Friday, June 29, 2012

Yuri Pines's "The Everlasting Empire"

Yuri Pines 尤锐 holds the Michael W. Lipson Chair in Chinese Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a visiting professor at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. He is the author of Foundations of Confucian Thought and Envisioning Eternal Empire.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my The Everlasting Empire deals with one of the major dramas of Chinese history: dissenting intellectuals who dared to openly criticize the throne, forsaking thereby their careers, wellbeing, and frequently—their very life. These courageous individuals appeared under any dynasty and during any reign; and by their willingness to defy the emperor they reasserted their position of moral superiority over the monarchs. Yet these dissenting literati were also deeply committed to the idea of monarchic rule. Being highly critical of individual emperors, they remained convinced that only under the aegis of an omnipotent enlightened sovereign can the world attain peace, security and harmony; and only under such a sovereign would an intellectual be able to fulfill his aspirations. For them, relentless criticism of the emperor was the supreme manifestation of their loyalty to the monarch. Paradoxically, then, Chinese intellectuals were simultaneously the staunchest defenders of the monarchy and its bitterest critics.

This paradox is just one of many that characterized the functioning of Chinese empire, the single most durable political entity worldwide. In my book I analyze the reasons for this durability and argue that it reflected a peculiar combination of rigid ideological imperatives— such as the idea of political unity of “All-under-Heaven” and the monarchic principle of rule—with their flexible implementation and adaptability to ever changing circumstances. Paradoxes accompanied the functioning of each of the political actors: emperors, courtiers, local elites and the commoners; their interrelations were tensed and full of contradictions; but these tensions and contradictions allowed the empire to repeatedly readjust itself without abandoning its basic political and ideological premises. This in turn allowed the empire’s survival again all the odds: even under the alien rule and after the most devastating popular rebellions.

In the final part of my book I ask how the legacy of the Empire influences current China. The answer is complex: certain aspects of the imperial political culture were abandoned altogether, other remained very much intact and yet other are repeatedly renegotiated. Yet the fundamental combination of rigid ideological paradigms and their flexible implementation, of stability and adjustability, continues to influence current China and may be considered one of its major assets at the beginning of the 21st century.
Learn more about The Everlasting Empire at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asif Efrat's "Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder"

Asif Efrat is Assistant Professor of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. He received his Ph.D. in government from Harvard University and has taught at Cornell Law School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation Against Illicit Trade, and reported the following:
Governments worldwide repeatedly promise to abolish human trafficking, eliminate the illegal drug trade, and prevent gun smuggling. Yet in fact, international cooperation against these illicit trades has been very difficult to establish. Their rhetoric notwithstanding, governments have sharply disagreed about the extent of – and even the need for – international action to curb illicit trade. Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder explains – theoretically and empirically – why governments lack a shared interest in combating illicit trade. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not criminal influence that primarily accounts for the absence of shared interest. Rather, it is pressure exerted by the legal, legitimate actors involved in illicit trade: from banks that launder money to museums that acquire looted antiquities to farmers employing trafficked migrant workers. Governments influenced by these actors have been reluctant to fight illicit trade; it would often take American pressure to compel their cooperation.

Page 99 concludes the chapter that examines the failed efforts against the illicit trade in small arms. Small arms kill hundreds of thousands of people every year worldwide – more than any other weapon. They are widely used for crime, terrorism, and human rights violations. Yet the international agreement aimed at curbing the illicit arms trade is a very weak one. As the chapter describes, governments protecting the profits of state-owned arms industries had little interest in an effective agreement; so did nondemocratic governments that were anxious to secure their own arms supply. Capturing the book's overall argument, page 99 explains that certain governments identified only costs and no gains from international action against the illicit arms trade; in the absence of shared interest, cooperation failed.

The international efforts against illicit small arms did not benefit from American support, given the political sensitivity of gun control in the United States. Following chapters examine the crucial role of U.S. pressure in motivating governments to tackle drugs, human trafficking, money laundering, and counterfeit goods. Also analyzed is the reversal of the longstanding American policy that had allowed the import of looted antiquities into the country. Absence of shared interest in suppressing illicit trade, the book argues, is a major challenge, but one that may sometimes be overcome.
Learn more about Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roger Thurow's "The Last Hunger Season"

Roger Thurow is a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He was for thirty years a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. His first book, Enough: Why the World's Poorest Still Starve in an Age of Plenty, written with Scott Kilman, won the Harry Chapin Why Hunger book award and was a finalist for both the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award. He is a 2009 recipient of the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, and reported the following:
Page 99 provides a wonderful example of the drama that unfolds around key decisions made by the main characters in The Last Hunger Season.

The book is an intimate portrait of the lives of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya; the narrative follows them for a year and pivots around the daily decisions they make to transcend lives of dire poverty and hunger. It is one of Africa’s cruelest ironies that her smallholder farmers are also her hungriest people. “Hungry farmers” should be an oxymoron, not a truism. Although they rise every morning to toil on their small plots of land, these farmers don’t grow enough to feed their families throughout the year. The hunger season – the time from when the food from their previous harvest runs out and when the next harvest comes in – can stretch from one month to eight or nine.

On Page 99, Leonida Wanyama confronts the consequences of a critical decision she makes in the very first days of 2011. She sells most of her maize from her previous harvest to raise money for a down payment on the high school tuition of her second-oldest son, Gideon. She knows selling her maize will extend the family’s hunger season, but she also believes education to be the surest route out of poverty for her individual children and for her family as a whole. She is counting on Gideon to be her first child to complete high school. They are used to coping with the hunger season – rationing food, cutting back meals -- and for Gideon to give up his education would be a bitter defeat for Leonida. So she chooses education.

Page 99 also provides a taste of the compelling, novel-like pacing of this non-fiction book.

Here, we find Leonida visiting Gideon’s school on a warm Sunday in March, the monthly parents’ day. A guest speaker, Francis Wanyungu, is feverishly addressing the students. Leonida, sitting in the front row, hears inspiring words of encouragement that confirm her decision to do whatever she can to help Gideon complete high school…

From page 99 (and a little bit of page 100, to complete the scene):
Wanyungu had hit top gear. His exhortations had sucked the air out of the building. The heat intensified. He wiped the heavy sweat from his brow. He squeezed the microphone. He was at one with the keyboard player, producing a rhythm of soaring rhetoric and electronic foreboding.

“Bad company kills success. Proverbs 13:20. Avoid idleness. Idleness brings poverty. Diligent hearts will succeed. Proverbs 13:4. A hard worker will get what he desires. Walk with your hands ready to work. Don’t walk with your hands in empty pockets. Rest, slumber, sleep, they lead to poverty.”

Sweat dripped through his black suit.

“You want to succeed?” he asked the students.

“Yes,” they shouted.

“Avoid too much sleep, avoid too much idleness, avoid too much rest. You want to succeed? Avoid idleness. Work hard. Save time.”

Wanyungu called for a prayer, but it sounded like the grand summation to his sermon. “I should achieve what my mother and father sent me to do,” he pleaded on behalf of the students. “Read, study, work hard, get good grades. Make up your mind, believe that you can and you will. If you come from a hard background, if you don’t have anything, let your background challenge you to work hard. When you think of poverty at home, work hard. It is through your books that you will deliver your parents and brothers and sisters. Love your studies, love your mother, build your future. Stick to your mission that you were sent to this school by your parents to achieve.”

“Amen,” he said.

“Amen,” the students echoed.

“Amen,” Leonida whispered.

Whew, it was over. Wanyungu was a puddle of sweat. The keyboardist feverishly played a spiritual. Leonida rose with the students in a standing ovation. This is why she had sent Gideon to this school. This is why he will succeed. He was on a mission from home, from his mother.
Read an excerpt from The Last Hunger Season, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 25, 2012

Agustín Fuentes's "Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You"

Agustín Fuentes is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Evolution of Human Behavior, Biological Anthropology: Concepts and Connections and Core Concepts in Biological Anthropology.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature, and reported the following:
Opening my book, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You to page 99 was a bit of a shock. The entre page is a cluster of statistics demonstrating how tangible and powerful the effects of racism are in the USA. The most glaring bit of data reads:

“The 2008 infant mortality rate per 1,000 births is 5.7 for whites, 13.6 for blacks, and 5.6 for Hispanics, and 6.9 for the United States as a whole.”

It is not a fact of biological race that causes this pattern of infant mortality; it is the complex realities of racism.

In this book I bust three major myths about who we are as humans and why we do what we do. The myth that humans are divided into biological races—that black, white, Asian, etc. are natural categories—is false. It helps generate and maintain intolerance and inequality, and leads to difficulties in creating and sustaining communities in our increasingly diverse society. The myth that removing the constraints of culture and civilization reveals the innate, violent beast within us (especially in men) is also false. It restricts how we can relate to one another, encourages fear, and enables an acceptance of certain kinds of abuse and violence as natural or inevitable. The myth that men and women are dramatically different in behavior, desires, and perspectives due to natural differences in “internal wiring” is also overly simplistic and facilitates poor intersexual relations, creates and maintains sexual inequality, and causes a range of problems for individual men and women laboring under a preconception about who and how they are supposed to be.

My book tackles these major myths using information from anthropology, biology, psychology and history. I show that busting myths about human nature means breaking the stranglehold of simplicity in our view of biology and culture and forces us to realize that being human is very complicated. I challenge common assumptions and delve into the gritty details of what we know about what humans are made of and what they actually do. Hopefully, once you’ve read the book it will be abundantly clear that the basic myths about race, aggression, and sex are neither correct nor a core part of human nature. Being human is much more complex and much more interesting. I hope you enjoy all the pages.
Learn more about Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bill McGuire's "Waking the Giant"

Bill McGuire is an academic, science writer and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. Bill was a member of the UK Government Natural Hazard Working Group established in January 2005, in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and in 2010 a member of the UK government’s Science Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) addressing the Icelandic volcanic ash problem. In 2011, he was one of the authors of the IPCC report on climate change and extreme events. His books include A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know, Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet and Seven Years to Save the Planet. His latest book is Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes. McGuire presented the BBC Radio 4 series, Disasters in Waiting and Scientists Under Pressure and the End of the World Reports on Channel 5 and Sky News. He has also contributed to countless other television and radio programmes and was consultant for the lauded BBC Horizon films; Supervolcanoes and Megatsunami -Wave of Destruction, as well as for the BBC drama, Supervolcano. He lives in the English Peak District with his wife Anna, sons Jake (3) and Fraser (8), and cats Dave and Toby.

McGuire applied the “Page 99 Test” to Waking the Giant and reported the following:
The notion expounded in my new book - Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes - that climate change is capable of stirring up the solid Earth, is not new and supporting evidence is huge. Much of this comes from the post-glacial period of the last 20,000 years, when our world flipped from a frigid wasteland to the broadly clement planet we know today. This extraordinary metamorphosis saw the transfer of an extraordinary 52 million cubic kilometres of water from the decaying continental ice sheets into the ocean basins. As the great ice sheets vanished and the huge loads exerted on the crust beneath were relieved, so faults were able to move more easily and long-closed escape routes for magma were opened up again. Canada and Scandinavia were wracked by massive quakes of a size we see today around the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, while in Iceland, the level of volcanic activity was boosted 30 – 50 times.

But there was another effect too, which was far more widespread, and which forms the focus of page 99. As global sea levels rose by 130m, bending of the crust around the ocean margins increased the frequency of earthquakes on coastal faults like California’s San Andreas, and at the same time forced magma out of volcanoes located close to the ocean. Page 99 examines this latter effect in the strange antics of Pavlof volcano. Hidden away in deepest Alaska, Pavlof is a fussy volcano that prefers to erupt between September and December. The reason for this seems to be that at this time of the year, local wind patterns act to drive up adjacent sea levels adjacent by around 17cm – about the span of an outstretched hand. The extra load exerted by this small rise is sufficient to bend the crust under the volcano so as to squeeze out available magma like toothpaste out of a tube.

Pavlof’s behaviour provides just one example of several addressed in the book that illustrates how sensitive many potentially hazardous geological systems are to miniscule changes in their environment. With global average temperatures on track to climb by 4°C by the century’s end, and sea levels predicted to be 1-2m higher, Pavlof’s antics may, therefore, be just the forerunners of a more ubiquitous geological response to anthropogenic climate change.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill McGuire's website.

Waking the Giant is one of Fred Pearce's top ten eco-books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Samuel Walker's "Presidents and Civil Liberties"

Samuel Walker is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he taught from 1974 to 2005. He is a widely quoted expert on issues of civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy.

Walker applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works. On that page of Presidents and Civil Liberties you read that President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the late 1930s ordered several violations of civil liberties. He authorized the FBI to renew investigations of political groups (where there was no evidence of illegal activity) and in 1940 encouraged Attorney General Robert Jackson to find a creative evasion of a recent Supreme Court decision limiting wiretapping.

These and other events highlight three major themes in the book. The first is well-known: that several American presidents violated the rights of Americans. The second theme is less familiar: that some of the most highly regarded liberal Democratic Party presidents were guilty of transgressing the Bill of Rights. Woodrow Wilson suppressed dissent during World War I, in perhaps the worst violation of freedom of speech and press in American history. FDR ordered the evacuation and internment of all Japanese Americans from the west coast. No other president ever put Americans in concentration camps.

A third theme is that the intelligence agencies –the FBI and the CIA– were not “rogue elephants,” as many people believe, but generally acted at the behest of presidents. FDR directed the FBI to resume political spying in 1936 (after the conservative Republican President Calvin Coolidge had it stopped in 1924). President Harry Truman created the CIA and approved dubious actions such as secretly pouring funds into European elections countries to influence the outcomes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved CIA plans that led to the overthrow of governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954). President Lyndon Johnson ordered the CIA to spy on Americans in 1967, despite a warning by the CIA Director that it was illegal. President Ronald Reagan approved illegal actions by the CIA and the National Security Agency in the Iran-Contra scandal. The list goes on.

What you find on page 99 of Presidents and Civil Liberties, in short, is just the tip of a very large and ominous iceberg.
Learn more about the book and author at Samuel Walker's website.

Writers Read: Samuel Walker.

My Book, The Movie: Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Françoise N. Hamlin's "Crossroads at Clarksdale"

Françoise N. Hamlin is the Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Crossroads At Clarksdale opens in the middle of a section about the morality trial of one of the major leaders in Clarksdale and Mississippi, Aaron Henry. In 1962, local police arrested Henry at his home in the middle of the night and charged him with soliciting a young man. He denied the claims and appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By page 99, I discuss the paradox of Henry's respected and revered position as a local and state leader despite the not-so-closeted secret about his bisexuality that he never talked about publicly. Local white leaders had hoped that destroying Henry's image might mute his activist voice, but their tactics failed as the black community in Clarksdale and statewide rallied to his defense.

This section is particularly titillating, dealing with sexuality and southern culture through the sordid particulars of this event. It is a tangent from the activist movement narrative, part of the chronology of how white supremacists sought to exert and maintain control, this time through sex. As such, it is not so representative of the entire book. However, the story serves to complicate the meaning and realities of black leadership, and once more illustrates the depth of hatred and viciousness directed toward activist leaders in Mississippi, as well as the deep loyalty and strength of the local community in times of tribulation. One of the goals of the book is to challenge and extend the knowledge and conversation about black leadership and civil rights activism during this period through a local study. This allows for the ugliness of scandal and sometimes in-fighting to emerge in the detail, alongside the heroism and victories more often highlighted and generalized in scholarship and memory. In this way, page 99 falls on a fascinating example that fulfills this goal.
Visit the Crossroads at Clarksdale Facebook page, and learn more about Crossroads at Clarksdale at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lin Noueihed & Alex Warren's "The Battle for the Arab Spring"

Lin Noueihed is Reuters Senior Correspondent for North Africa and has spent more than a decade covering politics and economy around the Middle East. In 2011, she reported from the front lines of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya. Alex Warren is co-director of Frontier, a Libya-based business consultancy, and co-founder of The Libya Report. He has spent most of the past decade working in the region and has also lived in Lebanon, Tunisia and Dubai.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter Revolution and the Making of a New Era, and reported the following:
What happened in Egypt by the end of 2011, according to page 99 of The Battle for the Arab Spring, “had amounted not to a fully-fledged revolution but to a protest-inspired coup that had removed certain figureheads but left the reins of power in the hands of a military junta that appeared resistant to reform and keen to limit change.”

While neither page 99 nor that quote reflect the breadth of the book – which covers six countries, begins in the years leading up to the 2011 uprisings and considers where the region might go from here – they do reflect some of our broader arguments.

We argue that the Arab Spring took a different course and had different results in different countries. In Tunisia, it was a largely home-grown process that successfully, and for the most part peacefully, removed what was becoming a mafia-style regime. The uprising in Egypt, a year on, was incomplete. Protesters had notched up the enormous achievement of dislodging Hosni Mubarak – their president for some 30 years – but came face to face with the country’s underlying military power structure.

It was Libya which saw the most change in 2011, but its rebellion required a foreign intervention to succeed and left tens of thousands dead. In other countries around the region, the upheavals by the end of 2011 had elicited only half-hearted reform efforts, fuelled civil strife or prompted renewed government efforts to buy off, co-opt or suppress dissent.

What the Arab Spring did prove is that dramatic and meaningful change was possible in countries previously seen as stagnant. As our title suggests, that change also unleashed myriad battles fought by different groups scrabbling to make their fortunes in the new order.

This is just as true in Egypt as it is in other countries. As page 99 puts it:
Mubarak’s ouster released a series of other conflicts and tensions, not least between the conservative military and younger activists who struggled to maintain momentum in their push for greater freedoms, but also between those with different visions for what role Islam should play in politics and society.
The battle between arguably the two most powerful forces in Egyptian politics came to the fore in Egypt’s recent presidential election, which saw a military candidate face a Muslim Brotherhood leader in the final run-off.

And the tussle over the role of religion in state and society – unleashed by the removal of secular dictatorships – is one that the whole region faces.
Learn more about the book and authors at the official The Battle for the Arab Spring website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Paula Fredriksen's "Sin: The Early History of an Idea"

Paula Fredriksen is Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita, Boston University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor in the department of comparative religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She has written extensively on the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity and on relations between pagans, Jews and Christians in Mediterranean antiquity. Sin: The Early History of an Idea came into her life via an invitation from Princeton University to give three public lectures on the topic. Here’s what she has to say about page 99 of Sin:
Sin has a lot of moving parts. It features seven ancient figures, some of whom have instant name recognition (Jesus, Paul, Augustine) and some of whom do not (Valentinus, Marcion, Justin, Origen). Jesus and Paul were both Jews whose ideas about sin related in positive and creative ways to the sacrificial cult of Jerusalem’s temple. Marcion, Valentinus and Justin, all gentiles, shaped subsequent centuries of Christian doctrine by arguing about how to read Jewish scriptures (which by 300 CE will become the ‘Old Testament’ for some churches), how to identify the god of the Jewish Bible (is he the father of Christ, or someone else?), how to understand evil, and, thus, how to understand sin. Origen and Augustine, finally, were two towering geniuses of the early church. Dealing with the same scriptural and doctrinal points of principle, they each framed huge, complex, and contrasting theologies. Not only do their ideas of sin contrast dramatically: so too do their ideas about the universe, about humanity, and about God.

Page 99 introduces these last two men, and sets up these contrasts. According to Origen, all would be saved; according to Augustine, most were damned. According to Origen, since God is just, he gave humanity free will so that a person could choose whether or not to sin. According to Augustine, since God is just, he condemned all humanity to a broken will as part of the price of Original Sin. According to Origen, even Satan will at last be redeemed; according to Augustine, even babies, if unbaptized, go to hell.

Augustine is one of history’s winners. His views prevailed. In their secular refraction, they continue to affect even American public policy: According to Augustine, since sex is a sinful act, its only morally admissible function is procreation. Any other use of sex other than for procreation – as the expression of affection, say – is to be condemned. The current struggles over whether U.S. government funds can or should be used to provide Americans with access to contraception is an early 21st-century spin-off of Augustine’s early fifth-century arguments on the nature of sin.
Learn more about Sin: The Early History of an Idea at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2012

David Clark's "Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga"

David Clark is Lecturer in the School of English at the University of Leicester. His research focuses on medieval gender and sexuality and the modern reception of medieval literature, and his publications include Between Medieval Men: Male Friendship and Desire in Early Medieval Literature.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Rather than continuing to trace individual Eddaic motifs in the sagas, though, we shall now look at exactly how Gísla saga relates to Eddaic verse, since there are certain problems with the way some critics use one to interpret the other, and assume, first that the Eddaic poems have the same motivation as the saga and indeed lend the later text its motivation, and second that the Eddaic poems are a homogeneous body telling a consistent story.

H. M. Heinrichs, for instance, in his study of the relationships between the Niflung legend and the saga goes so far as to see in Gísli’s strophe on his sister’s inconstancy the central impetus for the saga author’s narrative strategy, and he also makes the point that, as in the Sigurðr-legend, a conversation or argument between women determines the fate of men. However, as Heinrichs himself admits, the conflict between the Eddaic antagonists Brynhildr and Guðrún can have been no more than a stimulus for the disastrous conversation between Ásgerðr and Auðr about their pre- and extra-marital affairs, since Ásgerðr does not incite murder, unlike Brynhildr.1

Theodore M. Andersson uses the Eddaic background to support his argument about the identity of Vésteinn’s murderer, stating that, given that Þorgrímr signally refused to become Vésteinn’s blood-brother, he must therefore ‘of necessity be the killer since he has undertaken no obligations toward Vésteinn and is free to do the deed.’2 In the Edda, he points out, Sigurðr is bound to both Gunnarr and Högni, and so they get Gotþormr, who is not so bound, to kill him. Andersson reasons that ‘The foursome in Gísla saga seems clearly to be modeled on the foursome in the legend of Sigurðr, and if blood brotherhood legislates against murder in one case, it seems certain to legislate against murder in the other case’ (22). The problem with this reasoning, of course, is that it ignores the fact that not all the Sigurðr legends are the same. Certainly in Sigurðarkviða in skamma strophe 20, Högni decides that they should get Gotþormr to do the killing because ‘hann var fyr útan / eiða svarna’ [he was outside of the oaths sworn]. However, in the prose passage Frá dauða Sigurðar and the preceding Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, the responsibility is seen as collective: Högni tells Guðrún in Brot strophe 7 that ‘Sundr höfum Sigurð / sverði högginn’ [We have hewn Sigurðr asunder with a sword]. A further logical flaw is that, even if the saga author did know only the version of the legend in which Gotþormr is the killer because he swore no oaths, this does not necessarily imply that he saw Þorgrímr as Vésteinn’s murderer; it could have been part of his design that one of Vésteinn’s blood-brothers killed him, for example, to provide greater justification for Gísli’s retaliation. It does not matter for my argument who actually did the killing: the point is that the text does not make it clear.3 It is thus important to bear in mind not only that there are significant differences between Edda and saga, even when the latter is clearly alluding to the former, but also that the Poetic Edda is not a homogeneous entity and contains differing versions of the Sigurðr legend within itself.

1 See H. M. Heinrichs, ‘Nibelungensage und Gísla Saga’, Beiträge zur deutschen und nordischen Literatur: Festgabe für Leopold Magon zum 70. Geburtstag, 3. April 1957, ed. H. W. Seiffert. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1958, pp. 22–29, at pp. 27–29.

2 Theodore M. Andersson, ‘Some Ambiguities in Gísla saga: A Balance Sheet’, BONIS 1968 (1969), 7–42, at 22.

3 On the vexed question of Vésteinn’s murderer, see further initially, Andersson, ‘Some Ambiguities’, pp. 20–28. It is true as Andersson points out that the shorter version of the saga gives the chapter heading Þorgrímr drap Vésteinn, but this seems likely to be a later scribal addition, as could be the line in the longer redaction which specifies that Þorgrímr killed Vésteinn (Andersson, ‘Some Ambiguities’, p. 21). Certainly, the murderer’s identity is clearly left deliberately unclear in the actual text of the murder scene.
I’m surprised by how well page 99 (and the sentence before and after it) relates conceptually to the book as a whole. At first I thought it would be largely irrelevant, since the two main paragraphs essentially summarize two critics’ arguments (Heinrichs and Andersson) and point out some problems with them. However, they do also address one of the central issues of the book, which is the relationship between the Old Norse poems collected in The Poetic Edda and some key sagas which draw on them. The two critics are also dealing with family strife, treachery, and murder, which are themes which run throughout the book, along with the question of how men’s and women’s actions and fates interrelate. The aspect of the book which I guess the page does not represent is its exploration of male sexuality and its links to violence, and the association of women with revenge in the poems and sagas. Page 99 also only implicitly indicates one of the main contentions of the book, which is that both the Eddaic poems and the sagas present a complex and often conflicting attitude to vengeance and heroism: there is not one unified voice, but rather many conflicting voices, particularly where issues of masculinity are at stake. The page excerpted here is from a chapter which concentrates largely on the saga of Gísli Súrsson, and the book as a whole ranges widely through both the heroic and mythological poems of The Poetic Edda, and both the sagas of Icelanders (or family sagas) and the contemporary sagas. However, Gísla saga is in fact one of my favourite sagas, so I’m glad that page 99 came from this chapter. It is the saga which reworks the Eddaic poems most interestingly, as a proto-detective story with lashings of guilty sex and violence, loyalty and betrayal. Its ambivalent attitude to its hero, who is both admirably heroic and awkwardly outdated in his attitude to revenge, is a good representative of the uneasy relation of past and present and the balance between the impulses to moderation and to violence that are characteristic of some of the most fascinating Old Norse texts.
Learn more about Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jeremy Brown's "City Versus Countryside in Mao's China"

Jeremy Brown is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, City Versus Countryside in Mao's China: Negotiating the Divide, and reported the following:
Page 99 features a man named Wang Kaiwen, a “downsized worker” who is one of the most compelling and tragic characters in the book. In the aftermath of the Great Leap famine, Wang was tricked into giving up his urban residency and sent to a village outside of Tianjin:
When people like Wang Kaiwen behaved badly, refused to work, and repeatedly complained to higher levels, it was not surprising that some villagers considered returnees an unwelcome burden. Wang was allowed to relax in Duliu for two days in August 1961 before being assigned to collective work. His first task was to help with the fall harvest, but he only worked for half a day and then disappeared. Wang’s production team searched all over for him to no avail. He eventually reappeared, and the next day he was told to watch over the crops, but he refused to go. On a third occasion, Wang worked a half day and then rode his bicycle back to Tianjin.
Wang’s story is representative of the book as a whole in a number of ways: first, his desperate struggle to regain city residency shows how people at the grassroots understood the rural-urban divide in terms of work and family. Wang was aggrieved that he had lost his salaried job and become a peasant, and constantly worried that he would not be able to find a wife in the countryside. He was right to worry. Second, his biweekly trips between Tianjin and Duliu explode the myth that city and village were cut off from each other during the Mao Zedong era. Finally, his case is a good example of how I use archival documents alongside oral history interviews.

The thick dossier about Wang held at the Hexi District Archive ends abruptly in 1965. I wanted to know how his story turned out, so I tried to track him down. When I rode my bicycle to the old Tianjin address that was listed in the files, I found that his family’s original home had been demolished and replaced by high-rise apartments. I then asked an official at the local street office if she could help me find a man named Wang Kaiwen who used to live in the neighborhood. “He was just here yesterday,” she said, and offered to put me in touch. A few weeks later, Wang was telling me his life story. After contesting his downsizing and bicycling between Duliu and Tianjin for almost thirty years, he finally regained legal urban residency in 1990, but he was not done fighting. Wang told me that he would be going to Beijing soon to petition at the State Council. He was demanding that his years of labor in the countryside be counted toward his pension.
Learn more about City Versus Countryside in Mao's China at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jim Downs's "Sick From Freedom"

Jim Downs is Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College. He is the editor of Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism and Why We Write: The Politics and Practice of Writing for Social Change.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and reported the following:
The page 99 test has proven to be quite serendipitous. On p. 99, I began to chart the initial outbreak of the smallpox epidemic that devastated the lives of newly freed slaves during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Without this section, Sick from Freedom would not exist.

Working on a previous research project, I had come across descriptions of former slaves as sick and dying during emancipation, but when I checked the scholarly literature to validate these claims, there were no references to former slaves’ health. When historians discussed freedpeople’s health or even their status during the war, they often portrayed them as “happy, triumphant, and healthy.” Consequently, I began to question if these references of sick and dying freed slaves were racist depictions, or if they revealed an untold aspect about freedpeople’s condition at the moment of freedom.

When I discussed this issue with senior historians in the field, some brushed off my queries by dismissing references of black people’s illness as products of either a racist medical system or of a bigoted historiography, or both; while others told me that sickness was “diffused,” that it was everywhere and thereby not worth historical investigation.

I, however, returned to the National Archives in Washington, DC, which houses the voluminous records of the Medical Division of the Freedmen’s Bureau, to see what I could dig up. There, I read through over a half-million records, including letters, reports, and correspondence. Despite the fact that doctors authored these documents, there was little reference to freedpeople’s health. Instead, the sources detailed the problems that doctors faced in treating so many sick freedpeople and revealed the administrative operations of the Freedmen’s Hospitals (which, by the way, represent the first efforts of the federal government to establish a national system of medical care.)

The records, however, remained overwhelmingly silent on what ailed the freedpeople. As I read more, I came across the scribble of one doctor who penned in black ink, which has now turned to faint yellow, the words, “the pox.”

At first, I was, like, “chicken pox?”

I then discovered another report that mentioned “variola,” which is the scientific term referring to the virus that causes smallpox. Once I found this reference, I distinctly remembering lifting my head from the desk, feeling like I was caught somewhere between an Indiana Jones movie and a melodramatic adaptation of a PBS documentary, and slowly wrote on my note card, “a smallpox epidemic?”

Over the next ten years, I pored over the documents at the National Archives, state historical societies (in both the North and South), and other manuscript collections for any reference that I could find about smallpox.

What begins on p.99 is my effort to reconstruct the smallpox epidemic and to provide the first-ever account of this deadly epidemic that sadly took the lives of tens of thousands of slaves—just as freedom began.
Learn more about Sick from Freedom at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gregg Caruso's "Free Will and Consciousness"

Gregg Caruso is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Humanities Department at Corning Community College, SUNY.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will, and reported the following:
Free Will and Consciousness argues two main things: The first is that there is no such thing as free will—at least not in the sense most ordinary folk take to be central or fundamental; the second is that the strong and pervasive belief in free will can be accounted for through a careful analysis of our phenomenology and a proper theoretical understanding of consciousness. Page 99 does a reasonably good job representing the thrust of the whole. It focuses on the question “Is consciousness necessary for free will?” and sets up a lengthy discussion of recent advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences. These developments indicate that much of what we do takes place at an automatic and unaware level, and that our commonsense belief that we consciously initiate action may be mistaken. They also indicate that the causes that move us are often less transparent to ourselves than we might assume—diverging in many cases from the conscious reasons we provide to explain and/or justify our actions. Such findings are threatening to our ordinary conception of free will since they reveal that the higher mental processes that have traditionally served as quintessential examples of free will—such as goal pursuits, evaluation and judgment, reasoning and problem solving, interpersonal behavior, and action initiation and control—can and often do occur in the absence of conscious choice or guidance. They also reveal just how wide open our internal psychological processes are to the influence of external stimuli and events in our immediate environment, without knowledge or awareness of such influence.

Page 99 begins by noting that historically there have been those who have attacked the notion of free will (and compatibilist free will in particular) by appealing to a Freudian or psychoanalytic understanding of the unconscious mind.
Freud, for example, “considered human behavior to be determined mainly by biological impulses and the unconscious interplay of the psychic forces those impulses put into motion” (Bargh and Chartrand 1999, 462). Since the individual was described as usually unaware of these intrapsychic struggles and of their causal effects on his or her behavior, Freud denied the existence of free will. In a similar fashion, John Hospers (1950a, 1950b) has argued that compatibilism is founded on a superficial view of being compelled. According to Hospers, compatibilists proceed as though all compulsion were external, but in fact psychoanalysis shows that there is deep inward compulsion. “What is not welcome news,” Hospers maintains, “is that our very acts of volition, and the entire train of deliberations leading up to them, are but facades for the expression of unconscious wishes, or rather, unconscious compromises and defenses” (1950a, 390-91). Hence, according to Hospers: “We talk about free-will, and we say, for example, the person is free to do so-and-so if he can do so if he wants to—and we forget that his wanting to is itself caught up in the stream of determinism, that unconscious forces drive him into the wanting or not wanting to do the thing in question” (1950a, 392).
Immediately following this, however, I note:
The argument I wish to make here, however, is significantly different than those of Freud and Hospers. My argument will be based, not on an outdated Freudian account of the unconscious, but on a modern understanding of what we can call the adaptive unconscious (Wilson 2002). I will argue that automatic and unconscious processes—which control far more of our day-to-day lives than previously believed—create a problem for compatibilism (and defenders of free will generally) because they undermine our folk-psychological understanding of free will and moral responsibility. I maintain that to whatever extent unconscious cognitive states and processes determine our actions, to that extent our actions fail to be free.
Although page 99 does not fully capture the unique contribution of the book—which is an account of the conscious phenomenology that gives rise to our persistent impression that we do act freely—it does highlight one of the main themes of the book, which is the relationship between free will and consciousness.
Read more about Free Will and Consciousness at the publisher's website, and visit Gregg Caruso's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Nicolas G. Rosenthal's "Reimagining Indian Country"

Nicolas G. Rosenthal is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Loyola Marymount University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, and reported the following:
The 1960s and 1970s saw the growth of an American Indian middle-class in urban America. Many of these Native people had moved to cities as children, were born in urban areas after their parents migrated from Indian reservations, or first lived in cities to attend colleges and universities. Page 99 of my book, Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, explores the increasing number of Indian-owned businesses that helped support this growing American Indian middle-class. By 1972, at least fifty-eight Indian-owned businesses in Los Angeles employed more than 600 people. Over the subsequent year these businesses achieved $8.5 million in sales through a wide range of goods and services. Such businesses were also a tangible reminder of the substantial American Indian presence in the city, one that had been developing since the early twentieth-century.

When most people imagine American Indian life, they don’t think of family-run businesses located in the country’s largest urban areas. Reimagining Indian Country argues that these markers of modern American life are exactly what should come to mind. The twentieth century saw the steady movement of American Indians to cities, beginning in its early decades. Native people contributed to the rapid growth of American cities at the turn of the twentieth century; worked as performers in the Hollywood film industry; participated in government relocation programs that moved Indians from reservations to cities; settled into the urban working- and middle-class; formed urban organizations, to meet a wide range of social, cultural, and recreational needs; brought the concerns of the Red Power movement, or the social activism of the 1970s, to urban areas; and continued to move with regularity between cities, small towns, and reservations. These trends, which have mostly been overlooked, suggest a long process by which Native people have “re-imagined Indian Country” to include the cities of the United States. My book explores this re-imagining, while arguing that scholars, the general public, and policymakers should do the same.
Learn more about Reimagining Indian Country at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Matthew Flinders's "Defending Politics"

Matthew Flinders is Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance at the University of Sheffield. His book Delegated Governance and the British State was awarded the W.J.M. Mackenzie Prize in 2009 for the best book in political science. He is also the author of Democratic Drift and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of British Politics.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defending Politics: Why Democracy Matters in the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 focuses on the what I call defending politics 'from denial' - denial in the sense of a loss of faith in the belief that politicians and the structures of collective action can actually make good and appropriate decisions. The flip-side of the politics of denial is the belief that transferring power away from politicians and towards independent agencies, commissions, boards, scientists, technocrats, accountants, ethicists - basically anyone as long as they are not a politician - will somehow produce better decisions. Page 99 is therefore concerned with a double-barbed process that has occurred in recent decades in which new fears and risks (genetic engineering, human fertilisation, etc.) have placed more and more social concerns at the door of politics while at exactly the same time politics (and its political structures) are seeking to distribute those functions to a host of arm's-length bodies whose democratic credentials are weak and who operate in an opaque accountability landscape. Put very simply, this page forms one part of a chapter that argues that hiving-off functions from elected politicians to unelected actors is a very odd response to the challenges of democratic governance. It therefore forms one element of a much broader defence of politics that draws upon Bernard Crick's seminal In Defence of Politics in order to try and encourage a shift from the currently dominant 'politics of pessimism' to a more constructive 'politics of optimism'. As Crick wrote almost exactly fifty years ago
Politics may be a messy, mundane, inconclusive, tangled business, far removed from the passion for certainty and the fascination for world-shaking quests which afflict the totalitarian intellectual; but it does, at least, even in the worst of political circumstances, give a man some choice in what role to play, some variety of corporate experience and some ability to call his soul his own
My argument is not therefore that politics is perfect or that all politicians are angels but I do dare to suggest that democratic politics does tend to deliver far more than many 'disaffected democracts' seem able or willing to acknowledge in the twenty-first century. It is too easy to carp from the sidelines and what we really need is more people who are willing to 'step into the arena'.
Theodore Roosevelt, April 1091
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.
If you don't want to be challenged, if you don't want to be made to challenge the way you look at the world and your position within it then do not read this book.
Learn more about Defending Politics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Steven W. Bender's "Run for the Border"

Steven W. Bender is Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law. He is the author of Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination and One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, César Chávez, and the Dream of Dignity.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Run for the Border: Vice and Virtue in U. S.-Mexico Border Crossings, and reported the following:
Run for the Border examines the last 150 years of border crossings in both directions—by immigrant laborers and drug runners headed north, and by fugitives from justice, retirees, tourists, and U.S. corporations headed south. In separating the virtuous motivations for crossing from less compelling and even contemptuous motivations (such as traffickers of methamphetamine headed north and child sex tourists in Mexico), my book argues that Mexican migrant laborers headed north, whether documented or not, are the most meritorious of border crossers given their motivation of survival for themselves and their families. Despite the obsession of U.S. border policy of late with excluding undocumented migrant laborers, the book looks to the rich history of border crossings to argue for a more comprehensive border policy through cross-border cooperation that recognizes our growing addictions to cheap labor and narcotics. As Mexican President Felipe Calderon lamented in 2010, “It’s as if our neighbor were the biggest drug addict in the world.” Page 99 of my book recounts how marijuana and cocaine use became fashionable over recent decades, as drug use became embedded in U.S. culture.

Run for the Border suggests that U.S. policymakers in many instances must accept the reality that whatever is needed or desired by one country will be supplied by the other, despite costly government efforts to the contrary. Most prominent today is the staggering cost in dollars and human lives of the War on Drugs and in restricting immigration from Mexico to numbers below the U.S. demand for cheap, grueling labor in U.S. fields and factories.

Page 99 affirms this fundamental point from the perspective of drug trafficking:
Over time, Mexico’s role in feeding the U.S. drug habit has accelerated due to factors including proximity and the desperation of poverty that breeds illicit economies. Despite the longstanding U.S. war on drugs, it is abundantly clear that the drug trade is gaining or at least holding ground and that government efforts to combat the drug trade are essentially fruitless. The fatal flaw in the U.S. drug enforcement policy is the same for its strategy to regulate immigration—a focus on the Mexican supply side of the border flow rather than on U.S. demand.
Rejecting Mexico’s bloody government crackdown on drug cartels as a colossal misstep that has plunged that country into wrenching violence costing hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives along with cartel members, the book argues for a comprehensive border policy that reduces the bloodshed. Recognizing the value of our reliance on Mexican labor, the book suggests immigration policies consistent with our ongoing labor needs. For illicit drugs, I suggest how a framework of selective decriminalization and strategies to reduce U.S. demand will succeed in contrast to the failed interdiction policies that leave Mexico tormented by drug cartel violence.
Learn more about Run for the Border at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Andrew Demshuk's "The Lost German East"

Andrew Demshuk is a history professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945-1970, and reported the following:
Due to Allied decisions at the 1945 Potsdam conference, Germany lost one-fourth of its prewar territory, and 12 million Germans expelled from Eastern Europe (especially from these former German territories) came to form roughly one-fifth of the population under the nascent West German democracy. The Lost German East enters into this complex world of ubiquitous German refugees and political instability. Expellee political leaders constantly argued that their compatriots were waiting on packed suitcases, fully prepared to enact a mass reverse-migration across the borders into territories their ancestors had inhabited, and which were now part of Poland. In fact, I find that expellees very quickly came to accept the permanence of their exile. Reports from the former “German East” led expellees in the West to imagine the physical spaces they had left behind as an altered, negative image of Heimat (homeland) I call the Heimat transformed. Repelled by this dystopia, they preferred to reside in an idealized Heimat of memory they cherished, distinct from the world they had known.

Page 99 is set in the chapter detailing how Germans who still lived in Polish-occupied Silesia in the late 1940s actually came to develop a “desire for expulsion” to the West: “Although the German outlook was often burdened by old racism, it also generated the sense that Silesia was now dominated and given its shape by Poles rather than Germans; by communism rather than the peace and order they longed for in an imagined past that, with each month, they increasingly realized could never come again.” Of particular emphasis on this page is the region of Lower Silesia, which had suffered an almost complete exchange of populations by 1948; relating the utter foreignness of the Heimat transformed, these “expellees” urged old neighbors already in the West to “write off” the lost Heimat.

The extremely pessimistic firsthand reports recounted on page 99 help to show why, in the tense early years of the Cold War, an immense population of refugees in West Germany chose to begin accepting the permanence of their lost homeland, rather than actively plan and push for physical return, helping to break the cycle of violence that had devastated Central Europe over the preceding years.
Learn more about The Lost German East at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Geoffrey C. Bunn's "The Truth Machine"

Geoffrey C. Bunn is a senior lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University and coeditor of Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Truth Machine is the point at which I start to ask “Who invented the lie detector?” The narrative has arrived at 1907 and I’m now discussing the contributions of Carl Jung, the psychodynamic psychiatrist, and Hugo Münsterberg, Harvard University’s Professor of Psychology. Both scientists have been credited with inventing the lie detector. But did they? It is certainly true that by 1907 both were using a range of physiological instruments in an attempt to analyse criminal minds. But in this chapter I argue that neither Jung nor Münsterberg considered ‘the lie’ sufficiently interesting for it to warrant special scientific scrutiny.

Jung and Münsterberg were, however, intensely concerned with untangling the complex pathologies of psychiatric patients, degenerate criminals and feeble-minded children. They were not particularly interested in ‘detecting the lie’ as such. Jung and Münsterberg hoped that physiological instruments would bring the pathologies of criminality to light in order to help find suitable cures. Münsterberg’s investigations certainly encompassed the liar, but the Professor was seeking cures for the deeper ills that rendered the liar untrustworthy in the first place.

In fact it was the novelists who dreamed up the idea of the lie detector. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, fiction writers had described how the very same instruments used by the scientists could be used to wrest guilty secrets from the minds of otherwise normal wrongdoers. Pulp fiction was entirely at ease with the notion that a criminal was merely someone who had been caught, as opposed to someone who was biologically flawed.

Unlike scientific criminology, which had assembled itself around the charismatic figure of the degenerate oddity, pulp fiction’s plot twists inevitably fingered the person whom the reader least suspected. To a considerable extent then, the lie detector was an invention of those writers for whom the key plot device was simply the presence or absence of guilt. The lie detector was effectively a by-product of the whodunit. Its origins lie (so to speak), not with the tinkering of scientists in their laboratories, but within the imaginations of writers.
Learn more about The Truth Machine at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2012

Howard Segal's "Utopias"

Howard P. Segal is Bird Professor of History at the University of Maine, where he has taught since 1986. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. His books include Technological Utopianism in American Culture (1985), Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America (1994), Technology in America: A Brief History (1989, 1999, with Alan Marcus), and Recasting the Machine Age: Henry Ford's Village Industries (2005).

Segal applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities is part of a chapter on "Growing Expectations of Realizing Utopia in the United States and Europe." This page begins a section on "Utopia Within Reach: 'The Best and the Brightest'--Post-World War II Science and Technology Policy in the United States and Western Europe and the Triumph of the Social Sciences."

For much of the twentieth century, thanks to the totalitarian regimes of mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, and as epitomized by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984, utopianism was generally viewed in a negative light and, for many, as a delusional fantasy. But that has changed in recent decades, thanks to the computerization of so much of the contemporary world and, with social media, the unprecedented ability to communicate with others at one's will. What remains to be seen is whether humans can someday be "perfected" by some form of cloning. The traditional obstacle to perfection for nearly all utopian visionaries has been flawed human nature.

The subtitle of this page refers, of course, to the title of the late David Halberstam's pioneering expose of the arrogance of power and intellect of the American architects of the Vietnam War. But those Kennedy and Johnson Administration leaders like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were merely the tip of the iceberg of a post-World War II assumption that "underdeveloped" countries could be fashioned into viable industrial democracies by exporting brains and equipment. How deluded they were. For all their tough-minded contempt for prior romantic utopias, they were themselves utopians at heart, and painfully naive utopians at that. Alas, their neo-conservative successors in the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and even Obama Administrations have not learned those lessons either.
Learn more about Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue