: “What tied these disparate bands together was less a shared musical aesthetic than a set of influences from 1970s punk, including a do-it-yourself production ethos emphasizing authenticity rather than technological perfection; aural dissonance that consciously challenged mainstream popular music; transgressive subject matter in lyrics and associated visual imagery; and live performances that attempted to bridge the distance between performers and audience.”

This is what ties the page to the rest of the book. Post-punk’s determined opposition to mainstream 1980s popular music parallels the oppositional nature of many of the other movements I discuss from the nuclear freeze movement to the Central America Solidarity Movement to gangsta rap to ACT UP. The focus on do-it-yourself and authenticity rather than relying on a culture of experts and technical perfection, parallels nuclear freeze activists who took on a high priesthood of defense intellectuals, Central America activists who exposed Reagan’s “secret war” in Nicaragua, student divestment activists who shone a searchlight on a tangled web of college and university investment policies that helped sustain South Africa’s apartheid regime, and ACT UP’s self-taught expertise mobilized to pressure pharmaceutical companies and the FDA for faster development, testing, and approval of promising anti-AIDS drugs.

Post-punk voiced opposition to the era’s dominant cultural and political life—Reagan militarism, social conservatism, rampant materialism, and the veneration of corporate America--and so do the movements profiled in the rest of the chapters in The Other Eighties.
Read an excerpt from The Other Eighties, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Robin Fox's "The Tribal Imagination"

Robin Fox, anthropologist, poet, and essayist, is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University and author of Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective and The Red Lamp of Incest: An Enquiry into the Origins of Mind and Society.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Tribal Imagination starts with comments on sectarianism in the Arab world as part of a commentary on sectarianism in general. In light of recent events it is perhaps worth quoting a bit of it.
The Sulafis represent that persistent tendency, noted by Ibn Khaldun, to try to return Islam to its pure form, and which is at the root of current “Islamic terrorism.” This reversion to purity was the aim of the Islamic Congress or Mujama, founded by Ahmed Yasin in Gaza, and the Society of Muslim Brothers founded by Hasan al-Bana… We could go on for there are many more, but the point is made. It is interesting to look at the world’s most thoroughly monotheistic religion to see that the unity of belief in one God and his prophet does nothing to prevent the sectarian tendency. And the sects are all derived, in Moslem countries and history, from male charismatic leaders, usually with a radical agenda to restore the purity of the religion. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are thoroughly recognizable as members of this lineage.
However (we academics love that word) this is not a book about religion or Islam and half of the chapter concerned is about animal dispersion and how the size of a population is constantly being re-adjusted downwards as the group grows. It then asks if that same tendency to disperse is behind the constant tendency to sectarianism in religions and denominations, however different they might be. Judaism is the next example on page 99: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, Samaritans, Ebonites, Nazarines, Zealots – on and on. Hinduism gets its start at the bottom of the page. So this is just part of an extended enquiry that asks how differently things will appear to us if we see the world as a constant struggle between our “tribal” human nature and our civilized aspirations, civilization and particularly industrial civilization being very recent events in our evolutionary history. Such an enquiry takes us more or less anywhere, and it takes us from the nature of time, through human rights, democracy in Iraq (and elsewhere), sectarianism of course, the Ten Commandments (which ten?), incest and the marriage of cousins and strangers as exemplified in literature, male bonding, poetry and memory, and the role of seafood in generating civilization. Much more, but perhaps that will whet the appetite. And remember that our appetites were forged in the pre-civilized era and are themselves struggling with the recent alarming changes.
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Fox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Neeti Nair's "Changing Homelands"

Neeti Nair is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, and reported the following:
Well, true and false. My book Changing Homelands is about politics in a province of British India called Punjab and my narrative stretches across four substantial decades. Page 99 captures a crucial moment in April 1919 when a rather complex actor named Swami Shraddhanand has the attention of tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims in Delhi. Addressing a funeral procession – the dead were victims of police firing – Shraddhanand says:
This day is a blessed one, on which an unbreakable tie of union has been established between the Hindus and Muhammadans. God grant that this union may be cemented still further and no power may be able to undo it. Do not think that the blood which has been spilt today has been shed in vain. What advantage can be greater than a union between the Hindus and Muhammadans?
In most liberal academic histories Shraddhanand is dismissed as a reactionary bigot for his role in allegedly fomenting prejudices between religious communities in the mid-1920s. However, I study his role in the 1919 movement and his memory of it just before his death in 1926 alongside his activities as a so-called bigot to try and understand Shraddhanand’s actions in all their contradictions.

In a sense Shraddhanand is not unique. Several Punjabi political leaders, and indeed all-India figures like Gandhi and Jinnah, worked in contexts where they had to address multiple constituencies and swiftly changing circumstances. My book engages with these contexts, and in a final chapter, I explore the way memories of Punjab before it was violently partitioned in 1947 intersect with the lives of Punjabis in post-Partition India.

Page 99 does give the reader an essence of an event that has hitherto been neglected because it doesn’t fit into neat theories about conflict between religiously defined communities or distinctions between the “good nationalist” and the “bad communalist.” But the reader will need to read before and after to make sense of this tantalizing moment in India’s history.
Visit Neeti Nair's faculty webpage, and learn more about Changing Homelands at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2011

Christopher Lane's "The Age of Doubt"

Christopher Lane is the Pearce Miller Research Professor of Literature at Northwestern University and a recent Guggenheim fellow. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Slate, and many other newspapers and periodicals. He is the author of numerous essays and several books on literature, belief, and psychology, including Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book reproduces a portrait of the Victorian journalist and philosopher Robert Chambers, so there’s not much text on the page, but what is there definitely sums up my argument in the rest of the book.

Chambers, to give some background, was the Scottish author of an anonymous book on evolution and Christianity that became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic and across Europe. It did so, it’s striking to recall, fifteen years before Darwin set off a firestorm with On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859.

Chambers called his book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, and when the well-written tome appeared in 1844 it drew astonished and fascinated reactions from readers as diverse as Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln, Alfred Tennyson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Florence Nightingale and Benjamin Disraeli, Fanny Kemble and Charles Darwin. It’s no exaggeration to say that the book was almost single-handedly responsible for making evolution a widespread topic of conversation, putting religious doubt at the forefront of countless public, household, and church-based discussions.

Because Chambers argued that the progressive evolution of species was fully compatible with God-given laws, Vestiges let middle-class readers in Britain and North America consider evidence for evolution without automatically condemned as irreligious. The Victorians took to the book warmly, allowing it to spark one of the most significant cultural discussions of the nineteenth century. As a result, evolution left the Ivory Tower and streets and entered the home. Owing to Chambers, Darwin, and several other key figures, my book argues, the Victorians came as close as they ever would to publicly debating their beliefs and their doubts.

The Age of Doubt tackles this and related controversies over science and faith that roiled Victorian England and forever altered its assumptions and cultural landscape. While many Victorians experienced an intense crisis of faith, which I detail carefully and I hope sensitively in the book, their culture also was responsible for turning doubt from a religious sin into an ethical necessity. The implications of that shift in emphasis are enormous. For that reason alone, their lively, thoughtful, and sometimes-pugnacious debates are well worth revisiting. They speak to us even as we continue discussing their merits and accuracy.

Their debates, I argue in the book, also generated a far more searching engaging with religious belief than the “new atheism” that has evolved today. More profoundly than any generation before them, the Victorians came to view doubt as inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, as well as a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and unbridled certainty. By contrast, a look at today’s extremes—from the biblical literalists behind the Creation Museum to the dogmatic rigidity of Richard Dawkins’ atheism—highlights our modern-day inability to embrace doubt.

My book, then, is a robust defense of doubt. It argues that good things come from it—including moderation, creativity, reflection, and freethought—and that doubt is necessary whatever one believes, precisely to clarify those beliefs and whether they risk being misplaced. With religious extremism on the rise in many parts of the world, including ours, I consider the Victorians’ debates about faith and doubt to be part of a profoundly humanistic impulse that we need now, more than ever.
Learn more about The Age of Doubt at the Yale University Press website and Christopher Lane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Patricia S. Churchland's "Braintrust"

Patricia S. Churchland is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books include Brain-Wise and Neurophilosophy. In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality, and reported the following:
The main idea of Braintrust, wrapping page 99, fore and aft:

In the evolution of the mammalian brain, circuitry for regulating one’s own survival and well-being was modified. For sociality, the result was that the ambit of me extends to include others -- me-and-mine. Offspring, mates, and kin came to be embraced in the sphere of me-ness; we nurture them, fight off threats to them, keep them warm and safe. My brain knows these others are not me, but if I am attached to them, their predicament fires-up me-ness circuitry, motivating other-care that resembles self-care. Oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule, is at the hub of the neural adaptations sustaining mammalian sociality. Among its many roles, oxytocin decreases the stress response, making possible the friendly, trusting interactions typical of life in social mammals.

An additional evolutionary change crucial for mammalian sociality/morality is an enhanced capacity to learn, regulated by social pain and social pleasure. Social benefits are accompanied by socials demands; we have to get along, but not put up with too much. Hence increased capacity for impulse control and judgment -- being aggressive or compassionate or indulgent at the right time -- is also hugely advantageous.

Conscience, from this perspective, is the feltwork of powerful intuitions about what is proper and right, anchored by attachments and the urge for social life, and tuned to social practices that are learned by imitation, trial and error, and imagination. Different ecological niches will yield different ways life, possibly reflected in diverging ideas about birth and death, about marriage and religion.

Social problem-solving, including policy-making, is an instance of problem-solving more generally, and draws upon the capacity to envision consequences of a plan. Improving upon current practices and technologies -- moving from copper to iron, moving from divine right of kings to elected councils -- is distinctive in humans. Rules tend to come in when group-size expands, or when social life becomes so complex that disagreements must be negotiated. Families may have unarticulated but closely followed practices about when to deviate from the truth, but in settling who chops the wood and who milks the cow, rules are stated to prevent squabbling. Unlike other mammals, humans have developed highly complex language, and astonishingly complex cultures. This means that our sociality, and consequently our systems of ethical values, have become correspondingly complex.
Read an excerpt from Braintrust, and learn more about the book and author from the Princeton University Press website and Patricia S. Churchland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2011

Patrick Q. Mason's "The Mormon Menace"

Patrick Q. Mason is Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of an interdisciplinary research initiative entitled Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South, and reported the following:
“All religions are guaranteed by the Constitution, but whenever any system goes beyond common morality, it ceases to be a religion, and should be unceremoniously stopped.”

So said the Yorkville Enquirer, a South Carolina newspaper that was one of the leading voices in the late nineteenth-century South calling for strong regional and national responses to what was deemed the “Mormon menace.” That quote, and the conversation surrounding it on page 99 of my book The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South, captures nicely not only one of the key arguments of the book but also in part why I wrote it.

With backgrounds in both American religious history and peace studies, I’m fascinated with the limits of religious tolerance in America, and especially the historical use of violence in patrolling the boundaries of what was constructed as acceptable practice. On page 99 I’m grappling in particular with the thorny question of religious freedom: if the First Amendment guarantees “the free exercise” of religion, then how could Americans—and particularly southerners, who I mainly focus on—justify repressing Mormonism?

There were many rebuttals to the Mormon position that their peculiar institution of plural marriage was protected by the Constitution. But crucially, as much as Americans despised the particularities of Mormon belief, they rarely claimed to prosecute what was in the head or heart, only what was lived out in society. The most repressive forms of anti-Mormonism were based on a defense of orthopraxis, not orthodoxy. Indeed, it was when religious practice—not belief—became so obnoxious, so beyond the pale, that, in the Yorkville Enquirer’s analysis, “it ceases to be a religion,” and simply became criminal.

Mormons were beaten, whipped, kidnapped, expelled, and killed in the postbellum South not because they read the Book of Mormon or believed Joseph Smith was a modern-day prophet, but because southerners were afraid that LDS missionaries would seduce their women and entice them away to their polygamous harems in the West. If anything, anti-Mormon violence was more sexual than theological. Polygamy thus defined the limits of First Amendment free exercise rights even as it denied its practitioners the ability to claim those rights.
Learn more about The Mormon Menace at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ayşe Zarakol's "After Defeat"

Ayşe Zarakol is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, After Defeat: How the East Learned to Live with the West, and reported the following:
The general lack of attention given to the particular cultural and historical origins to the modern international system may be one of the most glaring oversights in the discipline of International Relations. The emotional price that the majority of peoples around the world had to pay as a result of joining a system of states with very specific cultural origins (in Western Europe)—the rules of which they did not create, the norms of which were unfamiliar at best, the major players of which judged and explicitly labeled them as inferior, and the ontology of which convinced them that they indeed were lacking in someway—is swept under the rug as being irrelevant to international affairs.

People who have grown up in countries whose modernity is never in question may not fully consider how all-consuming the stigma of comparative backwardness may become for a society; how tiring it is to conduct all affairs under the gaze of an imaginary and imagined West, which is simultaneously idealized and suspected of the worst kind of designs; or how scary it is to live continuously on the brink of being swallowed by a gaping chasm of “Easternness”, which is simultaneously denigrated and touted as the more authentic, the more realistic, choice. There is an important story to be told behind each instance of socialization (and, therefore, stigmatization) around the globe which have, until now, been treated as unproblematic.

In After Defeat I focus on three of these stories: those of Turkey, Japan and Russia. The term “defeat” in the title stands for two things. On the one hand, the title refers to the larger defeat of the Eastern agrarian empires (or “the East” in general) by Western modernity. On the other hand, it refers to the particular defeats these former empires suffered in the 20th century after their last-ditch efforts to fight the West on equal terms. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, each country has preferred policies that were meant to signal an understanding and acceptance of the international norms that stigmatized them. For instance, having been charged with a lack of “civilization,” Turkey directed all of its efforts to obliterating signs of “Easternness”; Japan swore off its militarist past to embrace pacifism; and enigmatic Russia set upon (an albeit unsustained) course of transparency and openness to foreign advice. Each state dealt with its status deficit by choosing policies that would increase its international social capital, given the norms of international society at the time of their defeat: a secular European model of modernization and nation-building in the case of Turkey; economic development within the American parameters in the case of Japan; and a “triple-transition” in the case of the former Soviet Union. The book consists of two parts: in the first part I advance a theory of insider-outsider dynamics in the modern states system; the second part consists primarily of case studies.

The Page 99 Test works pretty well for After Defeat – page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge] is towards the end of my third chapter, where I develop a theory of international stigmatization. It may not be the most accessible point in the book (for that see the introduction or the case studies), but it is representative of the theoretical thrust of the chapter. I argue on this page that countries that are not colonized will have different response to international stigmatization than those that were. Whether stigmatization precedes or follows modern state-building process is important. Page 99 also has the beginning of the section where I argue that stigmatization affects states in a similar way as it does individuals because of the collective memory generating institutions of the modern nation-state.
Read an excerpt from After Defeat, and learn more about the book and author at Ayşe Zarakol's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Diane Coyle's "The Economics of Enough"

Diane Coyle runs Enlightenment Economics, a consulting firm specializing in technology and globalization, and is the author of a number of books on economics, including The Soulful Science, Sex, Drugs and Economics, and The Weightless World. A BBC trustee and a visiting professor at the University of Manchester, she holds a PhD in economics from Harvard.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters, and reported the following:
This page of The Economics of Enough captures my main theme. It’s in a chapter called ‘Posterity’. The page specifically concerns the impossibility of sustaining the present system of welfare, pensions and other state spending when western countries have growing numbers of elderly people relying on the support of fewer and fewer taxpayers. It quotes a semi-joke from Axel Weber, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank, who said future taxpayers are taking evasive action:

“They are doing the only thing they can. They’re avoiding being born.”

The growing problem of deficits and debt – not just the parts that are included in the government’s accounts but also the implicit political promise to look after the old and infirm – is only one problem of sustainability. The Economics of Enough brings together the issues of debt, inequality and fairness, civic life and the quality of the environment, linked by the failure of policy-making to take proper account of the future. We are eating into the legacy needed for our children and grandchildren to have at least the same standard of living as us. What a contrast with the legacies left by earlier generations of political and business leaders in the US, UK and other western countries.

Changing the present short-sightedness will require change in three areas. One is how we measure the economy, where the priority is to measure properly national wealth as well as national income. What assets have been created and what debts incurred, including government finance but also the national infrastructure, and natural and human capital? The second is devising institutions which embody a concern about the future – the economy is not all about either markets or states, and we should pay attention to the rich array of other economic institutions from 100-year-old corporations to voluntary groups that plant trees. The third is to remind ourselves - and high finance – that healthy capitalism has a strong sense of morality and that includes stewardship.

And as page 99 puts it, what governments – and we – cannot do is carry on ignoring the future. The unsustainable never gets sustained.
Read more about The Economics of Enough, and visit The Enlightened Economist blog.

Writers Read: Diane Coyle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Susan Conley’s "The Foremost Good Fortune"

Susan Conley is a native of Maine whose work has been published in magazines such as The Paris Review, the Harvard Review and The North American Review. Her New York Times Magazine “Lives” column about living in China and contending with the H1N1 epidemic got the attention of a lot of readers. As an editor at Ploughshares Magazine in Boston, she wrote book reviews and profiles. She’s also taught creative writing and literature at several colleges.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, the memoir The Foremost Good Fortune, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Foremost Good Fortune is one third of the way through the book. Which means the page lives in a chapter that is still cancer-free, and the book is still a journal of a great family road-trip—part travelogue and part parenting handbook of successes and disasters after my husband, Tony, and I moved our two boys to China.

But in just ten more pages the book paints an uncomfortable scene in an ultrasound room at a Beijing hospital when I begin to learn I have cancer. So what page 99 does is crystallize a few themes the book has been circling: mortality, family history, and candor with kids. On this page the boys and Tony and I have just seen where Mao’s body lies embalmed in an enormous tomb in Tiananmen Square. We’re back in our Buick minivan—partly fascinated by what the Chinese have done with their dead leader and partly creeped out.

And this talk about Mao’s body and his death leads us all into a deep conversation about how my grandfather died and where he is buried back in the States. I don’t know how my boys have connected the dots, but they see Mao’s tomb and begin to think they have a handle on immortality. My younger son, Aidan, says that whenever we want to see my dead grandfather, all we have to do is drive to Vermont and “move the gravestone over” to take a look. So what I also do on page 99 is try to disabuse my kids of this notion. “It must be Mao’s tomb that’s sparked them,” I write.

But first I get air space for a little dramatic monologue about my grandfather. Call it an ode. I never thought the man would feature so much in my book. But he had a huge laugh and an even bigger heart, and I think he helped make me the kind of writer who could move her family to China on the eve of the Olympics. So for this book of mine the Page 99 Test is uncannily good fit.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Conley's website and blog.

Writers Read: Susan Conley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2011

Philip Mirowski's "Science-Mart"

Philip Mirowski is Carl Koch Professor of Economics and the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science, and reported the following:
To report on page 99 I have to cheat a little bit and quote something from page 385 footnote 6. There I report that my editor told me “People don’t buy long books anymore.” He meant that readers have become impatient with books that string together a large number of smaller discrete arguments into something much bigger which can only be understood by working through the sequence; perhaps the baleful influence of PowerPoint has fostered the conviction that if you can’t reduce it to five bullet points, it ain’t worth the effort.

My book Science-Mart seeks to call into question the entire amorphous movement to commodify and commercialize scientific research since the 1980s. To accomplish that, it provides (among other things) a history of what economists have said about the ways science operates; a history of three discrete regimes of American science organization in the 20th century; surveys of intellectual property and the biotech sector; an exploration into the difficult question of whether and how much science has been harmed by the commercialization process; and a final meditation on why people are so inclined to believe the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is inherently efficient, when it might just as equally render people more stupid. Lots of stories are recounted along the way to break up the standard genre of academic argument, from the fate of the Oncomouse™ to the fate of Larry Summers.

Page 99 is only getting warmed up recounting how science got simultaneously introduced into both the American university and the large corporation in the early years of the 20th century, something which made the US scene very different from prior German experience. The purpose of this section is to counteract the commonplace belief in the early 21st century that “science has always been commercial”, and thus from some vantage points, what is happening nowadays is really not so very new or threatening. Instead, I point out that science back then was almost never ‘outsourced’, even though it was conducted in corporate labs to generate new commodities, because no one believed back then that research was completely fungible, on a par with the production of widgets imported from some geographically remote firm. A capacity for innovation was something you built, not something you bought. In other words, the “marketplace of ideas” is a notion that took hold only in the late 20th century, with dire results.
Learn more about Science-Mart at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kevin Elliott's "Is a Little Pollution Good for You?"

Kevin Elliott is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works fairly well in this case. Page 99 is part of the fourth chapter, which discusses the importance of safeguarding policy-relevant scientific research from “deep pockets” who aim to influence science for their benefit. Sometimes the influences of powerful interest groups are fairly obvious. For example, chapter four discusses research on bisphenol A (BPA), a substance found in numerous plastic materials including many baby bottles and the liners of some food cans. Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri, found evidence that BPA could interfere with the hormonal system of rats, potentially contributing to reproductive cancers and other forms of abnormal development. He later found that, whereas 94 out of 104 government-funded studies found effects comparable to those vom Saal reported, none of the 11 industry-funded studies on the topic reported effects at the same dose levels.

Other influences of deep pockets are more subtle. On page 99, I provide the example of Eli Lilly, which has been accused of trying to promote a questionable new disease concept for their financial benefit. About ten years ago, in response to the worry that their patent on Prozac would be expiring soon, Lilly allegedly took a variety of steps to promote the idea that many women suffer from the disease of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of PMS. They were then able to obtain extended patent protection to market Prozac under a new name, Sarafem, for the newly recognized disease condition of PMDD.

My book as a whole extends the themes found on page 99 and throughout chapter four by exploring scientific research on a phenomenon called hormesis. It involves beneficial effects caused by low-dose exposure to normally toxic substances. (Think, for instance, of the way alcohol appears to increase human mortality rates when consumed in large quantities but decreases mortality rates—below those of teetotalers—when consumed in small quantities.) Some scientists claim that the hormesis phenomenon would support dramatically weakening current government regulations on pollution—because pollutants are less harmful than we thought and perhaps even beneficial! Others respond that hormesis proponents have made questionable judgments about what research questions to ask, how to interpret and communicate the available data, and what policy conclusions to draw. My book explores ways to make policy-relevant science more responsive to a range of societal perspectives other than those of deep pockets.
Learn more about Is a Little Pollution Good for You? at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Kevin C. Elliott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stephanie Coontz's "A Strange Stirring"

Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College. Her books include Marriage, a History, The Way We Never Were, and The Way We Really Are. She lives in Olympia, Washington.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, and reported the following:
My book started as a biography of Betty Friedan’s influential 1963 bestseller, The Feminine Mystique. But after interviewing 188 women and men who read that book at the time and researching the legal barriers and social prejudices facing women in the postwar decades, I realized this was the collective story of the sidelined wives and daughters of “the Greatest Generation.” A Strange Stirring looks back to the days when the civil rights movement and an emerging student movement were shaking up America but school girls were not allowed to be crossing guards, wives were still governed by “head and master” laws giving husbands the final say over family life, and women seeking jobs had to turn to the "Help-Wanted: Female" ads.

Friedan’s book did not appeal to all women, and initially I was put off by her focus on a white, middle-class audience. But these women faced peculiar dilemmas. Many of them had recently moved into the middle class – often by marrying men who had taken advantage of the GI Bill or found family-wage jobs in the booming postwar economy. They knew they were better off than their mothers and grandmothers, and also luckier than working-class white women and African-American women of all income groups (both of whose experiences I describe in a later chapter). And yet they felt something was missing. And they believed the leading thinkers of the day who claimed that any discontent with women’s assigned roles was a symptom of severe psychological maladjustment. The words I heard most often from these women were “I thought I was crazy” – until Friedan told them their unhappiness was not a personal weakness but the result of a social injustice: their exclusion from any source of meaning and productive work other than that of caring for husbands and children.

Page 99 of my book is half of the final paragraph of chapter 5, a chapter based on what I was told by women and men about how Friedan’s book affected them. The quote I end with is not typical of the book because it is from Gary Gerst, one of the relatively few men I was able to interview. But it illustrates how reading Freidan made him understand the issues facing women in those days:
For Gerst, “the problem with no name” meant that women “had been muffled, ignored, not even allowed to give voice to a truth or even able to describe it. How awful that such discontent by so many for so long was muted without even a term with which to understand it.... I know that from then on it also influenced what type of women I wished to date and eventually marry. I sought strong women who were not about to surrender their dreams or self to assigned servitude or silence.”
Learn more about the book and author at Stephanie Coontz's website.

The Page 69 Test: Stephanie Coontz's Marriage, A History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Douglas A. Irwin's "Peddling Protectionism"

Douglas A. Irwin is the Robert E. Maxwell '23 Professor of Arts and Sciences in the Department of Economics at Dartmouth College and the author of Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade and Free Trade under Fire.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression, and reported the following:
Page 99 happens to be the conclusion to chapter 1 of my book, which is on the domestic politics behind the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930. (That Congressional tariff act was and is controversial for having increased U.S. import duties as the world economy was slipping into the Great Depression.)

The page notes:
One of the ironies of the Smoot-Hawley tariff is that it did not originate primarily as a result of interest group pressure ... Republican politicians offered up a tariff in the hopes that it would placate farm interests and demonstrate that they were doing something to help agriculture.... The process spun out of control and, as a result, the Smoot-Hawley tariff will forever be associated with logrolling, special interest politics, and the inability of members of Congress to think beyond their own district. The episode illustrates that politicians are just as guilty as interest groups when it comes to using economic legislation to their benefit. The politicians were more interested in the appearance rather than the reality of helping farmers cope with low prices and high indebtedness.
Actually, this page is a very good summary of the book up to that point – how the Smoot-Hawley tariff got its well-deserved reputation for being a terrible and terribly ill-timed piece of legislation. Because Congress failed to consider the overall impact of the import duties on the American economy, it contributed to the poisoning of international trade relations in the 1930s and the rise of discriminatory measures against U.S. exports that proved difficult to eliminate. One consequence of the Smoot-Hawley tariff is that Congress never again touched the tariff code of the United States, but instead delegated trade policy making powers to the executive branch. The result was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, now the WTO), established after World War II.

The remaining three chapters of my short book deal with the economic consequences of the Smoot-Hawley tariff, the foreign reaction in terms of retaliation against U.S. exports, and the legacy of Smoot-Hawley for today. The book is also filled with photographs and political cartoons from the era to illustrate the contemporary debate over the issue.

I wish that we had applied the “Page 65” test to the book. On that page we have an excerpt of a verse from Ogden Nash. Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah, after whom the legislation is named, also wanted to ban imports of obscene books, such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This gave birth to the memorable headline “Smoot Smits Smut” and to a great poem by Nash, which has the line: “Senator Smoot is an institute, not to be bribed with pelf; he guards our homes from erotic tomes, by reading them all himself.”
Read an excerpt from Peddling Protectionism, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jay M. Smith's "Monsters of the Gévaudan"

Jay M. Smith is John Van Seters Distinguished Term Professor at the University of North Carolina.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast, and reported the following:
I felt relief and a spine-tingling thrill—hey, maybe there’s something to this!—when I flipped though my book and arrived at page 99. The following excerpt from that page describes an event from February of 1765. Thousands of residents of the remote French region of the Gévaudan had gathered in pursuit of a mysterious creature that had killed dozens of women and children across two provinces:
The events of the weekend ranked among the most horrible and deflating in all of the Gévaudan’s long experience with its affliction. On Saturday afternoon near the village of Mialanette, within the parish of Malzieu and only about half a league from the Morangiès chateau in Saint-Alban, the beast struck again. A ‘young and pretty girl of fourteen or fifteen years’ was killed and decapitated, probably as she led livestock to or from a nearby pasture. A peasant in the village noticed the beast carrying away what looked like a human head as it made its way toward the woods. He and several companions set off after the beast, which fled on their arrival. A ghastly sight greeted the villagers. The girl’s head had been gnawed almost beyond recognition, though her eyes, seemingly ‘untouched,’ stared out in blank horror.

Morangiès and Duhamel both came running when they heard the news, no doubt stunned that the violence had occurred directly under the nose of a mobilized populace. The shaken Morangiès delivered a sympathetic but bracing speech to the grieving peasants who had assembled in a great crowd over the body of the victim. ‘My children,’ he is reported to have said, ‘today you are spectators; on another day you yourself may serve as the spectacle. Join me tomorrow so that we may prevent that misfortune.’
Another fair, young girl had been ravaged and dismembered—this time in the shadows of a large, organized hunt involving as many as 20,000 men, dozens of local lords, and deputies of the king. No event from the long and bloody episode of the “beast of the Gévaudan” conveys more clearly the frustrations that gripped those who searched for the notorious monster. And no other killing—more than a hundred victims would die between 1764 and 1767—could be more representative of this protracted rural tragedy. The beast took the lives of simple peasants, almost all of them assaulted in village pastures while guarding their flocks and herds. The demographic profile of the victim from Mialanette also fit a well-established pattern. Two-thirds of the fatalities in the Gévaudan and its environs were female; 66 of the 77 victims with verifiable ages were twenty-years-old or younger. The narrative related on page 99 captures much: the shocking violence central to the whole experience, the terrified vulnerability of adolescents and women, the desperation of the men charged with ending the carnage.

What’s missing, alas, is the essence of the book’s argument. On pages 1-98 and 100-282 I highlight the many contemporary forces—intellectual, religious, scientific, commercial, political, folkloric—that combined to turn the vicious killer of the Gévaudan (a wolf, almost certainly) into a fantastic creature of hideous character and grotesque dimensions. That is, the imagined beast of the Gévaudan, as opposed to the very real beast and the awful damage it inflicted, has no more than a spectral presence on page 99, though it dominates most others. Which is why, I suppose, books are best read cover to cover.
Learn more about  Monsters of the Gévaudan at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Natasha Kumar Warikoo's "Balancing Acts"

Natasha Kumar Warikoo is Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City, and reported the following:
In Balancing Acts I reveal the cultural lives of children of immigrants attending multiethnic schools in two global cities: New York and London. I describe and analyze the aspects of youth cultures that adults most worry about: attitudes, music tastes and styles, behaviors related to conflict, and influences on peer status. These are dimensions of children’s cultural worlds that immigrants are most concerned about, and that academics emphasize when trying to understand how the second generation will incorporate into US society. Parents, policymakers, and academics alike hope that children of immigrants will not develop negative attitudes toward schooling; that they won’t learn to listen to music and don styles that signal a counterculture or rebellion; and that they won’t get into fights and become as outspoken and defiant as many of their American peers. These behaviors, according to both conventional wisdom as well as some academic writing, are the determinants of whether children of immigrants will succeed in their lives. So I took some time to focus on the cultural lives of second generation teenagers, to find out what their attitudes are, what music and styles they prefer, what their tastes mean to them, how they deal with conflict, and what determines peer status. By delving deeply into not only what students are doing, listening to, and wearing, but also why they make the choices they make and what meanings those cultural symbols have to them, I paint a very different picture of urban youth cultures from the one perceived by those who fear urban youth cultures.

Although academic achievement is quite low in both of the high schools I studied—less than half of students graduate in the New York school, and less than half in the London site leave school eligible to apply to university—I found little evidence for oppositional peer cultures, and no evidence that perceptions of discrimination lead to low aspirations. Students engaged in behaviors thought to signify disinterest in education—they got into fights, talked back to teachers, and came late to class. However, I found that these behaviors coincided with positive orientations toward school. What explained them was the high importance that teens placed on peer status, for which they needed to socialize, defend self-pride, show toughness among peers, wear the ‘right’ clothing, and listen to the ‘right’ music. This was especially true for boys.

Students were attempting a delicate balancing act between school success and peer success, and some demonstrated greater “code-switching” skills in that balance, while others favored either peer status to the detriment of school success—kids who got into fights even if it meant getting suspended, for example—and others favored school success to the detriment of peer status—for example by wearing unstylish clothes, and not socializing with their peers. The similarity between taste cultures in New York and London suggests a global urban youth culture in which American hip-hop and rap are popular, and which leads to black racial identity having high peer status in both urban settings.

On page 99 I explain the role of fighting among boys in both schools. In order to maintain one’s pride and seem tough, an essential element of peer status, boys had to demonstrate a willingness to fight if provoked. Moreover in tough, under resourced schools such as these, fighting is not just a source of peer status, it is a necessary tool for survival.

Page 99:
Many boys in both cities told me about instrumental fights in junior high or ninth grade that "proved" to peers that they were tough and, as in Robert's experience, prevented future harassment and the need for future fights. The threat alone that one is willing to fight when necessary—as demonstrated by a ninth-grade fight—was enough to prevent future conflicts. This finding may explain why school violence seems to be more commonly experienced in the early years of high school. A national survey in the United States showed that ninth-grade students are more than twice as likely to report being threatened or injured with a weapon in school than are twelfth-grade students ( 12.1 percent versus 6.3 percent) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007, table 4.1).

A fine line divided instrumental narratives that described a student engaging in peer conflict to prevent further bullying and narratives that more explicitly referenced the need to demonstrate toughness and to maintain self-pride in front of peers. Pradeep's story is one example. Pradeep came to New York from India at age thirteen and got involved with local gangs soon after he arrived, which was just three years before I met him. He wore a bandana over his long hair (required by his Sikh religion) rather than a turban—the bandana looked somewhat like the do-rags that many of his peers wore. Pradeep told me that he did not engage in "all that bad stuff" in India. I asked him to explain why he changed when he came to the United States. He told me: "I have to get involved. Because if you don't, they tease you for no reason, like the big boys. Yeah, anyone—like big boys. . . . He's gonna be like, 'You're this and that. You cannot fight.' And you know, I used to be like that in middle school, but when I came over here [to high school], I met boys like him [points to friend], big boys, and that's all." A tall and brawny boy himself, Pradeep later emphasized: "There is no other option; you have to fight, because if you don't fight, you get insulted, you get beaten up by other kids. If you want to stay alive over here, you have to fight."

Pradeep's earnest explanations for his fights demonstrate his perception of the necessity of fights to prevent real, physical violence from peers; it is an instrumental explanation. However, in response to his middle school experience, he got involved with a gang as a means of protection. He went from being a victim of bullying in junior high school to a member of a gang that may bully others. During his interview he described with excitement an instance of rivalry between his gang and another, in which he was shot in the leg at a distant park.
Boys who regularly got into fights—including Pradeep, a former gang member—expressed high aspirations and value in education as a means for social mobility. Pradeep told me he wants to become an engineer in the future, and that he wanted to change his ways. This is the puzzle I explain in Balancing Acts. Many adults take a superficial look at inner city schools as assume children attending them do not want to learn and do not have high aspirations for themselves. A deeper look shows that this is not the case at all. Read Balancing Acts for a deeper understanding of just what youth cultures are all about in global cities like London and New York.
Learn more about Balancing Acts at the the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Deborah Cohen's "Braceros"

Deborah Cohen is associate professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico, and reported the following:
I think that page 99 is representative of the general flavor of the book, which relies heavily on oral histories of former braceros. A bracero, for those unacquainted with the term, is Spanish for a manual worker. The bracero program, really a series of U.S.-Mexico agreements in effect off and on from 1942-1964 which brought Mexican men to do agricultural labor, derives its informal name from this term. I conducted some of the oral histories I use and the remaining ones were done by other researchers.

The book is about the transformations that braceros went through as they struggled to negotiate a screening process and work and living conditions that they were unfamiliar with and often did not understand. The reader should know that in addition to the braceros, there are lots of other actors in this book: large agricultural growers, U.S. and Mexican government officials, foremen, domestic labor organizers, domestic farmworkers, and Catholic priests.

Quoted from pages 98-101:
At reception centers [places were braceros were screened], buses and trains from migratory stations across Mexico converged for the final step in the [screening] process. Before the men, tired and hungry from the long journey, were allowed to eat, they received a small-pox vaccination…Their hands were examined, this time by Mexican and U.S. officials from corresponding health departments. “[The examiners] touched our hands,” said one bracero. “They were the knowledgeable ones, they chose people, they decided who would go and work, and who wouldn’t.” Men who came from the cities, suggested another, “spen[t] several days rubbing their hands with rocks.” When the recruiter saw the calluses, the man continued, he would pass the candidate through. “I fooled the doctors and all.” Another man took chalk and rubbed it on his o0wn soft hands, “until they turned hard,” to convince them he was a peasant.

Those passing muster had their information typed up by young Mexican women sitting behind long tables. After this inspection, men would disrobe, said a former bracero, and a doctor would give each one a physical exam, searching for lice, disease, and physical injuries, along with an x-ray to check for tuberculosis. A doctor, he said, “would make sure that we didn’t suffer from hemorrhoids or any disease”… “The doctor would examine your eyes, your ears,” don Álvaro informed me. “He’d look into your mouth and examine your teach…I remember that he’d especially search for scars—new scars. They didn’t want new scars.” Man after man informed me that officials scrutinized bodies for evidence not of poor work habits but of recent injuries and pain. For U.S. officials, new scars called into question a man’s ability to withstand the backbreaking labor. For the bracero candidate, in contrast, they put at risk the claim that his body was a strong, virile instrument, thus undercutting his claim to manhood.

Men were then deloused with DDT and their clothes washed and disinfected why they showered. “Thousands came every day,” said one bracero. “Once we got there, they’d send us in groups of two hundred, as naked as we came into the work, into a big room about sixty feet square. The men would come in masks, with tanks on their backs, and they’d fumigate us from top to bottom. Supposedly we were flea-bitten and germ-ridden,” he recounted. “Clearly many had lice,” said another man, but others didn’t. “No one,” he was told, “had lice but because of how we were dressed and what we looked like after traveling so long, the assumed that we had them.” “We were hot and covered with direct when we arrived,” a man remembered. “Often we didn’t have real shoes. We looked like we would have bugs.” “The United States,” don Ávaro stated frankly, “didn’t want any lice, any bugs from Mexico coming into their country.” Migrants conveyed strong sentiment about this point in the journey. The idea of having bugs, of being covered with direct, of not being dressed properly, offers a window onto the men’s experiences at the border. They crossed at a time when parasites signified dirt, disease, and a life without running water. In this forced inspection, they were flagged as potential carriers of disease and, in the process, linked to racialized poverty…

Hopeful braceros, especially those who had come more than once, understood what growers were looking for and tried to act the part. “I had a lot of trouble getting contracted…They found out that I had six years of school. They only wanted dumb people.” “I always wear shabby clothes and sandals, instead of shoes to get contracted,” said another. “After I am selected, I take a shower and change. The growers seem to prefer the dirty, poorly-dressed men…”

These moments of selection reflected more than mere physical intrusion; they were games of strategy. For migrant aspirants, they were casting calls, scenes in which men—bakers, mechanis, waiters, carpenters, construction workers, and agricultural wage laborers—were required to perform backwardness for U.S. officials and growers down to the last detail: no belt, cowboy hat, or shoes; only huaraches (sandals), the quintessential sign of indigeneity. No city slickers, with schooling beyond their life’s station, need apply. Men were reduced to their hands, calluses, and muscles. Those chosen performed this backwardness well, acting like the docile humble Indians that growers sought. Moments of scrutiny and the performances that they demanded from braceros came to stand for the border between Mexico and the United States, a physical line which symbolically mapped the signs of nationality and national difference for which officials screened onto a specifically U.S. gendered class and racial hierarchy. As we will see, these differences screened for at the border, and the hierarchy they supported, would be reproduced…in braceros’ subsequent interactions with growers, foremen, other migrant farmworkers, and U.S. government authorities…Onto these men who came for money and whose physical appearance after the long journey branded them as probably carriers of lice or other vermin, were etched notions of disease, danger, and foreign contagion, all of which was conflated with Mexicanness. The racialized notions were then instantiated and given continued life…within the United States…
Learn more about Braceros at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 3, 2011

James D. Hornfischer's "Neptune's Inferno"

James D. Hornfischer is a writer, literary agent, and former book editor. He is the author of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, both widely acclaimed accounts of the U.S. Navy during World War II in the Pacific.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, and reported the following:
How does a country kid from Georgia make his way in the modern U.S. Navy, circa 1942? Can he cope with a technology so advanced it seems like magic, succeed in a military meritocracy, and fight a war against a ruthless enemy such as the Japanese?

On page 99 of Neptune’s Inferno, we're exploring these vexing questions. The captain of a destroyer observes that the Georgia boys on his ship were a bit too parochial for some things. For one, they had to be kept off the intercom circuit, because their drawl was an impediment to communication. They had a hard time grasping some technical matters, such as relative compass bearings, which made them less than desirable as lookouts.

However, Captain Joseph C. Wylie, the skipper of the USS Fletcher, recalled an incident earlier in his career, in 1930, when as a greenhorn officer he walked in on two superiors having a fist-banging argument about whether rifle or pistol marksmanship was an inborn skill or a teachable trade. One of the officers, Lewis B. Puller (who would later rise to legend as a commander of Marines) told his counterpart, Lloyd Mustin (who became a pioneer in radar-controlled naval gunnery), “I can take any dumb son of a bitch and teach him to shoot.”

Puller pointed to Wylie, the future destroyer captain, and said, “I can even teach him.”

A ten-dollar bet ensued. Puller took young Wylie under his wing. A few weeks later, ashore at a rifle range, Wylie shot well enough to earn a medal designating him as an expert Marine rifleman.

Captain Wylie recalled that moment as a breakthrough to understanding what his rural crewmen were capable of. Preparing to lead them into action in the crucible of the brutal Guadalcanal naval campaign in 1942, he learned to teach them in a way that built upon their native gifts. “Wylie was a good enough leader to appreciate what the recruits from the countryside brought to the game. ‘They were highly motivated,’ he said. ‘They just came to fight.’”

The great gathering of manpower that America assembled to fight Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany required that kind of finesse. By the end of it, America had won not only at Guadalcanal, but had helped save the world from tyranny. On page 99 of Neptune’s Inferno, we get an intimate glimpse of how that came to happen.
Read an excerpt from Neptune's Inferno, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Liel Leibovitz & Matthew Miller's "Fortunate Sons"

Liel Leibovitz is a writer and teaches at New York University. He is the co-author (with Todd Gitlin) of The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election and (with Matthew Miller) of Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II.

Leibovitz and Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Empire, and reported the following:
If, dear reader, you read but one page of our new book, Fortunate Sons, page 99 would be a stellar choice.

It begins with our protagonists—young Chinese boys dispatched to study in America and learn the ways of the west—at their moment of arrival in San Francisco in 1872. They are overwhelmed by the bustling metropolis, but largely unaware of the troubling political forces at play.

“The arriving students,” we write, “too young to appreciate the political and social currents, could be forgiven for naively believing that San Francisco was a paradise for the Chinese, a glittering city where self-exiled immigrants were able to enjoy mechanical elevators and electric bells whenever they please.”

On page 99, you, reader, will learn what the excitable boys do not yet know: that San Francisco, for all of its wonders, was a place deeply hostile to its Chinese immigrants, a town where various punitive measures, from anti-Chinese taxation to anti-Chinese rhetoric, were commonplace.

The boys, however, were otherwise preoccupied. Headed to New England, where they would live with foster families and attend American schools for a decade, they were fascinated with the “fire-car roads,” their name for trains. As page 99 comes to an end, they embark on the seminal train ride of their lives, aboard the trans-continental railway, “across America’s mountains, valleys, and yawning prairies.” It’s a journey filled with adventure: before too long, the boys’ train would be robbed by bandits and attacked by Native Americans, as it rushed past a heartland revolutionized by new inventions like John Deere’s plow, en route to the north and their new lives.

From children in China’s rural south to American students to becoming the founding fathers of their modern nation, the boys lived a long journey. But every journey, as a wise Chinese man once said, must begin with one small step, and the boys’ small step begins on page 99.
Preview Fortunate Sons, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Adam Arenson's "The Great Heart of the Republic"

Adam Arenson is Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War holds a treat that every reader longs for: an illustration, in this case George Caleb Bingham’s Jolly Flatboatmen in Port (1857). The painting, and hence the page, encapsulates the vision of the book nicely.

George Caleb Bingham was a Missouri artist, though one living in 1857 in Düsseldorf, Germany, and watching American politics with extreme interest. Bingham supported John C. Frémont, the first Republican Party presidential candidate, in 1856; when Frémont lost, Bingham openly worried whether his home state, on the border of slavery and freedom, would face an expanding war.

And then came the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in March 1857, upholding a state ruling that Dred and Harriet Scott and their daughters—and by extension all African-descended people in the United States—had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Bingham was frustrated again, and he went to his paints to respond. He did so by revisiting his earlier work, The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846), and making a number of crucial changes.

I argue that Jolly Flatboatmen in Port reflected Bingham’s reaction to the Dred Scott decision, as he memorialized the flatboat era for what it had offered black as well as white Americans. In the background of the 1857 painting is a steamboat, a symbol of all that had made the flatboat obsolete. By adding an African American figure among the revelers, Bingham lamented the end of the earlier flexibility of slavery and freedom in Missouri, a legacy of St. Louis’s French roots.

Bingham’s actions point to the unusual place of St. Louis and Missouri within the Civil War Era – a Gateway to the West that was simultaneously the northernmost edge of the slave states. Bingham’s work embraced the questions of westward expansion and slavery’s future, and he sought new answers on the conflict dividing the North and South by taking a western perspective. In this way, Bingham’s painting and Page 99 provide a vivid example of what The Great Heart of the Republic is all about: reorienting our view to consider the agenda of the American West in the Civil War Era—its successes, its failures, and its legacies.
Learn more about The Great Heart of the Republic at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue