Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brendan O’Meara's "Six Weeks in Saratoga"

Brendan O’Meara is a freelance journalist.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year, his first book of narrative nonfiction, and reported the following:
My book chronicles the 141st Saratoga horse race meeting (2009) through four distinct threads: Rachel Alexandra, the super horse who would become Horse of the Year, the jockey who must pilot her to victory, the executive who needed her to run at his track, and the challenging trainer looking to slay the Queen.

Page 99 starts with the end of a miniature scene about Calvin Borel, the jockey, and about how he has been shunned by the New York racing circuit, receiving very little mounts. This was an undercurrent for his story throughout the meet, but he was fine with it. He usually takes the summer off but he came to Saratoga for one reason: Rachel Alexandra.
For the time Borel hovered around the jocks’ room in a blue bathrobe and shower sandals. He sat on a bench in the sun with his right leg crossed over his left, smoking a Marlboro Light. He angled his chin to the sun. His eyes were closed and there was a muted grin stamped on his face.
The bulk of Page 99 is a cited New York Times editorial that praises New York Racing Association president and CEO Charlie Hayward, my executive thread, for calling out politicians about the structure of New York City’s Off-Track Betting offices. It starts with an e-mail from media consultant Mark Bardack that says, at its end, “It is a keeper from now to eternity. Awesome, awesome stuff!” (In the editorial, which continues on Page 100, Hayward said, “Racing in New York could be profitable if we just solved the OTB problem. They really have become places where good local politicians are sent to max out their pensions.”)

During the meet, aside from ensuring that Rachel Alexandra raced at his track, Hayward wrestled with a number of things, one of which was the off-track betting mess. And since the New York Times editorial page, for once, sided with horse racing was nothing short of a watershed moment for them, it was a victory for him.

Page 99 (in Week 3 of a six-week structure) is little more than a third of the way through the book; the action is still building to what everyone hopes is Rachel Alexandra’s ultimate showdown, but in the meantime I feel it illustrates what’s driving two of my main characters well.
Learn more about the book and author at Brendan O'Meara's website and blog. Follow the author on Twitter, and "like" Six Weeks on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pat Shipman's "The Animal Connection"

Pat Shipman is a professor of anthropology at Penn State University. Her books include Femme Fatale, a biography of Mata Hari, and the award-winning The Ape in the Tree (coauthor).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human, and reported the following:
Page 99 is an interesting page to take as representative of The Animal Connection because it tells a story about one of the uniquely human traits -- making stone tools -- that marks the beginning of the ancient link between animals and people. As soon as stone tools appear in the archaeological record, so does abundant evidence that the use to which these tools was put transformed our ancestors from almost exclusively vegetarian animals to a role comparable to that of a super-predator, like a lion. What the clever work teaching Kanzi, a highly educated bonobo, to make stone tools showed was that being able to make stone tools -- having the knowledge, the hand-eye coordination, the mastery of types of stone and techniques for striking it -- does not a tool-maker make. That is, Kanzi understood there was a benefit to make stone tools: he could cut a rope, open a box, and get a treat. So he was motivated to learn, but found the task difficult because of his bonobo anatomy. He was smart enough to invent ways of making sharp pieces of stone that worked well for a bonobo and eventually learned to use the human methods, as did his half-sister Panbanisha.

As the next few pages recount, there were some important observations that came out of the whole experiment. First of all, neither Kanzi nor any other bonobo exposed to knapping had any inherent interest in the task until motivation (a treat) was provided. This ties in with the observations in the wild that reveal bonobos hardly ever make any kind of tool. Second, even once the bonobos in the experiment were fairly accomplished makers of stone tools, they showed no inclination to experiment endlessly (as a child might) with what could be cut. Making the tool was a hurdle on the way to getting a treat, but the task could have been something much less related, like say beating a particular rhythm on a drum. The bonobos were not interesting in cutting as an ability.

How different was the reaction of our ancestors! Once they could make stone tools, they left literally hundreds of cutmarks on the bones of the antelopes, zebras, and other animals they lived with and ate. They also used stones to break open bones, extracting fat-rich marrow. Being both a prey animal -- one with no sharp claws, large teeth, speed, or great strength -- and a predator put our ancestors in an ecological position not shared with any other species at that time. Surviving as both predator and prey put evolutionary pressure on our ancestors to focus on the behavior, habits, and biology of other species with an new intensity. Thus began a long evolutionary trajectory in which humans and their ancestors benefited from learning more and more about other animals, to the point that this increasing knowledge spurred the development of enhanced communication (language) and eventually the skills needed to domesticate other species to live and work with us. We carry with us today the legacy of that very long, intimate, and detailed relationship with other species, as I show in my book.
Learn more about the book and author at Pat Shipman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mark Knights's "The Devil in Disguise"

Mark Knights is Professor of History at Warwick University. He has written two books about later Stuart political culture, including Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture, and has also written elsewhere about early modern ideas, print, and discourse.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Devil in Disguise: Deception, Delusion, and Fanaticism in the Early English Enlightenment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book discusses a key dilemma: how far should toleration extend? The religious toleration that finally became law in 1689 in Britain after a century of turmoil and revolution posed real challenges: if men and women had freedom to find their own way to God did they also have freedom to find their way to the Devil and to reject scriptural morality? Indeed, toleration of religious diversity raised questions about how to preserve a sense of communal unity: if there was no longer uniformity of religion, would society disintegrate and sexual morals wither away? These questions – pertinent for many today as much as in the seventeenth century – were faced if not quite for the first time in the later seventeenth century then at least with great urgency. As I put it on p.99 ‘During the Restoration era and particularly after the Revolution of 1688-9 contemporaries seemed to be in a world in which old religious and biblical values were under threat or even scoffed at, in which a shared mental universe seemed to be in danger of fracturing or already to have been destroyed’. The late seventeenth and early eighteenth century thus saw a major challenge to core religious and moral values from new ways of thinking that would later be identified as ‘Enlightenment’ ideas. Church of England Christianity was not only under attack from protestant radicals but also ‘from the forces of freethinking, deism, and atheism, which attacked the notion of religion as it had been traditionally understood and which seemed to be gaining considerable momentum in the wake of the Toleration Act and the freedom to print’. These forces loosened old moralities. Freedom of belief became, for some, synonymous with looseness of morals; liberty became licence.

I use one family – the Cowpers of Hertford – to illustrate these tensions:
Hostile to the established Church and open to a variety of different religious ideas, Sir William Cowper epitomized the stereotype of the freethinking Whig; his sons were less openly anticlerical but were certainly committed to freedom of worship. And there was an apparent correlation between their pursuit of religious and sexual freedom. Spencer was not the only son with a roving eye, for his brother also acquired a scandalous reputation as a bigamist. Certainly he had two illegitimate children, and carefully kept letters from them amongst his papers; and contemporaries thought that he advocated polygamy. Until restrained by the strengthening codes of polite behaviour (but also by their political responsibilities), the brothers seem to exemplify an unbridled and predatory masculinity. In this they emulated their father, who had a reputation as a lecher. Their apparently unbridled behaviour threatened to undermine the institution of marriage. Sir William ruled his wife with a ferocious temper, allowing her few liberties, and Sarah Cowper in turn viewed their marriage in terms of slavery—a word that had both political and social application. The Whigs insisted on political and religious liberty; but, from Sarah’s perspective, they denied her freedom. Whilst she shied away from seeing her husband’s behaviour as representative of the oppression of her gender as a whole there were others who did make that connection and exploited the discrepancy in Whig attitudes. Sarah’s diary reveals the strains within one marriage; but the institution as a whole seemed also to be struggling to contain wider social, religious, and political changes. [p.99]
The chapter explores these themes through the Cowper’s family archives before turning to the salacious account of the family published by the first woman to earn her keep through journalism, Delarivier Manley. Despite being a bigamist herself, she satirised William Cowper’s alleged defence of polygamy and what she saw as his hypocrisy; but her attack was politically motivated and she found herself under arrest as a result. The chapter, and the book as a whole, shows how bitter partisanship provoked assaults on the reputations of politicians, creating a degradation of discourse that would be recognisable today but also shaped a set of Enlightenment ideals – free speech, toleration, liberty and moderation– that we still prize.
Learn more about The Devil in Disguise at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christine Sismondo's "America Walks into a Bar"

Christine Sismondo is a writer and lecturer in Humanities at York University in Toronto. She has written numerous articles about film, literature, drinking, and vice, as well as the book Mondo Cocktail, a narrative history of cocktails.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, and reported the following:
Having never heard of the Page 99 test, I was pretty terrified when I cracked my book open to that page. What if Ford was correct? What if his test would reveal some awful truth about my efforts? Had I known about the test, I’d have tried to make sure something good landed there.

I was very pleased to discover, however, that page 99 is one of my favourite pages. First off, it’s the opening page to the second part of the book, which is where I think things really get rolling. Not that there’s anything wrong with Part One, it’s just that the book is a chronological history of the American bar, and it’s harder to tell a really exciting story about what happened in bars during the years when people were far too busy ekeing out an existence to chronicle what happened the night before in the bar-room. Now, thanks to Twitter and Last Night’s Party we have clear records of what everyone said at every moment and what every drink and drunk looked like. That said, however, I realize that this surfeit of data will probably lead to far worse problems for a future bar chroniclers.

But somewhere in between the revolutionaries, whose best line seems to have been “Where we met to Plan the Consignment of a few Shiploads of Tea, Dec 16, 1773” and today’s party people, whose best line seems to be "Am I missing a tooth?" some smart people wrote down some of the witty things said in bars. And some of my favourite stories are to be found in Part Two, specifically Chapter Six, which is called “Keeping Tabs.”

“Keeping Tabs” is also the chapter which people in the industry will appreciate the most – a detailed account of what the bar was evolving into, with less of the political action that dominates the rest of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I love the politics and the whole point of the book is that America’s most interesting and progressive political movements – republican democracy, anarchism, gay pride, to name a few – were largely conceived of and planned in bars. Still, I worry that the detailed account of the tap-room as political sphere will begin to try the patience of some industry folk who will really want to know non-political details like who was serving what to whom and what the physical structure of the bar looked like. This chapter is there, in part, to round things out and provide such information for those who want that kind of detail.

There are few words on page 99. Twenty-nine, to be precise. You already know two of them. Then, we see this lovely painting by William Sidney Mount:
Then, the caption:


Happy times in a simple tavern. As always, a wait for the bathroom.

I have never looked at this caption without laughing out loud. I know it’s not cool to laugh at your own jokes but, since it’s not my joke, it’s okay. It was produced in the sleep-deprived editing stages, by my husband who added it, I think, as a joke, to wake me up and distract me from my bleary-eyed editing. I then put it in as a joke for my editor to see, thinking he might remove it. He never did. At the page-proof stage, I had a pang of remorse and wrote the assistant. She passed it on, but it was (obviously) never removed. I guess everyone liked it, perhaps for the same reasons I do.

Namely, that it’s one of the few jokes in the book. Library Journal reviewed my book and called it “pun-laden,” which I really don’t understand, since I don’t recall a single pun – but it was a favourable review so I won’t complain. The point is, since this book is an attempt to treat bars seriously – as radical political spaces and valuable community centres – it’s not like a lot of alcohol books, which are pretty firmly planted in the humour branch of writing. In America Walks into a Bar, I strive for levity, but not jokes, per se. But we snuck this one in – as a reward for the careful caption reader.

And, now, I guess, anyone who reads this.
Visit Christine Sismondo's blog, and learn more about America Walks into a Bar at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Craig Koslofsky's "Evening's Empire"

Craig Koslofsky is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe, and reported the following:
Is the statement by Ford Madox Ford, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you" accurate for Evening's Empire?

The seventeenth century witnessed a new era in the history of the night. Kings, courtiers, city councils, and coffeehouse patrons all began to use the night for celebrations, entertainment, labor, and leisure in unprecedented ways across northern Europe. The rise of street lighting and spread of the coffeehouse are two seventeenth-century examples of the nocturnalization of daily life in early modern Europe.

On p. 99 of Evening's Empire we look back at a diurnal royal celebration of the sixteenth century in order to see what was new about nocturnalization at royal courts in the seventeenth century:
On June 27, 1559, Henry II of France (1519–59) opened a five-day tournament to celebrate the weddings of his daughter Elisabeth to Philip II of Spain and his sister Marguerite to Emmanuel-Philibert, duke of Savoy. The daytime jousts were the focus of the celebration, especially on the fateful third day. According to the eyewitness account of Antoine Caraccioli, bishop of Troyes, by five o’clock in the afternoon "the hour [was] late, the weather extremely hot, and the tournament concluded." Queen Catherine and the noble spectators begged to Henry to retire, but he insisted that "he would break his lance once more," with fatal results. To be sure, the festivals and celebrations of Henry II included lavish banquets at night, but the most elaborate events unfolded during the day.
A century later, Henry's successor Louis XIV brought the nocturnal court culture of the Baroque to its greatest heights. At age fourteen, Louis XIV of France (1643–1715) presented himself for the first time as "le roi soleil" in the nighttime performance of the court Ballet de la Nuit. As in countless other spectacles of the era, a nocturnal backdrop enhanced the appearance of a radiant monarch, evoking his power to dispel darkness and bedazzle his subjects.

The development from the afternoon jousting match of Henry II in 1559 to the lavish nocturnal performances and festivals of Louis XIV a century later opens my discussion of the dynamic uses of the night in royal spectacles, court culture, and political thought in this period. Evening's Empire reveals a revolution in early modern daily life – a new embrace of the night in theology, piety, court culture, urban daily life, and in the early Enlightenment. I call this revolution "nocturnalization," defined as the ongoing expansion of the legitimate social and symbolic uses of the night. The effects of nocturnalization are everywhere, and so Evening's Empire speaks to a broad range of themes and interests. From the Dark Night of the Soul of John of the Cross to the dark fantasy of the witches' sabbath, and from the glittering world of Versailles to the nocturnal conversations of "atheists" in the coffeehouses of London, Paris, or Leipzig, Evening's Empire offers a startling new perspective on the early modern world. This study uses the night as a category of analysis to re-examine and reframe confessional formation, the civilizing process, the rise of a bourgeois public sphere, the colonization of daily time, and the relationship between darkness, race, and the early Enlightenment in the European transition to modernity.
Read more about Evening's Empire at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rachel Brownstein's "Why Jane Austen?"

Rachel Brownstein is Professor of English at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Why Jane Austen?, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Why Jane Austen? the reader will find a wonderful little-known quotation from Walter Scott which neatly explodes the myth that Jane Austen published anonymously because she was a perfect lady who shrank from publicity that would embarrass her and her genteel family. Scott, whose novels appeared anonymously around the same time Austen’s did—they read one another—explains in the passage I quote that “the mental organization of the Novelist” is “characterized, to speak craniologically, by an extraordinary development of the passion for delitiscency,” using an appropriately obscure word for staying hidden and obscure. In other words, the desire to conceal the self is characteristic of the fiction writer. Throwing the voice, masquerading, and taking other actions that muddle the question of who the author is was part of the game of fiction in Austen’s and Scott’s day—as it was before they wrote, and still is in our own time.

Why Austen signed her first novel “By A Lady” (“Lady A” in one 1811 advertisement for Sense and Sensibility) is a question frequently raised and answered by critics obsessed with the novelist’s gender. Was she reticent, as ladies were taught to be? Was she deliberately pulling rank, or falsely suggesting she had it? Was she revealing for venal or other cynical motives only the fact that she was female? Is the implication—the implicit lesson for readers—that a proper lady is too guarded and oblique to sign her own name?

Looking back at his career as a novelist known only as The Great Unknown, Walter Scott begins to suggest that such solemn sociological matters are beside the point. His arch phrenological formulation is amusing, but his point is serious: it’s a matter of narrative strategy. The novelist, he claims, has a peculiar brain structure; another way to put it is to say a storyteller is a player. “But mine’s a bubble not blown up for praise/ But just to play with, as an infant plays,” Scott’s contemporary and fellow poet Lord Byron wrote apropos of his own epic story, Don Juan. Assuming a character, hiding behind it, is part of the art or craft or game of fiction.

At the top of page 99 I compare Jane Austen’s “A Lady” to “George Eliot,” the male pseudonym of the later novelist Mary Ann or Marian Evans, who privately called herself Mrs. Lewes. A pseudonym is a different kind of hiding place, more susceptible to literary-critical parsing, but also, and still, part of the great game of fiction.
Learn more about the book and author at Rachel M. Brownstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 23, 2011

David S. Reynolds's "Mightier than the Sword"

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of Walt Whitman’s America, John Brown, Abolitionist, Beneath the American Renaissance, Faith in Fiction, and Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, and reported the following:
Yes, my book Mightier than the Sword passes the Page 99 test. On this page, I examine the historical roots of Eliza Harris, one of the main characters of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark antislavery best-seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), which, as I show in Mightier than the Sword, helped fuel the Civil War by exposing slavery’s horrors with unprecedented power. The real-life Eliza Harris was an enslaved Kentucky woman who, upon hearing that her master planned to sell either her or her two-year-old son, made a daring escape. She carried her child across the heaving ice floes of the Ohio River to the free state of Ohio, where she was assisted by kindly abolitionists who sent her north on the Underground Railroad to Canada and freedom. Harriet Beecher Stowe had heard this story first-hand from one of Eliza’s antislavery saviors, the Ohio abolitionist Rev. John Rankin. However, Stowe made no mention of Rankin or others in The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, her factual volume on the sources of her novel, for fear of revealing Eliza’s abettors, who could have been imprisoned under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had their identity come to light.

Eliza Harris’s story--factual yet hidden by Stowe—is typical of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was based on real-life horrors that Stowe often felt compelled to conceal because of the volatility of the slavery issue at that time. Also, as I note on page 99, “Like other characters in the novel, Eliza Harris cannot be pinned to a single source.” The unmatched social and political influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin resulted from Stowe’s success in weaving together aspects of various slave biographies in each character and in using images from all realms of popular culture—religion, temperance reform, sentimental fiction, minstrel shows, and adventure fiction, among others—in such a way that the novel broke sales record for American fiction.

Harriet Beecher Stowe became, as Lincoln reportedly said, “the little lady who made this big war,” precisely because she realistically and passionately portrayed slavery by drawing from real life while ringing so many pop-culture bells that Uncle Tom’s Cabin proved irresistible to millions of readers worldwide.
Learn more about Mightier than the Sword at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Erynn Masi de Casanova's "Making Up the Difference"

Erynn Masi de Casanova is Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Affiliate of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Cincinnati. She has been conducting research in Ecuador for a decade, and her work has been published in journals such as Gender & Society, Women's Studies Quarterly, and Latino Studies.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Up the Difference: Women, Beauty, and Direct Selling in Ecuador, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in the middle of a chapter I almost cut out of the book, “How Products Sell Themselves,” which analyzes how ideas about race, gender, and class are portrayed in the catalogs of the direct sales organization* I studied. I considered scrapping the chapter because I couldn’t get permission to reprint most of the catalog photos I wanted (images of thin, white or very light-skinned models in luxurious settings). In the end, I kept the chapter, and skeptical readers can verify my claims by perusing the company’s website.

One of the most puzzling questions about direct sales in a poor country like Ecuador is “How is it profitable?” Page 99 goes a long way toward answering this question.
The use of certain beauty products and practices is associated with high-class status… this type of consumption is seen as having the potential to obscure humble origins (when performed “correctly”).
Catalogs’ text and photographs link the products, especially jewelry, with elite class status. The company’s marketing strategy is based on making luxury-type goods accessible to low-income people through installment payments.
Despite the catalogs’ emphasis on class, wealth, and elite status symbols, Yanbal [the direct sales company] makes some concessions to the economic realities of the [developing] countries in which it does business, and the material conditions in which clients live…. [for example, selling] engagement rings and wedding bands, made of sterling silver and cubic zirconia.
So, based on a glance at Page 99, is this a high-quality book? That is for readers to judge. The page doesn’t contain any of my favorite sentences or any dazzling photos. But it does help explain why direct selling is big business in Ecuador.

* Direct selling organizations use a model of person-to-person sales; think of companies like Avon or Mary Kay.
Learn more about Making Up the Difference at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rebecca T. Alpert's "Out of Left Field"

Rebecca Alpert is Associate Professor of Religion and Women's Studies at Temple University and the author of Whose Torah?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, and reported the following:
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then page 99 reveals a lot about the story I’m telling in Out of Left Field. The photograph on that page is of Max Patkin, one of two Jewish entertainers who were known as “The Clown Prince of Baseball.” Patkin, dressed in a baggy Chicago White Sox uniform, stands in a wide, goofy pose, his face contorted and cap askew, with an oversized glove on his hand. Under the photo, I describe Patkin’s routines and his feelings about comedy baseball:
He smelled his own shoe and pretended to faint from the odor. He also went into the stands to kiss women and snatch purses. His best-known routine was filling his mouth with a vast amount of water and spraying it out for an extended time. For most of his career, Patkin worked primarily in the minor leagues, as growing disdain for baseball comedy kept him out of major league baseball entirely. He was bitter that…there were too many “baseball purists” who disliked clowning, tried to make baseball a “religious experience,” and couldn’t laugh at the game.1
Patkin’s routines were not unique, nor were his feelings about comedy in baseball, which while not tolerated in the majors formed the financial backbone of the world of barnstorming baseball, white and black. My goal in writing Out of Left Field was to highlight the experiences of some Jewish entrepreneurs, sportswriters, and players who came “out of left field” into the world of black baseball. With more social and economic opportunities than their black counterparts they were able to serve as bridges to the white world during the Depression Era and World War II even though they were not fully welcome there.

Patkin was not one of the men whose story I tell in Out of Left Field. He was not associated with the black Jewish team, the Belleville Grays. He was not one of the Jewish sports entrepreneurs (like Abe Saperstein) who owned or promoted Negro League baseball teams. He was not a Jewish communist sportswriter who passionately fought for baseball's integration for over a decade before Jackie Robinson. But Patkin’s pose in this photograph exemplifies how the men I studied were tied to segregated baseball, caught in an awkward pose in a world where Jews had enough power to succeed in "the minors" but not "the majors."
Learn more about Out of Left Field at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Andrew P. Haley's "Turning the Tables"

Andrew P. Haley is assistant professor of American cultural history at the University of Southern Mississippi.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920, and reported the following:
In Turning the Tables, I tell the story of a nascent American middle class that found cultural power by reshaping how we dine. In the late nineteenth century, fine dining was dominated by French food, archaic manners, and formal folderol. High-class restaurants catered to American aristocrats and although nothing formally barred the middle class from joining their social betters at the public groaning boards, the high cost and rarified traditions of the aristocratic restaurant intimidated the middle class. Frustrated, middle-class diners began to patronize working-class and immigrant restaurants, and through their patronage they created a new restaurant culture that celebrated middle-class, democratic, and cosmopolitan dining.

Page 99, in some ways, marks the turning point in this tale. Made uncomfortable by the aristocratic restaurant, the middle class ventured into ethnic restaurants in the 1870s and 1880s. At first they were wary. Theories of race and taste in the nineteenth century discouraged white, native-born Americans from sampling the culinary offerings of cultures that were viewed as less civilized. As a critic of Chinese restaurants wrote in 1886, "few western palates can endure even the most delicate of their dishes." Nor, it seems, did many initially want to. A few years earlier a writer for Harper’s described German food as “greasiness in various degrees.”

But the tables were turning. On page 99 (and to be honest, on pages 100, 101, 102, etc.) we see the middle class facing up to their fears and experimenting with new cuisines. They increasingly ate in ethnic restaurants and came to celebrate immigrant food—German, Italian, Chinese, Syrian, Japanese, and a host of other ethnicities—as cosmopolitan alternatives to the French food so enamored by the upper classes. By the turn of the century, boosters in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco squabbled over which city offered the most diverse culinary fare.

In time, the middle class did more than just embrace ethnic food. Through their patronage, they encouraged immigrant restaurateurs who, recognizing the collective purchasing power of the nascent middle class, modified their menus and moved uptown to woo their new clientele. Then, emboldened, middle-class diners went on to demand changes in upper-class restaurants as well. The cosmopolitan dining they championed, with menus in English and more opportunities for women to dine out, helped to reshape public dining even in the snootiest establishments and the middle-class emerged as America’s arbiters of taste. The restaurants we eat in today are a legacy of this change. (Oh, and by the way, page 99 also includes a very early reference to Americans’ fondness for hamburgers that provides a glimpse at what the future would hold.)

Selection from Page 99:
German restaurants were initially located in working-class neighborhoods where, in order to secure cheap rents, they “generally occup[ied] the basements of stores and dwelling-houses, and from the exterior [did] not, therefore, present as inviting an appearance as they would were they located on ground floors.” Reflecting the stereotype that German food smelled foul, reporters who visited these restaurants invariably commented on the “smells from the kitchen,” but they generally pronounced the establishments clean and inexpensive. Recounting a visit to a German restaurant in the 1870s, a reporter for the New York Times noted that the "table furnishings are simple but clean, and the floor generally sprinkled with fresh white sand.” For thirty-five cents, he observed, you could get a five-course meal: “Though the meat is not always of the best quality, it is sure to be good, and well-cooked, though in a distinctly national manner.”

Extolling generous portions and low prices, newspaper accounts of German restaurants cautiously encouraged middle-class diners to try the new cuisine. “So entirely German are the dinners in this latter particular, that Americans can, by partaking of them, become acquainted with dishes of whose existence they had never before dreamed, though in this respect much that is served may be distasteful to the native palate.” Lentil and bologna soup, beef à la mode with macaroni (“a very peculiar but highly satisfactory way of eating it”), Wiener schnitzel (“a tremendous name, which, however, when bought, is only veal cutlet with the bone removed”), and Hamburger steak (“simply a beefsteak redeemed from its original toughness by being mashed into mince-meat and then formed into a conglomerated mass”) were deemed particularly suited to American tastes by a New York Times reporter in 1873. The reporter also assured readers that many German restaurants offered—“for the Americans only”—“roast beef, as well as the odd things that foreigners love, and ... pumpkin pies and dumplings baked.”
Learn more about the book and author at the University of North Carolina Press website and Andrew Haley's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rachael A. Woldoff's "White Flight/Black Flight"

Rachael A. Woldoff is Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University. She is coauthor of High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Urban Redevelopment.

Woldoff applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood, and reported the following:
What are neighbor relations between blacks and remaining whites like in the aftermath of white flight? Page 99 of my book, which falls in the middle of “Chapter 4: Cross-Racial Caregiving,” complicates what we think about neighborhood racial change and invites readers to consider its aftereffects.

In my study, black “pioneer” residents moved into a white neighborhood, which became mostly black within a decade. The remaining white residents, the “stayers,” were mostly elderly and wanted to continue to age in place. For these whites living next to black families, the unexpected possibilities of positive and meaningful cross-racial neighbor relationships materialized.

Page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge] of my book explains the cross-racial neighboring and the reasons that black pioneers provided support to white stayers, especially considering that they did not receive payment or tangible benefits in return. This page in particular emphasizes the importance of African American socialization into a culture of caregiving and respect for elderly.

The larger context of the story confronts stereotypes about the whites “left behind” when neighborhoods change. The assumptions many people have are that black neighborhoods are dangerous ghettos, white elderly residents are fearful, racist xenophobes, and black residents are suspicious of the white elderly neighbors with whom they have little in common.

However, stayers and pioneers had a different story to tell. Without the pioneers, many stayers would not have been able to remain in their preferred residential situations as long as they had. Many stayers lost their spouses, received few visitors, and increasingly struggled to complete even minor tasks. Pioneers’ help with daily chores and housework eased the burden and even prevented them from suffering from injuries and criminal victimization. Stayers also relied on pioneers for companionship and a shared sense of neighborhood identity. In this way, pioneers functioned as an essential part of stayers’ lives and contributed to their overall well-being.

As one stayer said of her new black neighbors, “They used to put salt down and clean the street and sidewalk. When he did his lawn, he did my lawn. He said, ‘I have to do like someone else would do for my mother.’ When I lost my husband, my neighbor gave me a lot of encouragement. He said, ‘In case you’re afraid or see something or hear something, knock on the wall. If you just notice some noise or thing that make you upset, just you knock on the wall.’”

Thus, for a time, the social world of this neighborhood became a far more racially diverse place than ever before; it was not just a neighborhood for exchanging pleasantries and welcomes, but it was also a place where neighbors helped people in need. While becoming established in their new homes and community, the pioneers often found themselves reaching out and coming to the aid of their elderly neighbors. Over time, neighbor relationships between stayers and pioneers evolved, matured, and deepened to become far more.
Learn more about White Flight/Black Flight at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pamela Haag's "Marriage Confidential"

Pamela Haag earned a Ph.D. in history from Yale after attending Swarthmore College. She has worked as director of research for the American Association of University Women and as a speechwriter, and has written for the American Scholar, the Christian Science Monitor, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Huffington Post, and NPR, among others. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation and a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, and reported the following:
Uncannily, my copy of Marriage Confidential opened right to page 99 on the first try! And on this page, we find ourselves cruising the aisles of a high-end organic supermarket, with a new baby and lots of anxious moms afoot.

Here, I’m mulling the transition to new parenthood as it’s done in what I call the “post-romantic” age. I humorously refer to children as “the new spouses” in marriage, but in order to make a serious point: Although children in some ways are less central to marriage than ever before, since we have more single mothers by choice, more deliberately childfree marriages, and more deliberately chosen parenthood, I argue that once a marriage does decide to have children, those children can quickly become the sole emotional focal point of the family. They’re the ones who set the tempo of life, and become the center of intimacy and attachment. In short, a marriage can become a parenting marriage, one that’s almost exclusively defined by the mission of parenthood.

When I was growing up, in contrast, we had the “children’s table.” Adults had their world when company came over, and kids had theirs. Parenthood had a certain nonchalance. But that’s not the parenting style today. Instead, we’ve got a menagerie of hyper parents, helicopter parents, very attached parents, and tiger mothers.

In this passage—which is not, alas, representative of my book, because it’s a moment when I’m reflecting on my own experience, and for the most part, my book isn’t a memoir—I’m observing anthropologically the ways that mothers (myself included) appear self-conscious and very focused on “enrichment” activities for their child, even when they’re doing something as banal as grocery shopping. In fact, this supermarket became one of my favorite places to eavesdrop on parenthood in action.

I comment that having a baby today is to be plunged into a world where “fun” dare not venture forth unaccompanied by “learning.” My page 99, while not representative of the book, is a humorous, self-deprecating example of the relentless quest to make every moment of our children’s lives a “Learning Moment.”

Some sentences from page 99:
…I could almost imagine my son’s neurons withering because I wasn’t talking enough or pointing out interesting, edifying, neuron-forging things to look at.

…Like garrulous color commentators tasked to fill the lulls in a baseball game, they’d exclaim, ‘That’s an orange,’ their laughin’ and learnin’ words echoing in the cavernous, artfully restored warehouse….

Oddly, my overwhelming feeling in those days was one of intense self-consciousness, and this characteristic seems the most different from my parents’ era: Has a generation of parents ever been so acutely aware of itself as parents?
Learn more about the book and author at Pamela Haag's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kelle Groom’s “I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl”

Kelle Groom is a poet and memoirist. She is the author of three poetry collections: Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2010); Luckily (Anhinga, 2006); and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry, among others, and has received special mention in the Pushcart Prize 2010 and Best American Non-Required Reading 2007 anthologies.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, and reported the following:
In my memoir, page 99 is within the 16th chapter: “Broadway.” It’s 1984. Nearly two years since my son has died. I’m sober a few months and working in a health food store. This chapter marks a turn in the book from the alcoholic drinking, violence, and darkness of the earlier pages. The drive of the book is my desire to know what happened to my son in his brief life, to find him in whatever way is possible. In “Broadway,” my 22-year-old self starts to learn to live in the world. In the chapters that follow, I’m able to search for my son.

My friend Mike appears on page 99. Much of this chapter is devoted to him. Later in the memoir, I make reference to my inability to take action in my own life and to ask for help: “Mostly I am insensible of trees, their states and bruises, their lack of disguise. Their willingness to reach out for the things that keep them alive.” When I see Mike in a recovery meeting “I could swear a light opens up over his head, pours down. I could hear him.” I can’t bring myself to talk to anyone yet, but I want to live. With Mike, I don’t pretend to be okay. Night after night, he sits with me in the House of Pancakes, lets me talk for hours. One day, at a new job cutting limbs from trees, the chain saw falls on his neck, and he falls from a great height. He’s hurt terribly. Both arms broken, face smashed - it’s as if it slipped off or down, like a mask. Mike’s in the hospital, uninsured, for a month. On page 99, he’s been out for a few weeks.
Saturday night I picked him up, took him to the New England meeting. He’s tall, bony, with so many broken parts, I’m nervous helping him out of my small car. The pins in his head held in place with a kind of Frankenstein brace. I don’t want to jostle him, hurt him. I’m not used to helping anyone. Usually it seems as though anyone else would be better suited – whatever the task. But Mike actually needs me. There’s a place with nobody in it. The humidity makes his healing bones ache.

At home, I lay my head down on my humming typewriter, try to pick up some energy. That night I dream that a coworker who doesn’t like me gave me a quart of Wild Turkey. In the dream I drink three inches straight from the bottle.
Page 99 also has a scene that takes place in the health food store. In the memoir, my jobs help ground me, pull me through. My workplace is often both steadying and ridiculous, a source of companionship and humor:
At work, Carey comes over from the Winter Park store. We act out the diseases in the Back to Eden book, a guide to herbal medicines and home remedies. Take turns reading the symptoms until we had the diseases down pat. “Hysteria” and “hydrophobia” (caused by wolf or rat bite) are best. We walk down the aisles, and every time we find a product with water, we gag, sob, convulse, act out the “dread of water” contortions… The store manager does this Amazon strut in high heels and shoulder pads—heaving and slinging her cannonball breasts. Head up, chin out. The store hardly seems large enough for her. When the phone rings, she squeals Hello! with game show expectancy. At some point, she’ll grab me by the elbow…
View the trailer for I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, and learn more about the book and author at Kelle Groom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Richard White's "Railroaded"

Richard White, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Parkman Prize, is the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 Test pretty much nails my book Railroaded. The excerpt from page 99 concerns the “friendship” that was at the center of so much Gilded Age politics, corruption, and business. Similar networks remain central to modern politics, business, and corruption today. The excerpt below captures much of this, but page 99 breaks off a paragraph that I will complete here: “The key figures of the Gilded Age networks of finance, government, journalism, and business had stumbled like so many vampires on a cultural form (friendship), drained it of its lifeblood (affection), and left it so that it still walked, talked, and served their purposes in the world. Friendship was a code: a network of social bonds that could organize political activity. Affection was not necessary.”

Railroaded is a history the transcontinental railroads of the United States, Canada, and Mexico –all of which were enterprises dependent on government aid and subsidies --to try to get at the mystery of how some men obtained great wealth from corporations that lost money and ended up in receivership. Its thesis is that failure is as critical to understanding modernity as success. The result of these railroads was dumb growth: growth that enriched insiders but brought environmental harm, political corruption, and social disaster for Indian peoples and for many whites. Settlement in the regions west of the 100th meridian and east of the Sierras during the late nineteenth century brought environmental damage, political upheaval, and repeated economic collapse. The question is not whether transcontinental railroads were eventually necessary, but rather whether they should have been built where, when, and how they were. Friendship provides one of the keys to the processes that sustained these dubious enterprises.

Often missing from Gilded Age friendship was what seems to us its defining and necessary element: affection. It is not that these men never liked each other. When Mark Hopkins died in 1878, Huntington wrote, “I liked him so much and his death has hurt me more than I can tell. If I had not so much to do for the living I would stop for a time and think only of the dead.” But Friend Huntington despised Friend Stanford. “I am disposed to think,” Huntington had written Charles Crocker in 1871, “Stanford will go to work for the railroad company as soon as the horse races are over. Of course, I do not expect anything until then.” And he once wrote Stanford himself, “I wish you would tell me whom to correspond with in Cal. When I want anything done; for I have become thoroughly convinced that there is no use in writing to you.” The other Associates shared his disdain. Their writing on Stanford is a chronicle of amazement, dismay and irritation at his greed, laziness, ignorance, and ineptitude. Mark Hopkins thought Stanford’s key quality was his intellectual torpor. “He could do it,” Hopkins told Huntington of some necessary task, “but not without more mental effort than is agreeable to him.” Men who had once been Stanford’s friends were even less generous. Ex-Senator Conness of California railed against Stanford as “this immensely stupid man,” who has forgotten he “had helped make his fortune.”

David Colton was certain that Stanford and Hopkins disliked him and would blackball him as an Associate when the special five-year agreement that made him one of them was up. It was this certainty, as well as his financial desperation, that led him to embezzle. But even as Colton embezzled, he employed the language of friendship. When friends of the Central Pacific failed to pass critical legislation in 1878, Colton was alternately lachrymose and indignant –“we have got no true friends outside of us five.”
Learn more about Railroaded at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stephen Gardiner's "A Perfect Moral Storm"

Stephen Gardiner is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Program on Values in Society, University of Washington, Seattle.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, and reported the following:
I'd say that the Page 99 Test fails for my book.

The book is about why climate change poses a profound challenge to ethical action, because it is genuinely global, severely intergenerational, and takes place in a setting where our theories are weak. These three problems are seen as distinct "storms" that converge on humanity in a mutually reinforcing way, analogous to the way in which three real storms converged on the fishing boat the Andrea Gail, as recounted in Sebastian Junger's book 'The Perfect Storm'. One upshot is that there is a threat to our public discourse on the climate challenge: since we benefit from our escalating emissions, and since the global poor, future generations, and nonhuman nature will disproportionately bear the brunt of them, there is a strong incentive towards inaction supported by distraction, selective attention, and bad arguments. I illustrate this in the book by drawing a parallel between the current climate conversation and a classic case of moral corruption described by Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility. I also discuss how it infects how we talk about both climate economics, and the move towards direct, intentional and large-scale intervention in the climate system ('geoengineering'), such as through injecting sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere to try to cool the surface of the planet down.

Page 99 occurs in my chapter 3, which is about why climate change cannot be 'somebody else's problem' in the sense that it might be solved by a small group of countries (e.g., those who supposedly tried to reduce their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol) while the rest continue with business as usual. Page 99 concerns the narrow question of why other, noncooperating countries, would have incentives to break a ceiling on global emissions that any smaller group tried to maintain. (One sign that the Page 99 thesis fails is that at the top of my page 99 I say 'this section may be safely skipped by those uninterested in technicalities'.) The basic idea is that most countries have not yet fully realized the potential short-term gains from emitting more than they currently do, because they are constrained by their lack of resources to emit more. This will change as countries get richer. It is also likely to be affected by a smaller group emitting less, as other things being equal, this will reduce the price of fossil fuels to outsiders.

There is a footnote on page 99 which does capture something central about the book (though nothing like the whole thesis). The note says:
There is no end in sight. As we saw above, given that most countries are far from American (or even European) levels of per capita emissions, they are far from achieving even the current (perceived) gains from the cheap energy associated with high emissions. Furthermore, even those with high per capita emissions rates do not think that they have exhausted the gains from energy consumption. We might add to this that the gains from emissions are tangible, immediate, and accrue directly to those consuming, whereas the costs of extra consumption—the increased risk of negative climate impacts—are intangible, deferred, shared across all countries, and accrue disproportionately to the world’s poor and future generations. Given this, growth in emissions is a natural default position.
Learn more about A Perfect Moral Storm at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Julia C. Ott's "When Wall Street Met Main Street"

Julia C. Ott is Assistant Professor of History at The New School for Social Research.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors' Democracy, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
When individuals refused to join the financial nation, swift reprisals ensued … Crowds meted out violent retribution to “dollar slackers” perceived as disloyal, subversive, and inclined towards bolshevism. These associations were strengthened by the tendency of critics of the war to refuse investment … Roused by warnings issued from the Treasury Department, stalwart citizen-investors also took action against those who attempted to induce others to part with their Liberty bonds [in exchange for merchandise or other securities]. Just as they ferreted out those who refused to subscribe, local patriotic groups – whose ranks swelled with returning servicemen after the war – identified and captured “swindlers” for similar extralegal prosecution. To be sure, strongly coercive measures of financial mobilization met criticism … Yet critics and skeptics concurred that universal investment in federal war debt – if freely chosen – would enrich citizenship, enhance civic culture, and repel bolshevism.
Page 99 of When Wall Street Met Main Street examines the War Loan campaigns of the First World War. Whereas fewer than 500,000 Americans owned any type of stock or bond before 1917, approximately one third of the population (34 million Americans) purchased some form of federal war bond during World War I. As part of its conduct of war, the federal government sought to nurture both the practice of investing and an investors’ mentality. Because the War Loan drives celebrated the benefits of investment as a general practice, they opened the door for postwar marketers of corporate securities. The Great War, therefore, marks a major turning point in the book, which considers how Americans’ relationships with financial securities markets changed dramatically – and permanently – in the first three decades of the twentieth century.

The architects of the War Loans (which included the Liberty Loan, Victory Loan, and War Savings programs) looked upon universal investment in federal war debt as a means of encouraging a widespread sense of identification with the war effort and with the nation itself. Through mass distribution of bonds, stamps, and certificates, the Wilson Administration aimed to mobilize all the inhabitants of the United States, even those opposed to the war and/or lacking full political rights. Shared investment practices would construct a sense of national community among a dispersed, heterogeneous populace, War Loan architects believed. They imagined that universal investment would foster Americanization and counter political alienation and radicalism among those denied the vote. At a historical moment marked by passionate debate over the meaning of citizenship and nationhood, the War Loan drives invited Americans to imagine the nation as a financial market, one in which investment both made and manifested citizenship. Propaganda and spectacle further defended investment as a set of attitudes and practices that would yield a better economic future for individuals and for the nation as a whole.

The Treasury Department determined the goals, terms, quotas, and key themes for the War Loan drives. But on the ground, Americans mobilized themselves through the broad array of private associations that organized public life. The architects of the War Loans could not control the manner in which citizen-investors policed the boundaries of their financial nation. To secure subscriptions, grassroots rituals of financial nationalism mixed celebration and exhortation with emotional manipulation, social ostracism, even physical coercion.

Page 99 reveals a crucial paradox at the heart of the War Loan campaigns. Even as publicity and pageantry cast investment as an instrument of freedom and democracy, Americans employed force to induce individuals to enlist their dollars.
Learn more about When Wall Street Met Main Street at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Matthew J. Nelson's "In the Shadow of Shari‘ah"

Matthew J. Nelson teaches in the Department of Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In the Shadow of Shari’ah: Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan, and reported the following:
On page 99, readers with an interest in Pakistan encounter a familiar figure, namely, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah, the ‘founding father’ of Pakistan, is widely known for his efforts to establish a Muslim-majority state in South Asia following the independence of British India in 1947.

On page 99, the year is 1937, and Jinnah can be found struggling to convince the Muslim majority of what would become the most powerful province of Pakistan—namely, the Punjab—to accept a new ‘Shariat Act’ ensuring that Islamic law, rather than ‘tribal customs,’ would govern South Asia’s Muslims. Unfortunately for Jinnah, the Muslims of the Punjab were not on board. In particular, they knew that the enforcement of shari‘ah would guarantee inheritance rights for all Muslim women and, thus, break up the patrilineal (all-male) landed estates that dominated the politics of the Punjab. As Muslims, many local landowners did not want to be seen ‘opposing the terms of shari‘ah.’ But, in practice, they were clearly very nervous. To make a long story short, their ‘economic interests’ did not coincide with the terms of their ‘religious identity.’

In the Shadow of Shari‘ah discusses the political implications of this challenging bind. It asks a simple, common, and increasingly important question: what happens, politically, when, following the formation of an ‘Islamic’ state, patriarchal Muslim property owners find themselves faced with the promulgation of statutes stressing the enforcement of Islamic law? How do local ideas about Islamic law affect local prospects for democracy?

Many readers will be surprised to find that the terms of Islamic law (shari‘ah) occupy two very different positions with reference to the issue of ‘politics’ and, especially, the crucial issue of ‘democracy’ in this book. First, the terms of Islamic law are contrasted with those of ‘tribal custom.’ The former embrace inheritance rights for women; the latter do not. In fact, somewhat counter-intuitively, the terms of Islamic law are shown to provide substantially greater inheritance rights for women. Second, however, the terms of Islamic law are also shown to conjure up specific notions of legal fixity. In fact most of the landowners who appear in this book are shown to regard the terms of Islamic law as completely inflexible, meaning that, although they are deeply apprehensive about the enforcement of (female-friendly) Islamic laws, they also tend to believe that they are not in a position to engage or amend those laws politically. Even as the terms of Islamic law are shown to support the rights of women, then, they are also seen as politically intractable in ways that complicate the relationship between politically negotiated laws and the basic underpinnings of ‘democracy.’

Broadly speaking, In the Shadow of Shari‘ah concerns the ways in which landowning Muslims, concerned about the enforcement of Islamic law, attempt to circumvent the terms of shari‘ah without actually trying to amend or repeal those terms. It concludes with an argument regarding the ways in which the ‘negotiated’ features of Islamic law deserve more attention than they have received so far—not only among legal experts, but also among the public and their local elected representatives. This alternative is not inconsistent with the history of Islamic law in many parts of the Muslim world. It is simply inconsistent with the practice of Islamic law as this relates to the politics of Pakistan today.
Read more about In the Shadow of Shari‘ah at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids"

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and blogger at EconLog, one of the Wall Street Journal's Top 25 Economics Blogs. He lives in Oakton, Virginia, with his wife and their three children.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids begins with a comparison of war deaths in 1950 versus 2005:
In 1950, American families were losing their sons to the Korean War. In 2005, American families were losing their sons—and occasionally daughters—to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A cynic might say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least from the American point of view, however, he’d be wrong. Since 1950, war has radically changed: It isn’t that dangerous anymore. The 1950’s fatality rate was more than fifty times as high as the fatality rate of 2005. In 1950, parents really had to worry that the government would force their sons to join the army and send them overseas to die. Now the soldiers are volunteers, and they almost always come home alive.
I then turn to risk of murder and suicide, and end with a table comparing child safety in 1900 versus 1950. The topics are grim, but my message is upbeat: 2005 is a much safer time for kids than 1950, but 1950 was much better than 1900.

My Page 99 hardly reveals “the whole” of my book. It doesn’t even mention my main thesis: That parents endure a lot of needless unhappiness because they greatly overestimate their long-run effect on the kind of adults their children become. It doesn’t mention my main evidence: adoption and twin studies. Nevertheless, Page 99 is supporting evidence for one of the “selfish reasons to have more kids” I advertise in the title: Parents are needlessly anxious because kids today are safer than ever. If daily life looked like the evening news and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, being a parent would be terrifying. Fortunately, the numbers tell a far more optimistic story. So relax, lighten up, and remember that there’s never been a better time to bring a child into the world.
Learn more about Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dorothee Schneider's "Crossing Borders"

Dorothee Schneider teaches in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crossing Borders: Migration and Citizenship in the Twentieth-Century United States, and reported the following:
On page 99 readers find themselves at the Laredo border station with Carmen Moctezuma and her little nephew Alfonso. It is the winter of 1918 and Carmen is pleading her case for admission with the immigration inspectors. We have already read about immigrant departures from Europe and Asia in the previous chapter and have visited the U.S. ports of entry on the Atlantic Coast and the Canada. The encounter in Laredo is part of the readers’ journey westwards along the US border.

The encounter on page 99 takes place far away from Washington D.C. where immigration law is forged. Though the law is uniform everywhere, the realities of the Mexican border differ from Ellis Island. Inspectors are scarce and crossing the border away from inspection points is easy. Only a few thousand Mexicans choose to enter as registered immigrants every year, Carmen Moctezuma among them.

Perhaps Moctezuma has chosen this route because she is confident that as a woman of some means who has crossed the border regularly before, she has nothing to fear from the inspectors. She owns a home in Laredo, and has enough money saved for her nephew’s private school tuition. Perhaps she plans to become a U.S. citizen in the future and therefore had to document her legal entry.

The immigration inspectors note the facts and after extensive interviews they let Moctezuma and her nephew into the United States. But unlike European immigrants, Carmen Moctezuma is not admitted because of her apparent commitment to a stable life in the United States, but because she promises to return to Mexico once the boy’s education is completed.

For immigrants at the Eastern border stations the intention of a future life in the United States had always been a crucial part of their plea for admission. Mexicans on the other hand, were more easily admitted if they showed little intention of staying permanently in the United States.

The condition of impermanence would have important and problematic consequences for Mexican (and Asian) immigrants for the rest of the twentieth century. As Europeans crossed the borders into American culture and society and into U.S. citizenship, Mexicans’ admission would remain tentative. The pages and chapters which follow Carmen Moctezuma’s story show the divergent experiences of immigrants from Europe Asia and Mexico as they confront what it meant to become “American” in the eyes of the U.S. government and for themselves during the rest of the twentieth century.
Learn more about Crossing Borders at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Utpal Sandesara & Tom Wooten's "No One Had a Tongue to Speak"

Utpal Sandesara, the son of a Machhu flood survivor, is pursuing doctoral degrees in medicine and social anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Tom Wooten lives in New Orleans, where he teaches writing and researches the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. They graduated from Harvard University in 2008 with degrees in social studies.

Sandesara and Wooten applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, No One Had a Tongue to Speak: The Untold Story of One of History's Deadliest Floods, and reported the following:
The crisis on the Machhu River had already far exceeded the bounds anticipated by the radio message.

So begins page 99 of No One Had a Tongue to Speak, our narrative nonfiction account of a long-forgotten disaster that offers profound lessons for the twenty-first century world.

Thirty years ago, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, a two-mile long earthen irrigation dam collapsed under torrential monsoon rains. Up to 25,000 people perished in the resulting flood, as a thirty-foot tall wall of muddy water wiped out dozens of villages and the industrial city of Morbi. Subsequently, the government quashed a commission set up to investigate the disaster and rebuilt the dam without acknowledging the failings that led to its collapse. Though recognized by experts as one of history’s deadliest flash floods, the disaster was quickly forgotten by all but its survivors.

In 2006, we traveled to India as wide-eyed Harvard undergraduates, having resolved to investigate the tragedy that Utpal’s mother had survived in her youth. After digging through thousands of archival documents and interviewing 148 people, we realized that we had happened upon a story of tremendous intrigue and profound humanity. We had not expected to learn, for example, that a centuries-old curse had presaged the flood, or that a convicted murderer had won a pardon after plucking more than seventy people from the floodwaters (only to stand accused of another murder), or that cover-ups and conspiracy theories had obscured the disaster’s true causes from survivors for decades. We could not have imagined the emotion the disaster still conjured; residents recounted their terrifying stories so vividly that it seemed as if the flood had happened only yesterday.

Page 99 encapsulates the tension that pervades early chapters of No One Had a Tongue to Speak. It straddles two of the numerous vignettes through which we present our multivocal narrative. The page begins with communication failures leaving downstream residents unaware of the emergency brewing behind the dam. In the next vignette, the reader meets Dhirubhai Mehta, a quiet, meticulous shopkeeper whose life will soon be thrown into turmoil. Though the monsoon rains are whipping the dam’s crew into a panicked frenzy, they merely leave Dhirubhai with a dearth of customers on a dreary afternoon…
A beaded curtain of runoff veiled the entrance to the Mehta Machinery shop. From his seat behind the counter, Dhirubhai Mehta glanced out at the Mahendra Quarter, the middle-class neighborhood northwest of Morbi’s main market. A gushing stream filled the street, and a damp coolness hung in the air. Although large-scale evacuations were underway in the city’s low-lying neighborhoods, life in the Mahendra Quarter continued to follow the routine of a mundane rainy day. Dhirubhai Mehta pored over his business ledgers.

For the most part, Mehta was an unremarkable man. His bland shirts and pants covered a body that stood average in both height and build. He tended to remain silent, holding his gravelly voice in reserve except when compelled. His dark face rarely betrayed emotion.

Like Mayor Ratilal Desai and the woman who had cursed the city centuries earlier, Mehta belonged to the Vaniya merchant jati. Unlike Desai, he had not achieved widespread distinction. He had spent his life in the Mahendra Quarter, quietly tending his agricultural machinery business and bringing up three daughters. He passed his days haggling with farmers, praying at the local temple, and socializing with fellow members of the Rotary Club.

Recently, however, he had found a new passion in life, something that filled him with satisfaction and a small degree of self-importance. Over the last five years, Mehta’s son Vimal – the only boy after a string of three girls – had become the greatest joy in his life.
Mehta’s harrowing account of attempts to save his son amid the floodwaters appears verbatim in the subsequent narration of the disaster’s chaos. By combining the words of survivors like Mehta with insights gleaned from previously classified documents, No One Had a Tongue to Speak finally bears witness to a landmark tragedy.
Learn more about No One Had a Tongue to Speak at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 3, 2011

Daniel Byman's "A High Price"

Daniel Byman is Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He has served on the 9/11 Commission staff and as an analyst with the U.S. government.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, and reported the following:
In 2002, I was in the Middle East while investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Just before I entered Israel, its military killed Saleh Shehada – the founder of Hamas’ military wing whom Israel blamed for the deaths of more than 200 Israelis. The same strike, however, also killed 14 others, including 10 children. Hamas declared that it would not rest until “Jews see their own body parts in every restaurant and park,” and less than 10 days later it retaliated, bombing Hebrew University in Jerusalem and killing seven people, including five American students. An ostensible counterterrorism success was fraught with complications on every level.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, it has fought Palestinian terrorists, Jewish extremists, and the Lebanese Hizballah. I set out to write A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism because I believe that Israel’s experiences, both for better and for worse, offer many lessons to other countries in their own struggles against terrorism.

One lesson highlighted on page 99 of my book is how aggressive counterterrorism measures, in this case arrests of Hamas operatives in the late 1980s, can devastate a group. This simple fact is underappreciated – although many of terrorism’s roots are political, if a group’s leaders are hit hard, the group as a whole becomes dysfunctional. Hamas’ ability to strike plummeted, even though it could draw on deep wellsprings of anger within Palestinian society.

Second, p. 99 reveals how terrorist groups adapt. Rather than collapse after its operatives when to jail, Hamas exploited prisons, using them as a place to indoctrinate other prisoners and organize its members, emerging stronger in the end. Hamas also learned how to organize itself into secretive cells and otherwise become a far harder nut for Israeli intelligence to crack.

A final lesson that appears on p. 99 is how the Oslo peace process, which in 1993 seemed close to fruition, undermined terrorism. When hopes for peace were high, many Palestinians saw violence against Israel as counterproductive, as it made a Palestinian state that much less likely. Sadly, as peace talks stagnated, support for violence grew, leading to more attacks and creating a cycle whereby violence set back negotiations, which in turn begat more violence.
Learn more about A High Price at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Steven A. Barnes's "Death and Redemption"

Steven A. Barnes is associate professor of history and director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University.  He is part of the group behind the Russian History Blog.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Death and Redemption is part of a discussion of identities in the 1930s Gulag, the Soviet Union’s forced labor system. Once formerly secret Soviet archives opened, we learned that at least 20 percent of the Gulag population was released every year. At the same time, as we have long known, millions died in the Gulag. The book attempts to explore if and how Soviet authorities determined who would be released from and who would die in the Gulag. An important factor in answering that question is the differential treatment of Gulag prisoners according to their identity as understood by Gulag officials. In the Gulag, an informal yet powerful categorization matrix operated based on who a prisoner had been prior to their arrival in camps (that is, their gender, the crime they had allegedly committed, their ethnicity, etc.) and whom they had become after arrival (that is, according to their labor productivity, their behavior in the camps, the state of their health, etc.). One’s position in that categorization matrix was strongly correlated with survival until release from the Gulag. Different axes in the matrix determined everything from the length of the prisoners’ terms of detention, the remoteness and climatic extremes of their place of detention, the amount food they would receive to whether a prisoner would be released early, on-time, or would be charged for a new crime to continue their detention.

Page 99 considers just one aspect of that categorization matrix, looking at the role that gender identity played in the fates of women prisoners. As I write on that page, “Women had their own special place in the Gulag’s identity universe. They were treated as remedial subjects, officially required to work on par with men, but nonetheless subjected to cruelty specifically due to their gender. In the early 1930s, women appeared in a position similar to the national minorities. That is, they were considered to be a group in need of remedial instruction, although their cultural level was generally low due to their oppression in the tsarist era; special attention was generally low due to their oppression in the tsarist era; special attention was required to raise the cultural level of women so they could take their rightful place in Soviet society.” So, women were by definition unfit for Soviet society until they could shake off the deleterious impacts of pre-revolutionary patriarchal oppression. Labor in the Gulag was supposedly the way to enable that transition. Obviously, reality was quite different.

Finally, the page shows how women creatively struggled to maintain their social lives in the conditions of gender separation (even if that separation was never as complete as Gulag authorities wished it to be. “Consider, for example, Catholics in the camps. Since the church only allowed men to serve in the priesthood, the separation of Catholic women from Catholic men denied these women access to the sacraments. While men could find many corners in the camps invisible to the prying eyes of the state to practice their beliefs, women could not. Mass was celebrated in the barracks, mine shafts, and forests whenever the guards had been drawn away. But women did find their own methods to practice their religion. In some camps, where men were nearby, 'Catholic women would write down their sins on a piece of paper or tree bark with a number, which would be smuggled to their priests on the men’s side. The priests would go along the fence and silently dispense absolution to the women, who held up their fingers to identify themselves, and smuggle penances back to them.'” [The quotation comes from Christopher Lawrence Zugger, The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Empire from Lenin through Stalin (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001) 202.]
Learn more about Death and Redemption at the Princeton University Press website, and visit the Russian History Blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brian D. Behnken's "Fighting Their Own Battles"

Brian D. Behnken is assistant professor in the department of history and the U.S. Latino/a studies program at Iowa State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting Their Own Battles is part of the concluding section of the third chapter. It comes after a discussion of the Mexican American and African American civil rights struggles of the early 1960s and offers analysis on black-brown relations at that time. My page 99 largely confirms the Ford Madox Ford thesis.

Throughout the book I not only detail the key events of both civil rights movements, but also explain why these two communities failed to unite their respective freedom struggles. The key reasons why both groups fought their own battles include a perception that they were culturally dissimilar, class tensions, organizational differences, and geographical distance. Most importantly, racial prejudices hampered attempts to build a united movement. In particular, Mexican Americans attempted to position themselves as white people to avoid segregation, which frustrated unity with blacks.

Here is what Page 99 and a small portion of Page 100 have to say:
….This case confirms that white racial positioning still served as a tool in the Mexican American quest for rights. It further shows one reason why blacks and Mexican Americans did not unite.

Like PASO [the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations], LULAC [the League of United Latin American Citizens] continued to promote the whiteness strategy. In a letter of May 1963 to the TGNC [Texas Good Neighbor Commission], Texas regional governor William Bonilla complained about segregation at a Texas resort. In a pamphlet, the resort made clear, "No Latin Americans or Colored People [Are] Accepted." Bonilla protested the "attitude" of people who would explicitly state that "no Latin Americans are allowed." As in the 1950s, Bonilla indicated that use of the words "colored" and "Latin American" in the same sentence constituted the real problem. If it could not repair this particular situation, Bonilla implied, then the TGNC had failed. The commission's Frank Kelley then wrote to remind the resort’s owners that in Texas "the Latin race is a purely white race." This example again demonstrates that Mexican Americans continued to appeal to the government for support. It also shows that LULACers still promoted whiteness as a method of fighting for Mexican American rights.

The objectives of African Americans and Mexican Americans also paradoxically contributed to disunity. The basic goals of each group appeared identical; to end discrimination, secure rights, eradicate poverty. For many blacks and Mexican Americans, pickets, sit-ins, and political activism resembled each other. In fact, the two groups used similar tactics, although the contexts differed….So each group had similar goals and tactics, but the overall emphasis of each movement differed. This contributed to the lack of African American/Mexican American unity.

Politics also created divisions between Mexican Americans and African Americans. In previous decades, Mexican American leaders had worked diligently to nurture a close working relationship with state leaders, but their endorsement of Price Daniel over John Connally soured this relationship. In the 1960s African Americans saw a much more productive future with the segregationist Daniel out of office and a governor like Connally in the State House. Because of black support, and because JFK's assassination convinced many whites to look more favorably upon black civil rights, black Texans received more state support. Thus, a transformation took place in the Texas government as African Americans became the beneficiaries of state support while Mexican Americans received more hostile treatment. The evolution of the government's role in minority communities served to once again divide the movements. Blacks and Mexican Americans ultimately found themselves in competition for state support, not in cooperation.
What Page 99 leaves out are the instances of black-brown collaboration that occurred throughout the era. For instance, only a handful of pages before Page 99 I detail the legendary filibuster of state senator Henry B. Gonzalez, who railed against anti-integration legislation proposed by the state House in 1957. He was broadly supported by the African American community. The following chapter explores the Mexican American "Minimum Wage March" of 1966, which blacks also supported. And Chapter 5 examines ecumenical activism in Texas, a movement that attempted to bring blacks, whites, and browns together to fight for voting rights, antipoverty aid, and integrated neighborhoods. Thus while Page 99 captures several of the main causes of African American and Mexican American disunity, it misses the instances of cooperation discussed elsewhere in Fighting Their Own Battles.
Learn more about Fighting Their Own Battles at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue