Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bernard Capp's "England's Culture Wars"

Educated at Pembroke College Oxford, Bernard Capp has taught at the University of Warwick since 1968 as Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor from 1994. He became head of the Department of History in the early-mid 1990s and has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2005. Capp formally retired in 2010 and is now Emeritus Professor, but still teaches part-time. He has numerous books and articles and essays on a wide range of social, cultural, and religious themes in early modern English history. He has also made numerous radio and TV contributions over the years.

Capp applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, England's Culture Wars: Puritan Reformation and Its Enemies in the Interregnum, 1649-1660, and reported the following:
Page 99 of England’s Culture Wars takes us to a chapter on ‘Sins against God: Swearing and the Sabbath’. The book explores attempts by Oliver Cromwell and the puritans, following victory in the civil wars, to impose moral reformation on the nation, by both persuasion and force. Like New England Puritans, the regime sought to establish a godly, moral society. Passing legislation was easy: laws abolishing ‘pagan, popish’ Christmas, imposing fines for drunkenness, and imprisonment or even death for adultery and other sexual offences. The reformers faced the problem, however, that most of the English had little affection for Puritanism and hated the new regime. The reformers cracked down hard on sexual promiscuity, and they were even more preoccupied with sins against God himself, such as blasphemy, swearing and profanation of the Sabbath. Outrageous blasphemers scandalised most Englishmen and women, and could be punished. Dealing with casual swearing (‘by God’, ‘i’faith’ etc) was far harder. These were deep-rooted, traditional forms of speech which most people used without any sense of doing wrong. Page 99 looks at the problem of enforcement: would parish constables be willing to report their own neighbours, especially if that meant going miles to find the nearest magistrate? What if the magistrate himself cared little about such ‘trivial’ offences? These problems tie into the main thrust of the book: the issue of enforcement. Some historians have argued that the puritan reformation was a total failure, defeated by popular hostility or indifference. My own research shows that the outcome was in fact a patchwork of local successes and failures, with outcomes depending on the character of the local magistrates and ministers. Some towns and cities, such as Exeter, Coventry and Rye made dramatic progress towards building a godly, disciplined community; some made only limited progress, and some did not even try. Even so, the interregnum years (1649-60) produced a radically different society, and the Restoration in 1660 represented another cultural as well as political upheaval.
Learn more about England's Culture Wars at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2012

Valerie Hansen's "The Silk Road"

Valerie Hansen is Professor of History at Yale University. Her books include The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts, 600-1400, Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1276, and, with Kenneth R. Curtis, Voyages in World History.

Hansen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Silk Road: A New History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Sometime around 600 officials of the Gaochang Kingdom recorded the names of forty-eight merchants who paid a tax, called a scale fee, on the goods they sold to one another. After the goods were weighed, the tax was assessed in silver coins. This much-studied document survives as ten paper shoe soles cut from four different sections of the original register. Offering a series of snapshots of individual transactions over the course of a single year in the early seventh century, it is the single most informative document about the commodities exchanged in the Silk Road trade. These documents embody all the joys and the frustrations of the documents pieced together from the Astana graveyard: they give more information than any other materials available, but missing sections of the documents—where they were cut to make shoe soles—mean that they are incomplete.

Even so, these records highlight the dominant role played by Sogdians in the Silk Road trade. Of the forty-eight names mentioned either as purchasers or sellers of a given good, fully forty-one are Sogdian. The scale-fee records suggest a relatively low frequency of trade—a handful of transactions each week—with many weeks in which no tax was collected.

Officials recorded all the sales by each day and then twice a month tallied up the total number of coins they collected. The rate of taxation was two silver coins (weighing 8 grams) on two Chinese pounds (jin) of silver, less than one percent. Scholars do not know how much a jin weighed in the year 600: either 6 ounces (200 grams) in the older system or about 1 pound, 3 ounces (600 grams) in the newer one. The lower weight is more likely, but the accompanying chart uses the original units of jin and liang (a Chinese ounce, with sixteen to a jin) because of the uncertainty.

The scale-fee register lists thirty-seven transactions over the course of a single year. Brass, medicine, copper, turmeric, and raw sugar traded hands only once, while other goods appear more often: gold, silver, silk thread, aromatics (the term xiang refers broadly to spice, incense, or medicine), and ammonium
chloride. The one unfamiliar item on the list, the chemical ammonium chloride, was used as an ingredient in dyes, to work leather, and as a flux to lower the
temperature of metals. These documents list ammonium chloride six times, in
Unlike most books about the Silk Road, which showcase art and monuments, The Silk Road: A New History focuses on documents to see what they reveal about the people and goods moving along the Silk Road. Page 99 provides an excellent example: this particular register survives because it was cut up to make paper shoe-soles for the dead. In the distant past, the people living in the oasis of Turfan, one of the main trading towns on the Chinese Silk Road, buried their dead in paper shoes, hats, and belts. And, because paper was scarce, they recycled discarded documents, sometimes painting them over.

The register discussed on page 99 is the most revealing document about trade because it lists 37 transactions. The largest quantity listed was 800 Chinese pounds (it is not clear how much a Chinese pound weighed at the time, either less than half a modern pound or three times that much) and consisted of incense. Other traders imported valuable metals like gold and silver or cheaper metals like copper and brass. One good surprises almost everyone: ammonium chloride, which was used to soften leather or as a flux for metal.

All of the quantities mentioned in this document – and in other documents as well – could easily fit on a few pack animals. Most of the documented trade on the Silk Road was a small-scale peddler’s trade. Camels played a crucial role in carrying goods through the desert, but once peddlers reached dirt roads, they shifted their loads to wagons pulled by horses, donkeys, and cattle.

The payments on the register were made in in silver coins minted to the west in the Sasanian Empire of Iran. Although many claim that the Silk Road linked ancient Rome with ancient China, archeologists have found surprisingly few – only 48, many of them fake – Roman coins, and they were all buried after 500 CE, long after the capital shifted from Rome to Constantinople (modern Istanbul). In contrast, well over one thousand Iranian silver coins have surfaced in China, and they are frequently mentioned in other documents. 41 of the 48 merchants whose names appear on the register came from the Iranian world or were descended from those who did, yet another indication of Iran’s important role as a trading partner to China at the height of the Silk Road trade, between 500 and 800.
Visit Valerie Hansen's faculty webpage, and learn more about The Silk Road at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hedrick Smith's "Who Stole the American Dream?"

Hedrick Smith is a bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, and Emmy Award–winning producer. His books The Russians and The Power Game were critically acclaimed bestsellers and have been widely used in college courses.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Who Stole the American Dream?, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book starts with a quotation from a slick Citigroup investment brochure to high-end investors advising them that the American economy is now so lopsided in favor of the richest 1% that the world has not seen such eye-popping concentration of wealth since 16th Century Spain or 17th Century Holland, and with Advertising Age urging ad agencies and marketing gurus to abandon mass marketing to the middle class, and even to the affluent upper middle class, and to concentrate on the hyper-rich. "The top 1% along control nearly 40% of the wealth," Ad Age advised.

That is just one side of the coin. Who Stole the American Dream? is devoted to explaining, step by step, how we in America have moved from an era of middle class prosperity and power, and effective political bipartisanship in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, to a new era of polarized partisan gridlock, starkly unequal democracy and even more gaping economic inequalities while the middle class has been stuck in a rut. In fact, the census bureau reports that the average male worker's wage per hour was just a bit lower in 2011 than in 1978 - three decades of going nowhere, while the rich became the ultra rich.

Two big reasons - wedge economics and the power shift - both of which began to take shape in the late 1970s. You'll have to look at the book to understand what those things are about. Just be assured that very little of the verbiage being thrown at voters today touches on the real causes of the stagnation of America's middle class. We'll never get to a smart fix unless we understand the causes of our problems. If you want a quick read, take a look at my oped in the New York Times which ran on September 3 and has caused waves of reactions. Headline: "When Capitalism Cared".
Learn more about the book and author at Hedrick Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Christopher I. Beckwith's "Warriors of the Cloisters"

Christopher I. Beckwith is Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages; Koguryo, Language of Japan’s Continental Relatives; Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present; and several other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World, and reported the following:
The ‘Page 99 Test’ is interesting, as usual. The text on the page in question happens to be only a third of a page long, as it is the tail end of its chapter. It consists of the last parts of an abbreviated example of the recursive argument method—the oral and literary ‘scientific method’ of medieval science—translated from a disputational work in Classical Arabic by the medieval scholar Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, with a brief final comment by me. I think that it does reveal, to take Ford’s statement literally, “the quality of the whole,” and the recursive argument method is one of the two main topics of the book (the other being the origins of the college), but the page definitely does not clarify that. As it happens, though, the very next page—the first page of Chapter Six—does. It briefly summarizes the history of the transmission of Classical Arabic learning from the Islamic world to a still conservative Western Europe during the Crusades, and introduces the chapter’s main topic: the story of how the recursive argument method was not a native European invention, but was borrowed from the Classical Arabic literary and scientific world of Islam to the Medieval Latin world of the mid-twelfth century in Spain. The main translator, Avendauth (Ibrāhīm ibn Dā’ūd), was a famous Jewish philosopher who collaborated with Dominicus, a local archdeacon in Toledo, to produce the first Latin translation of Avicenna’s De anima ‘On the soul’ or ‘Psychology’, a volume from his great encyclopedic summa ‘The Book of the Healing’. The next page begins an abbreviated translation of a recursive argument from the ‘Psychology’.
Learn more about Warriors of the Cloisters at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Empires of the Silk Road.

Writers Read: Christopher I. Beckwith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Angilee Shah & Jeffrey Wasserstrom, eds., "Chinese Characters"

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of books such as China in the 21st Century, Global Shanghai, and China’s Brave New World, and the editor of the Journal of Asian Studies.

Angilee Shah is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mother Jones, TimeOut Singapore, Global Voices, and AsiaMedia, among other publications.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new edited volume, Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land, and reported the following:
Chinese Characters has 15 disparate chapters. Some profile specific individuals: an elderly woman facing eviction from her longtime home, in one case, an environmentalist setting off to search for the origin of the Yangzi River, in another. Some chapters, though, focus on two or three interrelated people. For example, one looks at a teacher of classical guitar and a teacher of rock guitar techniques, each of whom is convinced that having more people play like him will be good for the nation. The authors of the chapters are also a varied lot, ranging from New Yorker staff writers Peter Hessler and Evan Osnos to academics. No single page of it could hope to be fully representative. And yet, page 99 does draw attention to themes that show up in many sections. The protean character of many Chinese lives and many Chinese communities is one of them. Another is the degree to which many Chinese people depend on relationships that are novel in nature yet rooted in old-fashioned kinds of ties.

Page 99 finds Michelle Dammon Loyalka profiling Zhang Erhua, a migrant worker living in the crowded Gan Jia Zhai district at the edge of Xi’an, a city best known as home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Zhang has changed jobs often and now works in a recycling business run by a woman named Liang. The page begins with Loyalka noting Zhang’s dependence on the network “of hometown mates” (men from his native village) that “he’s cultivated over the years.” They help him out in hard times; the fact that one is Liang’s husband helped him secure him his present job.

Zhang’s dependence on such connections makes him a typical denizen of Gan Jia Zhai, Loyalka claims, for it’s a place “where a mishmash of people from every corner of the country take refuge” and migrants get little help from the local authorities, since they are technically not supposed to be living there. A network of “hometown mates“ can function as a “makeshift safety net” in tough times, and this sort of web of connections can also prove mutually beneficial to members of the laobaixing, a common Chinese term of ordinary folk. Here’s how Loyalka writes about the phenomenon, moving from the particular to the general and back again:
The system has become so integral to the inner workings of China’s cities that entire markets are often run by entrepreneurs from a single village, entire streets are canvassed by peddlars from a single county, and entire industries are sometimes dominated by people from a single province. In Gan Jia Zhai, there are sixteen recycling outfits like Liang’s, and all of them are run by people from the same corner of Henan Province. The result of all this laobaixing backscratching, Liang says, is that their hometown is now thriving financially. ‘Now the villagers all have a lot of money. They have cell phones, motorcycles, vehicles—everything,’ she says…

But the ironic thing for Zhang is that for all the focus on money, for all the conniving and wheedling to get ahead, he doesn’t see many migrants attaining a significantly better life… Most peasants now enjoy a host of modern conveniences, but in the city migrants’ living spaces are too cramped and their stays too uncertain for such luxuries…Liang is a perfect example: she has lived in Xi’an for nearly a decade and has never been downtown, much less to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and other local historic sites. Sometimes months can pass without her stepping out of Gan Jia Zhai…
Learn more about Chinese Characters at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tom Koch's "Thieves of Virtue"

Tom Koch, a bioethicist and gerontology consultant in Toronto, is the author of Mirrored Lives: Aging Children and Aging Parents; Cartographies of Disease: Maps, Mapping, and Medicine; Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground; and other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
The metaphor [of lifeboat ethics] pretends to choice in that least democratic of environments.... The stark fact is that no good choices exist and some must die if any are to be saved. By the time lifeboat ethics is engaged all good solutions are gone. The 'moral philosophy' that the ethics was to engage was empty from the start of anything that might bear on the human condition, 'human flourishing,' or even simple justice (p. 99).
Thieves of Virtue is about bioethics, a "demi-discipline" begun in the 1960's by medical amateurs skilled in moral philosophy who insisted they had the philosophical chops to provide ethical answers to issues of medical practice, research, and health delivery. Bioethicists argued from the start for the application (some would say imposition) of the "philosophical method," and its grounding values, as an antidote to the complexity of new medical sciences and the “paternalism” of traditional medical practice.

In fact, the book argues, the new ethic spoke not to complex social issues, or to medicine. Its purpose from the start was to be a cheerleader and supporter of a slew of neoliberal agendas, Reaganomics in particular. As "guests in the house of medicine," as one bioethicist put it in another quote, from the start bioethics was about money and power.

First and foremost, bioethics is about the lifeboat ethics. Page 99 describes the infamous drowning of passengers rescued to an overloaded longboat only to be later drowned by a crew who said, “some must die if any are to survive.”

The book argues first bioethics is about lifeboat ethics and second, it is insupportable. And if lifeboat ethics sinks then bioethics drowns with it. There are other, better ways to look at issues of medical care, delivery, and research.

“With equal facility the metaphor of the lifeboat might be transposed from a story of irremediable scarcity into a cautionary tale about what happens when profits are put ahead of lives.” In other words, change the story, change the thinking and we can change the ethic and its practice.

The necessity for that change, the failure of the philosophy and resulting ethics of the bioethics we have, is the book’s heart and soul and intent.

The real secret of lifeboat ethics is that scarcity is...unnatural. When it is not a short-term phenomenon it is almost always the result of choices we make that result in too few seats in the lifeboat, whatever the lifeboat-of-the-day may be. It is thus a choice and a conclusion and not a necessity unless we make it so.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Koch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thomas Medvetz's "Think Tanks in America"

Thomas Medvetz is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Think Tanks in America, and reported the following:
At first glance, the Page 99 Test did not seem to work for my book, which focuses on how the organizations known as “think tanks” emerged and multiplied in the United States over the last century and became fixtures of the political scene. More broadly, the book is about the changing relationship between social knowledge and political action in the U.S.

In two ways, page 99 seems out of step with the rest of the book. First, the text is part of a case study of the Institute for Policy Studies, an extreme outlier among think tanks for its association with New Left radicalism. In the world of think tanks, it is conservatives, not progressives, who have dominated the action. Second, contrary to the thrust of page 99, the book is not about any specific organization or organizations per se. Indeed, it is about the competitive and collaborative relations among organizations that enabled them to form a nebulous (and always changing) network and set themselves apart from other knowledge-producing institutions. For this reason, to take page 99 out of context would be to “miss the forest for the trees.”

However, on second thought, I saw that two of the book’s main argument were indeed signaled on page 99. The first is tied to the fate of the Institute for Policy Studies. During the 1970s and 1980s, IPS became the target of intense FBI surveillance; it was also charged with a series of tax code violations by the IRS (albeit unsuccessfully), attacked vigorously
click to enlarge
by its political opponents, and abandoned by most of its sponsors. IPS’s calamitous fate offers a topsy-turvy illustration of one of the book’s central themes: namely, that conservative think tanks have enjoyed enormous advantages in financial support from American business relative to their progressive counterparts, as well as relative freedom from state repression. The same conditions that disabled IPS, in other words, bolstered think tanks of the right, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Second, the closing lines of page 99 allude to what is ultimately the main issue raised by Think Tanks in America. As the last paragraph explains, Marcus Raskin cofounded IPS in the hope that it would do more than influence public policies. Instead, he wanted the organization to contribute to a wholesale reshaping of the “relationship between social thought and public action” (p. 99). My argument in the book, in fact, is that the growth of think tanks has indeed reconfigured this relationship—albeit not in the way Raskin envisioned. Instead, its main effect has been to relegate the most autonomous intellectuals to the margins of political debate.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Medvetz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Faisal Devji's "The Impossible Indian"

Faisal Devji is Reader in Indian History and Fellow at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence, and reported the following:
This book is about an immensely successful political thinker who recognized that the quotidian reality of modern life could be radicalized by its engagement with violence to produce the most extraordinary effects. Indeed Gandhi belongs with Lenin, Hitler and Mao as one of the great revolutionary figures of our times, though his politics was of course directed along paths other than state building.

Focussing on his unsentimental engagement with the hard facts of imperial domination, fascism and civil war, this study places Gandhi at the centre of modern history, exploring the new political reality he claimed to have discovered. This was a politics the Mahatma mobilized in practices that required as much sacrifice and even death as those propagated by his revolutionary peers, if for very different reasons.

Gandhi held that violence was present in every aspect of life, from eating to giving birth, so that even reflexive processes like blinking or digestion, which preserved life, also ended up wearing down the body and finally destroying it. Nonviolence therefore could not possibly imply the more or less successful avoidance of violence, something that the Mahatma would in any case have considered cowardly, but rather entailed an engagement with it.

Gandhi wanted not to escape, but to tempt and convert violence by engaging with it. He thought violence and nonviolence were so intimately linked that one could be transformed into the other, since evil too requires goodness to sustain itself, with both armies on a battlefield, for example, holding together by relying upon identical virtues like loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice among their men, however good or evil their cause. All that was needed for evil’s defeat, then, was to withdraw goodness from it, a practice that the Mahatma called non-cooperation.

Page 99 of the book deals with Gandhi’s description of two such armies from an ancient text called the Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord):

This becomes clear in an example of violence that Gandhi gives from the Gita, that of Karna, Bhishma and Drona, all good men who yet sided with the evil prince Duryodhana in his battle against his cousins the Pandavas:
Whether out of compassion for Duryodhana, or because he was generous-hearted, Karna joined the former’s side. Besides Karna, Duryodhana had good men like Bhishma and Drona also on his side. This suggests that evil cannot by itself flourish in this world. It can do so only if it is allied with some good. This was the principle underlying non-co-operation, that the evil system which the Government represents, and which has endured only because of the support it receives from good people, cannot survive if that support is withdrawn. Just as the Government needs the support of good men in order to exist, so Duryodhana required men like Bhishma and Drona in order to show that there was justice on his side.
Gandhi’s use of this example to illustrate non-co-operation as a form of nonviolence is curious, since the good men supporting Duryodhana did not after all withdraw their support of him, so that the evil of the Kauravas could only be defeated in a war of extreme violence, which the Mahatma elsewhere calls a righteous one. The problem was not simply that good men refused to withdraw from evil, but that evil itself, or rather the violence it gave rise to, was also a product of goodness and inextricable from it.
Read more about The Impossible Indian at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Janine Barchas's "Matters of Fact in Jane Austen"

Janine Barchas is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin. She is the author of Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, and reported the following:
Although I was skeptical, page 99 proved a perfect synecdoche of my book’s larger approach, which argues that Jane Austen peppers her realist fictions with historical fact when she slyly references genuine locations, historical events, and even national celebrities. My argument follows the crumb trail of Austen’s geographical clues and leading names (many of which seem as if plucked straight out of Britain’s history books).

At page 99, my book falls open in the middle of a chapter on Farleigh Hungerford Castle, a medieval ruin just outside of Bath that, I argue, provided Austen with a historical model for Northanger Abbey. Austen’s novel, which spoofs the Gothic tropes of her popular contemporary Ann Radcliffe, has not been investigated with an eye to additional and non-literary sources of inspiration. Yet “the story of Farleigh Hungerford Castle and the family who resided there for so long rivals any Radcliffe plot in bodice-ripping drama and murderous intrigue.” Her references to bizarre real-world events from Bath’s local history may allow Austen to trump the Gothic novel with the stranger truths of her own realist approach.

Page 99 tells of “the colorful Hungerford family” that lived at the castle for three centuries. Their lurid reputation for domestic and political intrigue includes the story of an inconvenient husband whose body was burned in the castle’s kitchen ovens as well as a notorious local Bluebeard who, during the reign of Henry VIII, kept his third wife locked up in a castle tower in an attempt to kill her by poison (forced to drink her own urine, she secretly received supplies from local villagers and lived to tell the tale).

Would Austen have known this vivid local history or even have visited the castle herself? I think so. During the years the Austens lived in Bath, they owned a popular guidebook that recommended a visit to Farleigh Hungerford Castle. By 1801 the castle was considered an ideal picturesque destination for day-trippers from Bath because by then the dilapidated ruin was partially restored to showcase medieval relics and “fanciful furnishings of a prior age.” These relics also match scenes in Austen’s novel. Page 99 considers the inanity of John Thorpe’s decision to set out with the castle-hungry Catherine Morland for far-flung Blaise Castle, which the oafish Thorpe never even reaches after riding north, Austen tells us, for “seven miles.” Thorpe’s decision proves a double folly since Blaise was an eighteenth-century fake, or garden folly. The comedy of Austen’s story may reside in the fact that whereas Thorpe travels “seven miles” north towards a fake, that exact distance (if travelled in the opposite direction) would have brought his touring party to a genuine castle that might have fulfilled Catherine’s every expectation of gothic gore.

Like much of the book, page 99 includes an illustration—here of an old Bath map showing the route to “Farley Castle.” This 1773 map was drawn by the city’s most influential cartographer, a Mr. Thorpe. Such historical coincidence allows that Austen may have chosen this surname to alert her readers to her story’s geographical precision, which even cites rates of speed and exact distances traveled by the carriages that take her characters around Bath.

Since the page 99 test was so successful, I’ve made a note to myself to add some Ford Madox Ford to my daily study.
Learn more about Matters of Fact in Jane Austen at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Robert A. Williams, Jr.'s "Savage Anxieties"

Robert A. Williams, Jr. is the E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at The University of Arizona and a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe of North Carolina. He is the author of The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest, Linking Arms Together: North American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, and Like A Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights and the Legal History of Racism in America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization, and reported the following:
My book tells the story of one of the most threatening, evocative and subversive ideas in the history of Western civilization; the idea of the savage. From the time of the ancient Greeks, the West has been provoked, haunted and seduced by two very different-seeming ways of imagining and stereotyping primitive-seeming, non-Westernized tribal peoples as savages; as either irredeemable, irrational brutes, destined to be vanquished by the rise of a superior civilization, or as ennobled exemplars of a true and simpler way of life for a hopelessly decadent and fallen one.

The examples I use to illustrate both the continuities and discontinuities in the ways that this dual-sided myth has been invoked since the birth of Western civilization will be familiar to most readers. I begin the book with the West’s first great works of literature, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. From these early Greek beginnings, I trace the West’s continuing perpetuation and reinvention of this myth up through the present-day. Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Virgil’s Aeneid, St. Augustine and the early Church Fathers, the Crusades to the Holy Lands, Columbus’ journals, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the 20th century “Hollywood Indian,” and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples all reveal the continuing force and evocative ambivalence of the myth of the savage in the West.

Page 99 of Savage Anxieties examines how the ancient Roman historian, Tacitus (ca. 56 A.D.-120), described the distant barbarian tribes of Europe as extreme examples of both ignoble and noble savagery. In the Germania, he tells us about the Fenni (or Finns) of Scandinavia. Tacitus relates that the Fenni live a very “hard” life, perhaps the hardest of all the barbarian tribes of Europe, since they are at the ends of the earth. They are “astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor,” with no horses or household goods. “They eat wild herbs, dress in skins, and sleep on the ground,” surviving by the hunt. While decrying their primitive way of life, Tacitus, at the same time, employs a readily recognizable set of cultural markers and stereotypes to isolate the nobler virtues of these savages. Though the Fenni have no gods or religion, they “have reached a state that few human beings can attain: for these men are so well content that they do not even need to pray for anything.” (P. 99, Savage Anxieties).

As I explain in the book, Western civilization has used this dual-sided myth of tribal peoples as irreconcilable savages to justify and carry out a 3,000 year-long war against tribalism as a way of life. As I argue, without this myth, Western civilization as a system of shared beliefs and an epoch-shaping force in world history would be impossible to imagine. In fact, without the idea of the savage to provide the mirrored reflection of all that it believes it represents in the world, Western civilization as we know it would not exist.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert A. Williams, Jr.'s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jason Brownlee's "Democracy Prevention"

Jason Brownlee is Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance, and reported the following:
Democracy Prevention uses archival materials, the Wikileaks cables, and interviews with top U.S. and Egyptian officials to document the partnership between the world's oldest democracy and one of its most resilient autocracies. Cairo receives nearly $2 billion annually from Washington, making Egypt the most U.S.-aided autocracy in the world. Today the crucible for the next phase in U.S.-Egyptian relations is the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and neighboring Gaza Strip, to which the book turns on page 99.

The contemporary partnership began in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel. That diplomatic breakthrough coincided with systematic repression in Egypt. The combination of bilateral cooperation and durable authoritarianism persisted through the pinnacle of U.S. democracy promotion, George W. Bush's "Freedom Agenda." Even when Bush publicly encouraged democratic reforms in Egypt, he feared losing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence apparatus.

At page 99 the book begins tracing the decline of the Freedom Agenda in a chapter titled "Gaza Patrol." Primary records show how U.S. decisionmakers placed Israeli security ahead of local and regional democracy. This attitude was on full display after the Palestinian election of 2006:
On January 25, 2006, more than three-quarters of voters in the Palestinian Authority turned out to choose 132 Palestinian Legislative Council members. The vote was peaceful, internationally certified, and highly competitive. Hamas… beat President Abbas’s Fatah party by 3 points in the national popular vote. Electoral rules… magnified this narrow margin into a 56 percent majority (seventy-four seats). Hamas could choose the next prime minister and cabinet. The elections bookended the Freedom Agenda. In 2002, the White House advocated elections in the Palestinian Authority to marginalize [Palestinian chairman Yasser] Arafat. Four years later, free and fair voting had carried a U.S.-designated “foreign terrorist organization" into the political mainstream.
In response, the Bush administration abandoned its democracy rhetoric and leaned on Mubarak to deliver security in the Gaza Strip. Congress even attempted to condition U.S. aid to Egypt—to defend Israel from Palestinian rockets, not to protect Egyptians' human rights. Page 99 previews the chapter's discussion of this move:
In 2007, U.S. congressional representatives stipulated that Mubarak must reform the judiciary and police to receive the full amount of aid. They focused their conditionality proposal, however, on the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, which was responsible for all of Egypt’s external borders. By withholding a portion of military aid, Congress sought to impel the Egyptian army to destroy underground tunnels that circumvented an international blockade on Gaza and allowed smugglers to bring in arms and supplies.
The attempt at conditioning aid rankled Mubarak and his lieutenants, who saw their country shrinking from a regional power into a neighborhood cop. As the remainder of the book makes clear, even after Egyptians ousted Mubarak on February 11, 2011, U.S.-Egyptian relations continued to revolve around the plight of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
Learn more about Democracy Prevention at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Janna Malamud Smith's "An Absorbing Errand"

Janna Malamud Smith is a writer and psychotherapist. Her books include, Private Matters (1997), A Potent Spell (2003), and My Father is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud (2006).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, and reported the following:
I've been scratching my head, wondering if Ford Madox Ford's words of wisdom about page 99 are truly wise or just a guy reaching for a cheap thrill. My first take was "That's foolhardy." But after opening some books, I realized he's got a point. Any single page can show whether a book's well-written and interesting - or not. And page 99 is as good a one to sample as any.

My page 99 in An Absorbing Errand is not high drama, but it helps nail my point about artists and mastery. I describe several scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush in which Chaplin’s character “The Prospector” scrambles frantically preparing to host a New Year’s Dinner for some pretty girls who we, as audience, know are going to no-show. He kills himself to put on a meal he can’t afford. He dresses to the nines. He’s so eager he could pop. It’s crazy embarrassing. Imagine yourself in his shoes, and you’ll feel like curling up in a ball under the bed. Which is why the scene provides a great illustration of Shame. My book is about art-making – and how, if you want to work as an artist or a craftsman, you have to learn how to stay in the game long enough to get good at your work. The book guides you with stories about other people’s experience. My goal is to keep aspiring artists from getting hijacked prematurely by a bunch of negative emotions that kill the mission. And shame is a big player, a crucial one, really. The chapter around p. 99 describes what a profound emotional state shame is, and how it can either stop artists cold in their tracks, or how it can become the powerful turbine, the great source of energy behind their creative process. Much of Chaplin’s genius came through his transforming his early experiences of terrible shame into hilarious and heartbreaking scenes that his audiences relished. I use his story as illustration to help readers learn to do the same thing in their own art-making.
Learn more about the book and author at Janna Malamud Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 14, 2012

David R. Montgomery's "The Rocks Don't Lie"

David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. His latest book, The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, explores the relationship between science and religion through historical attempts to explain the biblical flood story, charting the influence of Noah's Flood on the development of geology, and of geological discoveries on the evolution of Christian theology and the birth of modern creationism. He is also the author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, and King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon.

Montgomery applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Rocks Don't Lie and reported the following:
Baron Georges-Louis Leclerc [the focus of page 99, below left], Comte de Buffon and director of the king's botanical gardens in Paris was a curious man. He proved a bit too curious for his own good when in 1749 he published heretical answers to questions about the origin of the world and its topography in the first volume of his landmark Histoire Naturelle.

The theological faculty of the Sorbonne sent Buffon a letter calling out his reprehensible ideas that the world cooled from a molten fireball, erosion sculpted topography, and Noah's Flood never occurred. Facing a choice similar to that which Galileo faced a century before, Buffon renounced everything in his book “respecting the formation of the earth, and in general all which may be contrary to the narrative of Moses.”

This did not stop him from investigating earth history. He began experimenting with how long it took to cool spheres of molten metal and determined it would take at least 75,000 years to cool the planet to the point where oceans could form. This was more than ten times
click to enlarge
longer than Bishop Ussher's widely accepted, biblically-based 6,000-year estimate for the age of the world. And yet, when Buffon included this estimate in his 1775 Introduction to the History of Minerals he avoided theological censure.

By then the clergy were beginning to argue among themselves as to the theological implications of geological discoveries that revealed Earth had a far longer and more complex history than told in the biblical stories of the Creation and Noah's Flood. At the dawn of the 19th century, theologians were accommodating geological discoveries by reinterpreting the six days of Creation as six geological ages, or by suggesting that geologic time could be stuffed into a gap of indeterminable length between the first two verses of Genesis.

As I looked into the long history of interaction between faith and reason in interpreting stories of great floods I discovered that this back and forth between science and theology was not at all unusual. The story of Noah's Flood served as what might be considered the first geological theory and the theological response to geological discoveries set the stage for the rise of modern creationism. When you look into it, the real story of the historical relationship between science and religion is far richer than the long-running conflict portrayed in today's culture wars.
Learn more about The Rocks Don't Lie at the W.W. Norton website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Andrew L. Erdman's "Queen of Vaudeville"

Andrew L. Erdman is the author of Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals, and the Mass Marketing of Entertainment, 1895–1915.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguay, and reported the following:
I love page 99 of my book! I’m not trying to be immodest. Nor do I think it necessarily represents everything about the work as a whole. Or maybe it does…

Page 99 finds Eva Tanguay rising toward the pinnacle of her success, around the years 1907-08. She had traveled the rails as an itinerant player in her youth, playing the lead in Little Lord Fauntleroy and appearing in countless melodramas. By 1901, she was on Broadway, first in small parts but never small in her stage presence. She appeared in a series of vaudeville-like, loosely-cobbled musicals including The Chaperons and The Sambo Girl between 1901 and 1905. In the latter, she became famous for a song called “I Don’t Care.” It was a smash. She made it famous and it did the same for her. By 1906, she was a one-woman sensation on the vaudeville boards.

Because of her vivacity, energy, and libidinal power, Eva Tanguay was soon dubbed “The Cylconic Comedienne.” She was a force of nature. Page 99 looks at the cultivation of her persona as a gutsy, racy, rule-breaking, larger-than-life entertainer who set the mold for a line of nobly mischievous starlets, from Mae West down through Madonna. Eva sang other songs that marked her out as playfully uncivilized at times, including one with the lyrics, “I really think I’d rather be, An Animal in the zoo.”

Now, not many stars back in those seedling years of the twentieth century endorsed products. But, as page 99 tells us, the Scott L. Snyder tobacco company of Minneapolis held a contest to see who could supply the best reasons for smoking their five-cent “Eva Tanguay” cigar (whose pleasure-delivering, Freudian symbolism ought not be lost on the reader). Edgar Nash, a Tanguay smoker, of 1422 Vine Place in Minneapolis won out. Here were some of his reasons:
Because, after smoking 40 years, I think the Eva Tanguay the best nickel cigar I ever smoked.

Because it is not made by a trust.

Because it is a pleasure to smoke an Eva Tanguay at any time. But the real, deep, satisfying enjoyment is, after a hungry man had eaten a good hearty meal, to sit down with a clear consciences and an Eva Tanguay cigar. Then truly “it makes you happy.”
Ironically, Eva never touched tobacco.
Learn more about Queen of Vaudeville at Andrew L. Erdman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Scott Andrew Selby's "The Axmann Conspiracy"

Scott Andrew Selby is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. He also has a master’s degree in Human Rights and Intellectual Property Law from Sweden’s Lund University. He is licensed to practice law in California and New York. He previously co-wrote Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History.

Selby applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U. S. Army Defeated It, and reported the following:
I’ve never done the page 99 test before, to my book or any other. I’ve heard of it, but I tend to go with the jacket copy and blurbs, then read the first few pages to decide if I want to buy a book.

For my new book, the page 99 test is not that accurate as it is a page of background information on the mobile killing squads, known as Einsatzsgruppen, the Nazis used on the Eastern Front. Ironically, the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps’ main informer in the operation to dismantle a conspiracy of former Hitler Youth leaders who wanted to bring back the Reich was a former member of one of these murderous groups. The page before discusses his time in a mobile killing squad, which he left owing to an injury.

Page 99 of The Axmann Conspiracy:
In August 1941, he was shot in his right knee and so left the Einsatzgruppe.

The Einsatzgruppen were groups which followed the Nazi advance eastward to eliminate Jews, gypsies, the insane, and Soviet political officers. The International Military Tribunal (“IMT”) in 1946 held them “responsible for the murder of two million defenseless human beings.”43 At a trial of prominent figures from the Einsatzgruppen, the IMT pointed out that “no human mind can grasp the enormity of two million deaths because life, the supreme essence of consciousness and being, does not lend itself to material or even spiritual appraisement.

It is so beyond finite comprehension that only its destruction offers an infinitesimal suggestion of its worth. The loss of any one person can only begin to be measured in the realization of his survivors that he is gone forever. The extermination, therefore, of two million human beings cannot be felt. Two million is but a figure.”44

This case was known as the Einsatzgruppen Case, and the court explained that “when the German Armies, without any declaration of war, crossed the Polish frontier and smashed into Russia, there moved with and behind them a unique organization known as the Einsatzgruppen.As an instrument of terror in the museum of horror, it would be difficult to find an entry to surpass the Einsatzgruppen in its blood-freezing potentialities. No writer of murder fiction, no dramatist steeped in macabre lore, can ever expect to conjure up from his imagination a plot which will shock sensibilities as much as will the stark drama of these sinister bands.”45

“Under the guise of insuring the political security of the conquered territories, both in the occupational and rear areas of the Wehrmacht, the Einsatzgruppen were to liquidate ruthlessly all opposition to National Socialism— not only the opposition of the present, but that of the past and future as well. Whole categories of people were to be killed without truce, without investigation, without pity, tears, or [from page 100] remorse.
Learn more about The Axmann Conspiracy at its website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Patricia L. Sullivan's "Who Wins?"

Patricia L. Sullivan is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Peace, War, and Defense in the Department of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the recipient of the 2011 SPIA Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2004-2006 Walter Isard Dissertation Award, given every two years by the Peace Science Society International, and the 2005 Dissertation Award from the Committee on the Analysis of Military Operations and Strategy (CAMOS), an affiliated group of the American Political Science Association.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Who Wins?: Predicting Strategic Success and Failure in Armed Conflict, and reported the following:
There are only 73 words on page 99. The page is entirely taken up by a gargantuan table of numbers—statistical results from a Heckman two-stage multinomial logistic regression selection model. The general reader is likely to skip right over it. But this one table presents almost as much information as the prose in the remainder of the chapter. So what does it say? What is so interesting about the numbers in this table?

This table summarizes the effects of ten key factors on the outcomes of almost 2000 violent disputes between countries all over the world between 1919 and 2001. I argue in this book that all military operations ultimately have political objectives, and the numbers in this table provide striking evidence that the utility of military force for achieving these objectives is limited. In other words, even very powerful countries frequently cannot achieve their objectives at an acceptable human and material cost when they use military force against much weaker adversaries. On the first line of numbers in this table, the data show that a country’s military strength is highly correlated with its ability to attain what I call “brute force” objectives—political objectives that could be seized and held by physical force alone. Strong countries are likely to succeed when they engage in direct attempts to seize territory or overthrow foreign regimes. But a country’s willingness to suffer political costs and the enemy’s resolve to resist become more important than physical strength when a country uses military force in an attempt to attain political objectives that require compliant behavior on the part of the enemy. Negative numbers on row 13 reveal that military strength is actually negatively correlated with the likelihood a country will attain “compliance-dependent” objectives. Militarily strong countries are at greatest risk of failure when they use force in an attempt to coerce weaker countries into changing objectionable foreign or domestic policies.
Learn more about Who Wins? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2012

Daniel McCool's "River Republic"

Daniel McCool is the director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program and a professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Utah. His research focuses on water resources development, voting rights, Indian water rights, and public lands policy, and he has published widely in such journals as the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Political Research Quarterly, and the University of Texas Law Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his eighth and latest book, River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, and reported the following:
Imagine a river, clean and wild, teeming with salmon, coursing through forested mountains. Then, imagine a federal agency diverting 90 percent of the flow of that river—at tremendous public expense—so that a handful of corporate farmers could grow, among other things, rice in the desert. Sound implausible? It’s actually a fairly common story in the U. S. In this case, the Trinity River in northern California was virtually destroyed, along with its bountiful salmon runs, by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. But local people, who love the Trinity River, did not just lie down and submit. Rather, they put up one hell of a fight to get their river back. On page 99 of River Republic I describe how a group of high school students in the small town of Hayfork, California, generated national media coverage by holding a mock funeral for the dying river and its lost salmon runs. That act of defiance started a movement to restore the flows to the Trinity. Today the Trinity River is coming back to life and the salmon runs are coming home.

Such David-versus-Goliath stories are common all across American as everyday citizens—I call them instigators—take matters into their own hands and begin demanding that their local river be restored. Most rivers in the U. S. have been damned, diverted, channelized, or polluted. There are over 79,000 dams in the U. S. at least 25 feet high; there are an additional 2.5 million small dams. Most waterways in the U. S. have been fundamentally altered or abused, destroying their value as a community resource for recreation, scenery, and habitat. But that is changing in a big way; there are literally hundreds of river restoration projects across the country; people are reclaiming their rivers and making them a valuable part of their community.

River restoration is popular for several reasons. First, rivers are the primary source of our drinking water. Second, people just naturally love rivers; they are a part of our history, culture, and national lore-- from Bruce Springsteen to Mark Twain. Third, they have an enormous impact on our economy. A beautiful river enhances property values, brings in tourists and recreationists, and improves our quality of life.

When we restore a river, we restore ourselves, our economy, and our pride; we restore an essential part of America.
Learn more about River Republic at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Corey Brettschneider's "When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?"

Corey Brettschneider is professor of political science and professor, by courtesy, of philosophy at Brown University. He is the author of Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality, and reported the following:
Debates over hate speech are often polarized on two dimensions. On the one hand, “prohibitionists” advocate the criminalization of some viewpoints, including those that are racist, sexist, or homophobic. In contrast, neutralists argue that the state should protect all viewpoints, no matter how heinous, because it is not the role of the state to take sides on matters of opinion.

In my book, When the State Speaks, What Should It Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality, I propose and defend a third view. I suggest that when it comes to matters of coercion, and especially criminalization, the state should be absolute in its free speech commitments by protecting all viewpoints. However, I argue that when the liberal democratic state acts in its expressive capacities, when it “speaks,” it should engage in what I call “democratic persuasion” in order to promote an ideal of equality under law. The state should also employ democratic persuasion to criticize those same racist, homophobic, and sexist viewpoints that it protects from punishment. The state engages in democratic persuasion implicitly when we build monuments to civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King and not for segregationists like Bull Conner.

More controversially, I argue that the state should engage in democratic persuasion by revoking funding and non-profit status for groups that advocate discrimination against women, minorities, or gays. Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Boy Scouts of America might have a right to discriminate free from punishment, but they should not receive state subsidies in the form of direct funds or through tax deductions granted to their donors.

When it comes to children’s education, my argument regarding democratic persuasion takes a slightly different turn. On page 99 I focus on why children present a special case when it comes to democratic persuasion. Although no adult should forcibly be exposed to democratic persuasion, students are coerced as a matter of law into attending school. Moreover, I argue that students should be exposed to democratic persuasion as a matter of their schooling. The state should not be neutral regarding the battle between civil rights defenders and segregationists, for instance, nor should it be neutral about the reality of the Holocaust.

In defending my contention that children but not adults may be forcibly exposed to democratic persuasion, I consider the challenge that parents will be exposed to the same forceful persuasion through their children. On page 99 I write, “Consider, for instance, the case of a Holocaust-denying parent. The parent might protest that she would be exposed to democratic persuasion regarding the reality and evil of the Holocaust through her child. Teaching children democratic values might result in the parents hearing about these values as well.”

I respond by suggesting that the aim of education should be to persuade children of the importance of basic liberal values, not to use education as a means to persuade students’ parents of the importance of the values of liberal democracy. This kind of civic education might very well might bring children into conflict with their parents, but it does not violate parental rights. I argue there is no parental right to pass on racist, homophobic, or sexist views unchallenged. As I write earlier on page 99, “the right of parents to control their children’s education is far from absolute. It does not include the right to keep them from being exposed to democratic persuasion.”

I think that the p. 99 test works quite well for When the State Speaks. It brings us away from earlier intuitive examples about the state defending democratic values and into heavy and controversial terrain. It also shows the difficulties in attempts to carve out a role for the state to promote equality and to protect the rights of its citizens, including parents.
Learn more about When the State Speaks, What Should It Say? at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Joshua Arthurs' "Excavating Modernity"

Joshua Arthurs is Assistant Professor of History at West Virginia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Excavating Modernity does not necessarily contain any of the book’s major revelations; indeed, it mainly contextualizes a more important case study that appears later. Nonetheless, Ford Madox Ford’s advice rings true: even in this randomly selected passage, something is revealed about the quality of the whole.

First, a brief summary of the project: Excavating Modernity examines Italian Fascism’s preoccupation with the legacies of ancient Rome. Many readers will be familiar with Mussolini’s embrace of the classical past, from the adoption of the so-called “Roman salute” to his dreams of a new Mediterranean empire. In this book, I argue that the Fascist obsession with Rome – its celebration of “romanità” (Roman-ness) – should be understood as an attempt to regenerate the modern world through the ancient Roman virtues of discipline, hierarchy and harmony. For the Fascists, Rome was not a site of distant glories but a blueprint for contemporary life. These ideas were developed not only by Fascist leaders and intellectuals, but by a cadre of archaeologists, historians, and other scholars who eagerly placed themselves at the regime’s disposal. Throughout the book, I look at different initiatives through which they articulated and promoted romanità, including excavations, publications and museum exhibits.

Within this context, the discussion on page 99 points to some important facets of my argument. This passage traces the development of the Mostra Augustea della Romanità, a massive archaeological exhibition in 1937 that commemorated the two thousandth anniversary of Augustus’ birth. As with many of the regime’s other projects, the Mostra Augustea was a re-casting of an earlier initiative – in this case, a 1911 archaeological exhibition to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification. While most of the artifacts stayed the same, they were presented in new ways that imbued them with a distinctively Fascist resonance.

Another important aspect of the book is its focus on the institutions and individuals involved in the production and promotion of romanità; in which way, I challenge the notion that Fascist ideology was disseminated from the top down (i.e. from a monolithic totalitarian state to a passive society). An example of this occurs on p.99, when I discuss personality clashes between two leading specialists, the archaeologist Giulio Quirino Giglioli and Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, director of the regime’s Institute for Roman Studies. As this episode suggests, propagandistic initiatives could be motivated as much by professional rivalry and jealousy as by pure Fascist conviction.
Learn more about the book and author at Joshua Arthurs' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Joel Isaac's "Working Knowledge"

Joel Isaac is University Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Christ’s College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn, and reported the following:
In Working Knowledge, I offer a counter-history of the rise and decline of positivism in the human sciences. Against those who argue that the middle decades of the twentieth century witnessed a revolt against prevailing hardcore scientific approaches to the study of human affairs, I argue that some of the sources of so-called ‘postpostivist’ philosophy and social science are to be found in the writings and practices of those typically considered positivists. So I’m suggesting that the very categories we use to divide the modern history of the human sciences – positivism vs. antipositivism – don’t stand up well to historical scrutiny.

One of my major aims in the book is to insist that what have looked to many commentators like epochal clashes between opposing visions of knowledge are in fact the product of local differences of scientific culture. I’m pleased to see that this theme is given extended treatment on page 99 of Working Knowledge. A central strand in my argument is that practitioners of disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology were compelled to treat their own research and teaching practices as models of knowledge-making. This turn toward local, concrete practices of research was especially pronounced at Harvard University during the 1930s, where the human sciences had failed to attract institutional recognition. Harvard, I maintain, hosted an extensive ‘interstitial academy’ in which a variety of ambitious but institutionally undersupported thinkers were suspended between access to an organization of considerable wealth and opportunity, and marked indifference on the part of the university administration. They turned to their own practices to make good on claims to scientific respectability.

On page 99, I am proposing that psychology at Harvard fits this picture very well. It was at Harvard that psychology as a professional field took shape in the United States. Yet, after a review of the psychological research of William James and his colleagues at the turn of the century, I conclude that the ‘apparent prodigality of experimental psychology in late-Victorian Harvard was just that: apparent’. By the 1920s the Harvard psychologists remained under the tutelage of the Department of Philosophy, and were divided among themselves in theoretical precept and experimental practice. It was against this unhappy backdrop of marginalization and internal rivalry that the epistemological doctrine of ‘operationism’ – the theory that the meaning of a concept for a science was nothing more than the ‘operations’ through which it was applied – took root. This study of the local roots of operationism in psychology is one of several studies in the book of what I call ‘practice-oriented theories of knowledge’, whose development I trace up to the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.
Learn more about Working Knowledge at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Carol Quirke's "Eyes on Labor"

Carol Quirke teaches media studies and U.S. history at SUNY—College at Old Westbury where she is Associate Professor of American Studies.

Quirke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book Eyes on Labor: News Photography and America's Working Class, and reported the following:
Eyes on Labor: News Photography and America’s Working Class brings together two revolutions of the twentieth century: American workers’ epic struggle to achieve security through unions, and the virtual explosion of imagery in the news. (Not until 1942 was a Pulitzer awarded to a photograph—one sign that the medium had arrived!) Organized labor and corporations both harnessed news photography’s modern vitality and its apparent objectivity to make competing claims about workers and their unions.

The book’s cover suggests a conventional tale of industrial workers: white men, on the streets, demonstrating and striking for union representation. There was no right to a union in 1934, when the cover photo of the San Francisco general strike was taken. The National Labor Relations Act had not yet passed, and workers had not secured the law’s guarantees for themselves, as many corporations ignored the law until WWII. Page 99 [below] on the other hand, with its photos of unionists cavorting at a camp in the Catskills, redefined how Americans saw labor. The photos, from a 1938 LIFE magazine photo-essay about the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, make unionists look just like the youth and college co-eds that LIFE embraced as part of its portrait of the American good life.

The “page 99 test” points to the unexpected complexity of labor’s representation, which Eyes on Labor explores. The book charts labor’s portrayal from the late nineteenth century with the 1892 Homestead strike, to the 1911 Triangle Fire, to the 1919 strike wave. It analyzes LIFE along with two union newspapers, one of which had an unusual worker-run camera club. The book also addresses coverage of the infamous 1937 Memorial Day Massacre where police shot over a hundred demonstrators in Chicago, and a little studied strike at the Hershey Chocolate Company that catapulted into national news attention because of photographic evidence. Labor’s status was renegotiated in front of factories, before government officials, and in union halls and corporate boardrooms. But struggles over labor’s possibilities transpired in the pages of a national and visual news. News photos propelled workers into the American mainstream—workers were no longer “the other half.” But labor’s contradictory portrayal constricted, as well as widened, its potential. Photographs promoted rank-and-file passivity, divided workers amongst themselves, and narrowed the vision of unionism’s rewards. Today less than twelve percent of American workers are unionized—a historic low. Workers’ representation contributed to their political weakness.
Learn more about Eyes on Labor at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2012

Paul Friedland's "Seeing Justice Done"

Paul Friedland is an affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. His first book, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French Revolution (2002), was awarded the Pinkney Prize for the best book of the year by the Society for French Historical Studies.

Friedland applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France, and reported the following:
To be honest, I really wanted the page 99 test not to work for my book, as I couldn’t help thinking that the premise was a little silly. Well.... I hate to admit, but it does sort of work.

While the book as a whole explores the historical roots of modern capital punishment, this page focuses on a peculiar, and particularly important, aspect of all punishment: ritual expulsion and ostracism. Specifically, it describes an early medieval practice known as chrenecruda, in which individuals who had committed murder were required to throw dirt onto their own family members and then, “in a loose-fitting shirt, and barefoot, with a stick in his hand,” were supposed to jump over the fence of their property and banish themselves from the community. This ritual was related to the medieval practice of religious penance in which sinners would wear sackcloth and prostrate themselves before the entire congregation before being cast out of the community. As late as the 18th century, vestiges of this ritual of atonement and ostracism could still be seen in the ceremony of the amende honorable – the fine of honor – in which those condemned to death would publicly beg forgiveness, dressed in a loose-fitting shirt and carrying a large flaming candle.

From a facsimile of the original in Paul Lacroix, XVIIIme Siècle, institutions, usages et costumes: France 1700-1789 (Paris, 1885), p. 308.
While all of this may seem far removed from the present, I’m fairly sure that these pre-modern rituals lie at the origin of the modern practice of forcing prisoners to wear distinctive, loose-fitting clothing, visually setting apart from the rest of society as part of their punishment (and reminding us how imprisonment is, in the last analysis, a modern form of banishment).

As a whole, Seeing Justice Done focuses mainly on the history of capital punishment, and seeks to explain why executions were performed before enormous crowds of spectators and why these public performances became impractical in the modern period. So much has been written about punishment as a deterrent to crime that we tend to forget the ways in which it has functioned, both historically and in the present day, as a ritual of vengeance, atonement, redemption, and ostracism. In this sense, then, as reluctant as I may be to admit it, page 99 really does touch upon one of the most important themes in the book.
Learn more about Seeing Justice Done at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dennis Drabelle's "The Great American Railroad War"

Dennis Drabelle is author of Mile-High Fever. He has written for multiple publications and is currently a contributing editor and a mysteries editor for The Washington Post Book World. In 1996 he won the National Book Critics Circle’s award for excellence in reviewing. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Drabelle applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad, and reported the following:
Page 99 touches one of my book's twin "heroes" on a tender spot. That would be Ambrose Bierce (the subtitle is "How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took on the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad"), and on that page Bierce is setting off for England with his bride, Mollie. The trip is a gift from Mollie's wealthy parents, but the newlyweds intend to stay for a long while: Bierce has by now developed a reputation as an acid-penned journalist in San Francisco, and he hopes to parlay that into a good living in London, about which he has heard tales that make him starry-eyed.

As happened so often in Bierce's life, however, there were misunderstandings at both ends of the transaction. London might have been glittering and majestic in the early 1870s, but it didn't pay writers very well. And the Brits insisted on taking Bierce for a wild man of the West, whereas he wanted to be much more than that. In the end, he managed to produce a good deal of first-rate topical satire in England, but when this was collected in book form, the result disappointed him. He decided that, for all his way with words, and especially with barbed ones, his piecework didn't add up to all that much between hard covers.

The British interlude was only the first of several professional disappointments for Bierce, and their sum total made him especially eager to sink his teeth into a job of work two decades later, when his boss at the San Fransciso Examiner, William Randolph Hearst, sent Bierce to Washington, DC, to combat the Central Pacific's attempt to wangle a huge favor from Congress. Bierce rose to the occasion, defeating the much better-heeled railroad, and the sixty or so fiery articles he wrote while doing so add up to the masterpiece he was otherwise unable to write.
Learn more about The Great American Railroad War at the St. Martin's Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue