Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sean F. McEnroe's "From Colony to Nationhood in Mexico"

Sean F. McEnroe is Assistant Professor of History at Southern Oregon University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Colony to Nationhood in Mexico: Laying the Foundations, 1560-1840, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine is not a bad starting point for discussing From Colony to Nationhood. Much of the book is about how indigenous societies built themselves into the Spanish Empire. This page gives us a glimpse of that empire’s inner workings at the local level. The setting is the town of San Miguel de Aguayo (near today’s U.S.-Mexican border); the moment is the mid eighteenth century. Here I tell the story of several disputes between the town’s main Indian communities over political authority, boundaries, and the division of plunder. In the process I show how towns and citizenship evolved hand-in-hand.

San Miguel was populated by two major ethnic groups: Tlaxcalans and Alasapas (the former the descendants of central Mexico’s most powerful civilizations, and the latter the descendants of mobile Indian bands from the north). Both communities provided the crown with frontier militiamen, and both held titles to land and water, as well as the right to elect local governments. Together they waged war against other Indian populations that lay outside the empire’s control. These curious partners were Christian subjects of the king; they spoke both Spanish and their ancestral tongues, and they belonged to what Spaniards called “Indian republics.” For three centuries people like them were a cornerstone of Spanish colonization and defense.

Tlaxcalans were Spain’s oldest partners in the conquest of Mexico. In the sixteenth century, thousands of them had accompanied Cortes in his attack on Tenochtitlan, and many more helped Spanish commanders and administrators subdue and settle lands from Guatemala to New Mexico. In the seventeenth century, Tlaxcalan soldiers and miners first founded San Miguel de Aguayo as an Indian republic; Alasapas soon settled beside them in a twin community. Over time, the struggles between the two groups, both in local councils and before Spanish courts, defined and cemented their partnership under the terms of colonial law.

This small story of one town’s Tlaxcalans and Alasapas is part of a much bigger one told in Colony to Nationhood. It is the story of how resourceful groups of indigenous Americans used their skills as warriors and their grasp of European language, law, and religion to carve out places of privilege and security in Spain’s enormous multiethnic empire.
Learn more about From Colony to Nationhood in Mexico at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2012

William Romanowski's "Reforming Hollywood"

William D. Romanowski is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. His books include Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (a 2002 ECPA Gold Medallion Award Winner) and Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in America Life.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies, and reported the following:
Although Protestants, representing the reigning religious and cultural establishment, were at the forefront of movie reform in the early twentieth century, they receive not a single mention on page 99 [below left, click to enlarge], which considers a pivotal moment in movie regulation in the 1930s. In a remarkable turn of events, Jewish studio owners and the Presbyterian head of their trade organization involved Roman Catholics in a process to ensure the suitability of movies for the American public—largely Protestant. It is precisely the absence of Protestants on this page that ironically signifies this dramatic shift in cultural power directly related to their main strategy for movie reform.

Although Protestants are typically dismissed as moralistic crusaders, Protestant movie reform was based on beliefs derived from a religious heritage that sought both individual freedom and community welfare. At the crux of their struggle over the movies was the tension between the film industry’s concern with profit margins and the church’s concern to protect civil liberties and the public welfare.

The studio owners had forged an oligopoly with a small number of companies dominating the entire movie business. Averse to legalized censorship, Protestant leaders became convinced that eliminating the studios’ unfair trade practices (compulsory block booking) would make them responsive to real market demands for better movies—without resorting to prior censorship. It is significant that although usually situated within the discourse of censorship, Protestant reform was more centrally about industry regulation. By the early 1930s, they sought a national policy, not to curb artistic expression, but to keep the market for movies fair and balanced by preventing these huge film corporations from gaming the system. This attempt to restructure the film industry however, struck at the cornerstone of the studios’ profitable monopoly; Protestant initiatives were conceivably a greater threat to the film studios than a nationwide Catholic boycott.

The Production Code Administration’s prior censorship of movies in cooperation with the Catholic Legion of Decency amounted to a church-directed control that was beyond the pale of Protestant tolerability. Even so, Hollywood’s alliance with Catholics was a visible sign of the erosion of Protestant power that coincided with the crushing failure of Prohibition.

These events also mark the end of the Protestant thread in film histories. Hollywood’s empowerment of Catholics in effect rendered Protestant initiatives moot, while also obscuring their contributions for future historians.
Visit the Reforming Hollywood Facebook page and William Romanowski's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stephen Eric Bronner's "Modernism at the Barricades"

Stephen Eric Bronner is Distinguished Professor (PII) of Political Science at Rutgers University. He is senior editor of the internet journal Logos and has published more than twenty-five books, including Socialism Unbound: Principles, Practices, and Prospects; Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists; Camus: Portrait of a Moralist; and Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement. He received the Michael A. Harrington Prize for Moments of Decision: Political History and the Crises of Radicalism.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Modernism at the Barricades: Aesthetics, Politics, Utopia, and reported the following:
Thanks for inviting me to contribute to the blog about Modernism at the Barricades. And I agree to the page 99 test: According to Ford Madox Ford that page determines the quality of the book. I’m not sure that I would take the author at his word. After all, Ford Madox Ford wrote one of the great opening lines ever for The Good Soldier: “This is the saddest story ever told!” Anyway, when I open my book to page 99, I see “The Myth of the Surrealist Dialectic.” Hate to admit it: but that page is somewhat indicative of my general enterprise. Modernism at the Barricades explores the interplay between aesthetics, philosophy, and politics in the major avant-garde movements that marked the first three decades of the twentieth century. I mostly focus on figures who reflected that intersection. Andre Breton was one of them. The guiding force of surrealism, he was also a seminal figure of modernism. My engagement with him as a thinker and the philosophical pretensions of surrealism is critical in character. But that is the case for the book as a whole insofar as it seeks to reinterpret modernism with an eye on its legacy for our time and contemporary cultural politics. Oddly, then, perhaps Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test has some value – or, as in the case of my book, he just got lucky.
Learn more about Modernism at the Barricades at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2012

R. Ford Denison's "Darwinian Agriculture"

R. Ford Denison is adjunct professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota and taught crop ecology at the University of California, Davis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture, and reported the following:
By page 99 I have introduced the challenges facing agriculture, reviewed some key principles from evolutionary biology, critiqued tradeoff-blind biotechnology, and I am starting to critique tradeoff-blind approaches inspired by nature. I argue that taking a cue from nature can indeed suggest the superiority of perennials over annuals, in some environments. But the same logic argues against current attempts to convert perennials into grain crops. A plant that puts more of its limited resources into grain (seeds) won't be able to make as much root (stabilizing soil) or build up the reserves that allow it to survive unfavorable conditions.
A perennial plant could produce more seeds in a given year by using more of its stored resources—putting its long-term survival at risk—only to have all of its seedlings destroyed by drought, fire, or grazing animals. It may be safer to produce a few seeds each year, over many years. That’s what many perennials do, as shown by the pathetic seed production (but good survival) of oak trees and many prairie plants, discussed in the preceding chapter.

But is some increase in seed production possible, without losing perenniality? Starting from a low baseline, a small increase might increase the risk of dying only slightly. For example, a perennial that puts only 5 percent of its photosynthate into reproduction might be able to double its seed production to use 10 percent of photosynthate, with only a small increase in the risk of early death. Plant breeders working to raise seed yields of these plants might therefore achieve significant increases at first—a doubling in seed yield, wow!—unknowingly accepting small increases in risk in exchange for increased yield. For seed yields to approach those of annuals, however, plants would have to put all available resources into seed production at the end of the growing season, as annuals do, making death almost certain.

So much for theory. How much actual progress has been made in breeding perennial grains? A previous 25-year effort to develop perennial wheat...
The last half of the book argues that, with more attention to tradeoffs, both biotechnology and approaches inspired by nature have untapped potential.
Learn more about Darwinian Agriculture at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2012

Donna Bohanan's "Fashion beyond Versailles"

Donna J. Bohanan is the Joseph A. Kicklighter Professor of History at Auburn University. She is the author of Old and New Nobility in Aix-en-Provence, 1600–1695 and Crown and Nobility in Early Modern France.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Fashion beyond Versailles: Consumption and Design in Seventeenth-Century France, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine finds the reader of Fashion Beyond Versailles midway through “Á Table,” a chapter about food and sociability among the noble families of late seventeenth-century Dauphiné. Specifically, it addresses the popularity of certain cookbooks and the rise of haute cuisine among French and European elites. I see this as part of their larger patterns of consumption, which is the subject of my book.

Fashion Beyond Versailles examines the households of elites, mostly those of judicial families, in late seventeenth-century Grenoble and its environs. Far from Versailles and Paris, the epicenters of style and innovation, the material world of these provincial consumers changed rapidly during the reign of Louis XIV. What was fashionable or state-of-the-art in Versailles soon gained sway over the imaginations and purses of provincial consumers as well, suggesting a closer relationship between center and periphery than economic historians have often argued – this because consumption of decorative items had little to do with traditional market forces and much to do with fashion. Social imperatives, local politics, and style spurred elite families in their acquisitiveness, and publications of the period showed them exactly what to buy.

By the seventeenth century consumption and display had become for provincial nobles an essential means of defining their rank in society. For the Dauphinois their efforts took on even greater meaning in the aftermath of the procès des tailles. The region’s great conflict over taxation and tax exemption had been resolved by mid-century, but not easily and not without lingering effects on provincial society. Among Dauphiné’s elites, the collective memory of social conflict and challenges to their claims of social rank and privilege contributed to a clearly defined style of interior decoration and the popularity of certain domestic and decorative items. Consumption for them in particular became a crucial means of defining their position.

What their consumer purchases verified was the rise of a more modern interior that was decorated and accented by the strategic placement of splendid and fashionable goods. The household also included goods designed to promote comfort and convenience. And, as modern, it was equipped to entertain heeding new forms of sociability. By their consumer choices, the Dauphinois were participating in a gradual shift in lifestyle. And, through these selections, they bought into an emerging French national style, and perhaps national identity.
Learn more about Fashion beyond Versailles at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Greg Woolf's "Rome: An Empire's Story"

Greg Woolf is Professor of Ancient History at the University of St. Andrews. He is the author of Et Tu, Brute?: A Short History of Political Murder and editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Roman World.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Rome: An Empire's Story, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Rome: An Empire’s Story finds the Roman Empire in crisis. The chapter section is entitled “The Last Superpower”. By the middle of the second century BC Roman armies had defeated all their main rivals around the Mediterranean World but no-one knew how they would exercise their power. “Perhaps” I wrote at the top of the page “Romans themselves had not agreed on this question.” I then glance back to show how all the old diplomatic systems were no use now there was only one ruling power. (Perhaps this shows very clearly that I was a graduate student when the Berlin Wall came down, and so am of the generation that has watched the politics of the Cold War be replaced by something more chaotic.) Chaos is the theme of the rest of the page. Macedonian kings who didn’t understand the Romans still expected them to obey orders even after they had made peace, the Roman Cato who said all kings were ‘flesh-eating animals’, but most of all the chaos of misunderstandings, in which Roman friends accidentally fell from grace and became her enemies. Think Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban. Rome plunged into a deeper crisis than America has – so far anyway – and nearly lost her empire entirely (just a few pages further on in fact). But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Page 99 shows kings, senators, ambassadors, Greek cities all working quite hard to put things back together, and unlike us (at least those of us who have skipped ahead or read chapter 1 which summarizes 1500 years of Roman history in an average of 3 words per year) the Greeks and Romans didn’t know what was coming next. One of the big advantages of modern analogies – I use a lot in this book at every stage from Rome’s foundation to the rise of Islam – is that they remind us how confusing things were at the time. With hindsight the patterns look too clear: rabid demagogues like Cato should have calmed down a bit, rebels were mad to try it, Rome was bound to succeed… Except for them (as for us) the future is the undiscovered country. That is what I tried to capture in this story of rise, of crisis after crisis survive, and eventually of fall.
Learn more about Rome: An Empire's Story at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Richard Whatmore's "Against War and Empire"

Richard Whatmore is Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex UK and director of the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against War and Empire: Geneva, Britain, and France in the Eighteenth Century, and reported the following:
Against War and Empire is about the struggle by a tiny republic to remain independent at a time in history when its traditional markets were being strangled by foreign competition, when its politics were being undermined by interference by imperial neighbors, and when the rise of commerce and luxury were seen to be threatening its national identity, and especially its religious identity.

The tiny republic was Geneva and the time was the eighteenth century and especially the decades leading up to the French Revolution and after. Geneva, as the Rome for Protestants, was seen by many of its inhabitants to be losing its Calvinist identity, to be losing its economic power, and above all to be losing its liberty.

The page 99 test reveals the background to the story. Two imperial powers, Britain and France, were battling for international supremacy during a second hundred-years war. Britain was accused of being obsessed by trade and of not giving a damn for morals or mores. France was accused of seeking to dominate Europe, by making itself a universal monarchy, and of plotting to destroy Protestantism and replacing it with its own Gallican version of Catholicism. The French accused the British of secretly fostering civil war within France (in other words of paying revolutionaries to do exactly this). One person who was convinced of this was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was worried that the independence of North America might be jeopardized by civil war in France paid for by Britain (French soldiers were of course fighting alongside the patriots against the British in North America).

Page 99 reveals that Franklin’s acquaintance, Jean-Louis Soulavie, a Catholic priest and natural philosopher, believed that the British government was paying Genevan revolutionaries to initiate civil war in France. Later in his life Soulavie was certain that the French Revolution of 1789 was caused by the British-funded Genevan rebels.

Later in the book I show how wrong Soulavie was. There was no British-inspired conspiracy. But the Genevans did try to save the independence of their state by becoming involved in politics in London and Paris, and in making the Genevan cause one embraced by cosmopolitans and friends of liberty and Protestantism everywhere.

The broader story is one of how modern states and politicians face difficulties in the midst of the ill winds of commerce, against a background of the clash of imperial rivals, and with corruption and inequality permanent challenges. The Genevans believed in a moralized world of liberty, pure religion and honest trade. Their great fear was that the modern world was one where democracy did not work, because markets were too powerful and states too large. Their solution was to try and abolish war and empire. The parallel with our times does not need to be underlined.
Learn more about Against War and Empire at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mark Denny's "The Science of Navigation"

Mark Denny is a theoretical physicist who worked in academia and industry. He is the author of a number of books for scholars, students, and general readers, including Gliding for Gold: The Physics of Winter Sports; Their Arrows Will Darken the Sun: The Evolution and Science of Ballistics; Super Structures: The Science of Bridges, Buildings, Dams, and Other Feats of Engineering; and the recently released The Science of Navigation: From Dead Reckoning to GPS.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Science of Navigation and reported the following:
In my books I like to explain technology with a historical narrative. I aim to omit technical details while getting across key concepts in a lively manner, as different as possible from a formal lecture. Sometimes this is a difficult balancing act, made easier when the subject matter is inherently geometrical, because core ideas can then be conveyed via diagrams and figures. In such cases a picture really does replace a thousand words, and gets across an essential part of the story quickly and painlessly.

Page 99 of my navigation book happens to be about maps, and how it is that the surface of a three-dimensional globe can be projected onto a two-dimensional piece of paper with minimal distortion. It explains, mostly with a diagram, the three main families of map projections and how they work. (The well-known Mercator projection, invented in the sixteenth century, has the unique property that a mariner’s course—say north-north-east as determined by his magnetic compass—appears as a straight line on such a map. For navigators of old with crude equipment on stormy seas, this matters.)

There are four “quadrants” to this book—it seemed appropriate to use the navigators’ term for division—each with a couple of chapters: geodesy (the physical earth), cartography (maps), exploration (a convenient vehicle for sharing a few of the amazing historical expeditions), and modern navigation (electronic equipment). It’s a little humbling, and more than a little interesting, to see just how our advances in navigation techniques have been matched in every detail within the animal world, where the need to navigate is every bit as important among migratory species. So I end the book with a demonstration of each technique within the animal world. Are there really animals with a GPS system? Well, yes there are, though their system is terrestrial and does not dependent on artificial satellites…but the explanation is on p231, not p99.
Learn more about The Science of Navigation at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jack McCallum's "Dream Team"

Jack McCallum is the author of Seven Seconds or Less and was a longtime member of the staff of Sports Illustrated. He has edited the weekly SCORECARD section of the magazine, has written scripts for various SI Sportsman of the Year shows, and is currently a Special Contributor to the magazine and SI.com. He has won the Curt Gowdy Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Women Sports Foundation Media Award and teaches college journalism.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever, and reported the following:
Page 99 turns out to deal with a controversial part of Dream Team—the exclusion from the team of Isiah Thomas, who was a great player but widely disliked by many of his peers. Chosen in his stead was John Stockton, a more button-down player, who was perceived as a “safer” choice.” (Don’t get this wrong: Stockton was a great player, too.)

Anyway, after being snubbed, Thomas went against Stockton in a regular-season game and dominated him. Page 99 begins a description of a rematch when Stockton’s teammate, a physically intimidating player named Karl Malone who was also a Dream Team member, takes it upon himself to almost decapitate Thomas during the game.

In that moment of collision between Malone and Thomas (actually it’s on page 100) is a microcosm of sport—the violence, the animosity between opponents and the concomitant bond between teammates, the leitmotifs of vengeance and retribution. And think of it: Ford Madox Ford never saw an NBA game.
Learn more about the book and author at Jack McCallum's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jack McCallum.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 22, 2012

C.M. Curtis's "Jefferson’s Freeholders and the Politics of Ownership in the Old Dominion"

Christopher Michael Curtis is an Associate Professor of History at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He also holds an appointment by the Governor to serve on the South Carolina Commission on Archives and History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Jefferson's Freeholders and the Politics of Ownership in the Old Dominion, and reported the following:
Score another one for Ford Madox Ford. Page 99 of Jefferson’s Freeholders explains the consequences of the democratic political and ideological reforms made in Virginia between 1829 and 1832. The reconceptualization of the political value of individual ownership stood at the crux of these democratic reforms and, indeed, provides the narrative thread for this history of Virginia’s transformation from a British colony into a Southern slave state. The ideal of individual ownership has proven to be a powerful and persistent theme in American politics. One finds it appearing today in many guises; from questions of government takings for economic developments, to issues of home ownership and foreclosure in a world of mortgage derivatives, or as an individual mandate requiring people to be owners of health insurance. As political design, however, it is perhaps best articulated in Congressman Paul Ryan’s Lake Woebegone-inspired “path to prosperity,” where all Americans are potential entrepreneurial owners and all of the children are above average. But this ownership ideology got its start with Thomas Jefferson and his revisions to Virginia’s land laws in the midst of the American Revolution. Jefferson sought to secure the requisite economic independence for a self-governing citizenry by abolishing the English common-law doctrine of tenure and implementing an allodial regime of private ownership. In the end, however, as most students of American history remember, Jefferson’s ownership ideal did not work out too well. When his “chosen people” were given the exclusive right of ownership over the land, they squandered it. They exhausted the soil, contracted significant debt, and mortgaged their lands for immediate material gain. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, Jefferson, and even James Madison, had accepted the principle tenet of liberal democracy, the idea the political rights needed to be vested in individual persons.

Page 99 provides an overview of the reforms that initiated liberal democracy in Virginia. It explains that during the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830, Virginians abandoned the centuries old concept of the franchise vested in a freehold in favor on the contemporary belief that more “diverse forms of property ownership, most notably property in labor, also possessed substantial political value.” At the core of this new conceptualization stood the idea that the economic capacity to produce goods through labor was of equivalent in political value to the ownership of land. This ideological change was not confined to Virginia alone. E.P. Thompson’s classic work, The Making of the English Working Class, documented the political consequences of this change in England, and Sean Wilentz’s Chants Democratic pursues similar themes in nineteenth-century New York City. Virginia, however, was a slave-owning society and the ownership of labor meant something fundamentally different there than it did in New York or Manchester. Slave ownership replaced the ownership of land as the distinguishing basis of political and economic privilege. Democratic development thus took a different path in Virginia, with tragic consequences for the fate of the American Union.
Learn more about Jefferson's Freeholders at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2012

Monica Wood's "When We Were the Kennedys"

Monica Wood is a novelist whose first memoir is just out: When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine. In it, she tells the story of 1963, a year in which her beloved father, who worked in the woodyard of the local paper mill, suddenly died; the president was assassinated; and her small mill town braced itself for a prolonged labor strike.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to When We Were the Kennedys and reported the following:
On page 99, readers will find themselves in the middle of a scene of three death-scarred little girls drawing at their kitchen table, using paper their father had made. “We drew our neighborhood, all the houses and flat-topped blocks, the neighbors and their swing sets and their porch chairs. We drew the mill, too: the stacks and conveyors and brick walls and smoky windows and the colorful hills beyond.”

What I tried to do in this book is tell the story of one family’s tragedy against the largest possible backdrop, to create the largest possible landscape for understanding the human condition. Page 99 does a fair job of suggesting this.
Learn more about the book and author at Monica Wood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keith Lowe's "Savage Continent"

Keith Lowe was born in 1970 and studied English at Manchester University. After twelve years as a history publisher, he embarked on a full-time career as a writer and historian, and is now recognised on both sides of the Atlantic as an authority on the Second World War and its aftermath.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 and the Sunday Times top ten bestseller Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War Two, which is currently being translated into eight languages. He has also written two novels, the first of which (Tunnel Vision) was short-listed for the Author’s Club First Novel Prize.

Lowe applied the “Page 99 Test” to Savage Continent and reported the following:
Page 99 of Savage Continent provides a perfect example of what the book is all about. Most of the page describes a single anecdote – quite a famous one – about life in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

It quotes the story of a British war reporter, who was being shown round the city of Hanover by the military governor in May 1945. On their tour through the streets they came across a riotous mob looting a warehouse – not of food or clothing, it turned out, but of door knobs. ‘What these people could want with such objects, in a city where half the doors no longer existed, is beyond me,’ the reporter wrote. He watched helplessly as the mob began to fight over these worthless things. One man knocked down a girl who appeared to have more door knobs than him and kicked her repeatedly in the face and body, before running off with her loot. Half way down the street he seemed to come to his senses: ‘he looked down at the objects he was carrying, and then with a visible gesture of distaste he flung them all away.’

Savage Continent is a book about a forgotten part of Europe’s history: the period of violence and chaos that continued long after WWII was supposed to be over. In some instances this violence was a matter of cold revenge: German prisoners were abused, collaborators summarily executed, and women who had slept with the enemy had their heads shaved. Sometimes civil conflicts broke out that were a continuation of the war itself, as Communists, nationalists or racists sought to finish off what WWII had started. And sometimes, as on this page, it was simply violence for its own sake.

Many parts of Europe were so brutalised by the war that such behaviour had become a normal way of life. All of the traditional institutions – the governments, police forces and so on – had been swept away, so for a brief period there was nothing to keep the chaos in check. This page shows, as do the examples and statistics throughout my book, that WWII did not end quite as neatly as we think it did. The military governor’s words here might serve as a motto for the book as a whole: ‘This is the sort of thing that goes on all day. Looting, fighting, rape, murder – what a town!’
Learn more about the book and author at Keith Lowe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Frank Partnoy’s "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay"

Frank Partnoy is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and is the director of the Center on Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego. He is one of the world's leading experts on the complexities of modern finance and financial market regulation. He is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street; Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets; and The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, and reported the following:
Many studies have shown that bias and prejudice among doctors leads them to treat patients differently on the basis of race. Doctors are more likely to refer a patient suffering chronic renal failure for a kidney transplant if he is white than if he is black. Doctors treating heart attacks are up to twice as likely to administer a thrombolytic drug meant to break up clots in the coronary arteries if the patient is white than if he is black. In general, doctors are more likely to provide treatment and medication—whether for psychiatric illness, cancer, or broken bones—for whites than for blacks.

One of the main arguments of Wait is that we will make better decisions if we first pause as long as possible. We are better at apologizing, dating, sports, and military tactics when we wait a little bit, even if it is just a few minutes, seconds, or even milliseconds. We are happier and better off when we delay gratification. Page 99 of Wait describes how this argument holds for racially biased doctors.

For the book, I interviewed Dana Carney, a professor at Berkeley, and one of seven authors of a major study of implicit doctor bias. In the study, she and her co-researchers had presented several hundred resident physicians at four academic medical centers in Boston and Atlanta with a hypothetical scenario in which a fifty-year-old male patient named Mr. Thompson showed up at an emergency room with chest pain (“sharp, like being stabbed with a knife”). The researchers gave the doctors a photograph of the man, along with details about his medical condition. To test how the patient’s race might influence the doctors’ answers, the researchers randomly varied the race of the man in the photograph. As a result, some doctors thought Mr. Thompson was white; others thought he was black. The researchers then asked whether the doctors would prescribe thrombolysis, a blood-clotting procedure.

The results fit with previous studies: the doctors were significantly more likely to prescribe thrombolysis for a white patient than a black one. The doctors didn’t appear racist, yet they treated blacks differently (by undertreating them)—the very definition of racism.

But Carney’s co-authored study introduced a surprising twist: the doctors who were aware that the test was designed to test implicit racism – and therefore paused to think about their own potential bias – behaved very differently.

From Page 99:
When Dana Carney and her colleagues conducted the doctor study, they were worried that some participants might figure out that the study was designed to test implicit racism and thereby skew the results. So they asked the doctors to say what they thought the purpose of the study was. That question inadvertently revealed a possible solution to the problem of implicit racism.

Doctors are smart and perceptive, and the IAT is well known at medical schools. Some of them wondered why the researchers would include a photograph of Mr. Thompson. About one-quarter of the doctors surmised that the study was designed to test racial bias, even before the researchers asked any questions.

The researchers excluded those doctors from their main results, but also saw this subgroup as an opportunity. They separately checked to see if these doctors recommended different treatment than the others. They did. Although this “aware” subgroup, like their peers, showed an implicit preference for whites over blacks on the IAT, they actually prescribed more, not less, thrombolysis for black patients. In other words, once the doctors understood that race was an issue, race was no longer an issue. They counterbalanced their implicit bias, like a driver adjusting to a misaligned steering wheel.
Read more about the book and author at Frank Partnoy's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Match King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2012

Andrew J. Polsky's "Elusive Victories"

Andrew J. Polsky teaches political science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He served as the editor of the political science journal Polity from 2005 to 2010. In addition to a number of scholarly articles, he is the author of two books, Elusive Victories: The American Presidency at War (Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Rise of the Therapeutic State (Princeton University Press, 1991).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Elusive Victories and reported the following:
My book examines the many challenges presidents face as they lead the United States during wartime. A president must accomplish a number of formidable tasks to secure “victory” – which I take to mean achieving the political objectives a president sets in going to war. Often these objectives have been problematic, especially when they involve a peace building agenda that envisions refashioning the international order that the president believes contributed to the conditions that caused war.

Page 99 falls in the middle of my analysis of the war goals that Woodrow Wilson articulated once the United States entered the First World War. In January 1918 he laid out the Fourteen Points that he saw as the basis for peace. His goals were transformative in scope, including justice for peoples who had been denied self-government, some form of self-determination for the subjects of colonialism, and a new international association (with American participation) with the power and responsibility to preserve the independence of all states. In ways he did not foresee, the Fourteen Points contained the seeds of later misunderstanding and tragedy:
Wilson’s program put him on a collision course with the very nations beside which the United States would fight. Rather than join the Entente, the United States chose to wage war as a co-belligerent Associated Power, sharing a common enemy but not necessarily common war goals. Wilson understood that the Allied leaders would want to make Germany pay heavily for the human and material damage caused by the war. The United States, he made clear, would have no part in such a peace. Indeed, where the Allies would want to make certain Germany could not again threaten them, the president stressed his continuing faith in “German greatness” and sought to reassure the German people that his program posed no threat to it.

Moreover, Wilson pledged himself broadly to a principle of self-determination and anti-colonialism – even as the United States had yoked itself to the world’s two leading colonial powers, Great Britain and France. He should have anticipated that they might have reservations about his program, which could complicate peace building. Although he would later claim that he knew nothing of the secret treaties among the Allies that promised postwar territorial gains, his assertion was not credible. Not only did the Bolsheviks publish the agreements to embarrass the Allies, but British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour reported that he had shown the treaties to the president in 1917.
The differences between Wilson and his key war partners would later contribute to his greatest failure as a leader, the crushing disappointment to secure his core goals in the postwar negotiations in Paris and the subsequent rejection of the League of Nations by the Senate. He thus joins the list of presidents who could not translate battlefield success into the kind of political results needed to justify the wartime sacrifices he had asked of the American people.
Learn more about the book and author at Andrew J. Polsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Leah Price's "How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain"

Leah Price is professor of English at Harvard University. Her books include The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel and the edited volume Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses David Copperfield, and more specifically the role of reading and writing in the life of Dickens's hero and alter ego, David. This is one of many Victorian novels where readers identify with the protagonist on the grounds that he or she is also a passionate reader -- that his earliest memories are of sequestering himself with a book, which provides a refuge from an uncomprehending stepfamily and an unsympathetic outside world. If you look closely at Dickens's novel, though, what’s surprising is that the adults in David's stepfamily are never shown reading books, which they perceive only as the handiest thing for boxing a child's ears with, just as the evil stepfamily in Jane Eyre act as if the only thing books are fit for is to throw at your poor relation. Even more surprisingly, David's own most intense literary experiences come when he no longer owns any books: when he is forced to leave home and can only console himself by reciting aloud his memory of the books that he used to own, the stories swim most vividly into his mind. So, the novel drives a wedge between one understanding of books that sees them as physical objects defined by their weight, their heft, or their sharpness, and another that thinks of texts as abstract, disembodied sequences of words that are housed not in any material container but floating free in the human mind.

The subject of my book is the battle between those two models. Unlike most literary critics, I am interested in books as things -- as objects that you can display on your coffee table, hide behind on the subway, or use to wrap fish and chips with. Today, we tend to think of those uses of the book as trivial or vulgar or even wrong, and I wanted to understand how and when that came about. Until the end of the 18th century, most people took for granted that the physical characteristics of the book mattered as much as the words that it contained: when you bought a book, one of the things that you looked for was particularly thick and absorbent paper, because you knew that most books would end up in the privy. The problem isn't just that toilet paper didn't exist; it's also that, until paper began to be made from wood pulp in the second half of the 19th century, which is also the time when heavy taxes on paper designed to prevent riffraff from reading were finally lifted, paper was so expensive that books were valuable largely as raw material to be turned into scrap paper or wrapping paper once you had finished reading them. in the 19th century, therefore, people began to be embarrassed about any use of books that didn't involve reading: they began to make jokes about ladies who matched the binding of the Bible to the ribbon on their bonnet, or nouveaux riches who bought books by the yard and maybe even paid someone to crack their spines. The digital age didn’t invent virtual reality: the rise of cheap paper did.
Read an excerpt from How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 13, 2012

Oliver Burkeman's "The Antidote"

Oliver Burkeman is a writer for The Guardian based in Brooklyn, New York. His new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, explores the upsides of negativity, uncertainty, failure and imperfection. Each week in "This Column Will Change Your Life" he writes about social psychology, self-help culture, productivity and the science of happiness, and makes unprovoked attacks on The Secret.

Burkeman applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Antidote and reported the following:
The page 99 test works rather pleasingly on The Antidote. It’s the closing passage of my chapter on contemporary cult of goal-setting -- and why learning to remain open to uncertainty, rather than trying strenuously to plan the future, may be a better idea. There’s some truly marvelous writing on that page, actually, which is something I’m allowed to say in this case because it’s a quotation from the philosopher Martha Nussbaum:
To be a good human… is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control… It is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.
What I’m getting at in this chapter is that an awful lot of goal-setting activity, in the corporate context or in our personal lives, is motivated mainly by a desire to get rid of unpleasant feelings of uncertainty. (A story earlier in the chapter explores the possibility that the climbers involved in the Mount Everest tragedy of 1996 might have become fixated on perilous goals for precisely this reason.) This is one facet of the book’s broader thesis -- that we’re so allergic to negative emotions and situations that we struggle hard to avoid them, often with counterproductive results: we end up even less happy, less successful, more insecure and more stressed. That’s my case against the culture of positive thinking and relentless optimism -- that all this trying so hard to be happy is making us miserable. But most of the book is concerned with exploring the more fruitful alternative: finding ways to embrace uncertainty, the experience of failure, insecurity, even our own mortality. Embracing uncertainty, as page 99 recommends, is a huge part of that. The philosophers and the psychologists whose work I explore are in agreement: if you can learn to move forward without knowing exactly where you’re headed, remaining ever open to the possibility of revising your destination, you’ll be happier, achieve more worldly success, and live more meaningfully. On page 99, I also quote Erich Fromm: “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.”
Learn more about the book and author at Oliver Burkeman's website.

Now available in in the UK, The Antidote is to be released in the US in November 2012 by Faber & Faber.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amy Stanley's "Selling Women"

Amy Stanley is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, and reported the following:
Well, I hope Ford Madox Ford was wrong, because page 99 is not very exciting! It does, however, provide a good summary of the argument I developed in the first half and a hint of what’s to come. Page 99 concludes a chapter on the sex trade in Nagasaki, which was a port of foreign trade throughout the Tokugawa period (1600-1868). Prostitutes there were legally recognized and confined to a “pleasure quarter,” but they were allowed to leave their district to see foreign clients. This chapter is not about prostitutes’ relationships with foreigners per se, although I do discuss some women who cohabitated and had children with “barbarians.” Instead, it’s about how prostitutes and their parents negotiated the shogunate’s legal regime by conforming to cultural scripts that cast them as dutiful daughters and protective parents. Interestingly, parents remained involved in their daughters’ lives long after they entered brothels, and some even arranged marriages for their daughters while they were still working. Prostitutes also continued to support their parents. Some left the brothels temporarily to nurse ill relatives (or so they claimed), and a few even became involved in smuggling rings at their families’ behest. Although these activities contravened the interests of brothel keepers and occasionally broke the law, shogunal officials tended to side with prostitutes and their families when they presented themselves as upholding the values of the patriarchal household. As a result, prostitutes could passively resist brothel keepers’ authority and clear paths to marriage and motherhood by relying on their parents’ support.

Page 99 explains that by the latter half of the Tokugawa period, these opportunities were increasingly rare. In Nagasaki, where officials kept close watch on prostitutes and their foreign clients, magistrates continued to insist that the business of prostitution should be compatible with the maintenance of stable patriarchal households. But prostitution had begun to expand into other types of places, notably rural areas, where officials prioritized economic growth. They were reluctant to impose restrictions on the sex trade, and women were trafficked farther from home. They could not rely on their distant parents to speak for them, and they faced hostility from local people who believed that they destroyed marriages and corrupted village daughters. As the logic of regulation gave way to the logic of the market, prostitutes became symbols of a dystopian future in which everything – including the most intimate human relations – would be for sale.
Learn more about Selling Women at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nancy Segal's "Born Together—Reared Apart"

Nancy Segal is the author of Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth, Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins, and Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior, and the senior editor of Uniting Psychology and Biology: Integrative Perspectives on Human Development.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Born Together—Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with a discussion of personality similarity in twins reared apart. One of the most exciting and provocative findings from the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart was that identical twins reared apart are as similar in personality as identical twins reared together. This means that family resemblance in personality traits is due to shared genes, not shared environments! The unique experiences we have apart from our family members also affect our personality development.

I was very privileged to have spent my first post-doctoral years associated with the Minnesota study of Twins Reared Apart, directed by University of Minnesota professor Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. Meeting the twins and observing their behaviors over the course of a week was a thrilling experience. And watching their relationships with one another evolve was also exciting. Most of the twins were adoptees and were so gratified to finally meet a biological family member, especially a twin.

Born Together—Reared Apart documents the origins, methods, findings, implications and controversies of Minnesota study. The book includes marvelous pictures of some of the twins we studied, as well as the amazing life history events responsible for their separation and eventual reunion.

The reared apart twin design provides one of the best approaches to studying genetic and environmental influence on behaviors involves the rare pairs of identical and fraternal twins reared apart and reunited. The size of the correlation between reared apart identical co-twins offer scientists a pure estimate of genetic influence on behavioral and physical traits. The size of the correlation between reared apart fraternal co-twins provides an informative comparison. Greater resemblance between identical than fraternal twins is consistent with genetic influence on the traits under study.

The Minnesota study began in 1979 and continued for twenty years. The volume of material that accumulated was too vast to include in a single volume. I have, therefore, included some supplementary material in a web site: drnancysegaltwins.org. Information about my other books can also be found there.

It is amazing that twins continue to be separated today, given the increased appreciation for family ties. In the past, twins were separated mostly due to illegitimacy or maternal death. Today, the new assisted reproductive technologies that may yield several babies, not just one, have caused some families to relinquish one or more of their multiple birth children; these families may lack the resources to properly care for them. China’s One-Child Policy was also indirectly responsible for the separation of pairs of mostly female twins. In fact, I am studying those twins, as well. And new cases occasionally cross my desk from unexpected sources. These cases are all scientifically informative in their own way, but bringing the twins together is the most satisfying part of the process.
Learn more about Born Together—Reared Apart at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2012

Douglas M. Charles's "The FBI’s Obscene File"

Douglas M. Charles is an assistant professor of history at Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny Campus and author of J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists: FBI Political Surveillance and the Rise of the Domestic Security State.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The FBI’s Obscene File: J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau’s Crusade against Smut, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The FBI’s Obscene File, one will read a description of the FBI’s concerns with the director of the famous porn film Deep Throat. Happy that he decided to act as a cooperative witness, FBI officials were nevertheless concerned that Gerard Damiano was still out to get as much publicity for himself and his film as possible by appearing at Deep Throat trials across the country. The media covered these trials closely.

This episode reflects the nature of the FBI’s Obscene File, a sensitive and special file FBI officials had maintained since 1942 and a topic that had interested them since at least 1910. Over the years and decades, as the legal definition of obscenity changed, making obscenity and pornography prosecutions more difficult, FBI officials and particularly FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover used the file for different purposes. While at first they targeted actual obscenity rings, eventually Hoover used the file for his own particular ends. He used it to collect sexual information on public officials, he used it in an effort to silence African American R&B musicians, he used it in an attempt to silence the emerging gay rights movement in the 1950s, and he did not hesitate to use it to silence his enemies.

In the years after Hoover’s death (after 1972), subsequent FBI directors continued the file but returned to a focus on law enforcement. One aspect of this effort was the targeting of the Mafia, which had entered into the pornography business in the 1970s. Yet obscenity law still made prosecution difficult, resulting in the Bureau making use of racketeering laws to get to the money behind the mob and porn. Eventually, FBI officials gave up in targeting what they called “adult obscenity” to focus almost exclusively on child pornography. That is, until the rise of the George W. Bush administration when an attempt was made to revive targeting adult obscenity and creating a new Obscene File (which was incinerated in 1992 under Clinton). With a puritanical attorney general, who covered the bare breasts of a statue in the Justice Department’s great hall, Bush tried and failed to revive widespread anti-obscenity prosecutions which, again and predictably, faded with the Obama administration.
Learn more about The FBI’s Obscene File at the University Press of Kansas website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Margaret Litvin's "Hamlet’s Arab Journey"

Margaret Litvin is assistant professor of Arabic and comparative literature at Boston University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her recent book, Hamlet's Arab Journey: Shakespeare's Prince and Nasser's Ghost, and reported the following:
An acquaintance hefted Hamlet’s Arab Journey in her hand and said: “Wow, almost 300 pages – who knew the Arabs even had theatre, let alone Shakespeare?” By that standard, the most significant fact about page 99 of my book is 89 more pages follow, plus endnotes, bibliography, and index (“evil, 84. See also: Claudius”). For some of my intended readers, the mere fact of a sustained and intelligent century-long Arab engagement with Shakespeare will be news. (There does not even exist a standard monograph on contemporary Arab theatre.) For others, the news will be how the Arab Hamlet tradition has refigured the familiar character, turning the post-1800 West’s posterboy for self-questioning interiority into a visionary activist, a fighter for justice brutally martyred by an oppressive regime.

The dramatic character being analyzed on page 99 [below left; click to enlarge] of my book is halfway between these two archetypes. He is the would-be political assassin Sulayman al-Halabi, as imagined in mid-1960s Egypt by playwright Alfred Farag. Unlike most of the other Hamlet-based characters I describe, Farag’s Sulayman hesitates. Weighing the obvious rightness of his act (killing General Jean Baptiste Kleber, the head of Napoleon’s occupation army in Egypt) against the savage collective punishment that will surely follow, he asks, “Justice or oppression? That is the puzzle.” In a series of monologues that Egyptian critics immediately identified as “Hamlet-like,” Sulayman exhibits introspection and even doubt. In this section I argue that Farag’s obvious Hamlet citations are strategic, serving to telegraph to the audience that Sulayman has the psychological depth required of a “serious” and “world-class” protagonist. Ironically, Hamlet functions here at a pretty superficial level, cited as a label or even emblem of character depth. In the postcolonial uncertainty of the 1950s and 1960s, Egyptian theatre had a lot to prove.

Later Arab Hamlets would leave such hesitation behind. With the resounding Arab military defeat in the June War of 1967, Arab writers understood that political agency was granted to the strong, not the psychologically deep. The question of “to be or not to be” was to be solved by seizing a place in history, collectively choosing “to be.” Meanwhile the death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) let writers cast him as Hamlet’s father: a charismatic ghost whose vision was both a moral duty and a practical dead end. Thus the post-1970 Hamlet characters I analyze are would-be revolutionaries, either heroic Che Guevara types or (later, when that hope has dimmed) bumbling, pathetic failures. The feeling spreads across much of the region, not just Egypt. One late-70s satirical adaptation from Syria is called Hamlet Wakes Up Late; a mid-1990s Iraqi play is called Forget Hamlet. “The time is out of joint,” these bitter plays argue, but the one “born to set it right” has overslept.

My perspective on Arab culture deliberately focuses on intellectuals and their cultural lives. To some critics’ dismay, I eschew the explanatory lenses (Islam, international politics, street-level ethnography of very poor people) common to many other Middle East books for general readers. By using Hamlet as a sort of bridge or key, I hope I can help my American readers go deeper into the feelings of their closest Arab peers and counterparts: people who are idealistic, curious about others, in some cases rather well-read. But those intellectuals are not some kind of disconnected elite. Rather, their speeches, essays, poems, and plays have articulated (and helped shape) real political aspirations widely shared throughout their societies. The popular drive “to be,” to purge what is “rotten in the state,” has helped make Arab history at several moments in the twentieth century and again in the past year and a half. It seems “Justice or oppression” is still the puzzle.
Learn more about Hamlet's Arab Journey at the Princeton University Press website and the Hamlet's Arab Journey Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lydia V. Pyne & Stephen J. Pyne's "The Last Lost World"

Lydia V. Pyne is a lecturer at Drexel University. She has an MA and PhD in the history and philosophy of science, and an MA degree in anthropology. Stephen J. Pyne is a historian in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is the award-winning author of Voyager, Year of the Fires, and How the Canyon Became Grand.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene, and reported the following:
There are two Pleistocenes. The one most people recognize is the geologic epoch just ahead of today’s. It’s a world of ice and megafauna, moraine and fossils, extinctions and new species. The other Pleistocene is the one that’s in our heads. That Pleistocene is a world of data and ideas -- an evolution (if you will pardon the pun) of understanding that has its own extinctions and creations, of which the idea of a Pleistocene is one. The Last Lost World traces both of these Pleistocenes.

Reading some passages, a friend remarked, “It’s the Pleistocene for English majors.” We’ll accept that accolade, but argue to include philosophy and history majors as well -- along with anyone broadly interested in understanding better why the Pleistocene looks the way it does to us. The text forms a loose dialectic that lays out the received scientific knowledge of the epoch and its inhabitants, and then offers a running commentary that draws from the humanities to enrich those explanations. Trying to describe the outcome indirectly gets pretty abstract. You’ll know it when you see it.

Alas, the literal “Page 99” of The Last Lost World is an anomaly because we are not glossing others’ work but briefly presenting some of our own. Steve has spent a career studying fire. The Last Lost World offered an opportunity to project those insights into Homo erectus as the hominin Prometheus. A uniquely fire planet acquired a uniquely fire creature, one not only adapted to fire but capable of using fire to remake himself and then the world. From fire scavenging to cooking to turning the Earth into a crock pot -- page 99 announces the onset of that process, what might well be the original Faustian bargain. It just seemed too meta-literary to comment on our own comments in the book, so we didn’t. We’ll resist that temptation here as well and just quote a long paragraph from page 99:
Fire, though not alive, is a creation of the living world and displays many of its outward properties. Life supplies the oxygen it needs to breathe; life furnishes the combustibles that feed it. Like living creatures, it warms, it moves, it sounds. It is birthed – in many languages (as in English) “to kindle” applies equally to giving birth as to starting a fire. It must be tended. It must be bred and trained. When left, it is buried. Carrying fire, that is, involves not simply a chemical reaction but a social one. It demands a reorganization of tasks and duties. And not least, fire has to be housed. Paradoxically, a fire has a greater need for shelter than does its tenders. This – creating a domus – may well mark the onset of domestication. Particularly if fire was onerous to start, keeping it always alight required shielding it from the elements. The instinct for eternal flames is likely encoded deeply in hominin culture.
The fire saga ends, as the book does, with what many moderns now consider a coda to the Pleistocene, the period of a human-dominated planet known as the Anthropocene. That epoch began when Earth’s keystone species for a keystone process shifted from burning surface biomass to fossil fuels and ignited industrial afterburners to propel us every more quickly into an uncertain future.

That future begins on page 99.
Learn more about The Last Lost World at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brett Rushforth's "Bonds of Alliance"

Brett Rushforth is associate professor of history at the College of William and Mary.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, and reported the following:
What was the relationship between slavery and racial ideology in the early modern world? The answer, as I explain in Bonds of Alliance, is not what you might expect. The book looks at three different slave systems in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: one indigenous to North America, one in the French colonies of the Caribbean, and a hybrid of the two that emerged in New France (Canada and the Great Lakes region). It finds that each of these societies justified slavery in very different ways, and their rationales often had nothing to do with slaves’ supposed racial inferiority.

On page 99, for example, we see French writers in the seventeenth century justifying slavery not in spite of Africans’ right to sovereignty, but because of it. As independent kingdoms with standing under the law of nations, the French reasoned, African societies had every right to enslave their enemies and sell them. As I write at the bottom of page 99: “Enslavement…was a recognized aspect of the law of war in this part of the world, practiced by sovereigns against the subjects of competing kingdoms with recognizable patterns and predictable reciprocity.” This idea inspired a system of treaties between France and several West African kingdoms that became the basis of France’s Atlantic slave trade.

In the Caribbean, the French developed ideas of racial exclusion to keep people in slavery, or to prevent former slaves from rising into full acceptance among the Europeans. Bonds of Alliance explores the conversation between these ideas and those of Native North Americans, who justified slavery as a system of forced assimilation rather than one of perpetual racial exclusion. As colonists in New France bought thousands of enslaved American Indians, they developed their own way of navigating these questions that borrowed from both indigenous and Atlantic approaches.

There are, of course, many other themes in Bonds of Alliance. I discuss the effects of slave raiding, the role of slavery in French-Native diplomacy, the evolution of slave law, and – perhaps most important – the lived experience of enslaved individuals. But each of these subjects, in its own way, shows that understanding slavery as a racial institution is more complicated – and often less useful – than we sometimes believe.
Learn more about Bonds of Alliance at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ilana Gershon's "No Family is An Island"

Ilana Gershon is Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She is the author of The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, No Family Is an Island: Cultural Expertise among Samoans in Diaspora, and reported the following:
Page 99 offers a concrete example of this book’s central theme – what happens when people have conflicting ideas about what it means to have a culture. The book is about how these clashing notions create problems within Samoan migrant families, and between Samoan migrants and government bureaucrats in New Zealand and the United States. On this page I turn to what I admit is one of my favorite examples of how this clash can go frustratingly wrong.

Pacific Island migrant communities often find themselves in a bind when they are dealing with government officials in representative democracies. Samoan communities will be asked to provide a spokesperson who can translate what it means to be Samoan. Yet Samoans often find this a challenging task in diaspora. Government officials will want them to choose someone, anyone, who can represent Samoan interests at various community meetings. But who gets to speak for whom can be a very contentious issue for Samoans. They have developed relatively effective techniques for resolving this in their Pacific island home, but these techniques don’t always travel well overseas. In Samoa and American Samoa, people depend heavily on the long historical relationships established between families in villages to decide who gets to be a spokesperson. Yet migrant communities are normally composed of people from many different villages. Of course, Samoan migrant communities often eventually choose someone to be a representative who is acceptable to most people, but this is a hard-won achievement, and easily undermined. The chapter as a whole focuses on how both representation and translation are complicated activities from a Samoan perspective, yet New Zealand and U.S. government officials expect that if you have a culture, you can represent your community and translate your cultural assumptions and practices whenever asked.

The page is a good example of what the book explores in general: how Samoan migrants are expected to be culture bearers and the problems with certain culturally insensitive expectations about culture. But what this page doesn’t show is that the costs of being a culture bearer are different in the United States and in New Zealand, in large part because what being a minority means is different in both places. If you read the rest of the book, you find out the ways that these different nations’ histories with the dominant minorities affect how those countries’ minor minorities are expected to be cultural.
Learn more about No Family Is an Island at the Cornell University Press website.

See the Page 99 Test: The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.

--Marshal Zeringue