Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Nicholas Carnes's "White-Collar Government"

Nicholas Carnes is assistant professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He has worked as a cashier, bus boy, dishwasher, receptionist, and construction worker.

Carnes applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making, and reported the following:
Millionaires make up less than 3 percent of the country but constitute majorities of all three branches of the federal government. In contrast, people in working-class jobs account for more than half of the workforce, but less than 2 percent Congress comes from the working class.

White-Collar Government shines a spotlight on this startling economic gulf between ordinary Americans and the people who represent them in the halls of power. It’s the first book to show the true toll that government by the rich takes on our country.

Page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge] falls in Chapter 4. Chapters 2 and 3 show how the privileged politicians who dominate our governing institutions vote for more pro-business policies and pay less attention to problems like unemployment and poverty. In Chapter 4, I ask what makes them so different—and find that many affluent politicians (like affluent Americans) personally want the government to play a smaller role in economic affairs.

Page 99 actually summarizes this point, which is one of the book’s main arguments: “lawmakers sometimes base their choices on their own views, and those views are sometimes shaped by the kinds of jobs they had before they held office.”

But page 99 doesn’t mention some of the other important points the book makes. It doesn’t describe the staggering consequences that these differences ultimately have for economic policy (see Chapter 5). And it doesn’t mention the exciting possibilities for reform—it doesn’t discuss the promising new programs that are helping middle- and working-class Americans take back our political institutions (see Chapter 6).

Yet page 99 captures one important aspect of the book. Like page 99, White-Collar Government starts with statistics. Not in the literal sense, the way page 99 does (“. . . The third statistical model summarized in figure 4.4 controlled for . . .”). In general, the book keeps the statistical jargon to a minimum—it actually opens with a story about a house painter who ran for the House of Representatives. But the book isn’t just built on stories and anecdotes. White-Collar Government is political science, not political punditry. At every turn, the book is grounded in rigorous analyses of the best available data on the class backgrounds of politicians.

White-Collar Government makes some serious claims about the effects of government by the rich, but they aren’t just stories and anecdotes. They’re widespread and all-too-real threats to our most cherished political ideals.
Learn more about White-Collar Government at the University of Chicago Press website, and follow Nick Carnes on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Michael D. Matthews's "Head Strong"

Michael D. Matthews is Professor of Engineering Psychology at the United States Military Academy. He served as President of the American Psychological Association's Division of Military Psychology from 2007 to 2008 and is a Templeton Foundation Senior Positive Psychology Fellow. Collectively, his research interests center on Soldier performance in combat and other dangerous contexts.

Matthews applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Head Strong: How Psychology is Revolutionizing War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Head Strong begins a discussion of social network analysis (SNA) and how it can be used by the military to assess the cohesion of military units, identify soldiers who are at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or to identify potential terrorists. In brief, SNA analyzes the pattern, direction, and frequency of interpersonal contacts within a given group. For example, one of my army colleagues collected SNA data on several infantry platoons serving in combat. Compared to platoons with well developed social networks, soldiers assigned to platoons with fragmented social networks showed, when tested, much higher scores on a test of PTSD. The widely publicized case of the National Security Agency’s tracking of cell phone and email traffic represents another, and highly controversial, use of SNA. Modern computers have the power to detect patterns in the chaos of the billions of digital communications that occur each day, and to link them to potential terrorist threats. The overriding issue becomes, of course, how the right to privacy is weighed against the goal of protecting our citizens against potential terrorist activity.

In Head Strong, I discuss how psychology and related disciplines are more important than ever to selecting, training, and maintaining an effective military. Topics range from breakthrough developments in personnel selection, to preventing PTSD and promoting resilience, to the qualities and characteristics that 21st Century generals must possess to be effective in the types of conflicts we will face in coming years. I include a chapter on how psychological science can assist in the development of “super soldiers,” as well as a chapter on how developments in military psychology may improve the quality of life for all people.

War has always spurred scientific advances. For psychology, World War I gave birth to modern psychological testing methods, World War II led to the development of engineering psychology, and the Vietnam War resulted in enhanced understanding of PTSD and other stress-related pathologies. In Head Strong, I look at what changes in psychological science and practice will be driven by future wars. The lessons learned by military psychologists will have a profound effect our understanding of human behavior.

The views expressed in this blog entry are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Learn more about Head Strong at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Steven Casey's "When Soldiers Fall"

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the London School of Economics. His books include Cautious Crusade and Selling the Korean War, which won the Harry S. Truman Book Award. His new book, When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Casualties from World I to Afghanistan, is published by Oxford University Press in January 2014.

Casey applied the “Page 99 Test” to When Soldiers Fall and reported the following:
The idea that public support declines as combat casualties increase has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in American debates about war. Indeed, although challenged by numerous political scientists, it has become almost an iron rule, whose essential truth is frequently cited by analysts, commentators, and politicians alike; according to one account, it is even enshrined in current U.S. Army doctrine.

World War II offers the one exception to this rule. In the United States, the so-called “good war” remained popular to the end, despite the lengthening casualty rolls as American forces approached Berlin and Tokyo.

Page 99 of When Soldiers Fall focuses on the impact of casualties during the final phase of this war. In contrast to the simple claim that popular support wanes as casualties rise, this page—like the book as a whole—reveals a much more complex reality.

For a start, key voices in the domestic debate did not concentrate solely on current losses, but also speculated about the potential cost of invading Japan, with some predicting a U.S. death toll of up to one million. Crucially, such staggering prospective losses did little to undermine domestic support for an invasion. The memory of Pearl Harbor remained too raw, the fighting since 1941 too bitter.

Still, even during the “good war,” decision makers never entirely discounted the corrosive impact of excessive casualties. Roosevelt had long set the tone. Vividly recalling the public’s strong desire to remain out of the war before Pearl Harbor, FDR had constantly sought hi-tech, low cost ways of taking the fight to the Axis powers, from the strategic air campaign to constructing an atomic bomb.

In 1945, Roosevelt did not live to see the fulfillment of his technowar strategy. Instead, he bequeathed the decision about whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to his successor, Harry S. Truman. To discover Truman’s motives for using the bomb, as well his successors’ casualty-related actions in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, the reader will have to go beyond page 99 to the end of the book.
Learn more about When Soldiers Fall at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: When Soldiers Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 23, 2013

"The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff"

Nancy Bartley is or has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at American University in Bulgaria, a Seattle Times journalist, a writing teacher, and the author of short fiction as well as the 2013 book, The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff – the Redemption of Herbert Niccolls Jr., a work of narrative nonfiction.

Bartley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff and reported the following:
Father Flanagan of Boys Town fame arrives in Seattle, then a small bustling city with a cold-sea smell that drifted up from the waterfront where the fishing boats came in with the daily catch and farmers sold their products at the market on Pike Street. Flanagan is in Seattle for only one reason: He wants to meet Gov. Roland Hartley and try to convince Hartley to release the 12-year-old murderer Herbert Niccolls to Boys Town.

Flanagan also plans to meet Armene Lamson, who is introduced on Page 99. She's a Johns Hopkins-educated doctor's wife, and a well-connected denizen of pink teas and society balls. She knows how to get things done and she is determined to convince the governor to free the 12-year-old from the Washington State Penitentiary where he was sent after shooting Asotin County Sheriff John Wormell.

The shooting happened while Herbert was burglarizing a store to get something to eat. At one point the people of Asotin wanted to hang Herbert but instead he received a life sentence -- even though he was only 12 and the penitentiary wasn't set up for incarcerating juveniles.

What happened to Herbert is the stuff of movies and that's why I wrote the book. One thing for sure, he defied the odds. Who would ever think that a boy who was raised so poor he didn't own shoes and hid crusts of bread in the turkey house to have something to eat, would one day be rubbing shoulders with celebrities?
Learn more about the book and author at Nancy Bartley's website, and follow her on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder's "In Praise of Desire"

Nomy Arpaly received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and is now Associate Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. She is the author of Unprincipled Virtue as well as Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage and various articles. Timothy Schroeder grew up on the Canadian prairies, an environment that afforded him plenty of time for philosophical speculation. He received his B.A. from the University of Lethbridge and his Ph.D. from Stanford University, and is now Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ohio State University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, In Praise of Desire, and reported the following:
In Praise of Desire is a work of professional philosophy, aimed at people who want to think again about debates as old as Plato and Aristotle. Why do we do the morally good and bad things we do? What are virtue and vice? What are appetites and aversions? And so on. The discussion has been going on inside philosophy for over two thousand years, and by now it’s rather dryly technical. So it’s a little bit of a surprise to find that page 99 starts:
(We gleefully borrow all the clichés of the romance novel for this example.)
It’s not a completely out-of-character moment in the book, however: we like concrete examples. In the case of page 99, the topic is the nature of love and its relationship to wanting what’s best for the person you love. We wanted an example that would illustrate a point: you can want what’s best for a person, want it very much, without ulterior motives, and yet not feel any motivation to act on this desire. How is this possible? Well, imagine that Julian is a rogue and that he has come to love Veronica, who is madly in love with him. And imagine that Julian knows he will surely break Veronica’s heart, given enough time. Then Julian might decide to move away to a distant country in order to spare Veronica the pain that surely awaits her if they become more involved. (You see what we meant about clichés?) And once he has moved to a distant country, Julian will still very much want what’s best for Veronica (he’ll be distressed if he hears her family has lost its fortune, and so on), but never feel motivated to act on this desire.

Our book isn’t all examples by any means, but this sort of argument is definitely characteristic of our work.
Learn more about In Praise of Desire at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pippa Holloway's "Living in Infamy"

Pippa Holloway is Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University. She is the author of Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920-1945 and editor of Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to Present.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Living in Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship, and reported the following:
It is difficult but not impossible to connect this page to the larger argument of the book. Much of this page ties up loose ends from the chapter by discussing laws that were exceptions to the pattern I identify for the rest of the South.

But one paragraph on this page makes a reference to an important argument of the book: Laws disfranchising for crime in the post-Civil War South initially targeted African Americans as a means to deny the vote to these newly enfranchised citizens, but their scope shifted in the late nineteenth century. Virginia's laws are a good example of this pattern. In 1876 Virginia passed a law disfranchising for misdemeanor thefts, a provision explicitly planned as a way to target black voters. At the time white Virginia Democrats celebrated the law, with one newspaper exclaiming, “What sort of claim to participation in the matter of governing the country has a ‘chicken-thief’? It is an insult to the people entitled to vote that they should march up to the polls with chicken-thieves and sheep-stealers.”

However, by the late 19th century, more states in the South sought to disfranchise both blacks and whites due to the threat to Democratic rule posed by the Populist movement. The idea that all incarcerated individuals were degraded by their punishment and therefore unworthy of suffrage aided the political agenda of limiting suffrage for lower-class whites. Southern states passed laws that disfranchised a much broader segment of the population – all who had been incarcerated for felonies.

Disfranchising poor white men as well as black men who were (or had been) incarcerated had, by the end of the nineteenth century, become increasingly easy to accept. Life-long disfranchisement for all felons became the norm in the whole nation in the twentieth century, bringing us to the situation where we are today in which 5.85 million people across the nation can not vote due to criminal convictions.
Learn more about Living in Infamy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nicholas Agar's "Truly Human Enhancement"

Nicholas Agar is a New Zealand philosopher at Victoria University of Wellington working on ethical issues arising out of the application of new technologies - genetic, cybernetic etc - to human beings.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Truly Human Enhancement: A Philosophical Defense of Limits, and reported the following:
Truly Human Enhancement challenges the aspirations of those who seek to use technology to radically enhance human capacities. Page 99 launches readers into the debate about the implications of human intellectual limits for our understanding of the universe. Do the complexities of the universe give us reason to enhance our intellects? It would be a catastrophe for human science if we were smart enough to understand that there could be such a thing as a scientific Theory of Everything, but not quite smart enough to ever work it out.

The eminent biologist J. B. S. Haldane seems to endorse this view. In 1927 he said “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” The mind-bending complexities of quantum physics offer some support for this. We are befuddled by bosons and fermions. Maybe more fundamental levels of explanation pose truly insuperable obstacles to our human intellects. Richard Dawkins gives this thinking an evolutionary twist. At no point in our evolutionary history has an ability to understand bosons made a difference to our survival and reproduction. Using our evolved intellects to understand them is a bit like trying to use our lungs on the moon.

The theoretical physicist David Deutsch disagrees. He presents humans as universal explainers. Deutsch proposes that there’s nothing in the universe out of the reach of humans equipped with universal scientific explanations and hence no need to enhance our cognitive powers.

Chapter five of Truly Human Enhancement suggests that there is something self-defeating about intellectual enhancement as a means to better understand the universe. The very act of enhancing our intellects increases the requirements for a good scientific explanation. Very briefly, our scientific theories idealize – they simplify reality to make it tractable by human minds. More powerful intellects have different requirements for idealization. What they would view as an adequate Theory of Everything is therefore likely to be more complex than a version of the theory accepted by unenhanced human scientists.

Page 100 is great too.
Learn more about Truly Human Enhancement at Nicholas Agar's website and the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Billy G. Smith's "Ship of Death"

Billy G. Smith is Distinguished Professor of Letters and Science in the History Department of Montana State University, where he has won every major teaching and research award offered. He is the author or editor of eight books and dozens of articles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World, and reported the following:
Ship of Death excerpt from page 99:
‘Since our arrival on this island,’ he complained, ‘there has been hitherto, little or no order, no work done, everyone going whither he pleased and returning when he chose, whence the idleness and licentiousness of every description of persons have arisen to an intolerable height.’ Like John Smith in 1607 [leader of the first English colony in Virginia], Philip Beaver [half-pay British naval officer and self-appointed leader of the West-African colony on Bolama Island] decided to institute ‘the severest discipline. [. . .] The regulations of the British navy would become the basis of the new discipline imposed in the colony. As the rains continued, so torrential that nobody could work outdoors, Beaver drew up strict regulations about nearly every aspect of life in the colony. [...] Every morning the pioneers were required to fill the water barrels from the island streams and hoist them on board ship. Unknown to the settlers, in the process they would also renew their supply of yellow fever-carrying mosquitoes each day.
Philip Beaver was a British naval officer and idealist who was one of the organizers of the short-lived attempt to found a West-African colony on land purchased from West Africans and using hired rather than enslaved African labor. As conditions worsened at the colony, he took control of the venture and was the last person to abandon it. Page 99 details a moment early in the colonial effort, while the Ship of Death as a whole relates how this group of 18th-century English abolitionists tried to found a colony free of slavery in the disease-rich environment which would lead Europeans to name Africa “the white man’s graveyard.” The Hankey, one of the ships that brought Englishmen and women to West African, carried the few survivors back to England in 1793 via the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States, unwittingly taking along yellow fever-carrying mosquitoes that created a pandemic in the Atlantic world. The book links this voyage and its deadly cargo to some of the most significant events of the era—the success of the Haitian slave revolution, Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory, a change in the geopolitical situation of the new United States.
Learn more about Ship of Death at the Yale University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Ship of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 13, 2013

Maureen Ogle's "In Meat We Trust"

Maureen Ogle is a historian and the author of several books, including Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America, and reported the following:
Oh, page 99. I laughed when I realized what was on it: 300 words of narrative/explanation that had been born as some 15,000 or so words and then tried out in what are now chapters 2 and 3 and 5 and 6 before finally landing in Chapter 4. Which is another way of saying that I’m a historian, not a “writer.” I struggle to find and maintain a narrative. It’s a Major Life Moment when I finally distill the essence and figure out where that piece of the story should go.

In the case of page 99, it’s the height (or depths) of the Great Depression and I explain how and why a man named Jesse Jewell built a poultry-producing empire in northern Georgia. The page is part of a chapter that ranges from the early 20th century to the 1950s, and explains how and why “factory” farming emerged in the U. S. It was the hardest chapter to write (primarily because I had to figure out how to convey a great deal of information without turning the entire chapter into an information dump).

But because I decided to use Jewell as my “main character,” that meant I also had to understand and explain the creation of the modern poultry industry. Turned out, however, that there was essentially no existing research on that subject. I had to start from scratch and figure out what happened, when, and why.

When readers read page 99, they learn something about Jesse Jewell. When I read page 99, I see a three-month research slog and 15,000 words written in order to make sense of that research, all of it distilled to 300 words of digestible information. It is, in short, a page that reminds me why I’m so glad that this book is out of my brain and out of my hands.
Learn more about the book and author at Maureen Ogle's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell's "Counterinsurgency in Crisis"

David Ucko is currently an Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University as well as Adjunct Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King's College London.

Robert Egnell is a Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Teaching in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University as well as Associate Professor of War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Counterinsurgency in Crisis throws the reader into a case study of British operations in Helmand, Afghanistan. The chapter has at this stage carefully described the challenges the British troops faced in this hostile environment, and the difficulty with which they adapted to this largely unanticipated setting. The final sentence of page 99 summarizes this process harshly: “The operations launched in 2007-2010 can be described as a number of misguided attempts to overcome a poor start at the time of deployment, followed by the ill-conceived attempt to make up for such errors through a counterinsurgency approach entirely unsuited to the resources provided.”

Page 99 thereby touches upon a number of the book’s key features and arguments. The heart of the book is indeed a detailed account of British counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as of the institutional responses to adapt to the challenges faced in these operations.

Long considered the masters of counterinsurgency, the British military still encountered significant problems in Iraq and Afghanistan when confronted with insurgent violence. Its efforts to apply the counterinsurgency principles and doctrine of previous campaigns reveal critical disconnects in how counterinsurgency is today planned and prosecuted. What emerges from this analysis is a troubling gap between ambitions and resources, intent and commitment. For Britain, this means a need to engage in serious soul searching regarding its ambitions and role in the world. The analysis of how the British military has responded to this challenge, and how it has realigned priorities and policy all against a backdrop of a financial crisis, is not encouraging.

For the broader military and strategic studies community, the book engages in a more general debate regarding the appropriate lessons of a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. A key point made is that counterinsurgency is again (as after Vietnam) in danger of being pushed off the table. It is in crisis. Thus, there is a need to rethink this topic in order to salvage the valuable lessons learned over the past 10-15 years.

Indeed, so long as the operating environment looks as it does today, so long as the character of conflict looks as it does today, the lessons at the tactical level of the last ten years remain highly relevant. Even if we can debate the concept of counterinsurgency and its application today and tomorrow, the lessons of operating in urban environments, foreign languages and foreign cultures will be relevant also in the future. Expeditionary powers cannot escape these challenges.
Learn more about Counterinsurgency in Crisis at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hugh Wilford's "America's Great Game"

Hugh Wilford is a professor of history at California State University, Long Beach, and author of four books, including The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. He lives in Long Beach, California.

Wilford applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, and reported the following:
Page 99, it turns out, is a pivotal moment in my narrative!

Some background first: my book is about a moment during the 1940s and ‘50s when US government officials, including officers of the just-founded CIA, first entered the Middle East in significant numbers. This was a time of surprising idealism. Unlike the imperialist British and French, Americans had a benevolent reputation in the Arab world, and US officials wanted to help nationalists there throw off the last shackles of western colonial domination. However, it was only a few short years before other impulses in American foreign policy got the upper hand: Cold War anti-communism (many officials watching from Washington confused Arab nationalism with communism), growing US support for Israel, and, amongst the spies of the CIA, an appetite for personal adventure in the romantic, exotic surroundings of the “Orient.”

On page 99, the year is 1949, and the focus of CIA attention is the newly independent country of Syria, where democratically elected politicians are struggling to deal with sectarian conflicts left over from the days of French colonialism and the impact of defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war. The first chief of CIA covert operations in the Middle East, Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt (a grandson of Theodore), is in Washington musing about how to respond to the situation in Syria, which he fears is opening the country up to communist penetration. Before he had strongly advocated US support for the forces of Arab nationalism and democracy. Now, though, he is not so sure.

Later on the page, the scene shifts to Syria itself and the arrival in Damascus of a new CIA operative, Stephen Meade. “A tough-looking, muscular, ‘James Bond kind of character’,” as the son of a colleague remembered him, Meade soon worked his way into the confidence of a colonel in the Syrian army, Husni Zaim, who in March 1949 staged a coup against the country’s civilian government and installed himself as dictator, with Meade as his chief American advisor. Later, in August 1949, Zaim was himself overthrown, and Syria was set on a course of military coups and countercoups that culminated years afterward in the Assad regime.

Kim Roosevelt’s earlier vision of a US alliance with Arab nationalism did not die out in Syria – as my book goes on to recount, he personally befriended and secretly supported the leading Arab nationalist of the era, Gamal Nasser of Egypt – but if any single event marked the moment when the CIA began its turn from idealism toward adventurism and the playing of spy games in the Middle East, it was Husni Zaim’s coup of March 1949.
Learn more about America's Great Game at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jennifer Michael Hecht's "Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It"

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of four history books, including the best-selling Doubt: A History, and three volumes of poetry. Her work has won major awards in intellectual history and in poetry. Hecht teaches in the Creative Writing Program at New York University and The Graduate Writing Program of The New School University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, and reported the following:
I like page 99, it is about a person I enjoyed getting to know in my research, a guy named John Henley. Henley published a book called Cato Condemned in 1730, in which he argued that the famed Roman statesman Cato was wrong to kill himself. My page 99 shows that Henley knew – better than many people today – that though the ancient world sometimes celebrated a particular suicide, mostly the ancients rejected suicide. One line I enjoy a lot says “…for Henley suicide represents not courage but cowardice or desperation, not honor but shame, and not liberty but slavery to one’s passions.” Many people today speak of suicide as the ultimate act of liberty, so I like that Henley reminds his reader that one can also be a slave to one’s own passions. Page 99 doesn’t reveal the whole book, in that the book contains many powerful arguments against suicide, and it reminds us of the good we do for the world simply by staying in it, by rejecting suicide. Then again, for every twenty people who thank me for offering a conceptual barrier against suicide, there are one or two who fiercely defend their right to leave life whenever they want. So Henley is a nice way to represent the book because he had to take some heat for his position. He was writing at a time when the Church was cruelly punishing attempted suicides, and torturing the corpses of completed suicides, and he despised that, but he still wanted to encourage people to live. The progressive thinkers around him often took the opposing side, and called in the ancient philosophers as witnesses for their side, but Henley knew better. In our culture today there is no secular argument against suicide, and like Henley, I’d like to make sure people are aware that such arguments exist. Culture can lend us strength and courage, but only if we know about it.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Michael Hecht's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Charlotte Biltekoff's "Eating Right in America"

Charlotte Biltekoff is Assistant Professor of American Studies & Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. Previously, she was a chef at Greens, a well-known vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health, and reported the following:
Eating Right in America definitely passes the page 99 test. The most important thing I want people to learn from this book is that dietary advice is always both empirical and ethical. It provides rules about what to eat that also operate as guidelines for making oneself into a certain kind of person; responsible, moral, a good citizen. Usually dietary advice is based on scientific nutrition. Its quantitative rules obscure the ideas about what it means to be a good person that are inevitably embedded in advice about how to be a good eater. On page 99 (among other things) I sum up my discussion of a reversal of this dynamic that, nonetheless, gets to the heart of the book’s main argument. Rather than providing empirical norms that obscure ethical content, the alternative food movement foregrounds “eating as an ethical act” and obscures empirical norms that are in some ways actually more binding than those of scientific nutrition.

The alternative food movement eschews a narrow focus on nutrients in favor of a more systemic approach to a “good diet,” one that takes into account the relationship between food, the environment, and social well being. Knowledge, responsibility and pleasure are the core principles of eating right, replacing the stringent rules and self-denial of scientific nutrition with a far more sensual and overtly ethical ethos. But just as we need to learn to see the moral precepts that are obscured by the seemingly objective, quantitative language of nutritionally oriented dietary advice, we also need to learn to see the rules that lurk within the overtly ethical language of alternative food discourses of eating right. Not all pleasures are condoned; there are rules that designate some pleasures authentic and responsible and others deluded and dangerous. Furthermore, instead of simply following rules, as eaters are expected to within the realm of scientific nutrition, here eaters must like it too! This is pleasure harnessed rather than repressed, a subtle but significant expansion of the scope of dietary advice and the purview of dietary reform deeper into our very selves.
Learn more about Eating Right in America at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Matthew Pratt Guterl's "Seeing Race in Modern America"

Matthew Pratt Guterl is professor of Africana studies and American studies at Brown University and is the author of American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation among other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Seeing Race in Modern America, and reported the following:
I remember writing this page. I was a fellow at the Humanities Research Center, Rice University, living in my apartment in Martel College. It was the winter of 2010. And I wrote this while a SciFi movie marathon played in the background, offering ambient noise for the click-and-clack of my laptop. I remember these details because this was a fun chapter to write - perhaps because in the background of my composition there was a parade of mega-sharks and giant squid and earthquakes and stuff.

The 99th page of this book takes us, in one breath, from the 1970s to the present, or from Dorothy Debolt to Angelina Jolie. More specifically, at the top of the page I conclude my discussion of a scene in the award-winning, early 1970s documentary about the De Bolt family, where Dorothy sits at a piano with two of her daughters - one African American and the other Asian. What, I ask, are we supposed to be looking at here?

This page lies near the end of a chapter about transnational adoption, and more specifically about the way that big, multiracial families are often described as symbolically important. Important, I say here, because they help us to see race, to attend to the difference between skin tones and colors. They are built to be seen.

The chapter, in turn, sits in the middle of a section of the book, a section on mixed racial ensembles, and on the way they encourage us to see diversity and common cause at the same time. The chapter immediately after this one, for instance, is on the multiracial platoon, broadly conceived, from the Village People to the movie Predator.

And this section, finally, sits in the middle of the book, titled Seeing Race, which takes up the question of how and why we come to see what we see. The first section of the book (there are three) dwells on close readings of the racial body, from racial profiling to advertising to silhouetting. The third and last section of the book explores those bodies in which - or on which - it can be a challenge to see race. Hybrid bodies. Ambiguous bodies. Passing bodies.

If you were just to read page 99, though, you'd think the book was just about transnational adopted families, and about how they structure our sightlines.
Learn more about Seeing Race in Modern America at the University of North Carolina Press website, and visit Matthew Pratt Guterl's blog.

The Page 99 Test: American Mediterranean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Leslie Morgan Steiner's "The Baby Chase"

Leslie Morgan Steiner lives in Washington, DC with her husband and three young children. Her 2009 memoir about surviving domestic violence, Crazy Love, was a New York Times bestseller, People Pick, Book of the Week for The Week magazine, and subject of the first TED Talk by a domestic violence survivor.

Steiner applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Baby Chase is filled with pictures of the Wile family! So I have to quote from p. 100 instead. And yes, I think this single page completely captures the book and how much I enjoyed getting to know Rhonda and Gerry Wile and writing the amazing story of how they overcame infertility.
The first issue to address when Gerry and Rhonda started their baby making was Gerry’s…ahem…vasectomy.

Astoundingly, he had not told Rhonda about the operation during their courtship, the early years of marriage, or their many, many conversations about how much Rhonda wanted a family.

"It just never came up," Gerry says now, as if still trying to mask the significance of his omission. But really, what had stopped him from confiding in Rhonda for nearly six years was that he didn’t want to risk losing her. He knew how much she longed for a family. He figured he would fix the vasectomy without the girl of his dreams ever finding out about it.

In 2004, after he and Rhonda had started to talk seriously about starting a family, but while he was still deployed in Iraq, Gerry moved forward with a solution. Fourteen years before, the Canadian military doctors had performed a simple vasectomy, cutting the vas deferens tube, removing a small portion of it, and bending the cut section backwards, as one would fold over the tip of a plastic straw. Gerry consulted a military doctor and made plans to have the surgery reversed. He didn’t tell Rhonda. No confrontation, no tears, no betrayal. There was simply no need to upset her.

His vasectomy could be reversed with a relatively simple operation, the military doctor who’d examined Gerry explained, via a detailed email, sent to their home email address in Florida, read by…

Rhonda Wile.

That’s how Rhonda found out her new husband could not father the children she’d always dreamed of having. In an email, followed by an official letter, both meant for Gerry. Not easy for a woman whose first husband had been a compulsive liar.

Rhonda was stunned. And furious. And flabbergasted. Had she given her heart away, again, to a deceitful man?

With Gerry still in Iraq, Rhonda bit back her instinct to confront him. This was not a conversation to have via satellite phone. Although she was experiencing an emotional war zone, Gerry lived every day in a real war zone. She simmered and wondered what the hell Gerry had been thinking. She tried to smile and chitchat during their daily phone calls. For the next several months.

She felt sick at the thought of not being able to have children. Would she ever be able to forgive him? Did she love Gerry enough to stay with him, if that meant never having the babies she had dreamed of since she was a small girl watching Happy Days, playing dress up, and devouring her Eat-More candy bars?

“I didn’t know if I could,” Rhonda explains today, closing her eyes and shaking her head silently.

What hurt even more than the devastating news about Gerry’s vasectomy was that he had lied to her. Rhonda valued honesty above almost every other quality, in herself and her relationships. The betrayals in her first marriage had left her with an insistence on candor in every nook and cranny of her friendships, professional relationships, and most of all, in love. Without honesty, she couldn’t trust Gerry, or how she felt about anything in their marriage.

The day Gerry came home, she was overjoyed to see him back safe and sound, despite her questions and deferred rage. Rhonda waited as long as she could. She lasted close to four hours.

As they sat next to each other on their bed, she silently handed him the doctor’s note.

Gerry read a few lines. Then his face, filled with joy seconds before, crumpled. He buried his head in his large, calloused hands. He began to cry.

What he said next – the first words out of his mouth – deflated Rhonda’s rage, because she knew it was the truth.
Read more about The Baby Chase at Leslie Morgan Steiner's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Baby Chase.

Writers Read: Leslie Morgan Steiner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 29, 2013

Alan Mikhail's "The Animal in Ottoman Egypt"

Alan Mikhail is Professor of History at Yale University. He is a historian of the early modern Muslim world, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt whose research and teaching focus mostly on the nature of early modern imperial rule, peasant histories, environmental resource management, and science and medicine.

Mikhail is the author of Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History and editor of Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Animal in Ottoman Egypt, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us in Egypt’s dogdom. It relates how changes in the social function of dogs led to changes in human attitudes toward the animal. Dogs in Cairo were historically what pigs were in New York City—sanitation workers. They consumed the city’s waste, thereby forging a productive social and economic niche for themselves among human communities. At the turn of the nineteenth century, more and more people relocated to Cairo, ideas about disease radically changed, garbage was moved outside the city’s walls, and the metropolis underwent a massive campaign of construction and urban transformation. These and other phenomena all dealt a critical blow to dogs. Humans now saw them as interspecies competitors for space, mangy potential disease vectors, useless noisemakers, and threats to ideas of civilization emerging in the period. The end result? Widespread dog eradication campaigns in Cairo (and other Egyptian cities) in the first third of the nineteenth century. For the first time since the founding of Cairo in the seventh century CE, dogs were purposely separated from humans.

This separation of species is one of the overarching processes followed in The Animal in Ottoman Egypt. In its three parts, the book traces how three classes of animals were actively separated from human animals through different historical mechanisms and forces. The three classes of animals are domesticated laboring animals, dogs, and charismatic megafauna. The interspecies separations the book examines all occurred between 1750 and 1850. This was a period in which Egypt, like many other parts of the world, experienced massive social, political, environmental, and economic changes. Egypt became increasingly autonomous as a province of the Ottoman Empire, beginning a move toward independence. Its cities grew in size. Its economy became increasingly enmeshed in global commercial networks and capitalist modes of exchange. The Animal in Ottoman Egypt argues that what happened to Egyptian animals’ relationships to humans was part and parcel of these other transformations.

To be specific—the story of domestic work animals explains fundamental changes in Egypt’s labor regime that saw humans replace animals as the preferred and dominant means of labor in the countryside. Page 99 and its neighbors elucidate how the history of Egypt’s dogs explains wider changes in understandings of urban sanitation, health, and the human and animal body. And the changing social, economic, and political roles of charismatic megafauna track Egypt’s shifting position in the nineteenth century’s global capitalist economy.
Learn more about the book and author at Alan Mikhail's website and the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christopher M. Davidson's "After the Sheikhs"

Christopher Davidson is reader in Government and International Affairs at Durham University, a former visiting associate professor at Kyoto University, and a former assistant professor at Zayed University in the UAE. He is the author of several books on the politics and international affairs of the Gulf states, including Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, and The Persian Gulf and Pacific Asia: From Indifference to Interdependence.

Davidson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, and reported the following:
Page 99:
…competitive research grants—it is likely that it will hope to get more from the same pot in the future. In these circumstances junior members of staff or postgraduate students tend to feel uncomfortable discussing either the source of the funding or pursuing sensitive topics relating to the donor country. It is almost inconceivable, for example, to imagine an aca­demic with no alternative source of income researching and writing a serious critique of a regime that has either paid for his or her salary, schol­arship, or the building that houses his or her office. In many leading uni­versities this is now no longer a possible scenario, but instead a likely one.

In addition to promoting self-censorship, the donations also tend to encourage the steering of academic debate away from the Gulf monar­chies themselves—and especially studies on their domestic politics or societies—by instead promoting research on ‘safer topics’ in the broader region or on Arabic language or Islamic Studies. Indeed, the latter two fields are particularly palatable as they provide further support for the monarchies’ attempts to build up cultural and religious legitimacy resources. In Saudi Arabia’s case the funding of leading Islamic Studies centres also seems to be part of an effort to make the Saudi state’s highly controversial interpretation of Islam more ‘mainstream’ and acceptable, at least in scholarly and government circles. What all of this will soon lead to (and in some cases already has led to) is an academic discipline that carefully skirts around the key ‘red line’ subjects such as political reform, corruption, human rights, and the prospects of revolution—as these are usually perceived by university fundraisers and executives as likely to anger or antagonise their Gulf patrons. As such, this particu­lar stream of funding is in some ways an even more powerful and sen­sitive soft power strategy for the Gulf monarchies, as it is not primarily aimed at influencing public or even government-level opinion in the West. Rather its more subtle objective is to sway academic opinion in the West, or at the very least foster a ‘chilling atmosphere’ of apologetic behaviour or avoidance when it comes to intellectual discussion of the Gulf monarchies.

The historic links between Britain and the region have meant that the Gulf monarchies have been particularly attracted to funding British uni­versities, and these currently represent the best examples of the strategy. Indeed, it is now difficult to find any leading British institution focusing on the Middle East that has not received all of the varieties of gifts. Exeter University, home to Britain’s only centre for Gulf Studies…
Page 99 of After the Sheikhs is the beginning of a section on how ruling family members and their affiliated foundations have sought to channel huge donations into those departments of leading western universities that have historically taught on or done research on Middle East politics or Islamic studies. The Gulf monarchies’ aim, as part of a broader oil-financed soft power campaign in the opinion-making centres of their Western military protectors, is to encourage self-censorship among potentially critical academics and in general to steer debates away from controversial topics such as domestic Gulf politics, human rights, or civil society, while also normalizing the controversial Saudi interpretation of Islam within elevated intellectual circles.
Visit Christopher M. Davidson's website.

The Page 99 Test: Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond.

Writers Read: Christopher M. Davidson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thomas Suddendorf's "The Gap"

Thomas Suddendorf is a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland whose research has attracted honors and awards from such organizations as the American Psychological Association, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Association for Psychological Science. His work has been covered by the New York Times, Discover, and Science, among other outlets. Born and raised in Germany, he lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Suddendorf applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals, and reported the following:
In The Gap I explore why we are the peculiar creatures that we are. What differentiates us from other animals and enabled us to dominate the planet? About half of the book examines the most common proposals about what sets us fundamentally apart from the rest: language, foresight, mind-reading, intelligence, culture, and morality. I find that various animals, in particular our closest animal relatives the great apes, have sophisticated capacities in even these domains. Nonetheless, in each of these contexts the human ability is special for recurring reasons. In particular, two profound characteristics keep re-emerging as critical: our deep-seated drive to exchange our thoughts, and our ability to imagine alternative scenarios (be they about past, future or entirely fictional events) and embed them into larger narratives.

Page 99 illustrates these two characteristics in the context of our capacity to travel mentally in time. As you well know, we can think about how events unfolded or what the future might hold. By comparing alternative routes to the future and deliberately selecting one plan over another we gain a sense of free will and an edge over creatures with less foresight. However, this also burdens us with the responsibility for getting it right. We are not clairvoyants. Constructing clever scenarios of the future is a complex skill that draws on many components (I compare it to what is involved in putting on a play in a theatre) and on page 99 I highlight how we frequently get it wrong — as well as how our urge to connect our minds was critical in turning this fallible system into a powerful adaptive strategy that harnesses our collective wit.
…spectacular miscalculations can be found among the annual winners of the Darwin Awards. We will never know what exactly a wheelchair-driving 2010 winner was anticipating would happen when, after missing a closing elevator, he decided to impatiently ram the door until it broke down—only to fall into the now-empty shaft. Most of our foresight errors are minor by comparison, leading to inconvenience or embarrassment. You may fail to usefully imagine the future because of shortcomings in any one of the components in the theater metaphor. Stage: you may fail to disengage from the present to imagine the future—perhaps like that wheelchair driver. Actors: you may miscalculate how others will feel or act—as so often happens in pranks. Set: you may misjudge physical relations—say, when you think the boat could surely take a much heavier load. Playwright: you may fail to generate the relevant scenarios—and you later have to admit that you didn’t think of this or that. Director: you may not have practiced for the future sufficiently—leading you to look distinctly underprepared. Producer: you may end up selecting the wrong plan—d’oh! There are countless ways in which our attempted foresight can let us down.

However, we have radically improved our chances of getting it right through a wonderfully effective trick: we share our plans and predictions with others. We can transmit our mental plays and reflections to audiences around us and, in turn, consider their thoughts. In preparing a speech, it can be helpful to rehearse it not only in our mind but also in front of a friend. We can learn from others’ memory and foresight, and listen to comments on ours. Indeed, we have a deep-seated drive to broadcast our minds and to read what is on the minds of others—to foreshadow the next chapter. And we have an extraordinarily effective way of exchanging our mind travels through language—to remind you of the previous chapter. Language is ideally suited for this mental exchange, and much of human conversation is indeed about past events (who did what to whom, and what happened next) and future events (what will happen to whom, and what we are going to do about it). By exchanging our experiences, plans, and advice, we have vastly increased our capacity for accurate prediction. In Stumbling on Happiness the psychologist Dan Gilbert discusses errors and biases in our foresight and argues that the most reliable way to predict a situation is to ask people who have experienced something similar. Indeed, for much of our past the stories of our fellow tribespeople would have been all we had to go by.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Suddendorf's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lewis Perry's "Civil Disobedience"

Lewis Perry is John Francis Bannon, S.J., Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Saint Louis University. His previous books have dealt with anarchism, antislavery movements, American intellectual life, and moral problems in history.

Perry applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings us to a meandering passage in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in which Henry David Thoreau reviews his famous brush with the law and night in jail in 1846. He goes on to quote (and translate) Antigone’s defiance of King Creon’s death sentence as illegitimate under divine law. Thoreau learned his Greek at Harvard, but in his allegiance to timeless law he was dissociating himself from a view of ethics he had encountered as a student. He kept his copy of William Paley’s Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy in his library but rejected its preference for expediency and public “conveniency” in ethical decision making. He upheld instead the call of conscience and the eternal claims of justice: “This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war with Mexico, though it costs them their existence as a people.”

It will be no surprise to find discussion of Thoreau in a book devoted to exploring an American tradition of civil disobedience from the colonial period to the present. The surprise may be that it has taken more than ninety pages to get there. That is because I emphasize the role of predecessors – colonial protesters against religious injustice, missionary champions of American Indian nations, fugitives from slavery, benevolent women reformers – in creating a tradition. Thoreau’s greatest significance came in the 20th century, after he had been discovered by Mahatma Gandhi in India and South Africa and cited in defenses of civil disobedience by a succession of American dissenters and activists from the 1930s on. His influence would eventually be deplored by leaders who worried about the instability of democracy, while it was glorified by dissenters from national policy, and adopted in defense of activist law breakers in courtrooms and popular books.
Learn more about Civil Disobedience at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Matthew Buchholz's "Alternate Histories of the World"

Matthew Buchholz is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film & Television Production.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alternate Histories of the World, and reported the following:
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Page 99 of Alternate Histories of the World is a full-page picture. My book alternates between over 90 full-page images of monsters, robots, and zombies rampaging through human history, and accompanying pages of descriptive text. It’s also a book that started from my online Alternate Histories store (AlternateHistories.com) which is entirely image-based.

Page 99 shows a recruiting poster for the Canadian Mounted Rifles “Monster Corps” (Canada’s Crack Calamity and Colossus Corp) - [Canada’s] First Line of Defence Against Monsters, Zombies, Aliens, and Other Unearthly Creatures.” In the picture an officer is seated on his horse using field glasses to spy on a UFO destroying a small town.

In the book, this Canadian Monster Corps plays a significant part in explaining why we don’t have monsters & zombies running around in modern times. I posit that the Canadians in the 1920s started this Monster Corps program and staffed it with battle-hardened veterans of World War I. These officers, later assisted by Mechanical Man Philip J. Gearsworthy, set up the beginnings of protocols designed to deal with outbreaks of the zombie virus, gigantic monsters smashing tall buildings, and robots rising up to destroy their creators.

In a later page of the book (pp. 104-105), I discuss the United States’ similar but more more extensive efforts after World War II, with the creation of the S.M.A.S.H. (Stop Monsters And Save Humanity) Squads who used these Canadian techniques and combined them with American technology, industry, and that can-do spirit. Eventually they managed to essentially wipe out the scourge of monsters, contain the zombie virus, and hold back alien invading forces.

The rest of my book deals with these monsters & creatures running rampant through our past, and these two pages are a feeble (if hopefully amusing) attempt to explain why you, the reader, were not aware that a robot helped to write the Declaration of Independence. Better to think of the book as a product of another universe, one where supernatural creatures roamed freely. An Alternate History, if you will.
Visit Matthew Buchholz's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Matthew Buchholz and Otis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 22, 2013

Susan D. Carle's "Defining the Struggle"

Susan Carle teaches legal ethics, anti-discrimination law, labor and employment law, and torts at American University Washington College of Law. She writes primarily about the history of social change lawyering, anti-discrimination law, and topics at the intersections between civil rights, employment, and labor law. In the past she has been a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, and union-side labor lawyer.

Carle applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915, and reported the following:
It takes courage to apply the page 99 test to one’s own work with honesty, though honesty may be the most important virtue of a writer. So I will try: Defining the Struggle tells the story of the civil rights leaders of the late nineteenth and earliest years of the twentieth century who started to develop the ideas that would lead to the rich and multifaceted campaign for racial justice in the United States, which eventually grew into the later twentieth century civil rights movement. As a legal historian, I wanted to convince other legal historians of the importance of this largely overlooked “prehistory” of legal civil rights organizing, but I also desperately wanted to write a book that would be accessible and interesting to a more general readership. Did I accomplish this? I believe the page 99 test shows I did, in part. That page begins a discussion of the founding of the longest-lasting national civil rights organization of the turn of the century period: The National Afro American Council, which lasted for a decade before essentially merging with other efforts to become the NAACP. It describes the Afro American Council’s founding in the midst of a celebration of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. Dignitaries in attendance included famous suffragette and good friend of Douglass Susan B. Anthony, thus reflecting the connection some of the more visionary leaders of this period (though not all) saw between the campaigns for racial equality and for women’s rights. Also active in the proceedings was the now-famous anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. Wells was known for her blunt speaking style, and she shared her ideas about who would be best to lead this new organization; her thoughts were heeded in the appointment of the savvy organization-builder Alexander Walters, the youngest-ever bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, to head this new organizing effort. The “standard story” holds that the African American civil rights leaders of this period were almost all descendants of a free black elite, but this hardly describes the backgrounds of either Wells or Walters, who were both born enslaved and moved into national leadership roles despite very modest economic and educational backgrounds.

Does this snippet whet one’s appetite for more? The answer to that question probably depends on one’s personal taste for historical accounts that seek to revise standard stories and settled judgments of who counts as historical figures of enduring importance. Thus page 99 is a terrific litmus test: This book will appeal if one is interested in the kind of story it tells, but the writer’s talents are such that it might not convert a reader’s interest absent an underlying enthusiasm for stories about history’s forgotten heroes.
Learn more about Defining the Struggle at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Defining the Struggle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ronen Shamir's "Current Flow"

Ronen Shamir is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University and author of The Colonies of Law: Colonialism, Zionism and Law in Early Mandate Palestine (2000) and Managing Legal Uncertainty: Elite Lawyers in the New Deal (1996).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine, and reported the following:
What does it mean to be 'connected'? Or 'wired'? Page 99 is part of the third chapter of a book which aspires to theorize electricity-consumers as sociological types (and internet or cellular consumers as well for that matter). Page 99 invites us to think of the seemingly mundane electric-meter. This age-old device – beyond its official role as a reader of electric consumption calculated on the basis of Kilowatt per Hour – is an object which creates a boundary between the public domain ('the main distribution system') and the private domain (private premises and households). It is a foundational assembly, one among many such micro-sites where the distinction between the public and the private are performed and affirmed. Page 99 also notes that this division allows for stratification: The main distribution system is nominally egalitarian; once in place, it offers equal opportunity for all to 'connect' and consume electricity. The reading of meters, where the private sphere lies, is where asymmetry begins. The reading of meters facilitates the ability to measure and compare different amounts of consumption and to classify types of consumers (big, small, domestic, commercial etc.).

Now consider the sociological status of the consumer in and on such assemblies. Consumers are at once subjects with contractual rights and obligations, and objects which function as crucial contact-points for the circulating electric current. On the one hand, the consumer is a product of an “objective” material connection to a grid; on the other hand, this materiality depended on one’s “subjectivity”: a willing attachment to the grid. The constitution of the electric-consumer, then, may be better captured by considering the irreducibility of social identities on and in grids: at once elements attached to a network and actors whose connection allows such networks to circulate their 'materials'. But of course, in order to understand more about the social properties of electric grids and the social divisions they create, you need to read more than one page!
Learn more about Current Flow at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mical Raz's "What’s Wrong with the Poor?"

Mical Raz, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and historian of medicine. She is author of The Lobotomy Letters: The Making of American Psychosurgery.

Raz applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, What's Wrong with the Poor?: Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty, and reported the following:
Page 99 of What’s Wrong with the Poor? finds us in the middle of a discussion of early intervention programs, and it begins in introducing Project Head Start. This is particularly apt, as Head Start is one of the best-known legacies of the War on Poverty, and as I argue in the chapter, was based on theories of deprivation. The debate over Head Start demonstrates how theories of mental health and development were utilized in discussions of poverty, its causes and its prevention. In particular, these theories highlighted the role of deprivation, focusing on what was it that poor men, women and children lacked.

Throughout the book, I look at different theories of deprivation, which focused on a wide range of experiences mental health experts believed low income children were lacking. These perceptions were deeply stereotyped. Parents were described as non-verbal, mothers failed to adequately stimulate their children, homes were drab and colorless, and there were no books or educational toys for the children to play with. Low income children were seen as lacking the necessary stimuli for mental and psychological development, and hence early intervention programs were designed to provide that which these children lacked in their homes.

Project Head Start set out to combat these deficiencies. While the goal to provide quality educational experience for the poor may have been laudable, it was based on flawed and racialized perceptions of low income families and children, many of whom were African American. Rather than focusing on the strengths and resilience of low income families and examining the structural causes of racial and socioeconomic inequality in American society, theories of mental health provided policy makers a means by which to turn poverty into an intra-psychic deficiency. This view of poverty led to funding priorities that privileged mental health and educational interventions, thus circumventing a discussion of the structural factors that create and perpetuate such disparities within American society. What’s Wrong with the Poor? examines the interrelations between mental health and public policy and asks how can we effectively combat poverty without pathologizing the poor.
Learn more about What's Wrong with the Poor? at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Emily Mayhew's "Wounded"

Emily Mayhew is a Research Associate at Imperial College London and an examiner at the Imperial College School of Medicine. She is a consultant and lecturer to museums including the Wellcome Collection, the Imperial War Museum and the Royal College of Surgeons.

Mayhew applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I, and reported the following:
Anyone reading page 99 of Wounded - A New History of the Western Front in the First World War would find the material puzzlingly unrepresentative. There is a nurse, to be sure, but the page is mostly about other residents of the Field Hospital where she worked - a bandy-legged fox who stole from the hospital garbage, a posh French hunting dog rescued from No Mans Land by the chief surgeon- and the social activities that took place when the Field Hospital wasn't receiving battle casualties. The animals patrolled the food stores and kept the rats down and were used as therapy in the wards by the nurses who encouraged patients to get back on their feet by taking them for walks in the nearby woods. Half the page is taken up with a description of a game that was popular among the medical staff: a paper chase, also known as Hare and Hounds, where a trail of paper shreds was laid in the nearby countryside and then one member of staff was chased by the others. The first to arrive back at the Field Hospital was the winner, either a Hare or a Hound. Not much war there - but there are hints. The nurse, Winifred Kenyon, has mixed feelings about encouraging her patients to walk the animals. If they are strong enough to walk, then soon they will be strong enough to go back to their battalions and fight again. It is the patients who lie in bed tearing up old newspapers to make the trail for the paper chase game, testifying to the strong social bonds they have with their carers. Nurses and orderlies move them out of their wards to watch the game in the sunshine, cheer the runners on and keep a surreptitious book on likely winners. The Field Hospital, closer to the front line than it is to any of the towns or military camps to the rear, is a world of its own, self-sustaining and kept both medically and socially effective by its nurses. Closer to the war than any women before them, the nurses developed very particular expertise and skills to respond to the nightmare of casualty on the Western Front. From complex resuscitation techniques, to the care of the dying, the breaking of bad news to soldiers with limb loss or other serious wounds, to the vital social life that kept everyone together and sane, all of it was dependent on the nurses and their dedication to their patients and their colleagues in an extraordinary time of war and sacrifice.
Learn more about Wounded at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2013

Stephen Kosslyn & G. Wayne Miller's "Top Brain, Bottom Brain"

Stephen M. Kosslyn was a cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Harvard University for over 30 years and now serves as the founding dean of the Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute. G. Wayne Miller is an author, filmmaker and Providence Journal Staff Writer.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights into How You Think, and reported the following:
On page 99 we examine a question readers may have as they learn about our new Theory of Cognitive Modes: What determines a person’s dominant cognitive mode? Is it genes or experience – nature or nurture – or a combination?

Some background: Our theory of how people prefer to interact with the world and with others is based on the anatomical division of the brain into its top and bottom parts. Why not left and right, which holds that individuals are either analytical/logical, or artistic/intuitive? Because that pop-culture story has no solid basis in science. In Top Brain, Bottom Brain, we debunk this myth as background introduction to our theory.

Our Theory of Cognitive Modes, based on decades of solid research that until now has remained largely inside scientific circles, states that the anatomical division of the brain into top and bottom parts provides a better foundation for understanding thought and behavior.

The top part is involved in setting up plans, controlling movements, registering changes in where objects are located in space, and detecting when expected events do not occur and updating plans accordingly. The bottom part is involved in classifying and interpreting what we perceive, and allows us to confer meaning on the world. We all use both parts of the brain, but we vary in the degree that we tend to rely on each of the two brain systems for functions that are optional -- are not dictated by the immediate situation.

Unlike left/right, we do not focus on one part or the other. Instead, we focus on how the two parts interact – the brain is a single, interacting system.

Some people tend to rely heavily (in optional ways) on both brain systems, some rely heavily on the bottom brain system but less so on the top, some rely heavily on the top but less so on the bottom, and some don’t rely heavily on either system.

Which leads to four possible Modes: Mover, Perceiver, Stimulator and Adaptor.

You can determine your own preferred mode with a simple test in the book, and also online at www.TopBrainBottomBrain.com. We believe that learning about your preferred mode can help you not only better understand yourself but also help you understand your relationships. So, does nature or nurture determine a person’s dominant mode? As you might imagine, the answer lies in a combination of both.
Visit the Top Brain, Bottom Brain website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Stephen V. Ash's "A Massacre in Memphis"

Stephen V. Ash is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Firebrand of Liberty, A Year in the South, and other books on the Civil War era.

Ash applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War, and reported the following:
Page 99 offers a revealing glimpse of A Massacre in Memphis.

The scene is a street in South Memphis, a mostly black section of the city, on the afternoon of May 1, 1866. Moments earlier, a shootout had erupted between four white policemen and a boisterous crowd of black men that the officers had tried to disperse. Two of the policemen have fallen, badly wounded; the others are fleeing.

The blacks are exultant, congratulating themselves for standing up to the despised, abusive Memphis police. But as the smoke clears and the excitement subsides, they begin to worry about the consequences. Some decide to lie low for a while.

They are the lucky ones. An hour and a half (and three pages) later---word of the shootout having spread throughout the city---mobs of armed white men descend on South Memphis and begin shooting and beating every black person in sight.

Thus began the Memphis race riot. It stretched over three days, during which white mobs repeatedly invaded black neighborhoods wreaking death and destruction. The toll was horrific: 46 black men, women, and children murdered, many others wounded, robbed, or raped, and every black church and school and many black dwellings in the city put to the torch.

My account of the riot--a minute-by-minute narrative written in the present tense, the better to convey the drama, the kaleidoscopic rush of events, and the sheer horror of those three days--comprises the second of the book’s three parts. The first, written in the customary past tense, is a detailed portrait of Memphis’s inhabitants on the eve of the riot, not only the blacks and ex-Confederates but also the many Irish and Yankee immigrants. It shows how the newly-emancipated people reveled in their freedom while Rebel and Irish resentment toward them and the Yankees festered. The third part, likewise in the past tense, explores the aftermath. The riot was a key event of the post-Civil War era. It outraged Northerners and encouraged Congress to come down hard on the white South, thus helping usher in the controversial era of Radical Reconstruction.

The riot was not only one of 19th-century America’s most significant episodes but also one of the best documented. Three federal agencies investigated it, gathering vivid testimony from hundreds of eyewitnesses. Few other events of that era can be so meticulously recounted. Mine is the first book-length study of it.
Learn more about A Massacre in Memphis at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Firebrand of Liberty.

Writers Read: Stephen V. Ash.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2013

Erik Dussere's "America Is Elsewhere"

Erik Dussere is Associate Professor of Literature at American University. He is the author of Balancing the Books: Faulkner, Morrison, and the Economies of Slavery.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, America Is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture, and reported the following:
The first piece of good news about page 99 of America Is Elsewhere is that it is not blank—as, for example, page 106 is. Close call, there. If this had been the Page 106 Test I might have been feeling depressed, since the test would seem to suggest that the book is meaningless or incomprehensible. As it is, I can put that worry aside, at least until the reviews come out.

In fact, page 99 is not a bad one to turn to. The big argument of the book is that the films and novels that make up the noir tradition—classic noirs as well as later developments like conspiracy stories or cyberpunk—are always responding in some way to the rise of consumer culture in America, which really gets going in the postwar forties. By page 99, I’m talking about how classic noirs featuring hard-boiled detectives always make connections between local crimes, like murders and robberies, and the larger social systems within which those crimes take place. Here’s what I say on that page:
The hard-boiled detective novel generally begins with a crime; as the detective pursues the investigation he finds that that seemingly isolated crime expands outward, involving larger and larger spheres of social power, until ultimately the distinction between crime and the functioning of society disappears. The detective is left in an ambivalent position, and the story draws our attention to his limited sphere of enforcement. He can solve the local crime in a local way, but he cannot solve the problems of society and political economy that enable the crime at a further remove. He can only act as social critic, pointing to the powerful politicians and businessmen, the Mr. Bigs and Harlan Potters, who bear social responsibility.
So what this leads to, in these books and films, is an attempt at a critique of American capitalism itself, but one that still has to present that critique as an indictment of bad individuals. I go on to argue that in the sixties this critique gets taken one step further as noir evolves into the conspiracy narrative. In those texts—Pynchon’s novels, for instance, or the paranoid films of the seventies—the detective can no longer solve the crime at all. The conspiracy of multinational capital is too large and complex to be understood by the individual, so the noir investigation fails. But that failure still works as an example of noir political critique, since it suggests the presence of the large political and economic forces that it can’t actually represent, when the protagonist runs into a wall as blank and forbidding, in its way, as page 106.
Learn more about America Is Elsewhere at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue