Saturday, March 31, 2012

Frank Prochaska's "Eminent Victorians on American Democracy"

Frank Prochaska taught British history at Yale for many years and is now a member of the History Faculty of Oxford University. He is the author of several books, including The Republic of Britain, 1760-2000 and The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eminent Victorians on American Democracy: The View from Albion, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford would have had a particular interest in what his fellow Victorians had to say about the political culture across the Atlantic. On page 99 of Eminent Victorians on American Democracy, James Bryce, the popular British Ambassador to the United States between 1907 and 1913, explains his purpose in writing The American Commonwealth (1888), a book often compared to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. It was to provide an objective record of the United States government, free of American piety.

Bryce is but one of a succession eminent Victorians, including John Stuart Mill, Walter Bagehot, and Sir Henry Maine, who wrote extensively about American democracy. For them, the United States Constitution raised universal questions about political behavior. Their critical analyses provided trenchant appraisals of America’s federal system and its electoral process. Distance lent perspective and much of their criticism remains remarkably prescient today, if only because the US government retains so much of its 18th-century character.

The nineteenth century was a battleground of ideas and the Victorians glimpsed the future of Britain across the Atlantic. They wished to know whether the American experiment was a success and whether it prefigured the political fate of Britain’s aristocratic government, which was increasingly under threat from political reform at home. If democracy were the future they wished to know how its vices might be attenuated and its virtues bestowed. In their search for answers to the critical issue of democracy, the Victorians provided some of the most penetrating studies of the evolution of American government and society. Their writings may also be seen as part of the ongoing Anglo-Saxon debate over the origins and soul of democracy.
Learn more about the book and author at Frank Prochaska's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carrie Hamilton's "Sexual Revolutions in Cuba"

Carrie Hamilton is reader in history at the University of Roehampton, London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: Passion, Politics, and Memory, and reported the following:
Oral history aims to convey the complexity and richness of collective histories through the stories of individuals. Page 99 of my book Sexual Revolutions in Cuba illustrates this. It opens in the middle of a long interview excerpt from Yohanka (a pseudonym), born in Santiago de Cuba in 1961, just two years after the Cuban revolutionary victory of 1959. I interviewed Yohanka in 2007 as part of the Cuban Voices Oral History project. She is one of several women featured in the chapter on female same-sex desire. But page 99 comes in an earlier chapter on heterosexuality. Here Yohanka’s talking about the friends of her twenty-something daughter:
At school they talked, they've always talked. Of course here, with the issue of sex - recently the propaganda has advanced more, the debates, and more when AIDS arrived. But before they also said, "Use a condom," so you didn't get pregnant. Because as soon as you have an abortion, your uterus starts to get lost, it deteriorates, that new little uterus. They're girls that are fourteen, fifteen years old, who don't even wait till twenty to have sex. They start really early.

And in your daughter's group, for example, does she have friends who got pregnant very young?

Oh! Quite a few friends of hers got pregnant. But when it came to her she and I had already spoken. That was like an agreement between her and me and there's no problem.[...]
Yohanka's words underscore the importance of family and generation as markers of people's perception of historical change. A main argument of Sexual Revolutions is that interviews help us map alternative histories that complicate chronological accounts based on ‘big events’.

The reference to early pregnancy echoes a preoccupation in the media and among sex education and medical professionals. In this, Cuba is part of an international trend in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Another central claim of the book is that the history of sexuality in revolutionary Cuba challenges the thesis of Cuban exceptionalism.

This discussion of a mother-daughter relationship ends with a reflection on change since Yohanka's own youth:
And you, being born in 1961, you were a teenager in the 1970s. Did they talk to you about those things, at school? About sex?

No, before in school they didn't--in my day they didn't talk about that. That's why you saw so many cases of pregnancies.
In fact, there is evidence that births to young mothers remained high in Cuba at the time of the interview. But Yohanka's reflection speaks another, equally important historical truth: the changes since 1959 have given her daughter a fundamentally different education about sex - both at school and at home - than that experienced by Yohanka in the 1970s. This confirms a final argument of Sexual Revolutions in Cuba: although the revolutionary victory of 1959 did not change sexual values overnight, the radical economic, social, and cultural reform it ushered in - including universal education and healthcare - paved the way for transformation in all areas. Cuba did not have a 'sexual revolution' in the Western sense. But the Revolution did initiate a series of 'sexual revolutions' in Cubans' lives.
Learn more about Sexual Revolutions in Cuba at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John Welshman's "Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town"

John Welshman is Senior Lecturer in History at Lancaster University, UK.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his book Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town (Oxford University Press, 2012), and reported the following:
Lawrence Beesley (35), is an English science teacher travelling in Second Class to visit his brother in Toronto. With the skill of a novelist, but the precision of as scientist, Beesley observes events as they unfold. Archibald Gracie (53), by contrast, is a wealthy American amateur military historian who is travelling First Class. With an old-fashioned gallantry, Gracie offers his ‘protection’ to any unaccompanied ‘ladies’.

On page 99, Lawrence Beesley has got up from his bunk and is investigating why the Titanic has stopped. He meets one passenger who tells him that he wants to stay in his warm bed, and that getting dressed is unnecessary. Beesley goes back to his cabin, sits on his sofa, and reads for ten minutes. Then hears a shout from above: ‘All passengers on deck with lifebelts on’. Beesley stuffs two books in the pockets of his Norfolk jacket, picks up his life jacket and dressing gown, and walks upstairs tying it on.

Archibald Gracie has been enjoying a good night’s rest when he is roused by a noise forward on the starboard side, which he immediately knows has been caused by a collision. He jumps from his bed, puts on the light, and glances at his watch on the dresser. He opens the door of his cabin, but there is no commotion in the corridor. However immediately afterwards comes the noise of escaping steam. And although Gracie listens intently he cannot hear the engines. He dresses quickly in underwear, socks and shoes, trousers, and a Norfolk jacket. He goes up to the Boat Deck above.

I was pleased to find that page 99 features Beesley and Gracie, two of my favourite characters. The book focuses on 12 people whose stories are woven into the narrative. They have been chosen to represent, as far as possible, the Titanic as a ‘small town’. So there are passengers and crew members; children as well as adults; women as well as men; rich and poor; and people from Britain, the United States, South Africa; Finland, and the Lebanon. Ford Madox Ford is correct that page 99 offers a very good guide to the book as a whole.
Learn more about Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mark Pagel's "Wired for Culture"

Mark Pagel is a professor of evolutionary biology at University of Reading. He has published widely on such topics as evolutionary genetics and linguistics, brain size, and human culture.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book just happens to be the opening page of Chapter 3 entitled "The Domestication of our Talents" in which I explore the idea that our cultures have cultivated our various talents in a manner not so different from the way we have domesticated the dogs into their numerous varieties.

Because more than half the page is taken up with the chapter number and title there isn’t enough text to complete the argument that begins this chapter. Therefore my excerpt spills over onto page 100:
Go out into the wild sometime and observe a group of animals. Maybe it is a flock of birds, or a herd of cows, or if you are lucky you might travel to Africa and watch giraffes or monkeys. One of the things you will realize after you have been watching for a while is that, apart from the usual division of labor between males and females, all of the animals in these groups will be doing more or less the same things. If it happens to be cows you are watching, they will all have their heads lowered to graze, they will be twitching their tails, and lowing and mooing. If you are watching a group of monkeys, they will be feeding, grooming each other, and occasionally grimacing or shrieking. If it is a flock of birds wheeling around the sky, there won’t be leaders and followers, at least not for any length of time; the birds’ positions in the flock will be in a constant state of flux. In all of these groups, most of the individuals will routinely do a little bit of everything. Now imagine yourself up in the air—perhaps having climbed high up a tree—looking down on a human settlement maybe 40,000 years ago….even by that time in our history someone might be making a musical instrument, carving a figurine, or crafting jewelry. Someone else might be flaking a stone blade or making an arrow or a spear. Someone else might be building a shelter, making a net or bow, and someone who spent the day foraging might trade some of his or her food for one of these efforts. These humans are doing different things and trading what they produce or acquire for things others have built or acquired.
Humans have a surprisingly large range of abilities. Some of us are good at music, others at mathematics, design, language or sport, and all of these have been shown to be influenced by genes. Now, natural selection is the process by which some genetic varieties survive at the expense of others. It favours melodic singers among songbirds, and fast runners among lions and their antelope prey — poor singers remain lovelorn (and childless) and slow runners hungry or dead. We might therefore expect differences among us to get erased by natural selection.

How, then, can we explain the diversity of human talents and skills? I believe our variety is a striking example of how our cultures have cultivated differences among us. Uniquely among the animals, humans practice a division of labor: we can exchange skills, goods and services – maybe, for example, you are good at making spears and I am good at climbing trees for honey. We take this for granted but once a division of labour was possible, those who specialized at what they did best would have had the most to trade with others.

This raises the possibility that human cultures have sorted us genetically throughout our evolutionary history, encouraging sets of skills to co-exist. It is a scenario we should recognize, having inflicted it onto countless domesticated animals, notably dogs. Breeds ranging from Chihuahuas to Newfoundlands bear the genetic marks of having evolved specialized temperaments, skills and morphologies in response to the social environment of human whims.

Our genes might have been equally content to specialize to the various opportunities our societies have created. We instinctively recognize this in the sporting world – basketball players are tall and jockeys are not, but it might also be true of other roles in society if these roles require differing talents that have some genetic basis.

If human society has cultivated us this way, it could have unintended consequences in our modern world. Most of us support the societal goal of ensuring equality of opportunity. But if people have different innate skills, then such a policy could produce a ‘genetic meritocracy’, a society differentiated by innate predispositions. It could produce this outcome because equality of opportunity only ensures that people have an equal chance of being delivered to the doorstep of a job, but it does not ensure that everyone will be equally good at that job.
Learn more about Wired for Culture at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2012

Elizabeth Brake's "Minimizing Marriage"

Elizabeth Brake was educated at The Universities of Oxford (B.A.) and St. Andrews (M. Litt., PhD). Since 2000 she has taught in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary, Canada; in 2011-2012 she is a Visiting Associate Professor at Arizona State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law, and reported the following:
Turning to page 99, one finds a central theme of the book: preferential treatment for romantic couples is a form of unjustified discrimination (I call this “amatonormativity”). In Chapter 4, “Special Treatment for Lovers,” I argue that friendships, and overlapping networks of friends and sexual partners, have just as much ethical value as romantic love relationships. Friendships and groups provide just as much opportunity for reciprocal care and can be just as fulfilling to their members. Yet socially those outside romantic love relationships face stereotyping, various forms of social discrimination, and legal discrimination. On page 99, I address the objection that the romantic love drive is biologically rooted and so we really are better off satisfying that drive in romantic love relationships – and that that can justify discrimination! On page 99 (actually I'm cheating – the first sentence begins on page 98!) I'm discussing Helen Fisher's view in Anatomy of Love:
Dyadic pair-bonding, with its characteristic stages of limerence (“being in love”) and attachment, on her view, has a neurochemical basis. It is a drive analogous to hunger, thirst, sleep, the maternal instinct, and sex. This suggests a rationale for preferential treatment of amorous dyads. ... We might go further and argue that amatonormative social pressures are beneficial because they guide us to satisfy this drive.

But even if we accept Fisher’s controversial view, it would not justify amatonormativity. Fisher argues that humans are instinctually serial monogamists—her research suggests that the natural duration of a romantic love cycle is four years, corresponding to the normal gap between pregnancies in conditions without contraception and when women breastfeed. Moreover, she holds that extramarital sex has a physiological basis. Her account could not support the amatonormative preference for exclusive and enduring relationships. In fact, marriage and the amatonormative ideal would themselves frustrate the drives for serial monogamy and sexual variety. Furthermore, Fisher suggests that polygamy also has a physiological basis; while she sees it as a “secondary” strategy, she acknowledges that this is controversial—some anthropologists suggest that it is a dominant human urge. Finally, Fisher recognizes the emergence of a new family form, which she calls an “association”—“a brand-new web of kin based on friendship instead of blood.” [Footnote: Fisher, Anatomy of Love, p. 305] This suggests that her view does allow some plasticity in the drive for companionship.

But let us imagine that society and policy develop “serial-amatonormativity,” privileging, and pressuring people into and out of, four-year pair-bonding relationships. Marriage could have a four-year limit, and family and friends could express concern and disapproval when relationships lasted too long. Such discrimination would still be morally unjustified. There is ample evidence, already noted, of sexual minorities; privileging serial male-female monogamy would impose costs on these people unnecessarily. There is no need to privilege serial monogamy in order to remove barriers to it....
I go on, in the second part of the book, to argue for a new form of legal marriage, “minimal marriage,” which could support friendships and care networks and so does not discriminate unjustly against those outside of romantic love relationships.

So does page 99 reflect the quality of the whole? To a certain extent – it defends one of the book's central themes, it engages in measured argument, and it is 'transdisciplinary', bringing biological and anthropological research to bear on moral philosophical questions. I like to think the book contains more original argument than discussion of others' views, however, and page 99 does focus mainly on Fisher! Beyond that, I must let the reader judge.
Learn more about Minimizing Marriage at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Geoffrey Campbell Cocks's "The State of Health"

Geoffrey Campbell Cocks is the author of Psychotherapy in the Third Reich (1985, 1997), Treating Mind and Body (1998), and The Wolf at the Door (2004) which was a TLS 'International Book of the Year' in 2004. He is the editor of Psycho/History (with Travis Crosby, 1987), German Professions, 1800-1950 (with Konrad Jarausch, 1990), The Curve of Life (1994), Medicine and Modernity (with Manfred Berg, 1997), and Depth of Field (with James Diedrick and Glenn Perusek, 2006).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The State of Health: Illness in Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The State of Health comes in Chapter 4, “The State of Health,” which concerns itself with policy, practice, experience, and discourse surrounding and penetrating health and illness during the six years of Nazi peace from 1933 to 1939. Page 99 also falls within the last section of Chapter 4, “The Picture of Health,” which focuses on official and popular discourse regarding physicians, medicine, health, and illness in the new Reich.

At the top of the page Albert Speer is being treated for various ailments by an SS doctor whom he does not trust due to Speer’s rivalry with SS Chief Himmler. Speer later observed that “in Hitler’s Germany ... it was not advisable for a Minister to get ill. First of all, nobody believed it. Because if Hitler, who hated sacking people, did fire one of his higher officials, it was invariably attributed to ‘ill health’. The paradoxical result was that if you were really ill, you had to pretend to be well in order to avoid rumors of impending dismissal.”

Speer’s experience demonstrates not only was illness a factor in politics but was also weapon of politics. This was true up and down the political food chain in Nazi Germany. One journalist thrown into a concentration camp in 1933 aroused an international campaign of concern. The Nazi response was to transfer him to a hospital in 1936, where two years later he died “more quietly.” In contrast, the Nazi regime was constrained to hide the fact of hospitalization in the case of the daughter of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. The regime was concerned that the arrogant, bumbling Ribbentrop not be seen to be “weakened”—a particularly sensitive issue for Nazis. And there was further embarrassment in store. In 1937 two Jewish newspapers in Vienna reported that the daughter had been sent to Amsterdam where her sight was saved by an √©migr√© Jewish brain surgeon from Poland.
Learn more about The State of Health at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tricia Jenkins's "The CIA in Hollywood"

Tricia Jenkins is an assistant professor in the Film, Television, and Digital Media Department at Texas Christian University. She has published several articles on the CIA in Hollywood and on the spy genre more broadly.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Chase Brandon denied assistance to The Bourne Identity (2002) for similar reasons, noting that the script was an "ugly" and "an egregious misrepresentation" of the Agency's work, and that "by page 25, [he] lost track of how many rogue operatives had assassinated people," and thus "chucked the thing in the burn bag." Michael Frost Beckner asserts that the CIA also withdrew its offer of assistance to Spy Game (2001) after the studio and the screenwriter David Arata reworked elements of his script. These revisions primarily involved the addition of the film's opening scene, in which a group of rogue CIA operatives pose as international aid doctors (which the CIA is not encouraged to do) in order to break into a prison. Chase Brandon, though, claimed that he did not support the film because when he saw the final rewrite of the script, "it had taken a turn for the worse. It showed our senior management in an insensitive light, and we just wouldn't be a part of that kind of project." Indeed, Spy Game does depict CIA leadership unfavorably, as the group works to justify letting the Chinese execute one of its own officers in order to ensure that a new U.S.-Chinese trade agreement goes through.

The refusals of assistance to these projects stemmed from the filmmakers' depictions of the CIA, which the Agency considered to be unfavorable, and thus violate the First Amendment. Even Chase Brandon has stated that "if someone wants to slander us, it's not in our interest to cooperate." But the CIA's Public Affairs Office denies that its actions are illegal. In 2008, for instance, Barry argued that free speech is not abridged by the CIA's refusal to provide government resources in support of a film project:
When a filmmaker requests resource assistance from the government, the terms of acceptance are negotiated. The government preference is to work with the entertainment industry and the middle ground is almost always sought on contentious issues. Nevertheless, sometimes filmmakers are unwilling to compromise. This occurs for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the industry's desire to produce a successful commercial enterprise. By contrast, the government's primary concern is accuracy.
This page is from a chapter of my book that looks at the ethical and legal problems raised by the CIA’s work with Hollywood. Since the mid-1990s, the CIA has tried to improve its public image in film and television to bolster recruitment, increase public support, mitigate public relations crises, and to psychologically intimidate would-be enemies. While this relationship benefits both the agency and the entertainment industry, few viewers understand how their relationship works and why it violates First Amendment laws, as well as the spirit, and perhaps even the letter, of the publicity and propaganda laws.
Learn more about The CIA in Hollywood at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Charles A. Kupchan's "No One’s World"

Charles A. Kupchan is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn, and reported the following:
From page 99 of No One’s World:
The Advantages of Autocracy Chinese-Style

China’s brand of one-party rule has its distinct advantages. The main one is self-evident: Chinese leaders are able to make policy decisions absent the pulling and hauling of the democratic process. The government must of course manage factional and bureaucratic rivalries, tame corrupt party members and officials, and worry about its popular legitimacy. But it does not have to deal with the constitutional and institutional constraints that are the hallmark of liberal democracy. Deng Xiaoping was notably frank in acknowledging as much: “The Western type of checks and balances must never be practiced. We must not be influenced by that kind of thinking. Efficiency must be guaranteed.” The advantages of this top-down approach to governing are especially pronounced at a time when the Western democracies are confronting sluggish economic growth and divided and angry electorates.

During Mao’s rule, which was marred by the excesses of ideology and his cult of personality, the absence of checks and balances had clear costs. But the Chinese government is no longer on an ideological crusade. On the contrary, it is now ruthlessly pragmatic, mercantilist, and shrewd in its pursuit of political order, prosperity, and national power. The result has been a remarkable track record of leadership competence, economic growth, domestic stability, and expanding geopolitical reach.

Heady projections of China’s continued rise presume sound macroeconomic policy and the investments in infrastructure and intellectual capital made possible by a centralized, autocratic state. China has embarked on a monumental project to build a nation-wide highway network linking every city with more than 200,000 residents. The ongoing construction program is producing roughly 4,000 kilometers of roadway per year and will result in a system of some 85,000 kilometers, surpassing the size of the interstate highway network in the United States.
The above excerpt from page 99 describes the advantages that accrue to China’s brand of “state capitalism.” Beijing enjoys both meritocratic competence and a government able to make command decisions about domestic priorities and spending. The result is a relatively efficient and strategic policy-making process that has produced a long run of impressive growth and the development of a national infrastructure capable of sustaining economic expansion.

Meanwhile, the leading Western democracies are stuck in an economic rut and beset by discontented electorates. Throughout the advanced industrialized democracies, middle class income has been stagnant and economic inequality has been rising for the better part of two decades. Globalization was supposed to have played to the advantage of the open economies of the West, but the entry into global markets of billions of low-wage workers from the developing world has instead come at the expense of the West’s prosperity. Policy responses that might redress these problems have not been forthcoming, in no small part because of a crisis of democratic governance caused by polarization, populism, and the diminishing trust of Western voters in their elected representatives.

Juxtaposing China’s ascent with the West’s economic and political travails is by no means meant to suggest that Beijing’s brand of authoritarian capitalism represents the wave of the future. Not only is it marred by the lack of democratic legitimacy and rampant corruption, but it also depends on cultural and socioeconomic conditions unique to China.

Nonetheless, the Chinese model does represent one of the numerous versions of modernity that will be in play as the twenty-first century unfolds. The Western model promises to bounce back; liberal democracy, free markets, and secular nationalism will do just fine in the decades ahead. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Western way will not be universalized. Political Islam will captivate the Middle East; Africa will continue to be run by strongmen; Latin America will embrace its own brand of left-wing populism, and India will adhere to a “New Delhi” consensus that fosters economic growth even while its democratic institutions confront striking linguistic and ethnic diversity, biting inequality, and rigid social hierarchy.

The twenty-first century will not belong to the United States, China, India, Brazil, or anyone else. It will be no one’s world.
Learn more about No One's World at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daniel B. Schwartz's "The First Modern Jew"

Daniel B. Schwartz is assistant professor of history at George Washington University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image, and reported the following:
In July 1656, the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam excommunicated Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) for his “horrible heresies” and “monstrous deeds.” The ban expressly prohibited all contact with, as well as the reading of anything by, the future author of two of the most scandalous works of early modern rationalism, the Theological-Political Treatise (1670) and the Ethics (1677). Yet, today, streets are named after Spinoza in Tel Aviv and Haifa; conferences mark the anniversary of his birth, his death, even his excommunication; and plays about his rupture with the Jewish community pack the houses of Jewish repertory theaters. The First Modern Jew is the first book to recount how this pioneering biblical critic and pantheist philosopher went from being one of Judaism’s most notorious heretics to one of its most celebrated, if still highly controversial, cultural heroes, claimed by partisans of Jewish liberalism, nationalism, and socialism alike, and widely heralded as a “the first modern Jew.”

Page 99 stands at a crucial pivot of a chapter devoted to one of the many appropriations of Spinoza in modern Jewish culture, his reclamation in the Haskalah (or Jewish Enlightenment) of nineteenth-century Eastern Europe. In 1856, exactly two hundred years after Spinoza’s excommunication, a little-known Galician maskil (Jewish enlightener) named Salomon Rubin (1823-1910) published a two-volume work that audaciously promised to flout the ban entirely by translating Spinoza’s Ethics and Theological-Political Treatise into the holy tongue of Hebrew. Yet the justification for this scheme was already inherent in Rubin’s title—The New Guide to the Perplexed—, which conferred on Spinoza the mantle of Moses Maimonides, the twelfth-century titan of medieval Jewish philosophy. Maimonides was arguably the Haskalah hero par excellence, and well into the nineteenth century his Guide to the Perplexed remained de rigueur reading for the would-be maskil. Page 99—a page that marks the end of a section devoted to the image of Maimonides and the Guide in the Haskalah, and the start of a section on Rubin’s “new guide” Spinoza—can thus be said to capture something very essential about my book, which is ultimately a story not only about Spinoza’s Jewish afterlives, but about how innovation is introduced in a traditional culture; how a renegade is rehabilitated by being represented in the light of classical ideal types; in short, how a heretic becomes a hero.
Learn more about The First Modern Jew at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Erik S. Gellman's "Death Blow to Jim Crow"

Erik S. Gellman is assistant professor of history at Roosevelt University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Tobacco organizing Committee considered Reynolds [Tobacco Company] the next logical step because of the number of black workers there. When the committee met that summer, its plans were nothing short of a region-wide labor and civil rights movement.
This above sentence highlights an important theme in Death Blow to Jim Crow: I argue that the first successful interracial industrial labor movement in the United States came as the result of a concerted efforts by African American activists to form strong industrial unions between black and white workers. In the case of Chicago (chapter 1), National Negro Congress (NNC) members helped organize and sustain a region-wide movement among steel and packinghouse workers. In Richmond (page 99 comes in this chapter), young black men and women in the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) organized tobacco workers. This campaign below the Mason-Dixon line charted out an ambitious vision of unionization and democracy in the South, well before Congress of Industrial Organization’s (CIO) leaders considered it within the realm of possibility.

In both case studies, CIO unionists became champions of issues at work but also demanded antiracist measures to expand opportunities for social, political, and culture freedom in their communities. Ultimately, the book argues, African American workers made significant gains in both employment and civil rights, which in many cities created, by the postwar era, freed spaces and a blue-collar middle class.
With labor agitation and the prospect of government-mandated minimum wages facing them, the tobacco handling plants made an end run around their black labor force.
This sentence indicates the limits to the union-based activism the NNC and SNYC fomented, especially in the South. The tobacco stemmery owners paid some of the lowest wages in the industry, and when faced with a new federal Wage and Hour Act, they chose to upgrade their machinery rather than pay these black workers the new minimum wages and reduce their hours. This legislation, like other New Deal reforms, actually worked against the interests of many African American workers because a half-century of Jim Crow had relegated black laborers to such segregated and unskilled job sectors that moderate reform actually made their situation worse. Instead, SNYC members believed that the South required a new Reconstruction to break down the larger structural inequalities of Jim Crow.

The American Federation of Labor worked to thwart the regional movement of the SNYC and the CIO also hesitated until the Second World War to organize black southern workers. After the war, the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” sought to organize southern industrial workers but had limited success in part due to a less ambitious antiracist vision, and in part due to the onset of the Cold War political climate in America. The reluctance of New Dealers and union leaders to follow the lead of black workers in acting to overturn Jim Crow thwarted a “Death Blow” to the system that had so long divided workers and thwarted America’s democracy.

In the chapters that follow, I examine the NNC and SNYC in Washington, DC area, New York City, and the state of South Carolina. In so doing, the book shows how these activists sought to enact a “second emancipation” in America from 1936 to 1947. Despite strategic errors of their own making and alliances with leftist unions and political parties that both energized and enervated their cause, these activists put a broad vision of civil rights on the national American agenda even as Cold War repression and recurring internal division stalled their momentum by 1948.
Learn more about Death Blow to Jim Crow at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt from the Washington, DC chapter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jonathan Greenberg's "Modernism, Satire, and the Novel"

Jonathan Greenberg is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Montclair State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Modernism, Satire and the Novel, and reported the following:
I can’t say whether page 99 of Modernism, Satire, and the Novel reveals “the quality of the whole,” since I’m hardly a fair judge of the quality of my own work. But if you open to that page, you’ll find yourself part way into my reading of Stella Gibbons’s 1932 novel, Cold Comfort Farm. This hilarious book—you don’t have to be English to find it funny—tells the story of Flora Poste, a young, savvy woman who flees the prospect of secretarial drudgery in London for an extended stay on a farm in Sussex with eccentric and often disgusting cousins, the Starkadders. Although something of a cult classic, the book has received little critical attention; with a few exceptions (Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City, and the fine work of Faye Hammill) it’s been mostly ignored in studies of modernism, even studies of modernist women writers.

I read Gibbons alongside other satirist of modernism: Evelyn Waugh, Nathanael West, Djuna Barnes, Samuel Beckett. In the Gibbons chapter I discuss how she reworks the language and conventions of the agricultural novel to spoof both the country and the city. At first she may appear simply to send up the barbaric, violent, sometimes incestuous ways of the rural Starkadders (they’re like an English version of Faulkner’s Snopeses, only weirder). But it turns out that she equally satirizes the urban sophisticates—the modernists—who find in the agricultural way of life an authentic sexuality missing from their own modernized world. On page 99, I spell out the argument pretty carefully. Flora’s difference from her country cousins, I maintain, is not so great as she imagines; this difference is, I write, merely “a fantasy of difference.” It’s a fantasy, moreover, “created precisely for enjoying vicariously whatever unruly pleasures the Starkadders are shown to enjoy.” (I don’t love that sentence, but there it is.) Satire disavows its targets, but the disavowal doesn’t nullify the appeal of the targeted transgression. Instead it provides a kind of moral cover that allows the writer and reader to participate in the pleasure of representing those “disgusting” transgressions. Page 99, then, turns out to present a pretty neat example of the book’s larger argument. Ford may have been onto something. Or maybe I just repeat myself a lot.
Read an excerpt from Modernism, Satire and the Novel, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Writers Read: Jonathan Greenberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Matthew F. Delmont's "The Nicest Kids in Town"

Matthew F. Delmont is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Scripps College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia, and reported the following:
I love the Page 99 Test for The Nicest Kids in Town because it highlights an important part of the book that I fear most readers and reviewers will overlook. The “struggle for civil rights” mentioned in the subtitle is not just a struggle over the segregation on American Bandstand, it is also about the fights over housing discrimination and, as noted on page 99, school segregation. The epigraph for the third chapter, “The de Facto Dilemma: Fighting Segregation in Philadelphia Public Schools,” is a quote from Allen Wetter, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, that reappears on page 99: “What has been called by certain groups ‘de facto segregation’ in some schools has not been the result of policy by The Board of Public Education. [T]he record of the progress of the Philadelphia Public Schools in the integration movement is among the best, if not the best of those of the great cities of the Nation.” When the Philadelphia School Board published Wetter’s “For Every Child: The Story of Integration in the Philadelphia Public Schools” in 1960, it was the latest and most public rejoinder to the civil rights advocates who criticized the board for failing to address school segregation through the 1950s. While everyone in Philadelphia could see that public schools were becoming more racial segregated, the school board refused to back down from the de facto rationale that school segregation was the result of private housing decisions for which the board had no power or responsibility.

Page 99 also mentions Jewish civil rights leader Maurice Fagan and black educational activist Floyd Logan who, along with black deejay and civil rights activist Georgie Woods, worked to make civil rights a front page issue in Philadelphia.

This fight over school segregation in crucial to my analysis of American Bandstand, because the show influenced and was influenced by racial discrimination and civil rights activism in the city’s neighborhoods and schools. Like American Bandstand’s producers, the Philadelphia school board opposed meaningful integration while claiming to hold color-blind, non discriminatory policies. And like Allen Wetter, American Bandstand’s host Dick Clark later claimed that “in 1957, we were charting new territory” by integrating American Bandstand (189). By looking at schools and television together, then, The Nicest Kids in Town highlights how difficult it was to uproot de facto segregation and how difficult it remains for some people to acknowledge this history.
Learn more about the book and author at The Nicest Kids in Town website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Catherine Hakim's "Erotic Capital"

Catherine Hakim is a social scientist and a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Policy Studies, London. Her publications include over 100 papers published in British, European and American refereed academic journals and edited collections, four textbooks, and over a dozen books and monographs on the labour market, changing patterns of employment and working time, women’s employment and women’s position in society, occupational segregation and the pay gap, self-employment and small firms, social engineering, models of the family, work orientations and lifestyle preferences, changing social attitudes, voluntary childlessness, social and family policy, research design, social statistics and cross-national comparative research in all these fields.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom, and reported the following:
For too long, the western world has allowed itself to be blinkered by the Puritan perspective that treats beauty, appearance, and style as superficial externalities of no real consequence. Yet they are hugely important, especially today, and affect people’s responses to you on a daily basis, however subconsciously.

Page 99 of my book describes a unique experiment carried out in America with convicts. This showed that improving someone’s appearance (through cosmetic surgery) had a powerful positive impact on their chances of rehabilitation, employment, and not reoffending, a much stronger impact than the social and vocational counselling that is usually offered.

More generally, Erotic Capital shows that social and physical attractiveness are intertwined, and affect all our social relationships. If you understand erotic capital, and the power it gives in all social situations, you will be more successful at work, in friendships, and in the invisible negotiations of private relationships.

In the 21st century, educational qualifications are not the only route to success in life. Appearance and attractiveness in style and manner have now become equally important.

Physical and social attractiveness matter just as much for men as for women. In fact, studies show men typically benefit more, earning an average of 17% more if they are attractive, compared to only 12% more for women. So keeping fit, slim, investing in flattering clothes, having regular haircuts, making an effort with manners and courtesy, even cosmetic surgery – all these things are worthwhile investments, delivering social benefits and financial rewards.

Perhaps this is not so surprising. As manual jobs give way to white-collar and service sector jobs, appearance, style and manners matter more at work. Increasing affluence means that more people can afford luxuries - and beautiful staff or friends are a popular luxury. In addition, digital photography means we all live in a digital goldfish bowl, exposed visually more than ever before – as illustrated by Facebook and online dating sites. We have all become stars in our own B movie. So smart people learn quickly that if you smile, the world smiles back.
Learn more about the book and author at Catherine Hakim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Eric G. Wilson's "Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck"

Eric G. Wilson is the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is the author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, The Mercy of Eternity: A Memoir of Depression and Grace, and five books on the relationship between literature and psychology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Sarcasm wears after a while. (Ask my friends.) Yes, there’s a time to smirk sardonically at a celebrity’s meltdown (Charlie Sheen’s being the most recent) or a colleague’s comeuppance. But what of someone who watches actual beheadings on the Internet? This is a different story. This is not aestheticized macabre, macabre at a distance, where no one really dies or even gets hurt too bad— not fictional or artistic or filtered through slicked- up media. This is a matter of real blood, real pain, real death.

After 9/11, beheadings of American citizens were made available to millions on the Internet. Take the case of Eugene Armstrong, known as Jack, a construction worker from Michigan who moved to Iraq because of the lucrative work opportunities there.

On September 16, 2004, only months into his stay in Iraq, Armstrong and two other GSCS employees were kidnapped by the Tawhid and Jihad Islamic extremist groups, headed by Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. The kidnapper claimed they would free the men if the United States would release the female prisoners....
Why would anyone watch a beheading? I ask this question on page 99, where I try to understand why millions, in September of 2004, watched an Islamic extremist group brutally decapitate Eugene Armstrong.

The killers streamed a video of this grisly execution on the world-wide-web. Soon after, they posted footage of their beheadings of Jack Hensley and Kenneth Bigley. In each case, the internet was almost slowed to a halt by viewer traffic. Websites devoted to these beheadings, as well as to actual combat from Iraq and Afghanistan, soon sprang up. These pages—one of which advertised itself by asking, “Can you handle life?”—created a new category of titillation, “war porn.”

Americans love violence. We need look no further than the extreme popularity of the crime, action, and horror genres. But our grisly police procedurals, gore-ridden flicks, and cool thrillers are all aesthetic renderings of violence: brutality filtered through lighting, soundtrack, script, acting. These buffers keep the gruesomeness at a remove, however slight, by representing it as a meaningful event. We understand the killer’s motivations, for instance, or comprehend the nature of revenge.

Great literary tragedies—King Lear—or powerful paintings—Saturn Devouring his Son—make sense of violence in more complex, awe-inspiring ways, creating, to use Yeats’ phrase, terrible beauties. Unspeakable violence to a Shakespeare or a Goya is an invitation to contemplate the meaning of suffering and empathy’s grace. The morbid becomes the muse.

Violence stripped of aesthetic buffers can overwhelm our meaning-making imaginations, shut down our interpretive abilities or seduce us into shallow truisms. What, then, is the attraction of unadulterated gruesomeness? What purpose, if any, does this gawking serve? Is this gazing a crass exploitation of another’s suffering, or an expression deeper desire to grasp what ultimately unifies us all? We suffer and die.

In my book, I attempt to answer these questions.
Learn more about Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kenneth Seeskin's "Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair"

Kenneth Seeskin is the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Professor of Jewish Civilization at Northwestern University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair, and reported the following:
About the book as a whole:

Belief in the coming of a Messiah poses a genuine dilemma. From a Jewish perspective, the historical record is overwhelmingly against it. If despite all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people no legitimate Messiah has come forward, has the belief not been shown to be groundless? Yet for all the problems associated with messianism, the historical record also shows it is an idea with enormous staying power. The prayer book mentions it on page after page. The great Jewish philosophers all wrote about it. Secular thinkers in the twentieth century returned to it and reformulated it. And victims of the Holocaust invoked it in the last few minutes of their life. This book examines the staying power of messianism and analyzes it in a way that retains its redemptive force without succumbing to mythology.

As for Page 99:

It is dealing with the question of whether it makes sense to say, with Kant, Cohen, Derrida, and others, that messianism represents an ideal that we can approach but never fully attain. In other words, the Messiah will always be coming but never actually have come. This is usually interpreted as saying that the age of the Messiah is infinitely far off. In defense of this view, some people argue that if we were ever to actually achieve the ideal, we would become complacent. Page 99 contains part of my argument that a Messiah who is infinitely far off is no Messiah at all.
Learn more about Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nikki Hessell's "Literary Authors, Parliamentary Reporters"

Nikki Hessell is Senior Lecturer in the School of English Film Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Literary Authors, Parliamentary Reporters: Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dickens, and reported the following:
My book began when I noticed the remarkable coincidence that four of English literature’s most prominent writers—Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Hazlitt, and Charles Dickens—had worked as parliamentary reporters. As I researched this period of their development, I became aware that each writer’s reporting was being mined for hints of their later style, personality or opinions. As a consequence, the writing was not being judged according to the journalistic norms of the time. My aim was to restore the reports to their original context as pieces of parliamentary journalism.

Page 99 discusses an important example of the misreadings that can occur when we assume that we know what a writer must have thought about something. It falls in the chapter on Hazlitt. Hazlitt joined the press gallery exactly 200 years ago, in 1812, but he already had some experience with parliamentary oratory through a collection of speeches he had published in 1809, entitled The Eloquence of the British Senate. Hazlitt’s remarks in the advertisement to Eloquence are usually used to support the idea that he was dismissive of parliamentary oratory. He wrote (in a comment that makes 21st century readers smile at the persistent disappointments of democratic politics) that “a very small volume indeed, would contain all the recorded eloquence of both houses of parliament.” This sentiment chimes with our knowledge of the later Hazlitt, the man who believed that “the definition of a true patriot is a good hater,” Hazlitt the critic. From this point, scholars extrapolate that he loathed parliamentary speechmaking and thus must have loathed working as a reporter.

Not so. Hazlitt appears to have been happy during his spell in the gallery, as friends at the time testified, and an examination of his reporting, such as I undertake in this chapter, reveals a consummate team-player, at home with the norms of press gallery work. The context of his comment about “recorded eloquence” in the advertisement makes it clear that he is not dismissing parliamentary speechmaking but pointing out that it is important despite its frequent lack of eloquence. The speeches he chose to include in Eloquence were not, regardless of the title, chosen solely for their eloquence: Hazlitt instead decided to include significant but dull speeches, or mediocre speeches by famous men. What this decision reveals is an absolute commitment to the historical and democratic value of parliamentary oratory.
Learn more about Literary Authors, Parliamentary Reporters at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Justin Buckley Dyer's "Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition"

Justin Dyer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s theory works surprisingly well for Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition. The book argues that the principles of the American founding—exemplified by the Declaration of Independence’s appeal to universal human rights rooted in a natural moral law—were antagonistic to slavery. The tension between the fact of slavery and the natural law principles of the American founding was an important feature of constitutional politics in the nineteenth century, and much of the tension centered on the ways in which the Constitution dealt with slavery. Page 99 of the book puts the reader at the bar of the Supreme Court during John Quincy Adams’s defense of several Africans who found their way to America after killing their captors on the slave ship La Amistad. For those who have read the case (or even watched Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film Amistad), the courtroom drama depicted on page 99 will be familiar:
In Adams’s concluding remarks before the Court, he declared, in an untranslated verse from Virgil’s Aeneid, ‘hic caestrus artemque repono.’ Adams’s Latin quotation, taken from the legendary but aged boxer Entellus’s post-fight oration, after his defeat of the brazen and much younger challenger Dares, translated: “In this place I, the victor, put down my gloves and my training.” As Michele Valarie Ronnick points out, however, Adams edited out the word victor. He could not know if victory lay on the horizon, but he did indeed view himself as an old fighter nobly confronting a new challenge. That new challenge was provided by the rising defense of slavery as something good to be preserved and protected rather than a necessary evil to be tolerated; the cornerstone of American democracy rather than the rock upon which it must break. Because of this new challenge, American constitutional disharmony might have found its resolution in favor of slavery as a perpetual and fundamental institution, and the Declaration of Independence was the final obstacle, the last stumbling block, to those forces working toward such a resolution.
Largely because of the theoretical groundwork laid by statesman such as John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and others, the republic did eventually complete the work of the founding by abolishing slavery and guaranteeing certain basic rights to all people. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution—rightly celebrated today—stem from an enduring tradition in American politics that finds its bearings in what the Declaration of Independence simply called the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
Read an excerpt from Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2012

Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry's "Mobbing"

Maureen Duffy is a highly experienced family therapist with an active clinical and consulting practice that includes clients who have been injured as a result of mobbing. She was formerly Professor of Counseling at Barry University, where the counseling clinic is named in her honor. Currently, she is affiliated with Nova Southeastern University's program in qualitative research and with Massey University's program in discursive therapies. Her work in the area of social justice includes multiple articles, book chapters, and national and international presentations on mobbing, ethics, and restorative justice.

Len Sperry is Professor of Mental Health Counseling at Florida Atlantic University and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where for years, he directed the Division of Organizational Psychiatry and consulted widely with professional organizations and Fortune 500 corporations. He has published broadly on workplace issues, including six books on leadership and organizational dynamics, as well as articles and book chapters on workplace violence and mobbing.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Mobbing: Causes, Consequences and Solutions, and reported the following:
Page 99 in our book Mobbing: Causes, Consequences and Solutions comes right in the middle of Part 2 which addresses individual, group , and organizational antecedents of mobbing. Our book is about the social process of mobbing in which an individual is targeted for abuse, humiliation, or ridicule in order to remove them from an organization, usually a workplace or a school, or to render them suspect or devalued while remaining within the organization. While almost all readers are familiar with the term “bullying,” far fewer are familiar with the term “mobbing.” “Mobbing” includes the organization’s implicit or explicit role in the humiliation and abuse of a worker, student, or other organizational member while “bullying” suggests the aggressive behavior of an individual or small group apart from an organizational context. It is to the analysis of the organizational context in workplace and school mobbing, what might in some quarters be called workplace or school bullying, that we pay significant attention in our book.

And there, on Pg. 99, somewhat to our surprise (being new to the Pg. 99 test), is the central thesis of the book:
To approach an understanding of the causes of mobbing, it is much more useful to examine the interactional effects among the individual, group or workgroup, and larger organization. The weakest and least likely place to find meaningful explanations of mobbing is within the individual.
On page 99, we review studies of personality profiles of adults who have been labeled as “bullies” in the workplace and similar studies about child and adolescent perpetrators of school bullying. The conclusion from this review is that personality profiles of so-called “bullies” are of extremely limited value in trying to understand what kind of person perpetrates abuse in workplaces or schools. In other words, personality profiling or looking for the “bad apple” isn’t going to be of much help in effectively dealing with the problem of workplace and school mobbing and bullying. What we offer instead is an analysis of the organizational context, with particular attention to organizational culture and leadership, and its effects on group and individual behavior within the organization, as a more meaningful way of both understanding and preventing workplace and school mobbing.

In addition to examining the antecedents of mobbing, we look at its consequences and describe the impact of mobbing and its slew of associated losses for victims in the workplace and at school. Loss of personal and professional identity, deteriorated work and/or school relationships, negative health consequences, loss of confidence and loss of belief that the world is a fair and just place, family problems, and a heightened sense of insecurity about the future are just some of the more common experiences of loss as a result of mobbing that we discuss. In the last section of our book we address how individuals who have been victimized by workplace or school mobbing can recover, and, most importantly, how organizations are responsible for the degree of mobbing-proneness of their organizational culture and what concrete steps they can take to stop mobbing and prevent it from happening in the future.
Learn more about Mobbing at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Orin Starn's "The Passion of Tiger Woods"

Orin Starn is Professor and Chair of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes, the award-winning Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian, and a co-editor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics. An avid golfer with a five handicap, Starn has written about golf for the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers and provided commentary on ESPN and NPR. He blogs about golf at and regularly teaches a course about sports and society.

Starn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal, and reported the following:
I love the page 99 test. From what I recall of Ford Madox Ford, it also suits his style. Ford’s novels always seemed a bit monotonal with not much happening. So you could indeed tell from flipping to page 99, or any other page for that matter, whether you liked a Ford book or not, because it all read more or less the same in a reassuring, almost hypnotic way.

It’s a long way, I must say, from Ford Madox Ford to the fuss over the foibles of a star golfer in early 21st century America. I’m an anthropologist, and The Passion of Tiger Woods is an anatomy of the sex scandal involving the great golfer that grabbed headlines a couple of years ago. Many people I know felt, reasonably enough, that the whole affair was a waste of ink and another index of the debased crassness of an America that seems so enchanted by the likes of The Biggest Loser, Wife Swap and Jersey Housewives. And many others think golf is a boring, retrograde sport anyway (the late comedian George Carlin once said he’d rather watch “flies fucking” than have to watch golf on TV).

As an anthropologist, however, I found that the scandal opened a revealing view into the zeitgeist of these strange times. I show how Tiger’s travails and the culture of golf reflect broader American anxieties—about race and sex, scapegoating and betrayal, and the role of the sports hero. It’s true enough that I wrote The Passion of Tiger Woods drugged up on oxycontin, Vicodin, and pot brownies to dull the severe back pain that had me on medical leave after a fifth lumbar surgery. But, even sober, I really do think that the story of Tiger’s fall from grace – and his current comeback -- is a drama that says much more than you might think about the bizarre funhouse and horror show of America today.

Page 99, in fact, shows how the debate over Tiger’s sex life became a flashpoint for fears and prejudices around intermarriage even in this more would-be enlightened postracial America. Many black women, as I found in what might be called the virtual fieldwork I did on internet chat rooms, were enraged to discover that every single one of Tiger’s mistresses was white (and his wife too), a commentary on the demographics of race, love, and resentment in the country today. One internet poster I quote on page 99 took the moral of the Woods affair to be that black women should avoid black men altogether: “WHITE MEN HAVE MONEY, POWER, SMOOTH TANNED SKIN AND ARE GORGEOUS! THIS IS COMING FROM AN ENLIGHTENED BLACK WOMAN! WAKE UP SISTAS!!!!!!!!!”.

Of course, many Americans, especially whites, have grown resentful about what they take to be racial finger-pointing and excuse-making. Against those who saw Woods as somehow a black superstar being picked on by the white media, another chat room poster I quote on page 99 opined: “I’m sick and tired of this getting turned into some racial bullshit….Tiger is just a man whore.” Interestingly, some African-Americans also felt race had nothing to do with the scandal. “Look at all the ignorant human debris on here talking about race. Go figure. I hate black people who always act like white people hold them down and act like the world needs to just hand them shit.” In the tradition of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and other black intellectuals and activists who have embraced the creed of black power and independence, the demand of this particular woman was for racial self-reliance, and saying no to the condescension of hand outs.

I’m sure Tiger Woods himself never imagined that his serial philandering would provoke such debate about race and other weighty matters. He’s divorced now, and back on the course trying to recapture the magic that has made him a golf legend and one of the world’s most famous faces.

I and most other golf fans wish him well.
Learn more about the book and author at Orin Starn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Amy Langville & Carl Meyer's "Who's #1?: The Science of Rating and Ranking"

Amy N. Langville is associate professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston. Carl D. Meyer is professor of mathematics at North Carolina State University. They are the authors of Google's PageRank and Beyond: The Science of Search Engine Rankings.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Who's #1?: The Science of Rating and Ranking, and reported the following:
Who's #1? contains methods, algorithms, applications, and measures for sorting any group of items from most to least important. The items being ranked can range from products to political candidates to sports teams. Example in the book describe how large companies such as Netflix use these methods to rate movies or Google to rank webpages or Facebook to rank people.

With respect to the Ford Madox Ford test, p. 99 of Who's #1? concerns one particular method for ranking items. This page is representative of the book in its structure as the page contains a few matrices and a small illustrative 5-team example. In fact, this example is referred to as the running example because each chapter uses this same data to demonstrate its methods. Being technical in nature, p. 99 is hard to understand in isolation. For example, p. 99 introduces a diagram that appears on p. 100, which is representative of the book's emphasis on figures. Because "a picture is worth a thousand words," the 247-page Who's #1? contains 64 figures and 54 tables aimed to easily convey the underlying structure of the mathematical terms.

There are a few additional features meant to aid and entice the reader. For example, sprinkled throughout each chapter are boxes that highlight and summarize main ideas or present a ranking method as a simple step-by-step recipe. In addition, the technical material of each chapter is broken by a few asides, which describe an interesting application, historical story, or current event associated with the chapter's ranking method.

In summary, it is hard to get a sense of these features of the book and its coherence solely from p. 99. Thus, for technical or scientific books, we propose modifying the p. 99 test a bit. How about, instead, a Chapter 9 test? A quick skim through a full chapter in a scientific book such as Who's #1? gives a more complete picture of the structure and presentation of the material. (By the way, Chapter 9 of Who's #1? is about point spreads and gambling. So perhaps the information you gain from the entire book will enable you to beat the spread for next year's big game.)

We hope you enjoy our book and we look forward to your feedback. If you do well, don't forget to send us a postcard from Vegas.
Learn more about Who's #1?: The Science of Rating and Ranking at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hanne Blank's "Straight"

Hanne Blank spends her time thinking, learning, writing, and speaking at the crossroads of bodies, self, and culture. Joyfully spanning the town/gown divide as well as the mind/body split, her books include the histories Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (Beacon Press, 2012) and Virgin: The Untouched History (Bloomsbury, 2007), the cult classic sex and body-acceptance book Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them) (Celestial Arts, 2011), and numerous others.

Blank applied the “Page 99 Test” to Straight and reported the following:
Fortuitously, Page 99 of Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality falls smack in the middle of my discussion of how the rise of the novel fueled the rise of romantic love in the West. Since the book as a whole is a survey of how we acquired our idea of what "heterosexual" is and how it works, and romantic love is a big part of how we think about and experience "heterosexual" in our culture, this is certainly a reasonably good snapshot of at least one facet of what the book is trying to do programmatically.

It also gives a fairly decent suggestion of what the book is like historiographically. The book is organized thematically, rather than chronologically, and one of the reasons behind this is so that I can better draw parallels between similar mechanisms and patterns at different historical moments. On Page 99, I write, for instance, "Moralists typically presumed that readers, particularly young women readers, had no critical faculties whatsoever and would passively internalize the unrealistic expectations of novelistic romance with dismal results. The family resemblance between the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel and the films of Walt Disney is thus not just about content. It is also about popularity, accessibility, and reception." Quite representative of my method, that, and also of the sorts of evidence I tend to discuss as my focus in this book, which has so much to do with the workings of culture and its production of "common knowledge."
Learn more about the book and author at Hanne Blank's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 5, 2012

Judith Gura's "Design After Modernism"

Judith Gura is a professor of design history and theory, directing the design history program at the New York School of Interior Design. She is the author of critically-praised books on interior design, Scandinavian furniture and furniture styles. Her articles have appeared in the country’s most prominent design and arts publications, and she lectures frequently on a variety of design subjects. She has degrees from Cornell University and the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Design After Modernism: Furniture and Interiors 1970-2010, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Unquestionably different from anything then available, the furniture self-consciously replicated elements of recognizable architectural styles, using bright color and laminates in provocative forms that ignored all preconceptions of good taste, and often tossed functionalism aside. It was meant for shock value as much as for use – and to poke fun at more conventional objects. Having made its statement with considerable skill, and plenty of international media attention, Memphis disbanded in 1988.

Postmodernism did not translate comfortably into interiors, since the designs were often impractical, and visually disruptive in a room with other furniture. But it produced some notable works, including Ettore Sottsass’ iconic bookshelves, and Robert Venturi’s laminated-and-lacquered plywood chairs parodying eighteenth-and nineteenth-century period styles. Postmodern design reached the broadest consumer market in decorative accessories like vases, candlesticks and tableware that ranged from charming to kitschy. Despite their limitations, however, the designs of the Postmodern movement never failed to draw attention.
Page 99 of Design After Modernism deals with the Postmodern movement and the Memphis group, the avant-garde Italian collaborative that produced its most provocative furniture designs. Postmodernism was the most clearly-defined and highly visible of the movements that followed midcentury modernism, but it was not the only one. The premise of my book is that a diversity of design directions, both simultaneous with and succeeding the decades from 1940 to 1970 show that there is more than one meaning to the word “modern” and the label “Modernism”. It posits that modernism has been reinvented in the 21st century -- by developments that include innovative materials and advanced technology, the erasure of national boundaries, the blurring of barriers between design and art, and the concern for ecologically-sensitive design -- and suggests a reevaluation and redefinition of the term to accommodate these changes. The objective: to reach a clearer understanding of what we mean when we call something modern.
Learn more about the book and author at Judith Gura's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kathleen M. Blee's "Democracy in the Making"

Kathleen M. Blee is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. A renowned scholar of activism in the U.S., from the left to the far-right, her work on racist movements is published in the award-winning books, Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement and Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Democracy in the Making includes this section:
When I talked to founders of activist groups, they often mentioned that they wanted to create a space in which people could learn together, not unlike Paul Lichterman’s idea of a “forum” with “critically reflective discussion [where ...] members converse and learn together as an end in itself.” Almost without exception, grassroots activists said they wanted their groups to be like this.

It is striking, therefore, that few emerging grassroots groups actually took time for such “critically reflective discussion.” Indeed, they rarely gave more than perfunctory attention to collective learning, at least after the first couple of meetings. Even those who saw part of their mission as educating themselves on political issues tended not to do so for long. Among the 60-plus groups in this study, only one continued to include “news of the day” in its agenda over time; a couple of others sent occasional informational e-mails to their members. Some openly worried that they lacked enough knowledge to act, like a civil liberties group that wanted more information about the attitudes of Arab Americans, Muslims, and recent immigrants, but even these groups rarely tried to acquire the missing data.
Why do activists say they want to learn together, but fail to do so? My study of 60+ activist groups in Pittsburgh shows that this fits a larger pattern. Grassroots groups – from conservative to progressive — have trouble maintaining the political vision that brought them together. Almost from the beginning, groups working for animal rights, an end to the drug trade in their neighbourhood, same-sex marriage, global peace, and other causes act in ways that are self-reinforcing. New recruits tend to be similar to current members, information is sought from familiar sources, members interact as they are accustomed to doing. Such settled ways of being create a group character, a predictability that allows a group to continue and to act collectively. But these ways of being also quash the possibility of other ideas and ways of acting, even those – like the desire for collective learning – that members desire.

Democracy in the Making shows that grassroots activism can provide an alternative to civic disengagement and a forum for envisioning how the world can be transformed. But it isn’t a matter only of creating activist groups and getting people to participate. Activists also need to take steps to ensure that their groups fulfill their democratic potential. My study finds that grassroots activism can only strengthen democracy when it nurtures a broad sense of possibility.
Learn more about Democracy in the Making at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sarah Kovner's "Occupying Power"

Sarah Kovner is an assistant professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Florida. She teaches and conducts research on international and transnational history, with a specialization in war and society. Her new project is on Allied POWs in the Pacific War. She received her A.B. from Princeton in 1995 and her Ph.D. from Columbia in 2004.

Kovner applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan, following:
Americans think of the men who won World War II as “the greatest generation.” Policymakers invoke postwar Japan as the greatest occupation, a model for expeditions to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is true that, for instance, Japanese women gained the right to vote and dozens were elected to the Diet. But what is forgotten is how little these women managed to achieve, and how focused they were on problems created or worsened by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of foreign servicemen. This included prostitution, venereal disease, and abandoned biracial children, which many considered a threat to the eugenic health of the nation.

Page 99 comes at a crucial moment in this story:
In 1956, Socialist Fujiwara Michiko, a licensed nurse and a Christian, stood before the Upper House of the Diet and declared that debate was coming to a close on a measure that would, according to Fujiwara, “end the many centuries-long tragic history of Japanese women.” After eighty-five years of struggle against prostitution, “their dearest wishes are finally about to see the light of day. But unlike Fujiwara and her supporters, the state’s intention was not to eradicate prostitution. Instead, the Prostitution Prevention Law aimed to prevent a climate of prostitution, “in view of the fact that it harms human dignity, is against sexual morality, and disturbs virtuous social manners and customs.” But for those opposed to prostitution, any legislation was better than none. Japan’s first national anti-prostitution law passed the Diet in 1956.
The measure targeted the panpan, a term that had once connoted women who had sex with Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific, but now signified the freelance streetwalkers who catered to foreign servicemen. At a time in which people had little to sell but their own bodies, the panpan had played a crucial role in helping to restart the Japanese economy. Now the law would consign them to Dickensian workhouses and restore control of the industry to brothel owners.

This history helps explain why Japanese still have difficulty accepting that “comfort women” were in fact sex slaves (didn’t Japan’s own “comfort women” readily agree to service occupying forces?) Conversely, opposition to U.S. bases often crystallizes around rape accusations, which for many recall the worst days following World War II. If the 1956 law sacrificed sex workers as symbols of national shame, recalling their memory reminds Japanese men and women that they have yet to regain full sovereignty.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Kovner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Melissa T. Brown's "Enlisting Masculinity"

Melissa T. Brown is an assistant professor of political science at City University of New York-Borough of Manhattan Community College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Enlisting Masculinity: the Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force, and reported the following:
Military service has strong historical ties to masculinity and the transformation of boys into men. In the early 1970s, however, when the U.S. military was making the transition from conscription to a volunteer force, dominant conceptions of masculinity were being disrupted by social, economic, and political changes, including the women’s movement, the disappearance of blue-collar jobs, and the loss of the Vietnam War. Enlisting Masculinity asks whether, in the era of the all-volunteer force, masculinity is the underlying basis of recruiting appeals, and, if so, what forms does it take? Drawing on an analysis of more than 300 print advertisements published between 1970 and 2007, as well as television commercials, recruiting Web sites, and media coverage of recruiting, the book explores how the military branches have deployed gender to sell military service to potential recruits.

Page 99 falls within the chapter on the Navy, finishing a section on how members of the naval community reacted to late-1990s recruiting ads. An article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings contrasts a Navy ad featuring a woman, a naval aviator, with a Marine Corps ad that pictures a male recruit struggling to climb an obstacle, under the headline “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
[Lieutenant Christian] Bonat sees a great deal in these two ads. He attributes warrior ethos and sacrifice to the Marines and projects that a reader would be proud to be a part of the Marines and the nation would be proud of the Marines as a fighting force, all from an ad that shows someone struggling to meet a physical challenge on an obstacle course. Bonat criticizes the Navy ad for not presenting the Navy’s “proud heritage” or status as “a supreme fighting force.” As he’s described it, the Marine ad doesn’t do these things either. Like the Navy ad, the Marine ad doesn’t make reference to deployment or killing an enemy. But the Marine ad does have a more overtly masculine subtext, and its physicality, its concern for triumph over pain and weakness, which are traditional components of a warrior masculinity (Goldstein 2001; Morgan 1994), stand in for all of the other values that Bonat reads into the ads. Bonat does not directly connect the Marine ad to manhood, nor does he connect the organizational values he attributes to the Marines to men or masculinity—he seems to be scrupulously avoiding such language—but he does implicitly make those connections. The martial masculinity of the Marines is heightened by contrast with the Navy, which, by merely picturing a woman and tracing out her career, has committed the sin of attempting to appeal to women. (“The cynic” in Bonat thinks the ad is aimed at women, implying that he finds such a strategy objectionable.)

The Navy seemed to take heed of such criticism and began to propagate a more blatantly macho ideal. By 2001, the Internet stock bubble had burst, and high-tech start-ups had lost their venture capital and their allure. This may be one reason that in its next incarnation, Navy advertising shifted away from an emphasis on benefits and career and back toward adventure and challenge—this time with a distinctly martial tenor and a return to a more exclusively male portrayal of Navy life.
In the late 1990s, all of the services except for the Marines had recruiting shortfalls, and many blamed a de-masculinization of the military and a softening of its image, though the strong civilian job market was a major culprit. The ad with the female naval aviator drew particular ire, even though it was an anomaly: of the 65 different Navy print ads that were part of my sample, this was the only one that featured a woman as the central figure. Debates over recruiting often shed more light on cultural anxieties about gender roles than they do on recruitment itself. The concern described on page 99 about whether a service branch appears masculine enough is echoed in similar incidents throughout the book. None of the branches ever actually abandoned masculinity in their appeals, but as Enlisting Masculinity shows, the branches have drawn on various strands of masculinity, including ones tied to economic success, mastery of technology, adventure, and emerging hybrid forms that combine sensitivity with toughness, and not just on the more traditional warrior forms.
Learn more about Enlisting Masculinity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue