Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gary Scott Smith's "Heaven in the American Imagination"

Gary Scott Smith chairs the History Department at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Heaven in the American Imagination, and reported the following:
My book argues that while American conceptions of heaven, as expressed in literature, sermons, art, and music, have typically been rooted in religious traditions and been based on interpretations of relevant scriptural passages, they have usually been closely connected to what was happening on earth. Americans have tended to imagine an afterlife that contains what they judge to be the “best, most lasting, virtuous, and meaningful” aspects of this life and eliminates those things they consider “the most difficult, frustrating, evil, and inessential.”

Deeply influenced by their own life experiences and their different political, social, economic, and cultural circumstances, Americans have sharply disagreed about what heavenly life will be like. Although most Americans have claimed to derive their images of heaven solely from the Bible, they also display their dreams, hopes, and visions of the good life. Their depictions of celestial life shed substantial light on what Americans have most treasured and feared in various eras.

Page 99 illustrates this thesis by its analysis of how heaven was viewed during the Civil War. Here’s the key paragraph from that page:
Antebellum Americans’ view of death and the afterlife, in the words of Mark Schantz, made it easier for soldiers “to kill and be killed” and for their loved ones to emotionally accept their deaths. Influenced primarily by evangelical Protestantism, Romanticism, and the culture of ancient Greece, most soldiers strove to meet “death with a spirit of calm resignation,” aware that their society prized heroic action and confident that eternal rewards awaited them. Their views of the hereafter, concern about how they would be remembered, deathbed behavior, and the antebellum image of death combined to create a cultural climate that made the slaughter of the Civil War possible. Large numbers of Americans were able to “face death with resignation and even joy” because they possessed “a comforting and compelling vision of eternal life.” For most of them, heaven was not an ethereal, vague region, but rather “a material place” where individuals “would be perfected and the relations of family and friendship restored.” Their confidence that they would spend eternity with God and loved ones in a magnificent abode without any trials or suffering enabled many soldiers to fight fearlessly and furiously, contributing to the war’s astounding death tolls.
Learn more about Heaven in the American Imagination at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Edward Humes's "Force of Nature"

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Force of Nature marks a turning point in Wal-Mart’s journey to the sustainable side -- one that easily could have been a turning-back point. Instead of backpedalling, however, the mega-retailer’s CEO publicly committed to an unprecedented effort to green its massive global business.

I know, I know. Wal-Mart? Green? Seriously?

Skepticism is justified. I had to see the hard data before I could accept that Wal-Mart, our national monument to consumption, really had committed, however imperfectly, to being more planet-friendly. Force of Nature is about how that happened, why it matters, and how many other businesses are being persuaded to do the same -- the beginning, perhaps, of a second industrial revolution.

The story begins when Jib Ellison, a tree-hugging river guide-turned business consultant who lives off the grid north of San Francisco, landed the CEO of Wal-Mart as his first sustainability client. Wal-Mart’s chief at the time, H. Lee Scott, had tired of all the criticisms aimed at his compan. He asked Ellison, in effect, to get the environmentalists off his back.

But Ellison had more than image repair in mind. He saw Wal-Mart as a giant laboratory for proving the business case for sustainability. He wanted to show Scott that doing environmental good was neither charity nor burden, but an enormous business opportunity.

Page 99 reveals what happened next. During Ellison’s first year at Wal-Mart, Hurricane Katrina struck. Wal-Mart delivered free food, water and medicine to disaster victims, and the company’s reputation soared. A main reason for hiring Ellison vanished. Sustainability could safely be dropped.

Lee, however, had come to agree with Ellison. In one early effort, they shaved a few inches off a toy truck package and saved 4,000 trees. But something else happened: Smaller packages required 497 fewer shipping containers to pack and a million fewer barrels of oil to ship. Wal-Mart saved $2.4 million. It would take selling $60 million in toys to earn that same amount. Asked Scott: If one greener product could accomplish that, what could greening them all do?

On page 99, Lee publicly explains how he wanted Wal-Mart to be like the company that responded to Katrina all the time. As far as he was concerned, Earth’s environment had become a “Katrina in slow motion.” He vowed to pursue sustainability as the cure... and to make money doing it, profit and planet joined instead of conflicting.
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Humes's website.

The Page 69 Test: Edward Humes's Monkey Girl.

Humes's Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet was one of the top ten environmental books of 2009.

Writers Read: Edward Humes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stacey Peebles's "Welcome to the Suck"

Stacey Peebles is Assistant Director of the Lloyd International Honors College, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Welcome to the Suck: Narrating the American Soldier's Experience in Iraq, and reported the following:
The critic Susan Jeffords argued in her book The Remasculinization of America that during and after the Vietnam War, the power of the masculine collective, a community forged in war and represented extensively back in the States, effectively remade or “remasculinized” the American cultural landscape. (Think First Blood, Missing in Action, even The Deer Hunter.)

I was curious if the same could be said of the Iraq War, and devoted a chapter of my larger study of the first wave of contemporary war stories to that question. War has always shaped our conceptions of gender, from strong-armed Achilles in the Iliad to Rosie the Riveter in World War II. What effects can we see in the 21st century?

Page 99 answers that question with regard to two military memoirists: Nathaniel Fick, author of One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, and Kayla Williams, author of Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army. As it turns out, things have changed. Both Fick and Williams emphasize the ruptures in their own sense of masculinity and the corollary failure of the masculine collective. (Yes, Williams is female, but as Judith Halberstam has noted, masculinity becomes most legible when it leaves the white, male, middle-class body. And Williams’ smart, tough competence and dedication to the group certainly qualify as the classic criteria of military masculinity.) In sum:
For Nathaniel Fick, the logic of military masculinity is a reductio ad absurdum. Hardness [or extreme toughness and uncompromising competence] is key to being a real man, he learns, and he gets harder and harder until he realizes that the leadership role he has undertaken requires him not just to protect and guide his fellow soldiers, but also to sacrifice them if necessary. The hardness that brings the group together—the tests they all pass, the impossible tasks they all complete, the stoicism they all inculcate within themselves—is the same hardness that can potentially lead to the group’s annihilation. That, as he concludes, is too hard.

Finally, Williams, who struggles so mightily to be accepted only to fail in the end. She can hardly be called a pioneer—there have been too many women serving in too many capacities for that—but her story does mark what is perhaps a crucial turning point in the history of gender and the American military. She sees and acts on the potential for crossing boundaries—as a female soldier and as a scholar of Arabic. But Williams is denied true acceptance into the tight circle of military comradeship, and that sense of personal betrayal leads to a recognition of larger, political betrayals as well, like Shane’s [her boyfriend and a fellow soldier] inability to secure proper medical care.
In particular, Williams’ thwarted desire to transcend traditional gender norms reflects a larger pattern that we see in these new war stories—of soldiers who see the potential to break down these kinds of categories, but are prevented from doing so in the context of war. War tends to enforce categorization, even as it forces encounters across the boundaries of media, gender, nation, and the body. Welcome to the Suck traces that pattern through a selection of literature, film, and new media.
Read more about Welcome to the Suck at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Michelle Au's "This Won't Hurt a Bit"

Michelle Au graduated from Wellesley College in 1999, received her M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2003, and completed her residency in anesthesiology at the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan. She is married to Dr. Joseph Walrath, has two sons, and lives in Atlanta, where she is an anesthesiologist in a private practice.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, This Won't Hurt a Bit: And Other White Lies - My Education in Medicine and Motherhood, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
“How do you do it?” I asked my intern once when I was a third-year medical student. I was watching her juggle twenty-five patients, a ceaseless stream of urgent pages, three simultaneous emergencies, all while drinking a full cup of coffee without spilling a drop. She had at this point been awake for the past twenty-seven hours.

“You just do it,” she answered cryptically, one-handedly typing a note into the computer while picking up the phone to answer her latest page. At the time, I didn’t really understand this philosophy, which I had heard from several other residents before—chalked it up as one of those nonsensical sayings like, “It is what it is,” stemming from a culturally saturating Nike ad campaign. But when I started my sub-I—started being on the receiving end of those endless pages, the first person called in an emergency, realizing that for the first time, I was not simply a passive observer or an extra set of hands but actually responsible for these patients under my care—I got it. You just do it. You can’t think about how much there is to do, or how much is going on, or how tired you are. There’s no time for that. So you just do it. You put your head down and get to work, and at the end of the night you look up and realize that you got through it all. And then you go home and come back the next morning and do it again. This is what I am learning from my sub-I*. I am learning that I can do this.

Most of the time.

*sub-I stands for “subintership” which is a requirement for med students to graduate. It is an internship working for a first year resident (usually referred to as“interns”).
I do love the dropping into a story in media res, and I think that this is the perfect place to sample from the book, and highlights one key theme, which is that people training in medicine find themselves eventually able to do things that they didn’t think they would be able to do before they started.

You never quite feel ready to have the responsibility of taking care of patients on your own, but at some point in your training the moment comes upon all of us to sink or swim. And almost all of us, sometimes to our own surprise, find that we can swim. It’s that moment that you realize that, the first moment that you see something happening and make a clinical decision and act on it, all on your own—that’s the essence of learning to become a doctor.

It’s that kind of instinct that is the essence of becoming a parent as well, and though this particular excerpt on page 99 doesn’t get a chance to get into that, it sets things up for later in the book, where the story expands to how I try to juggle having a baby and being a medical resident at the same time. How, with two equally and completely consuming jobs, does one decide which to prioritize in any given moment? How are you supposed to “do it all”? Same way as you did before. You keep your head down, keep your eye on what’s important, and take care of what you need to do. You just do it.
Learn more about the book and author at Michelle Au's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nina Eliasoph's "Making Volunteers"

Nina Eliasoph is associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Avoiding Politics: Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Volunteers: Civic Life after Welfare's End, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Making Volunteers brings us into an evening meeting of youth volunteers. The adults who had set up this youth group are hoping that volunteering will “empower” the teens. It’s a terrific goal, but it sometimes works in ways that are better than the stated goals, and often goes awry.

This youth group is an example of what the book names “Empowerment Projects:” organizations that blend private, public, or nonprofit funds, with a mantra you’ve no doubt heard a hundred times: “participatory, open, innovative, multicultural, grassroots, local, comfortable, intimate, and transparent.” All these missions are worthy, but when they collide with one another, they transform (for example, can you be “innovative” and “comfortable” at the same time? “Open” and “intimate?”) When we say “voluntary associations” or “social service agencies,” we’re usually imagining these semi-voluntary, semi-government organizations whose refrain is Empowerment Talk. More and more prevalent since the 70’s, all over the world, they’re transforming volunteer work and government, simultaneously.

In this scene, I am sitting in a circle of fold-up chairs in a gym, with the teens and the adult organizers, while they plan a series of charitable visits to a children’s hospital. A girl in shredded, black tights keeps squirming and flirting and making jokes, with restless, erotic energy. The other kids seem much more sensible and reasonable, lacking her rebellious, impractical energy. I’m mournfully wishing that she could unleash some of her utopia energy for use in this group, and I’m simultaneously chastising myself for hanging onto an outmoded, impractical utopianism. For sociology, it’s odd to use one’s own feelings to discover bigger questions, but it works here. It me notice how these projects can domesticate the spirit.

They domesticate the spirit in ways that aren’t all bad, either. The girl turns out to be a pro-capital punishment, anti-abortion religious fanatic. Most kids in the group are not like that, and I’m not, either. So much for my inner cheerleading for utopian rebellion. Despite my qualms, I have to buck to the evidence: if the government funds projects like this, and if they’re going to be “open to all,” they can’t be too hotly partisan, and that's okay, though the adult organizers might think otherwise, since among their many missions is a fervent hope to cultivate teens’ hot passion and political engagement. Such pro’s and con’s abound in Empowerment Projects.

Here's page 99:
...asking teens to take themselves as the objects of knowledge, not the inspired sources of it; to treat themselves as members of a social category, not just to draw on their own unique personal experience; to value knowledge, not just inspiration. Could it work here, in a program like this? It is hard to imagine how, without making a big change in the program’s design.

Her approach had problems. When Laura asked about their direct experience, they responded that they learned better in English. She did not like that answer and ignored them, giving them impersonal, large-scale data, instead—a fine, deft move if she were in a debate club or social studies class, in which participants should presume that no single individual’s impressions give the whole picture. In a program like this, there was no time or will to investigate both sides, though both sides had good research to support them.9 Since Laura’s lesson was only one-sided, it was just another lesson in ignoring disagreement.

An even more perilous alternative to political avoidance appeared in some meetings of the Regional YEP. I was craving the gritty texture of youthful rebelliousness, and feeling forlorn that these fifteen-, sixteen-, and seventeen-year-olds seemed so tame, decent, docile, methodical, and practical, with all their attention directed to planning and budgets. One evening, a rebellious-seeming teen came to the Regional YEP, bristling with impossible, passionate, almost erotic urgency. I watched her squirm, giggle, and whisper in her molded plastic chair and her ripped black tights. Secretly, I felt relieved.

Then, noticing that the other, more dedicated youth volunteers were glaring at her, I silently chastised myself for feeling charmed. Trying to emulate the serious teens’ responsible, adult-like internal demeanor, I sternly reprimanded myself, writing in my field notes later, “I really need to grow up! ... The other kids (the non-utopian ones) are so wholesome, so sensible, they really will do good realistic things. Who needs the other kind—the dreamy rebellious ones? They’re just ‘impossible.’ Forget about poetic, esthetic, impossible ideals.”

When I chatted with the rebellious girl, Meghan, during the meeting’s break, my initial delight and subsequent chagrin now turned into confusion. It turned out that she was very passionate regarding three issues: she was a born-again Christian, against legal abortion, and very much in favor of the death penalty. I personally disagreed with her positions, and yet was still a bit relieved to see a teenager acting as passionately as I imagined a teenager should act. Though I was still charmed that at least she had strong opinions, I could see that dealing with Meghan’s vehemence made other youth volunteers uneasy. VJ, Bonita, and I had been
talking, when Meghan and her friend Traci ran up, obviously trying to flirt with VJ by talking about a topic they knew he enjoyed: the recent...
Learn more about Making Volunteers at the Princeton University Press website.

Writers Read: Nina Eliasoph.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wallace Hettle's "Inventing Stonewall Jackson"

Wallace Hettle, professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa, is the author of The Peculiar Democracy: Southern Democrats in Peace and Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory, and reported the following:
Here’s page 99: I include the whole thing to be sure I am not stacking the deck in my favor.
“an ambition as boundless as Cromwell’s, and as merciless.” Taylor viewed Jackson’s ambition, which was “vast” and “all-absorbing,” as the mainspring behind his squabbles with his subordinates. Jackson “fought it with prayer,” Taylor stated. Engaging in speculation rather than reporting, Taylor portrayed Jackson as haunted by ambition. He “loathed it, perhaps feared it; but could not escape it—it was himself—nor rend it—it was his own flesh.” Taylor’s highly subjective account was based on an ordinary human tendency to make broad judgments about personal character based on limited evidence.

Richard Taylor provided a scathing indictment of Jackson both as a man and as a soldier, reflecting genuine mistrust between the two men. Yet Taylor had neither the desire nor the ability to trash a dead Confederate hero. Instead, he exaggerated Jackson’s eccentricity with a tone that played Jackson for laughs. He portrayed Jackson as humorless, as having “no more capacity for jests than a Scotchman.” In fact, since Jackson was “of Scotch-Irish descent,” his “unconsciousness of jokes was de race.” Taylor several times referred to Jackson’s supposed penchant for sucking on lemons, portraying the general as an ascetic who “sucked lemons, ate hard-tack, and drank water” because “praying and fighting appeared to be his idea of the ‘whole duty of man.’ ” Perhaps Taylor presented Jackson in comic terms because he thought Jackson too strange to be an icon of the Confederacy. Still, Taylor vigorously praised Jackson as a hard marcher who won victories by surprising his enemies and who tragically “fell at the summit of glory.”

Henry Kyd Douglas was for a time the youngest member of Jackson’s staff. While in his memoir he criticized Jackson for squabbling with subordinates, which “detracted much from his personal popularity” with them, his overall view of the man combined admiration with irreverent humor. He fondly recalled the day Jackson climbed a tree in pursuit of fresh persimmons, only to find himself stuck and unable to descend. Jackson remained suspended above the ground until his staff, “convulsed by laughter,” brought fence rails and “made a pair of skids to slide him to the earth.”Douglas told a number of such tales, including one in which Jackson drank from a bottle, assuming that it was wine, without “stopping to taste.” To the amusement of his staff, the general soon became “incipiently tight,” having in fact taken a large drink of whiskey. Unaware of his intoxication and feeling warm, he commenced to discuss how rapidly temperatures changed in the Shenandoah Valley.
Page 99 unmistakably represents my approach. I argue that we lack enough direct evidence to fully understand Stonewall Jackson’s character. Jackson has long been known as the Cromwell of the Confederacy, an eccentric with strange ideas about diet and religion, among other things. But because Jackson did not survive the war or write enough personal letters, much of what we know about him comes from the memories of relatives, friends, and fellow soldiers. Memory is a peculiar and unreliable thing, and these biographers and memoirists had their own agendas. With many accounts of Jackson, myth-makers tell as much about themselves as they do about Jackson. The result is that falsehoods have found their way into today’s scholarly literature and contemporary popular works. I seek to debunk the mythology surrounding Jackson by assembling a collective biography of Jackson’s early biographers, examining them to illuminate both Jackson and southern culture. My book begins with Jackson’s image during the Civil War. It closes with an examination of the 2003 film centered on an idealized Jackson, Gods and Generals, which many historians believe celebrates treason and slavery.

Page 99 provides views of Jackson from fellow Confederate officers. Richard Taylor, a fabulously wealthy Louisiana slaveholder, portrayed Jackson as a great general but a distinctly odd man. In Taylor’s view, Jackson was weird: cruel to subordinates, ambitious to a fault, and strangely obsessed with sucking on lemons. The lemon myth, as historian James I. Robertson notes, cannot be true as lemons would not be available in abundance. The page moves to the young officer Henry Kyd Douglas, who wrote a memoir full of inaccuracies. The story of Jackson getting stuck in a tree cannot be fully credited. It is the kind of tale that makes Douglas’s book a good read but a lousy resource for historians. Douglas’s book should remind us that separating fact from fiction can be both crucial and difficult.
Learn more about Inventing Stonewall Jackson at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 23, 2011

Margaret Morganroth Gullette's "Agewise"

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is also the author of the prize-winning Declining to Decline and Aged by Culture, chosen a Notable Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor. She is a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America, and reported the following:
Agewise describes many under-reported parts of "the new ageism." I call it a regime of decline because it threatens all of us, from my grand-daughter Vivi at age five, to the young people who believe sexuality declines at thirty, to my friend Carol and her peers who can’t find decent jobs in their fifties and sixties, to the poor Baby Boomers being scolded (at a time of deficit and a global "aging" crisis) for becoming the most expensive generation in American history, to my dear mother in her nineties losing memories and respect in our hypercognitive era. As Publishers Weekly noted in a starred review, Agewise "takes a hard look at the connection[s]."

After undermining the worth of aging-past-youth, decline then sells useless or harmful products to the bewildered victims.

This is serious material, but any writer with a genuine voice has to utter her findings in different tones depending on the context. Just as a good nonfiction book will have an arc, so chapters have arcs. Openings may be stealthy; conclusions may resound. As it happens, page 99 is near the end of the chapter, "Hormone Nostalgia."

My research on estrogen treatments for midlife women began with my wondering what immense changes had occurred after the National Institutes of Health announced that the pills once jovially called "replacement therapy," caused cancers and heart disease instead of preventing them. I discovered a shameless effort to go on marketing hormones--to men as well as women. "Inventions fail but promises never end."

Page 99, then, is the rhetorical equivalent of a perp walk. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies that hire researchers, journalists: Many continued harking back to the days when they could rely on a facile fix, a facile profit, a facile story.

Even if drug research were irreproachable, doctors might still not read it. In one study, the clinicians interviewed rarely relied on research evidence; they got their "information" from other doctors, patients, and pharmaceutical companies. Since they too ignored feminist anthropologists and women’s health activists, any advice they got or gave was likely to rely on studies produced by bias.
Pharmaceutical companies:
A Hastings Center report by five highly respected gerontologists in 2003 affirms that "no currently marketed intervention--–none–has yet been proved to slow, stop or reverse human aging, and some can be downright dangerous" ... Anti-aging flacks, called in the report "clinical entrepreneurs," tend to "exaggerate the state of scientific knowledge" not just about the specific product they are working on but the whole scheme of curing humankind of old age.
Implicitly siding with the fantasists, or too lazy to check with the critics, the media scarcely provide equal time to monitor the claims critically.
Propelled by occasional scathing summaries like page 99, Agewise has a momentum meant to move readers forward from outrage or helplessness toward anti-ageist activism. Just as racism and sexism can be fought, so can this increasingly powerful "ism."

But as for judging "quality" from a single page, a poet writes me that he loves page 165 from the chapter, "Our Best and Longest-Running Story." A feminist quotes page 138 from "Improving Sexuality Across the Life Course." So many readers, so many judgments. (With apologies to the esteemed author of The Good Soldier.)
Read more about Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stephen Marche's "How Shakespeare Changed Everything"

Stephen Marche is the author of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea (2007) and Raymond and Hannah (2005). He currently writes "A Thousand Words About Our Culture," a monthly column for Esquire magazine, which in 2011 was a finalist for the ASME National Magazine Award for Commentary, in addition to opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Salon.com, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He received a doctorate in Early Modern Drama in 2005 from the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, and reported the following:
On Page 99, I look at the speech in Henry IV, Part 1, where Hotspur mentions starlings.

I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

In 1890, a pharmaceutical manufacturer named Eugene Schiefflin decided that he was going to release every bird mentioned in Shakespeare to the new world, and because of this speech introduced starlings to America. From the sixty birds he released, the starling population has since swollen to 200 million, wreaking havoc on the native bluebird and Flicker populations. So what I'm looking at on page 99 of the book is a good encapsulation of the book as a whole: I'm trying to see, in the lines, the power that Shakespeare had over the world, but not through the vague categories of ideas or attitudes, but in real material terms. Why did Shakespeare inspire people to do nutty things like introduce new birds to whole Continents?
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen Marche's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ellen Prager's "Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime"

Ellen Prager, a marine scientist, was formerly the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys. She is the author of several books, including Chasing Science at Sea.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter, and reported the following:
Within the sea there is a group of fishes that have a knack for immobility and a body built for angling. They are the anglerfishes, frogfishes, and their relatives; and they are described on page 99 of my new book. They are excellent examples of the weird and whacky amid the oceans, with a few surprising links to humankind.

Both the anglerfish and frogfish are big-mouthed creatures with a built-in fishing pole and lure. Their dorsal spine has been modified into a thin, flexible rod, tipped with an enticing fleshy appendage, or lure. Sitting motionless, they patiently wait for prey to near, attracted by the prospect of a tasty meal. When a victim is in range, these fishes lunge with rapid finality.

They are strange, and in some cases, goofy looking fishes with small eyes, globular bodies, and really big mouths. That is not all that is bizarre. In anglerfish, the gender differences are extreme and sex is, shall we say, unusual. Male anglerfish are only about a centimeter long, one-tenth the size of the female, and their one mission in life seems to be to find a female and latch on, literally. The male actually bites onto the female in a never-ending kiss as his mouth fuses with her skin. His internal organs then begin to degenerate, with the exception of those that produce sperm, and he becomes reliant on the female’s bloodstream for nutrition. Once mated, the tiny male anglerfish is a literal parasite of the female, living solely to produce sperm for as long as they both shall live. Sorry men.

Interestingly, scientists are studying the odd parasitic attachment of the dwarf male with the female anglerfish to learn about immune systems and endocrinology. The monkfish, a relative of the frog- and anglerfish, was once the poor man’s lobster, but is now a popular, pricey commodity gracing many a gourmand’s table. As never before we are looking to the oceans as a source of food, jobs, revenue, models for biomedical research and in biotechnology, and in the search for new drugs to improve human health. The sea’s great and strange diversity of life is not just critical to the ocean ecosystem, but also to humankind as well.
Read more about the book and author at Ellen Prager's website and the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn about the volcanic sexual activity of sea sponges, the transgendered parrotfish, and the well-endowed conch.

The Page 99 Test: Chasing Science at Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michael Barkun's "Chasing Phantoms"

Michael Barkun is professor emeritus of political science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and a former FBI consultant in domestic terrorism cases. His books include Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11, and reported the following:
My aim in writing Chasing Phantoms was to unpack some of the non-rational factors that affected responses to the September 11th attacks, and their effect on homeland security policies. By the time we reach page 99, I’m looking for concepts that tie together the observations made in the earlier pages. Page 99 is in the midst of a discussion of the idea of “moral panic,” a notion first developed by the British sociologist Stanley Cohen almost forty years ago. A moral panic occurs when a society suddenly awakens to a sense of severe and widespread threat. As I make clear on pages 98-99, the hallmark of a moral panic is that the reaction is always disproportionate to the danger, and that is precisely what happened after 9/11. As we can see in retrospect, the danger Al Qaeda posed was actually far less than was felt at the time, yet both the public and government decision-makers reacted as though the survival of the Republic was at stake. Much of the fear revolved around the possibility that terrorists would employ weapons of mass destruction, yet we now realize how unlikely such a scenario was. This exaggerated sense of crisis, understandable though it is in hindsight, had a distorting effect on policy, since many of the decisions made in the months that followed the attacks resulted in dysfunctional policies that remain nearly a decade later. Despite the immense resources poured into homeland security, the resulting apparatus is characterized by inefficiency and internal contradictions, problems glaringly displayed in the Hurricane Katrina fiasco.
Learn more about Chasing Phantoms at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Carrie Pitzulo's "Bachelors and Bunnies"

Carrie Pitzulo is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of West Georgia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy, and reported the following:
Bachelors and Bunnies traces the development of Playboy magazine’s construction of gender and sexuality in its formative years, the 1950s-early 1970s. Ideals of masculine and feminine heterosexuality were the product of many minds – the magazine’s influential editorial director, A.C. Spectorsky, its photo editor, Vince Tajiri, and others. My narrative gives voice to many of the top Playboy editors of those days. But one cannot deny the fact that the magazine was the vision of its founder and creator, Hugh Hefner. His desires and aspirations were expressed monthly in the magazine. And contrary to decades of snickering and stereotypical assumptions, Hefner’s desires extended beyond sexy blondes. Playboy was foremost a consumer magazine, and it expressed Hefner’s aspirational tastes in music, film and the like.

Page 99 of Bachelors and Bunnies provides a good example of the way in which Hefner wielded a heavy editorial hand in Playboy. At this point in the book, we are in Chapter Three, which discusses the magazine’s use of consumerism to modernize postwar masculinity. Playboy did this through regular columns on fashion, decorating and cooking. On page 99, I’m discussing a 1968 food column entitled “Let Yourself Goo.” The piece profiled gooey foods, and its accompanying photos portrayed sexy couples at a dinner party breaking into a food fight. After publication, Hefner criticized the profile because he said it was “more suitable for Mad magazine than Playboy.” His editors, including Spectorsky and Tajiri, argued it was appropriately playful for the changing times. Hefner was not convinced. In Bachelors and Bunnies, I demonstrate that by the time this piece appeared, Playboy was having trouble keeping up with a culture that was increasingly casual and irreverent. Hefner remained committed to the aesthetic of Playboy’s earlier years, which defined ideal masculine style as refined and elegant, a la Cary Grant or James Bond. The magazine struggled to find its place in an emerging youth culture that celebrated Steve McQueen and Easy Rider. Page 99 encapsulates this particular point.
Learn more about Bachelors and Bunnies at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tim Harford's "Adapt"

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, and reported the following:
Page 99 really is a microcosm of Adapt. The book is about how complex problems need to be solved through trial-and-error – and about why we resist that idea in favour of a right-first-time solution. I’ve tried to weave together a logical case for this view and a rhetorical case, relying both on academic research and on storytelling. Page 97 introduces the amazing life of Mario Capecchi, and by page 102 we’re looking at the statistical evidence in favour of an adventurous way of funding scientific research. We join the action half way down page 98:
...and so Mario Capecchi became a street urchin at the age of four and a half. Most of us are content if, at the age of four and a half, our children are capable of eating lunch without spilling it or confident enough to be dropped off at nursery without tears. Mario survived on scraps, joined gangs, and drifted in and out of orphanages. At the age of eight he spent a year in hospital, probably suffering from typhoid, passing in and out of feverish oblivion each day. Conditions were grim: no blankets, no sheets, beds jammed together, nothing to eat but a crust of bread and some chicory coffee. Many Italian orphans died in such hospitals.

Mario survived. On his ninth birthday, a strange-looking woman arrived at the hospital asking to see him. It was his mother, unrecognisable after five years in a concentration camp. She had spent the last eighteen months searching for him. She bought him a suit of traditional Tyrolean clothes – he still has the cap and its decorative feather – and brought him with her to America...
A few decades (and paragraphs) later, Capecchi is defying the grant-makers at the National Institutes for Health. For some reason, he doesn’t scare easily:
...What did Capecchi do? He took the NIH’s money, and ignoring their admonitions he poured almost all of it into his risky gene-targeting project. It was, he recalls, a big gamble...

...In 2007, Mario Capecchi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for this work on mouse genes. As the NIH’s expert panel had earlier admitted, when agreeing to renew his funding: ‘We are glad you didn’t follow our advice.’
Learn more about the author and his work at Tim Harford's website.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2011

David W. Stowe's "No Sympathy for the Devil"

David W. Stowe is professor of English and religious studies at Michigan State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism, and reported the following:
My fingers practically trembling with suspense, I flip to page 99 hoping for a good page. I’m relieved to drop into a discussion of the complex psyche of Marvin Gaye as reflected in his breakthrough album, What’s Going On. The page turns out to be a pretty representative core sample of my book, which explores the interplay between musical, evangelical Christianity, and electoral politics during the watershed decade of the Seventies.

More specifically, No Sympathy for the Devil sets out to understand the unexpected irruption of religious themes in popular music around the turn of the decade, ranging from obscure Jesus folk songs that bubble up from the hippie-tinged Southern California Jesus Movement scene to “O Holy Day,” Jesus Christ Superstar and “Jesus is Just Alright.” I try to balance artists who were known chiefly among fellow born-agains—Larry Norman, Children of the Day, Barry McGuire, 2nd Chapter of Acts—to famous stars like Al Green, Johnny Cash, Earth, Wind & Fire, B.J. Thomas, and of course Bob Dylan.

Marvin Gaye is important to my narrative for a few reasons. He received a very strict Pentecostal upbringing, distanced himself from these religious roots while becoming a Motown star, but returned to spiritual, even Christian themes in his later work, especially What’s Going On. “Gaye went out of his way to acknowledge the divine presence in his album,” I write. “’God and I co-wrote that album together,’ he told Smokey Robinson. ‘It was a very divine project and God guided me all the way,’ he confided to a journalist. ‘I don’t even remember much about it. I was just an instrument. All the inspiration came from God Himself.’”

Page 99 goes on to unpack some of the specific songs on the album. “God Is Love” is essentially a short sermon on forgiveness. “Wholy Holy,” a song Aretha Franklin would cover on her hit gospel album Amazing Grace (released not long after What’s Going On), exhorts people to unite and spread love and salvation: “Jesus left a long time ago/Said he would return/He left us a book to believe/In it we got a lot to learn.”

The world-weary “Save the Children” leads into a major theme of my book: the end-times theology that ran rampant among the Jesus Freaks and their musical fellow-travelers. Gaye admits that his preacher father stressed the book of Revelations above all. “It’s the book I’ve studied most carefully,” he said. “It contains the one script we’ll never be able to undo—the final showdown, the day when it all comes down. With that kind of knowledge up in your face, it’s hard not to go crazy.”
In other words, What’s Going On was inspired by the same apocalyptic premonitions that ran through the Jesus Movement. “The world was coming down around me,” Gaye told journalist David Ritz. “Dr. King’s death confirmed my instincts about this country. America couldn’t deal with someone that good and just. Suddenly everyone was going nuts. The riots in Detroit hit close to home. We could smell the smoke and hear the gunfire on West Grand.” Gaye began identifying with the “white kids” counterculture. “They were smoking weed and dropping acid and I went along with them,” he said. “I loved the hippies. They were rebels, like me, and they did this country a world of good. They finally stopped a terribly unjust war. They looked at the status quo and called it bullshit and they were right. They had the right idea about the power of love. Who else was offering hope?”
Within two years Gaye would transform his public persona from quasi-religious prophet to the hedonist hipster of “Let’s Get It On,” “I Want You,” and “Sexual Healing.” The violent spiritual turbulence Gaye experienced throughout the final decade of his life was typical of many who participated in the evangelical revival my book investigates. It wasn’t easy being, or becoming, a Jesus Freak.
Learn more about No Sympathy for the Devil at the the University of North Carolina Press website, and visit the official No Sympathy for the Devil Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Alexander J. Field's "A Great Leap Forward"

Alexander J. Field is the Michel and Mary Orradre Professor of Economics, Santa Clara University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, and reported the following:
My book argues that against the backdrop of double digit unemployment, the potential output of the U.S. economy grew by leaps and bounds between 1929 and 1941, and that this laid the groundwork not only for success during the War, but also for the golden age (1948-73) that followed. Expansion during the Depression was driven not by increases in labor hours or the services of the physical capital stock, but rather primarily by improvements in the efficiency with which such inputs were used. To borrow from the title of my 2003 American Economic Review article, the 1930s were the most technologically progressive decade of the century.

Between 1929 and 1941 private sector labor hours and the private capital stock grew hardly at all. But over the same period real output grew 33 to 40 percent, depending upon how we measure it. As an approximation, we can attribute all of this residual growth to technological and organizational innovation. The difference between output growth and a weighted average of input growth is called total factor productivity (TFP) growth.

Because productivity is procyclical, it’s important to measure from one business cycle peak to another. Measuring from a peak to a trough, for example, we might see productivity declining, but this would be misleading. The challenge is complicated by the war, which can distort our measures of economic output. 1929 was clearly a business cycle peak, with unemployment a very low 3.2 percent. 1941 is the last year before full scale war mobilization, and the unemployment rate had declined from the high rates that prevailed throughout the 1930s. But it still stood at 9.9 percent.

Without a cyclical adjustment, measuring between 1929 and 1941 will underestimate the trend growth rate of productivity, because productivity moves procyclically, and the economy still awaits the fiscal and monetary stimulus of the war that will end the Depression in the sense of finally closing the output gap.

Page 99 addresses how to make a cyclical correction for 1941. It asks what TFP growth would have looked like had the U.S. economy returned to peacetime full employment in 1941. We can infer that had peacetime 1941 unemployment been 3.8 percent, as it would be in 1948, the 1941 level of total factor productivity would have been higher, and thus its rate of growth between 1929 and 1941 would have been higher.

Here is an excerpt from page 99:
If one is a war productivity optimist, one thinks of 1948 as the first year in which a demobilized peacetime economy benefited from all the new production knowledge generated during the war, and this influences one’s interpretation of its achieved productivity level. A better way to think of 1948, in my view, is that it is 1941 with full employment. The major new consumer product, television, had had all of its development work done before the war, been rolled out to the public at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, but had its commercial exploitation delayed until after the war. One can tell a similar story about nylon, over which women went wild when it was first introduced in 1939, before the war, diverting its use from stocking to parachute and tent production, made it a scarce civilian commodity. The 1948 surface transport infrastructure, which underlay productivity levels in distribution, transportation, and housing, had been almost entirely completed before 1942.

All of this suggests that if we imagine a world without the disruptions of the war, with the economy continuing a rapid progression towards full employment in 1942, productivity levels in 1942 could well have approached those achieved in 1948. In a closely related exercise, we can ask what productivity levels would have been in 1941 had unemployment been at 1948 levels (3.8 percent).
Learn more about A Great Leap Forward at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Michael Keevak's "Becoming Yellow"

Michael Keevak is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at National Taiwan University. His books include Sexual Shakespeare, The Pretended Asian, and The Story of a Stele.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls at the very end of a chapter on nineteenth-century anthropology, in which I argue that "the yellow race" had become a widely accepted conceptual and scientific category.
Whether they were actually yellow was no longer the focus, perhaps, but at the same time there could be no mistake that they were not white. The point of so much measurement was to show that the "other" races really did differ from the "normal" one, the group to which of course the anthropologists themselves generally belonged...
But how did this come about? In their earliest encounters with East Asia, Europeans almost uniformly characterized the people of China and Japan as white, yet by the end of the seventeenth century the category of whiteness was reserved for Europeans only. When and how did Asians become "yellow" in the Western imagination? Looking at the history of racial thinking, I explore the notion of yellowness and show that this label originated not in early travel texts or objective descriptions, but in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific discourses on race. I argue that the conceptual relationship between East Asians and yellow skin did not begin in Chinese culture or Western readings of East Asian cultural symbols, but in anthropological and medical records that described variations in skin color. Eighteenth-century taxonomers such as Carl Linnaeus, as well as Victorian scientists and early anthropologists, assigned colors to all racial groups, and once East Asians were lumped together as members of the "Mongolian race" they began to be considered yellow.
Learn more about Becoming Yellow at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gerard Magliocca's "The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan"

Gerard N. Magliocca is professor of law, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan: Constitutional Law and the Politics of Backlash, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan talks about the 1896 presidential campaign between Bryan and William McKinley and asks why Bryan lost. This is important to the book because my argument is that Bryan’s defeat transformed constitutional law during the 1890s. The fear of what he and his Populist allies wanted to do triggered a massive backlash that lasted for decades and gave us many familiar legal ideas. For example, this was the period that racial segregation and Jim Crow became entrenched in the South, largely in response to the efforts of Southern Populists to build a multiracial coalition of the poor. The 1890s also marked the development of the “liberty of contract” by the Supreme Court, which lasted until the 1930s and gave stronger protection to property and contract rights as a shield against the redistributive policies of the Populists. And it was the era where the Commerce Clause became the provision that lawyers focus on with respect to broad exercises of congressional power, as is still true now in the litigation challenging the constitutionality of the health care statute enacted last year. Unfortunately, though, there are no pictures on page 99. They are sprinkled throughout the rest of the book.

Here’s the key paragraph from that page:
The most important question about the 1896 election, at least for the purposes of this book, is, Why did the Populists lose? In every other generational contest, the rebels overwhelmed the old guard and implemented their program after winning a climactic election or series of elections. The Populist movement is the only exception, and its failure requires an explanation. And the only way to assess what went wrong is by looking closely at how Bryan was chosen as the Populist and Democratic nominee for president.
Learn more about The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Howard Means's "Johnny Appleseed"

Howard Means was Senior Writer for Washingtonian magazine from 1977-1982 and Senior Editor from 1989-2000. In between, he was Critic at Large and an editorial board member for the Orlando Sentinel and an op-ed columnist for King Features Syndicate. At the Washingtonian, he won three William Allen White Medals for feature writing.

Among his earlier books are the first biography of Colin Powell, a selection of the History Book Club; Money & Power: The History of Business, companion piece to the CNBC documentary of the same name; a novel, CSA, optioned for an ABC mini-series; The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer, studies in eccentricity, co-authored with Susan Sheehan; and most recently, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, and reported the following:
I can’t claim any conscious design, but pg. 99 — the beginning of Chapter 6 of Johnny Appleseed — is not a bad fit with the Ford Madox Ford thesis.

In the previous five chapters I’ve introduced the myth of Johnny Appleseed and the historical man, John Chapman, who lies buried beneath more than a century and a half of accumulated mythic debris. I’ve laid out Chapman’s roots, taken him west across the Alleghenies to the edge of the Northwest Territory, and shown how his famous nursery business was tied to the nation’s relentless westward push. Chapman would walk into the wilderness, clear an acre or so, plant his seeds, and in three years — just when the seedlings were ready for transplanting — settlers would arrive and find a waiting inventory of apple trees. I’ve also shown how the Ohio frontier at the start of the 19th century was a frenzy of land speculation and how Chapman was a deep part of that, too, buying, leasing and flipping more than a thousand acres over nearly four decades.

In this chapter, “A Calling,” I get to the religious impulse that was the animating force of his life. The chapter begins thus:
In the Christian world, apples are never far from religion. Nor was John Chapman. He needed only to find a theology he could believe in, a system that fit what he already was becoming, and the Ohio-Pennsylvania-Virginia frontier at the start of the 19th century offered a full range of possibilities.
From there, I go on to place Chapman in the context of the times: the Second Great Awakening and the campfire-meeting fervor that gripped the frontier. And then I introduce readers to Chapman’s transforming muse, the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, and to the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded on his writings. Like Chapman, Swedenborg is almost lost to modern memory, but his visions, his emphasis on the accessibility of the spirit world were tailor-made for this odd-ball frontiersman. Chapman became the New Church’s most ardent wilderness prophet, and the Church, in turn, helped propel Chapman into Appleseed and the myth he would become.

So, does pg. 99 “reveal” the quality of the whole? I can’t say, but it certainly serves as the key pivot for what the book is all about.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Means's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wayne E. Lee's "Barbarians and Brothers"

Wayne E. Lee is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1992. Lee is the author of Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence in Riot and War and the general editor of the Warfare and Culture series.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500-1865, and reported the following:
From page 99:
This is not to enter into the debate over whether social or class discontent itself led to revolution, but rather to emphasize the undeniable latent power of public opinion to shape events. It always threatened to become active, and political and military leaders had to take it into account.

That potential power was made abundantly clear at the very outset of the fighting. As soon as both sides had managed to raise sufficient troops and equipment to wage war, they clashed at the Battle of Edgehill on October 23, 1642. The battle was initially inconclusive. Charles’s army recovered more quickly, and he pushed on toward London with great hopes of forcing his way back into the City and ending the rebellion. Reports of enthusiastic royalist plundering, and especially the violent sack of Brentford, however, stiffened the resolve of the initially downcast London populace. The London trained bands turned out in unheard-of numbers, eventually increasing parliamentary forces to over 27,000 men in the immediate vicinity of London. The bulk of that army mustered at Turnham Green and there confronted Charles on November 13. With no hope of defeating this startlingly large army, the king turned away, losing his first and best chance to retake London.

Turnham Green demonstrated that this civil war, like other brothers’ wars in this book, depended to some extent on the energy and motivation of the wider public, not just at the outbreak of violence, but also in the long hard fight that followed. Frequently, that energy failed. The decline in public enthusiasm limited state capacity, producing fewer troops and less money. Sometimes the public not only lost its enthusiasm but also reacted violently to the presence of troops at all, especially troops out of control. Here the latent power of the populace became active, and that power in turn reinforced thoughtful commanders’ desires to control their troops. But even the best intentioned of commanders, men like Sir William Waller, must have occasionally felt that their efforts at control were dwarfed by the problems of capacity and the culture of the soldiers.
This proved to be an interesting place to drop into the middle of the story! This page is from near the beginning of Chapter 4, entitled “The Clubmen, 1645” in which I explore the problem of public support and public resistance to war, and, in turn, what that means for violence in war. This page frames several analytical issues, while also keeping the reader in touch with the main characters whose stories provide a narrative framework. In this case the character is Sir William Waller, whose personality and operational decisions carried much of the previous chapter, and whose troops provide the introductory story for this chapter. This page says a lot about how the book is structured. On one hand, I rely on narratives of specific campaigns to provide examples for the larger analytical framework. On the other hand, the framework that carries over from chapter to chapter is based on the “Four C’s”: capacity, calculation, control, and culture. I try not to weary the reader with those words, but occasionally, as here, I refer to them explicitly. The book as a whole explores the processes through which violence is both restrained and unleashed in war, and I argue that understanding those processes requires us to consider each of those “C’s.” In terms of the “capacity” referred to on this page, we need to understand what financial, technological, and demographic resources a society committed to war. This chapter explores what happens when public resistance to the state’s impositions limited state capacity, which in turn had various ripple effects on the nature of violence. One ripple effect, hinted at on this page, was the failure to pay the army, leading the soldiers to develop their own libertine subculture rationalizing and justifying plunder as a substitute. The more they did so, the more society around them resented it, leading eventually to the civilian “Clubmen” movement, a kind of localist organization that opposed itself to marauding soldiers. Although this chapter is about the English Civil War, part of my argument is that American ideas about war were strongly influenced by this experience. It’s not too far wrong to say that the Clubmen of 1645 were the forerunners of the volunteer militias in the American Revolutionary south!
Learn more about Barbarians and Brothers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Jim Rasenberger's "The Brilliant Disaster"

Jim Rasenberger is the author of  America 1908 and High Steel – and has contributed to the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and Wilson Quarterly, among other publications.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs, and reported the following:
I am pleased to discover that page 99 falls at the start of a new chapter-- Chapter 8, as it happens-- in The Brilliant Disaster. It’s almost as if my 99 was determined to be conspicuous, not tossed into the middle of a chapter like any old page. I am not superstitious or especially obsessive-compulsive, but I always embrace coincidences of pagination, or really any little structural symmetries that occur in my books. (How excellent, for example, that Chapter 15 of The Brilliant Disaster covers events that occurred on April 15, 1961!) Such things can provide a kind of literary feng shui. They give me faith in the architecture of the work. They help get me through those what-the-hell-am-I-doing moments.

But to the page itself: my 99 is worthy. It introduces a pivotal new element into the history of the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. The chapter begins with John F. Kennedy placing a phone call to Allen Dulles, director of the CIA. The date of the call is November 9, 1960, one day after Kennedy’s election to the presidency. Kennedy calls to ask Dulles to stay on at the CIA, despite the fact that Dulles is a lifelong Republican and is already beyond retirement age. It's a fateful call, one Kennedy will come to regret almost the moment he hangs up the phone. When Kennedy enters office in January of 1961, Dulles will immediately begin pressuring him to proceed with a plan, developed under President Eisenhower, to send a force of Cuban exiles to Cuba to oust Fidel Castro. The invasion at the Bay of Pigs will fail epically and nearly cripple Kennedy's new presidency. Kennedy will fire Dulles within a few months and threaten to shatter the CIA “into a thousand pieces.”
Learn more about the book and author at Jim Rasenberger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 6, 2011

Peter Toohey's "Boredom: A Lively History"

Peter Toohey is a professor in the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary. His books include Melancholy, Love and Time: Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Boredom: A Lively History, and reported the following:
The psychological danger posed by prolonged boredom is one of the main arguments of Boredom: A Lively History and page 99 has a lot to say about this topic. Meursault, the zombie-like murderer of Camus’ great French novel, The Outsider, appears here. Meursault aims to conquer the prolonged boredom of death-row solitary confinement by memorizing and then regularly reviewing in his mind all of the meager details and contents of his prison cell. Meursault maintains that by practicing this technique he “ended up not being bored at all”. And there is Albert Speer. Adolf Hitler’s chief architect and successful second-world-war Minister of Armaments and War Production, Speer practised a variant of Meursault’s method during the 20-year stretch in Spandau prison that he was handed out at the Nuremberg trials. By relentlessly pacing about the prison exercise yard Speer attempted to recreate mentally the distractions of a vast, imaginary journey by foot from Berlin to Guadalajara in Mexico. “This project”, he writes, “is a training of the will, a battle against endless boredom”. The prolonged experience of boredom, apparently mastered by Meursault and by Albert Speer, can be the most dangerous of conditions. Mersault and Speer were lucky to have got off lightly, for boredom, when not relieved, easily spills over into manic, self-harmful behavior, or into prolonged depression. This can be especially true in situations, such as in jails, where constraint and lack of stimulation is the norm. The American psychiatrist, Stuart Grassian, writing, in the 1980s and on page 99, concerning the deleterious mental effects of solitary confinement, argues that such imprisonment can generate or, in some cases, severely exacerbate acute mental illness. (Because the US penal system is often reliant on solitary confinement, Stuart Grassian maintains that such effects are widespread.) But boredom is not usually dangerous and page 99 might not give this impression. Boredom normally is a simple emotion, one of mild disgust that is produced by temporarily unavoidable and predictable circumstances. It something that children often complain of, but it is something that usually passes quickly and is easily forgotten. This emotion is very common if you can believe anecdotal evidence. Yet it’s curiously overlooked. When you read books about boredom, the discussions are mostly focused on “existential” boredom (so, emptiness, isolation, disgust, alienation). That doesn’t help very much with the day-to-day boredom that most people feel. Boredom: A Lively History aims to put this simple emotion back into the picture.
Learn more about Boredom: A Lively History at the Yale University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Noel Maurer & Carlos Yu's "The Big Ditch"

Noel Maurer is associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. His books include The Power and the Money, The Politics of Property Rights, and Mexico since 1980. Carlos Yu is an economic historian and private consultant based in New York City.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their 2010 book The Big Ditch: How America Took, Built, Ran, and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama Canal, and reported the following:
It’s hard to say if page 99 of The Big Ditch is representative of the book’s argument, but it certainly captures its flavor. Here it is, in its entirety:
Obviously, the United States did not set out to build the Panama Canal a decade late and double over budget. The Americans hoped that their $40 million purchase of the New Panama Canal Company’s assets in Panama would greatly speed construction. Sadly, that did not turn out to be the case. The French had excavated seventy-eight million cubic yards, but most of those excavations had been designed for a sea-level canal and proved useless for the American effort. (In fact, most of the French excavations sank below Lake Gatún when the Americans dammed the Chagres River.) The Panama Railroad proved to be in such bad condition that the Americans needed to rebuild it twice: once to handle the initial excavations, and then again when Lake Gatún drowned much of the original route. The New Company owned most of the city of Colón, but its buildings were so dilapidated and disease-ridden that the Americans built a practically all-new town, Cristóbal, across Limón Bay. About the only substantial savings that the Americans received from their purchase of the French assets were some old dredges that could be repaired or reconstructed for $500,000 less than it would have cost to purchase new equipment.


“There are three diseases in Panama ... yellow fever, malaria, and cold feet.”
John Stevens

The first few years of construction of the Panama Canal proved to be a management foul-up of the first order. The Isthmian Canal Commission tried to supervise construction from Washington. This would have been a bad idea with the communications technology of the first decade of the twenty-first century; it was an unmitigated disaster with the communications available in the first decade of the twentieth. Shipments arrived late, or piled up on docks with no means to unload them. By 1905 the New York Times was complaining that the Isthmian Canal Commission was on track to have spent $66 million by the end of the year, with “no dirt flying.”
(We cheated: page 99 ends at the word “was” in the last sentence.)

The Big Ditch is about the Panama Canal. More broadly, it’s about U.S. imperialism. In the case of page 99, the myth being punctured is that the tough and perspicacious Americans of 1900 built the largest single infrastructure project to date on-time and under-budget. In fact, not only was the construction a bit of a mess, but the Americans generally ran the Panama Canal quite badly. Accident rates, for example, skyrocketed in the 1950s and 60s. To give some idea of just how bad American management was, the first three big innovations introduced by the new Panamanian managers after the handover were lights, one-way transits, and firing drunken pilots.

More broadly, The Big Ditch advances two arguments. One is a substantive argument about economic imperialism. The United States developed strategies that enabled it to leverage its military dominance into a far better economic outcome than it otherwise could have achieved. It then returned the Panama Canal to Panama when the economic benefits from ownership of the canal (if not necessarily the benefits of the canal’s existence) sufficiently declined. Moreover, America’s indirect imperialism produced little in the way of institutional or economic development for Panama. (The Canal project had much more profound effects on Barbados.) The United States was instrumental in removing the blight of Manuel Noriega, but the democracy that emerged thereafter was hecho en Panamá, and had little do with the previous decades of U.S. intervention.

The other argument is a methodological statement about history and the social sciences. The social sciences are fundamentally about the study of social processes — the ways that human beings interact and the institutions that structure those interactions over time. Thus, social scientists do not really have a choice regarding the use of history — their interest in change over time gives them little choice but to make historical arguments. The real choice for economists and political scientists is whether the historical arguments they make are supported by systematically gathered and carefully analyzed evidence, or whether they are supported by “stylized facts.” We support the former, and The Big Ditch, we hope, provides at least a modest example.
Learn more about The Big Ditch at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Benjamin H. Irvin's "Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty"

Benjamin H. Irvin is an assistant professor of history at the University of Arizona.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors, and reported the following:
In its efforts to recast American resistance as a holy war, as in its efforts to enlist the memory of the dead in the fight for liberty, Congress met with considerable opposition. Some individuals resented Congress’s attempts to sanctify the American rebellion. Others insisted that Congress hew its politics not toward independence, but rather toward reconciliation. The rituals and observances that Congress inaugurated after the outbreak of war did not fix the meaning or purpose of colonial protest. Rather, they provided opportunities for persons of divergent political beliefs to express their own ideas about the supposed righteousness of the American cause.

“Warlike Musick” broke the Quaker silence. “Uniforms, and Regimentals” swarmed “thick as Bees.”
Unlike earlier histories of the Continental Congress, which focus primarily on the political and constitutional development of that assembly, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty offers a social and cultural history. To strengthen the colonial resistance, to boost morale for an arduous war, and ultimately to dignify the infant United States, the Continental Congress crafted an array of symbolic material objects, ceremonies of state, and public celebrations. These included swords, medals, and statues; seals and emblems; diplomatic protocols; and a calendar of sacred anniversaries and observances. Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty critically interrogates these many artifacts, rituals, and holy days. It further explores the often disobliging reactions of the people out of doors, defined to include not only the working poor who protested in the streets of Philadelphia, but also broader segments of American society disenfranchised by Revolutionary politics, especially loyalists, women, and Native Americans.

In one regard, page 99 brilliantly epitomizes Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty. Falling at the beginning of my fourth chapter, it consists primarily of introductory paragraphs that rearticulate the book’s central themes. Entitled “The Pride and Pomp of War,” chapter 4 opens on the heels of Lexington and Concord. Examining Congress’s efforts to solemnize American military preparations, this chapter features the proclamation of the first continental fast day, derided out of doors as a “Congress Sunday”; a memorial service for General Richard Montgomery, ruined when the Anglican eulogist preached reconciliation instead of independence; and a commemorative medal, commissioned to honor General Washington but also to assert Congress’s supremacy over the Continental Army.

Yet, in its emphasis on the consecration of American arms, page 99 offers but a glimpse of the book. Proceeding chronologically, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty sweeps across the Revolutionary War, investigating among other topics the Articles of Association, which Congress ladened with moral proscriptions against theater and gaming; the continental currency, which Benjamin Franklin adorned with emblems of industry and thrift; the earliest anniversaries of independence, which Philadelphia patriots celebrated by vandalizing the homes of suspected loyalists; and the reception of French minister Conrad-Alexandre Gérard, which a ceremonial committee minutely choreographed both to promote a virtuous republic and to impress the ancien régime. In scrutinizing these phenomena, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty reveals that the Continental Congress could not simply dictate its vision of an American republic. Rather, the people out of doors contested or flatly rejected Congress’s vision as they saw fit.
Learn more about Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peter Corning's "The Fair Society"

Peter A. Corning is director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems. He is the author of The Synergism Hypothesis and Nature's Magic, among other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is part of a key chapter in which I detail the fourteen basic needs that represent biological imperatives for all of us and that define the basic purpose of a human society. As I argue in the book, we are all engaged, first and foremost, in a "collective survival enterprise," and our "prime directive" (to borrow a term from Star Trek) is to provide for the basic needs of our population.

However, a fair society depends on much more than this. There are, in fact, three distinct categories of fairness -- three distinct fairness principles -- that must be combined and balanced in order to achieve a fair society. These principles are equality in relation to our basic needs, equity (or merit) in relation to our efforts, achievements, and contributions, and reciprocity -- the obligation to contribute a fair share in return for the benefits we receive from society.

In my book I argue that neither capitalism nor socialism can pass the fairness test; both of these outdated nineteenth century ideologies falls short and should be abandoned in favor of a new "biosocial contract" based on the three fairness principles I identify. This, in turn, leads to a sweeping set of recommended political and policy reforms -- from a full employment program and a basic needs guarantee to tax reform and the democratization of our economic system under the banner of "stakeholder capitalism."

From Plato to the modern philosopher John Rawls, it has been abundantly clear that a harmonious and successful society depends on social justice. The political challenges that lie ahead are formidable. But as the TV interviewer Bill Moyers put it, "The only answer to organized money is organized people."
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Corning's blog and the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2011

John J. Miller's "The Big Scrum"

John J. Miller writes for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football and The First Assassin, a historical thriller set during the Civil War. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him “one of the best literary journalists in the country.”

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Big Scrum and reported the following:
In writing this book about culture, sports, and politics, I hoped to fill the pages with colorful characters--not just Theodore Roosevelt, who is one of the most compelling men in American history, but also a number of his contemporaries, such as Walter Camp, Frederic Remington, and Knute Rockne. Page 99 is from a section that introduces longtime Harvard president Charles Eliot, a hater of football who battled Roosevelt over the future of the game. This excerpt provides a good glimpse of my narrative approach and also tells of how Harvard gained its school color of crimson.
...for a time each day all through life, sports and active bodily exercise. These are legitimate enjoyments, but if made the main object of life, they tire. They cease to be a source of durable satisfaction. Play must be incidental in a satisfactory life.”

His own concept of a satisfactory life led him to reject a career in business and gravitate toward the academy. After graduation from Harvard, he returned as a tutor--a kind of postgraduate teacher--and eventually became an assistant professor of math and chemistry. He continued to exercise and joined the crew team. His fellow boaters included four undergraduates and another young member of the faculty, Alexander Agassiz. In 1858, they took part in a three-mile race on the Charles River that would go down in school lore. Shortly before it began, all six tied red silk handkerchiefs around their heads. It contributed to their esprit de corps and also made the Harvard boat easy to spot from shore. This was the origin of crimson as Harvard’s school color. “It was the purest accident in the world,” recalled Eliot years later. “We might as well have bought blue.”

The morning of the race, Eliot began to write a letter to his fiancée: “I had rather win than not, but it is mighty little matter whether we beat or are beaten--rowing is not my profession, neither is it my love--it is only recreation, fun, and health.” He also promised not to row too hard. Although these words sounded like a preemptive rationalization for defeat, Eliot sincerely believed them. He enjoyed rowing, but more as a pleasant exertion than as an excuse to compete against others. As it happened, the debut of Harvard’s crimson was a big success: Eliot and his teammates won by several lengths. A couple of weeks later in a six-mile race, the Harvard rowers put on their red bandanas again and triumphed once more. The victory carried a prize of one-hundred dollars. In later years, Eliot joked that accepting his part of this purse had turned him into a professional athlete.
Learn more about the book and author at John J. Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue