Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mark Di Vincenzo's "Buy Shoes on Wednesday and Tweet at 4:00"

Mark Di Vincenzo is an author and journalist who lives in a neighborhood one block from where William Styron grew up, in a Virginia shipyard town called Newport News.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his most recent book, Buy Shoes On Wednesday And Tweet At 4:00: More Of The Best Times To Buy This, Do That And Go There, and reported the following:
My book examines how timing plays a role in our lives. More specifically, the book gives tips on the best times to buy things, do things and go places. Why should you care? Well, if you know these best times, you can save a lot of time and money. You can make better decisions about your health, your education, and your families, among other things. You can live smarter.

The information in the book comes from experts in retail, education, health, finance and travel. And the book answers questions as diverse as the best month to buy a cell phone, the best day to take your car in for a repair, the best week of the year to visit Mexico City and the best time to elope or confront someone who unfriended you on Facebook.

Page 99? It is in the chapter on health-related timing tips. Page 99’s tips have to do with female health issues, as do the tips on pages 100 and 101.

There has been a lot of interest in my book. I’ve been interviewed by Charlie Rose and Gail King, Katie Couric and Pat Robertson as well as by journalists at newspapers, magazines and radio and TV stations from New York to Los Angeles – and by a few in England and Italy.

Not one has asked me a single question about the tips on page 99. Based on the lack of interest from the media, I would have to conclude that page 99 is not representative of the rest of my book, which people seem to like. So the Page 99 Test – thankfully -- does not apply to Buy Shoes On Wednesday And Tweet At 4:00.

By the way, what’s on page 99? Tips on the best time to receive a pelvic exam, the best time to see your OB/GYN and the best time for girls to get the HP (human papillomavirus) vaccine.

I suppose some words are better read and remembered than shared with others.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark Di Vincenzo's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Michael Williams's " Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism"

Michael Williams is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Southampton, UK. He is author of Ivor Novello: Screen Idol (BFI, 2003) and co-editor of British Silent Cinema and the Great War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). He is currently researching the relationship between film stars, audiences, and pasts both ancient and modern.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism: The Rise of Hollywood's Gods, and reported the following:
From page 99:
As Valentino’s prose darkens in sympathy with the moonlight to which he repeatedly refers, he notes the marbles and bronzes that were once broken by the church as ‘Pagan monuments’ and how dangerous the Coliseum had been to visit until the nineteenth century, but that it is still a place for suicide. Valentino ends this entry by expressing a shudder at the stained ground of present and recent past. The star was not alone with this suggestion of the haunted past in the interwar context. As Catherine Edwards observes in her study of the reception of Rome in European culture, the ‘growing sense of cultural crisis’ in this period saw writers of many nations finding ‘parallels with the decline of imperial Rome increasingly suggestive’. At the same time Rome was ‘the eternal city’ and so offered a symbol of imagined certainty. What better image to pose before than the Coliseum, a ruined architecture of dark and bloody spectacle that makes the present noble by contrast, and a still-impressive symbol of ancient engineering against the ravages of time that swallows all onlookers into its history.
On turning to page 99 of Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism you will first discover an illustration of two pages from ‘My Trip Abroad’, a serialised travel diary from 1925 attributed to the pen of Italian-born film star Rudolph Valentino. This romantic account of his tour of Europe finds Valentino standing amid the ancient ruins of Rome. The star presents himself as an idol of the present framed by the most culturally elevating locales of a past he connects himself to by geography and lineage, but also iconography. In posing amid ruins he becomes a gentleman of the Grand Tour, and not the ‘lounge lizard’ seen by critics, and adopts himself the contrapposto pose of the sculptures housed in the museums of the city.

As has often been noted, representations of the past always also turn a mirror upon the present. This chapter’s title, ‘The Flight to Antiquity’, takes its title from British scholar Arthur Weigall’s 1928 book about the contemporary awakening to the ancient past he observes in the post-war period. In my book I argue that in the post-war decade of the 1920s, the air of beauty, wholeness and endurance connoted by antiquity – however illusory and, indeed, its elusive nature was key to its effect – was a valuable commodity for the cinema, that most modern of industries, as it sought to appeal to a generation emerging from the destruction of the war.

The images of Valentino represent well the often playful discourses I discuss in the book, which had a serious purpose for the Hollywood industry in veiling their commercial and artistic endeavours beneath the prestigious aura of the past. Here we find Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford (in a wonderful image I used on the book’s cover) juxtaposed with statuettes of the Venus de Milo, along with Greta Garbo as the ‘Stockholm Venus’, and Ramon Novarro, MGM’s great star of Ben-Hur, described somewhat incredibly as ‘The Greek God from Mexico’. In each case the idols play a strange iconographic and mythic game with their ancient counterparts, a game in which fans were also leading players.
Learn more about  Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jennifer Kloester's "Georgette Heyer"

While living in the jungle in Papua New Guinea Jennifer Kloester discovered Georgette Heyer's Regency novels and fell in love with the romance, the humor and the glorious prose. Ten years of research produced a PhD and two books: Georgette Heyer's Regency World (an illustrated companion to the glittering era of so many of Georgette Heyer's novels) and Georgette Heyer.

Kloester applied the “Page 99 Test” to Georgette Heyer and reported the following:
Page 99 finds Georgette Heyer in Macedonia living in an expat community of 'Britishers'. It is not her natural environment but she had an ability to be self-contained in any situation and this was no exception. A description of one of the women in the group by David Footman, British Consul in Skopje and a friend of Heyer's, in his book, Halfway East, could easily be Georgette:
"Lorna Coote was thirty-three. She was tallish and slender, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. When you saw her in evening dress you thought she was rather pretty. Some people thought she was rather highbrow, and complained that she didn't have much to say for herself. That was because she generally refused a second cocktail and never seemed much at home among the noisy and drunken parties we sometimes used to have. She did not like crowds. She was always charming to everybody, and if she was ever nervy or depressed or bad-tempered she did not show it. She was fond of music and read a good deal. She used to have a lot of books sent out from England."
My biography of Georgette Heyer took many years to research and write, mainly because its subject was so reclusive. Despite her enormous international success as an author, Heyer insisted on keeping her private life private, so it's gems like the above quotation that help to flesh out the woman. It's 1929 on page 99 and Heyer, who had her first book published in 1921 when she was only 19, is beginning to make her mark as a writer of historical fiction. The aim of the biography was to give readers a well-rounded, objective account of the woman who created a genre (Regency fiction) and page 99, with its references to Heyer's daily life, her writing, her personality, likes, dislikes, her financial situation and her relationship with her mother, is a nice aperitif.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Kloester's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Georgette Heyer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gene Allen Smith's "The Slaves’ Gamble"

Gene Allen Smith is a professor of History and the director of the Center for Texas Studies at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. The author of numerous books, he is also the curator of History at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Smith has received research awards from TCU and Montana State University-Billings, as well as fellowships from the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Virginia Historical Society, the US Department of the Navy, the US Military Academy at West Point, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, and reported the following:
The Slaves’ Gamble is the first book to describe the role blacks played during the War of 1812. By using the story of individuals, this study reveals the contributions that free blacks and slaves as a group made to the British war effort, to American defenses, to the Spanish attempts to preserve their North American empire along the Gulf of Mexico, to Native American communities trying to retain their freedom and sovereignty, and to maroon communities trying to remain outside of white control. During the years prior to the War of 1812 African Americans had gained increased political, economic, and civic rights; many of these concessions had been won by black participation during the War for Independence and their support for a new political system based on the primacy of the United States. When the War of 1812 began, they consciously chose the side they would support, and those tenuous choices dramatically impacted their future freedom and opportunity as well as the future of the United States.
In late February 1814, Adm. George Cockburn returned after six months in Bermuda to resume his Chesapeake raids. He also brought with him orders to “find and get possession of some convenient Island, or point within the Chesapeake . . . which might also serve as a place of refuge for the negro slaves from the surrounding shores.” Admiral Cockburn began surveying for such a location, and he sent Cochrane information about local conditions, highlighting the shortage of British troops for future operations. The sobering news did not discourage Cochrane, but rather reconfirmed in his own mind that the refugee slaves could greatly supplement British forces. Yet he acknowledged that the infrastructure to manage such an influx of refugee soldiers—an anticipated five thousand men—did not exist. He asked Warren to send agents from the black West India regiments to Bermuda, where they would recruit and train refugees. Additionally, he requested that Warren construct temporary wooden barracks on the island of Bermuda to house black soldiers, along with their wives and families; the British government would support refugee dependents in the same manner as they did for other British soldiers. According to Cochrane, the only immediate problem was that Bermuda law prohibited “the introduction of colored persons into” the island. Pleading for Warren to use his influence to secure a temporary suspension of the act, Cochrane warned that it would be “an opportunity lost that never may return.” If British ships could not land the “emigrants” quickly, then loaded supply ships could not immediately return “to the Coast of America for others.
Page 99 reveals when Great Britain chose to escalate the racial tension of the conflict. Securing a local base in the Chesapeake (on Tangier Island), building facilities on it, and then establishing a depot on Bermuda provided the logistical network to move supplies efficiently to British troops in North America, and then to evacuate refugees rapidly from the Chesapeake to Bermuda and then on to their ultimate destination—be it Canada, Trinidad, Barbados, or Belize. This transportation/evacuation system permitted the British to liberate between 4,500-5,000 from the coast of North America, which represented one of the greatest slave diasporas in American history. As such, this book describes the role of blacks during the War of 1812, as well as illustrates a tenuous dividing point in the history of American race relations often obscured by the beginnings of the sectional conflict that ultimately led to the American Civil War.
Learn more about The Slaves' Gamble at the Palgrave Macmillan wesbite.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Emily Raboteau's "Searching for Zion"

Emily Raboteau is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Professor's Daughter. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best African American Fiction, The Guardian, Oxford American, Tin House, and elsewhere. Recipient of numerous awards including a Pushcart Prize and a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Raboteau also teaches writing at City College, in Harlem.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora, and reported the following:
I researched the meaning and metaphor of Zion in different and far-flung locales of the African diaspora for this book. The “Promised Land” has special resonance for the descendants of African slaves in the west. Many feel disinherited and dispossessed as a result of their legacy of slavery, some to the degree that they have pulled up their roots and looked elsewhere for a homeland. We hear Zion sung about in Negro spirituals, gospel music and reggae songs, always as a metaphor for freedom.

Page 99 of Searching for Zion takes place in Kingston, Jamaica, where I traveled to learn more about the Rastafari faith that underscores so much of what we hear in reggae music. As a longtime Bob Marley and roots reggae fan, I was drawn in by the postmodern idea that we all share “one blood” and “one heart.” That’s why it came as a rude awakening to hear the Rastas I interviewed using really homophobic rhetoric that seemed to contradict their own principles. It seemed to me that if their vision of Zion could not include gay people, then it was spiritually bankrupt. Some of their talk referenced hateful lyrics from dancehall music, (most notably Buju Banton’s song “Boom Bye-Bye”) though dancehall also has many socially conscientious lyricists.

At this point in the book, I explore some of these contradictions after visiting a dancehall show in downtown Kingston: “The young women wore skimpy stretch-fabric dresses in satiny copper, hot pink, and electric blue. They wore strappy heels and hair extensions and danced by humping the ground, or the speakers, or the boys, for a cameraman who dragged a long extension cord behind him like the tail of a rat. The soundclash was loud enough to liquefy my organs. I moved to the sidelines, unable to decode the lyrics, feeling distinctly middle-aged. I watched the libidinous spectacle until the sun rose and the market women returned with their wares. ‘Pepper, plum, tamarind, lime!’”
Learn more about the book and author at Emily Raboteau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Searching for Zion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2013

David Robertson's "The Original Compromise"

David Brian Robertson is Curator's Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is the author of The Constitution and America's Destiny and Federalism and the Making of America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking, and reported the following:
I wrote the Original Compromise to show how a political analyst would tell the story of the U.S. Constitutional Convention. I admire skilled, effective, and idealistic politicians who try to accomplish ambitious, positive goals. I recently saw such politicians at work in the movie Lincoln, as I saw them in the records of the Convention.

Page 99 comes at a critical moment: June 30, 1787, the last day of the Convention’s fifth week. Anger is boiling over as the delegates quarrel about representation in the Senate. James Madison and James Wilson fight tenaciously to peg the number of each state’s Senators on the size of the state’s population (as in the House of Representatives). Madison’s political strategy for the Convention turned on this point. Madison was trying to hold together a coalition of six states, including the three largest states (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) and three growing Southern states (Georgia and the Carolinas). If Madison won the proportional representation in the Senate, he believed these six states, with more votes in the new Congress than in the Confederation Congress, would likely be willing to increase national power.

But delegates from the states outside Madison’s coalition – the smaller New England and Middle Atlantic states – fiercely resisted proportional representation in the Senate. They feared that a Senate dominated by large states could endanger their interests. Alarmed by the broad scope of Madison’s plans, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut bitterly complains that “We are razing the foundations of the building [the national government], when we need only repair the roof.”

Madison, worried about wavering support among his allies, attacks Connecticut’s past behavior and injects the issue of slavery into the debate – a step he had scrupulously avoided until this moment. Raising the slavery issue marked a dangerous gamble on Madison’s part. He knew that the issue divided his Northern and Southern allies.

By July 16, the Convention approved the Connecticut Compromise, providing each state with equal representation in the Senate. Madison’s loss wrecked his strategy, and it propelled the delegates into a prolonged series of battles over national authority and the powers of the government’s branches. The Convention produced a government plan forged in compromise – one that, like the Convention itself, requires compromises to succeed.
Learn more about The Original Compromise at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jonathan R. Lyon's "Princely Brothers and Sisters"

Jonathan R. Lyon is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Princely Brothers and Sisters: The Sibling Bond in German Politics, 1100–1250, and reported the following:
If you open Princely Brothers and Sisters to page 99, you will find yourself in the middle of one of the pivotal chapters in the book. Here, the two main themes of the book—sibling relationships and the practice of politics—are combined for the first time. I argue in this chapter that sets of brothers within the German upper aristocracy worked closely together to exert influence over political developments at the court of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (reigned 1152-1190). Three points are central to this argument and my broader thesis. First, contrary to popular belief, the German aristocracy did not practice primogeniture during the Middle Ages. Instead, multiple brothers received noble titles and pieces of their father’s patrimony, giving them the wealth, power and authority to become prominent figures at the imperial court. Second, the generation of the upper aristocracy that came of age in the mid-twelfth century was an unusually large one. In the nine noble families at the center of my study, this generation included sibling groups numbering three, four, five and, in one case, even seven brothers. Page 99 begins to give the reader a sense of how these groups rose to prominence at the beginning of Barbarossa’s reign. Third, both Barbarossa and the most powerful German noble of the later twelfth century, Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria, did not belong to such large sets of brothers. These first cousins depended on each other for political support, but their cousinly connection was not as effective as the sibling bond in other aristocratic families. As I argue throughout the book, the bond between siblings proved to be one of the most durable and efficacious social bonds in German aristocratic society, and the middle decades of the twelfth century are the period when one can see most clearly how strong sibling relationships shaped events in the political arena.
Learn more about Princely Brothers and Sisters at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brent Nongbri's "Before Religion"

Brent Nongbri, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has held teaching positions at Yale University and Oberlin College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept, and reported the following:
Since no ancient language has a term or concept that corresponds to what most modern people mean when they say “religion,” Before Religion provides an account of how religion emerged as a sphere of life distinct (or at least ideally distinct) from supposedly “secular” realms, such as politics, economics, and science. The book demonstrates that groups often described as “ancient religions” (for example, followers of Jesus, Mani, and Muhammad) actually identified themselves and were identified by outsiders using rather different conceptual schemes. The central chapters explore some of these alternative modes of organization in the medieval period before tracing out the eventual development of the concept of religion (as well as the idea of individual religions) in the era of European colonial expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The book concludes by examining the birth of the academic study of so-called ancient religions and reflecting on the ways in which such study continues to naturalize the concept of religion to make it appear universal and necessary.

Page 99 features two substantial quotations from the Jean Bodin’s influential Six Books of the Commonwealth, first published in French in 1576 and reprinted and translated frequently thereafter. One can get a reasonably good sense of Before Religion on the basis of this page because in Bodin’s writings we can really see the modern concept of religion beginning to crystalize. Bodin lived in the midst of the so-called Wars of Religion. He was a prominent political theorist but also found time to root out sorcerers and witches. In the Six Books (here in the English translation of 1606), Bodin argued that the ideal state would have no confessional disputes:
Seeing that not onely all wise law- givers and Philosophers, but even the very Atheists themselves also . . . are of accord, That there is nothing which doth more uphold and maintaine the estates and Commonweals than religion: and that it is the principall foundation of the power and strength of monarchies and Seignories: as also for the execution of justice, for the obedience of the subjects, the reverence of the magistrates, for the feare of doing evill, and for the mutual love and amitie of every one towards other, it is by most strait and severe lawes to be provided, that so sacred a thing as is religion be not by childish and sophisticall disputations (and especially by such as are publickely had) made contemptible.
Uniformity of confession upholds estates (property rights) and the government, but if such uniformity is impossible to achieve, confessional disputes among subjects should not be public. In fact, absent total confessional agreement, Bodin asserts that the best way for a government to achieve stability is to “destesteth. . . not the straunge religions of others; but to the contrarie permitteth every man to live according to his conscience,” as long as that conscience did not lead to practices that upset the state (thus, in part, Bodin’s worries over witches). Bodin’s proposals thus represent a new way of carving up the world. This restriction of loyalty to god to an interior, privatized, apolitical realm was a necessary condition for the creation of the “secular” nation state and an important step in the formation of the modern concept of religion. So, page 99 does in fact capture one of the main points of the book.
Learn more about Before Religion at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Horgan's "Divided We Stand"

John Horgan is Associate Professor of Psychology at Penn State University where he is also Director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism. His books include The Psychology of Terrorism, and Walking Away from Terrorism.

Horgan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Divided We Stand: The Strategy and Psychology of Ireland’s Dissident Terrorists, and reported the following:
Anyone who studies terrorism quickly learns that the vast majority of what is said or written about terrorism isn’t really based on any kind of evidence. As a psychologist engaged in the study of terrorist behavior, I consider terrorism to be just another kind of behavior. As such, it can be identified, observed, recorded, measured and finally, interpreted. My new book considers the not unexpected rise of violent “dissident” Republican splinter groups in Northern Ireland that have emerged in recent years. Opening my book on p. 99 reveals the analysis of data collected by my colleagues and I at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism. It shows how, despite a peace process that has promised significant social and political change to Northern Ireland, the threat of terrorism remains. Today’s militants span multiple generations and look to the past as fundamental inspiration and legitimacy for a new campaign of terrorism. Unhindered by the need for significant community support, violent dissident Republican groups (or VDRs) are unpredictable, dangerous, and resistant to easy categorization.

From page 99:
There is evidence for two prominent age ranges present in VDR groups: the younger 14–30 year age group, most of whom are having their first experiences of active Republicanism, and the 31–50 age category continuing on or revisiting Republican activism…. Although many of the younger generation are experiencing Republican activism for the first time the majority of the older generation have previously been involved in other Republican movements, predominantly the PIRA. They have left to join, or form, these new organizations, due to their disillusionment with the peace process and what they see as the negative consequences of the politicization of the Provisional Republican Movement. The cornerstone of any organization’s survival must be its ability to recruit new members, a point further emphasized by the increase in VDR personnel serving lengthy sentences. The nature of involvement and engagement in terrorism leads to a high turnover of membership for multiple reasons that are well documented…. But for the VDR groups to survive and progress they need to do more than simply recruit new numbers. They must also attract new conscripts with particular skills that will help them in the training and active service of the organization. This is suggested by the emerging data on the occupations of VDR personnel, which may suggest specific targeting of personnel with formal military training as well as others from a construction and “trades” background. These two sectors provide the groups with the requisite skills to continue their development and maintenance of weaponry and explosives as well as the training of new recruits, a first step in the development of a longer-term strategy that the dissidents are not currently viewed as having the ability to formulate, let alone exploit.
Learn more about Divided We Stand at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jeremiah P. Ostriker & Simon Mitton's "Heart of Darkness"

Jeremiah P. Ostriker is professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. His books include Formation of Structure in the Universe and Unsolved Problems in Astrophysics. Simon Mitton is affiliated research scholar in the history and philosophy of science and a fellow of St. Edmund's College, University of Cambridge. His books include Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science and The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Heart of Darkness says this:
The Steady State Model Universe and the Big Bang

The year 1948 saw a shake-up in cosmological thinking because of the publication of the steady state theory by the Cambridge trio: Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle. In the developing standard picture the universe expands and, although the details were not clear, it must expand from an explosive event before which time and space had no meaning. Hoyle thought this was absurd and in violation of every physical law that was known. The steady state theory was the antidote that he proposed. This theory, in its time a rival to the Lemaître picture, postulated that the universe does not evolve, but on the largest scales looks more or less the same, no matter what the location or epoch of the observer. How does one avoid in this picture the thinning out of the matter density as the universe expands and the associated heat death? A new law of physics was postulated; the expansion of the universe would be compensated by the continuous creation of matter to fill the expanding voids.
This certainly does correspond to the assertion of Ford Madox Ford.

Heart of Darkness describes the incredible saga of humankind's quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe. Over the past thirty years, scientists have learned that two little-understood components--dark matter and dark energy--comprise most of the known cosmos, explain the growth of all cosmic structure, and hold the key to the universe's fate. The story of how evidence for the so-called "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of cosmology has been gathered by generations of scientists throughout the world is told in Heart of Darkness.

From humankind's early attempts to comprehend Earth's place in the solar system, to astronomers' exploration of the Milky Way galaxy and the realm of the nebulae beyond, to the detection of the primordial fluctuations of energy from which all subsequent structure developed, this book explains the physics and the history of how the current model of our universe arose and has passed every test hurled at it by the skeptics. Throughout this rich story, an essential theme is emphasized: how three aspects of rational inquiry--the application of direct measurement and observation, the introduction of mathematical modeling, and the requirement that hypotheses should be testable and verifiable--guide scientific progress and underpin our modern cosmological paradigm.

The story is far from complete, however, as scientists confront the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy.
Learn more about Heart of Darkness at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2013

Douglas A. Chalmers's "Reforming Democracies"

Douglas Chalmers has been Department Chair, Dean of the School of International Affairs, and Director of the Institute for Latin American Studies. Currently he is Executive Director of the Society of Senior Scholars at Columbia. He is author and co-editor of The New Politics of Inequality in Latin America (1997), co-edited The Right and Democracy in Latin America (1992), and articles and books about the organization and institutions that link civil society to government in Europe and Latin America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Reforming Democracies: Six Facts About Politics That Demand a New Agenda, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Problems that demand political decisions always involve all three aspects of decision making, although often the central issue, the major conflict, is over one of them: interests, moral positions, or facts. Deliberation may be overshadowed (or taken over) by one or both of the other processes, but it is always there and is capable of having an independent impact. Debate over the facts, the explanations, and the interpretations may be undertaken to support a moral position or buttress claims on behalf of an interest, but often is much closer to the center of the process. For example, in decisions about dealing with a natural disaster, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, interests came into play and moral questions involved with blame were important, but the central questions that demanded immediate attention were those of fact and the accuracy of theories about the causes of the “meltdown” of nuclear reactors. The problems of public debt, financial instability, and long-term unemployment, which dominate the news in the midst of an economic recession, engage class interests and the morality of taxes and government action, but at the center are factual questions....
This text from p. 99 (and a little of p 100) illustrates a couple of things about the book. The quote is about one of the six areas of everyday, normal politics that people often omit when they think about democracy. They are: making policies with non-citizens and foreigners as quasi-citizens, the rapid decay and rebuilding of groups, the use of personal networks, the practice of creating decision networks of stakeholders, experts and officials to deal with problems, and this one, the serious discussion to solve problems that goes by the name of ‘deliberation’. Page 99 talks about how we have to reconceptualize ‘politics’. It suggests that if we are to deal with the faults of modern democracy, gross inequality, reckless executives, corruption and grid-lock, we will have to build in reforms – in this case to provide the information and promote serious discussion, not just moral confrontation or compromise between competing interests. Reforming democracies takes a willingness to take on new aspects of politics. It demands a new agenda.
Learn more about Reforming Democracies at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Glenn Geher & Scott Barry Kaufman's "Mating Intelligence Unleashed"

Glenn Geher is Chair of the Psychology and Director of Evolutionary Studies at SUNY New Paltz, where he won the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. He founded the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS) and is co-founder of the international Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Consortium. His work has been featured in many media outlets--ranging from Psychology Today to Cosmopolitan to the Chronicle of Higher Education

Scott Barry Kaufman is the author of the forthcoming book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, and Co-founder of The Creativity Post.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love, and reported the following:
Our book is about the complex and deep underlying cognitive processes that bear on human mating. Sure, human mating includes a great deal of physicality, but it also includes a great deal of psychological and behavioral complexity. Courtship in our species is extensive, and includes such disparate phenomena as writing love poems to the use of self-deprecating humor to driving flashy cars to using too much make-up. Mating in humans involves a great deal of cognitive processing that we refer to as "mating intelligence," and this book is dedicated to summarizing what modern scientists know about this topic.

Mating intelligence includes cognitive processes that may be shaped to unconsciously attract mates, such as humor, creativity, and artistic display (what we call "mental fitness indicators," vis a vis Geoffrey Miller's work on this topic) along with cognitive processes that directly bear on issues of mating, such as attempts to assess one's own mate value, assessments of mating-relevant judgments of potential mates, and accuracy in detecting if a mate is likely to be faithful for a long-term relationship - which is crucial to an individual's reproductive success from an evolutionary perspective.

Page 99 focuses on a summary of Cindy Meston and Davis Buss' work on why women have sex - summarizing their fascinating work that describes female sexual motivations in terms of basic dimensions such as physicality and the need for emotional closeness. Rationales underlying sexual motivations are clearly part of human mating intelligence - and this page, dedicated to helping understand female sexual motivations, summarizes important insights into some of the basic psychology of human mating.
Learn more about Mating Intelligence Unleashed at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2013

M.T. Lee, M.M. Poloma & S.G. Post's "The Heart of Religion"

Matthew T. Lee is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Akron. He is co-author, with Margaret Poloma, of A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism. Margaret M. Poloma is Research Professor of Sociology, University of Akron. She is the author of Main Street Mystics, among other books. Stephen G. Post is the President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, and a Professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook University.

Lee applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God's Love, and reported the following:
The heart of religion is love. This conclusion derives from an extensive random survey of 1,200 men and women across the United States that sheds new light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence. The vast majority of Americans (eight out of ten) report that they have felt God’s love increasing their compassion for others. In order to better understand how this process works in daily life, we also conducted 120 in-depth interviews with Christian women and men from all walks of life across the country who are engaged in benevolent service.

I was amazed to find that page 99 describes the theoretical foundation of the research project that produced the national survey, the qualitative interviews, and the five subprojects that provided the empirical findings we report in the book. That foundation is Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin’s concept of “love energy.” Love can been understood as a type of energy because it gets work done. It does a lot of the “heavy lifting” in the expression of benevolence.

Here is part of what we wrote on page 99:
Especially relevant for our discussion of prayer and godly love is Sorokin’s proposal about the production and generation of love energy and its role in empowering altruism. According to Sorokin, love energy is commonly generated through the interaction of human beings, but he hypothesizes that it is possible that “an inflow of love comes from an intangible, little-studied, possibly supraempirical source called ‘God.’” Although the methodology of social science does not provide the tools for proving whether or not God exists and interacts with humans, we have already demonstrated that most Americans believe that they have (at least on occasion) interacted with the divine—and that this interaction does have an effect on benevolent attitudes and behavior.
Why would anyone step outside of their self-interested way of life to serve others? Because they are energized by love. Much attention has been paid to the structural shell of religion: the denominations, creeds, and social networks. But the heart of religion is the love energy that enlivens and sustains these structures.

In our concluding chapter (p. 229), we note that for our interviewees, “divine love is the door to a life of benevolence and prayer is the key that unlocks it.” So it was interesting to see that page 99 is part of the chapter devoted to prayer. So although this particular page is perhaps not the most representative of the book, nor would it be the one I would pick if I had to select the most important page, it is interesting that it identifies the theoretical foundation of the project (love energy) and focuses on the key (prayer) to unlocking this potent form of energy.
Learn more about The Heart of Religion at the official website and the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sotirios A. Barber's "The Fallacies of States’ Rights"

Sotirios A. Barber is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Fallacies of States' Rights, and reported the following:
Imagine my surprise: the Test works pretty well for Fallacies!

Many (not all) Americans have believed since the nation’s founding that constitutionally reserved “states’ rights” limit the powers of the national government. Regarding Obamacare, for example, many people believe that Congress could mandate health insurance were it not for the existence of the state governments, but that since the states do exist and the Constitution says nothing about health care, Congress can’t mandate health insurance. This view of the Constitution is not a straight-forward reading of its actual text; it’s merely an interpretation of the text. And because there are competing interpretations, the question is why anyone should adopt the states’ rights view. Fallacies shows why states’ righters have never answered this question successfully and can’t possibly do so. A popular answer among states’ righters over the years is that states’ rights restraints on national power best serves “democracy.” On page 99 I join the many writers who have shown to all whom evidence and logic can reach that this claim is simply false. (Just ask yourself whether in the name of democracy the states should be permitted to suppress the votes of racial minorities, as many states have done in the past.) Page 99 is not a perfect slice of all that Fallacies, tries to do, for the book takes up models of American federalism other than the states’ rights model. But page 99 does represent the theme signified by the title of the book: the fallacies of the states’ rights view.
Learn more about The Fallacies of States' Rights at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Angus Burgin's "The Great Persuasion"

Angus Burgin is Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. His research and teaching explore problems at the intersection of ideas, politics, and markets in the United States and the Atlantic world since the late nineteenth century.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Great Persuasion, Friedrich Hayek is engaged in an attempt to bring together leading supporters of the free market from across the Atlantic world, many of whom had been isolated from one another by the events of the Second World War. The theme discussed on this page is one that lies at the center of the book: the difficulty of obtaining funding in support of an intellectual enterprise without constricting its participants’ academic credibility or capacity for free inquiry. Hayek, I write, “recognized that accepting funds from individuals and organizations with an ideological orientation posed particular dangers to an organization that sought to maintain some academic distance from contemporary political debates. His challenge was to obtain their largesse while preserving the integrity of his institutional vision.”

At this moment in the book, Hayek was in the early stages of developing an organization, the Mont Pèlerin Society, that would serve as a template for the ideological institutions that now play a central role in public policy debates. In the course of these efforts he sought to accede to the demands of his funders while limiting their influence. He proved adept at this task, in part because he found contributors who shared his unusually long-term perspective on politics. Rather than seeking immediate and tangible outcomes, they were content to support the construction of new communities of dissent, believing that the ideas these groups discussed had the capacity to alter the structure of political debate. The intellectual and institutional infrastructure of market advocacy in the postwar period was made possible by these individuals’ remarkable faith in the generative capacity of ideas.

As this page reveals, The Great Persuasion is concerned with the influence of abstractions: the ways in which discussions of economic theory, social-scientific methodology, and political philosophy can manifest themselves in (and sometimes change the contours of) popular debates. This requires a close attention to the institutions that foster intellectual communities and project their ideas to a broader public. When successful, such investigations can help us to understand the circuitous path through which ideas that were once considered radical become accepted as the norm.
Learn more about the book and author at Angus Burgin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dan Lainer-Vos's "Sinews of the Nation"

Dan Lainer-Vos is the Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States, and reported the following:
My book looks on how the Irish and Zionist national movements used economic transactions, ranging from philanthropic gift giving to the sale of quasi-philanthropic bonds, to regulate their relationships with their supporters abroad. That the Irish Americans and Jewish Americans gave money to their compatriots across the ocean would come as little surprise to anyone familiar with these groups, but we typically think about this support as simply a byproduct of existing sentiments. But it may be more useful to think about these monetary transactions as a medium through which people negotiate social relations. We have an intuitive sense of this from everyday interactions. Gift giving requires no immediate reciprocity but creates ongoing social obligations. Market exchange, on the other hand, creates little or no obligations beyond the immediate payment. Sinews of the Nation uses this insight to explore homeland diaspora relations. It shows that the particular methods used to extract funds from diaspora communities are not simply ways of maximizing resources but also, fundamentally, mechanisms that can sometimes bind together groups and create a sense of belonging.

When it comes to fundraising and social relations, the trajectories of the Irish and Zionist movements in the US could not be more different and this is what I describe on page 99. In order to limit the social obligations associated with being a recipient of philanthropic gifts, in 1920 and 1951, respectively, the Irish and Israeli nascent governments decided to issue bonds and sell them to their supporters in the US. Given the shaky political and economic status of these movements, these bonds were marketed as a hybrid combining elements of gift giving and an investment (this was quite a stretch in both cases). Hundreds of thousands of Irish and Jewish Americans purchased these respective bonds but the outcomes of these transactions were radically different. In the Irish case, arguments regarding the social obligations associated with the bonds (does Ireland owes us only money or did we earn the right to participate in shaping the Irish struggle by buying these bonds?) intensified tensions between Irish American leaders and the republican leaders in Dublin and led to a breakdown of the Friends of Irish Freedom, the most important Irish American organization of that period. In the Israeli case, in contrast, the ambiguity associated with the bonds, helped Israeli and American Jews cooperate. Jewish Americans saw the bond mostly as a gift, after all, if they wished to make money, they would have invested in railroads or General Motors, not in a half socialist country in the Middle East. Israelis, on the other hand, believed that the bond was mostly an investment; after all, they promised to pay it back, with interest.

The different trajectories of the bond projects, I believe, had a lasting impact on Irish Americans and Jewish Americans ties to their respective “homelands.” At the turn of the century, the Irish American community was deeply attached to Ireland. Since the collapse of the bond project in late 1921, Irish American attachments to Ireland became almost exclusively personal and symbolic. To be sure, many Americans still think about themselves as “Irish” but their Irishness is expressed mostly through symbolic gestures like wearing green in St. Patrick’s Day, little more than that. In contrast, the ties between Jewish Americans and Israel strengthened over the years. Today Israel plays an immensely important role in Jewish American communal life and Jewish American dollars affect almost every sphere of life in Israel.
Learn more about Sinews of the Nation at the John Wiley & Sons website.

Writers Read: Dan Lainer-Vos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kathleen C. Schwartzman's "The Chicken Trail"

Kathleen C. Schwartzman is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona. She is the author of The Social Origins of Democratic Collapse: The First Portuguese Republic in the Global Economy.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Chicken Trail: Following Workers, Migrants, and Corporations across the Americas, and reported the following:
This study highlights the contemporary American dilemma: economic transformations have left the U.S. labor market with jobs that “nobody wants,” jobs that are shipped overseas, and jobs for which American workers are unqualified. It also highlights the Global Dilemma: in developing nations, as rural survival continues to be undermined by international trade, people attempt to alleviate their poverty by packing their suitcases and abandoning their country. The Chicken Trail demonstrates how the externalities of free trade and neoliberalism become the social problems of nations and the tragedies of individuals.

This book describes three concurrent population displacements: African American workers in the southeastern U.S; peasants in rural Mexico; and Mexican emigrants. It links each of them to the unfolding global processes that converged in the middle 1990s—a period of exceptional growth in both trade and migration.

Page 99 summarizes the previous analysis of the displacement of African Americans. “In short, immigrant hiring (ethnic displacement) provided a way to resolve the labor conflict without compromising the surplus value extracted from the production process. For immigrant hiring, the mid-1990s was a watershed. Employers were not passively ‘faced with a choice’ of workers, they created that choice by the early active and intentional recruitment of immigrant workers.”

Page 99 introduces the Mexican analysis: “this completes the ‘demand’ or ‘pull’ side of the migration story. However, recruitment and subsequent chain migration could not have been so successful without corresponding transformations in, and ‘pushes’ from Mexico.” What follows beginning with the next chapter is an analysis of the effects of poultry imports on Mexico’s industry and the countryside. Because the displaced smallholders found inadequate economic opportunities in urban areas, many continued their migration north to the United States. By the 1990s, however, migrant destinations were no longer limited to the traditional gateways; they now included the Southeastern United States. And thus the trail circles back.
Learn more about The Chicken Trail at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paul Bracken's "The Second Nuclear Age"

Paul Bracken is the author of Fire in the East and The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces. He is a professor of management and political science at Yale University, and was previously a member of the senior staff of the Hudson Institute under Herman Kahn and a consultant to the Rand Corporation. He serves on several Department of Defense advisory boards and works with global multinational corporations on strategy and technology issues.

Bracken applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest new book, The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Second Nuclear Age is a good indicator of the entire book because it is an outside the box view of nuclear weapons in the cold war. My book describes the second nuclear age, the spread of the bomb for reasons that have nothing to do with the cold war. But the cold war holds many useful lessons.

Page 99 argues that merely having the bomb makes an enormous difference because it forces others to consider scenarios and "what next?" possibilities in an entirely different way. China got the bomb in 1964. This forced President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara to think about a Chinese intervention in Vietnam in an entirely different way than Beijing's entry into the Korean War in 1950. It reinforced the U.S. strategy of incremental escalation to avoid nuclear scenarios. On page 99, I argue that China may never have had any plans to intervene in Vietnam, and that even if China's leadership was dead set against it, it wouldn't alter the reality that the mere existence of a Chinese atomic bomb altered the calculus of decision making in Washington.

Page 99 further describes a Chinese nuclear alert in 1969 -- not directed at the United States but at the Soviet Union. This example exposes the myth that the cold war was a bipolar competition. Even in 1969 there was a three-way game, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Yet a bipolar view of the cold war was a useful myth because it stabilized their competition. The cold war was known not to be bipolar, but bipolarity was retained as a useful fiction.

The United States adheres to myths today, in the second nuclear age: a.) that the major nuclear powers will disarm someday, as promised in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT); b.) that nuclear weapons have little utility; and c.) that India will someday have to give up the bomb and join the NPT. None of these things are going to happen, but pretending that they will is quite useful.
Learn more about The Second Nuclear Age at the Times Books website.

Writers Read: Paul Bracken.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Siobhan Roberts's "Wind Wizard"

Siobhan Roberts is a Toronto journalist and author whose work focuses on mathematics and science. Her first book, King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, The Man Who Saved Geometry, won the Mathematical Association of America's 2009 Euler Prize for expanding the public's view of mathematics.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Wind Wizard: Alan G. Davenport and the Art of Wind Engineering, and the Rule of the Many, and reported the following:
Wind engineer Alan Davenport’s story begins in the 1960s in New York City, where he set the template for modern wind science by conducting pioneering boundary layer wind tunnel tests on the Twin Towers, then just in the planning stages with structural engineer Les Robertson.

Today, Davenport’s story continues to play out in New York, where the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, a suspension bridge crossing the East River and connecting Queens and The Bronx, underwent full-scale tests during the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy. The Whitestone, a sister bridge of the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge that so spectacularly collapsed in 1940, has made numerous visits to Davenport’s Lab at the University of Western Ontario since the late 1960s. The bridge underwent numerous tests and pricey aerodynamic renovations, such as the addition of wind fairings — just as a race car’s spoiler system of fins is meant to “spoil” unfavorable airflow across the vehicle, these aerodynamic devices on bridges reduce drag and lift. The last of the retrofits concluded last year, with the addition of a $136.7million new orthotropic steel deck. But an essential part of the rehabilitation program continued…

From page 99:
Perhaps the most essential principle of wind tunnel testing, Davenport always argued, is to check the results of wind tunnel model studies with actual observations of full-scale performance once the structure is built — test the results, so to speak.
In the 1990s, the Bronx-Whitestone had been put under full-time full-scale monitoring to ensure that the Lab had the best possible measure of its vital signs and the full-scale tests informed the retrofits — the installation of fairings and the deck, among others. And with laudable insight and foresight, the bridges and tunnels division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to the Lab’s recommendation that the bridge continue to be monitored for the foreseeable future— just for the sake of the Lab’s and the MTA’s own erudition.

Full-scale monitoring is the Holy Grail of wind testing. The purpose of full-scale testing, Davenport cautioned, was not so much to measure whether the theoretically or experimentally predicted behavior of a bridge held true in reality, especially since one might wait tens or hundreds of years for the design wind to occur. Neither was full-scale monitoring tantamount to testing in a gigantic wind tunnel. Instead, he felt this line of inquiry should be used in ironing out the remaining wrinkles in theoretical models. Theory is innately embedded with uncertainties and unknowns, even in the building blocks, the sometimes still blurry building blocks that scientists perpetually strive to pull into sharper focus. Perhaps not surprisingly, the nature of the wind itself is still the building block of greatest variability.

Prior to the latest round of retrofits, the Bronx-Whitestone endured Hurricane Floyd in 1999, holding its own against 60mph peak winds. With Hurricane Sandy, winds reached peaks of 74-85mph. The Lab and the MTA are currently analyzing the data, but all indications are that the bridge weathered the storm without suffering any troublesome instabilities.
Learn more about the book and author at Siobhan Roberts' website.

The Page 69 Test: King of Infinite Space.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hélène Landemore's "Democratic Reason"

Hélène Landemore is assistant professor of political science at Yale University. She is the author of Hume: Probability and Reasonable Choice.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many, and reported the following:
On p. 99 I’m reaching the end of an example from the movie Twelve Angry Men that I use to illustrate the power of inclusive deliberation. If you remember, the jurors in the movie are deciding the case of a young Puerto Rican accused of murdering his father. Prior to the deliberation, all jurors minus one (juror number 8, played by Henry Fonda) are convinced that the kid is guilty. After all, there is an eye-witness and an impressive amount of evidence against him. By the end of the deliberative process, however, the jurors conclude, unanimously, that the kid should be acquitted. What has happened?

Here is how the first paragraph of p. 99 reads:
Deliberation also brought to the surface a fact that many in the group had noticed—the red marks on the sides of the nose of the witness—but did not know how to interpret or use. Deliberation provided the proper interpretation of that fact: that the witness wears glasses, is most likely nearsighted, and therefore her testimony cannot be trusted. Deliberation also allowed the group to weed out the good arguments from the bad. Once they reach the conclusion that the visual witness is nearsighted, the jurors ask themselves whether she was likely to be wearing her glasses while lying in bed. Even the most stubborn juror has to admit that the argument that she was not wearing her glasses is stronger than the argument that she was. Finally, deliberation in this example leads to a unanimous consensus on the “better” answer, namely the decision to consider the young convict “not guilty” given the doubts raised by deliberation.
Twelve Angry Men is often read as an illustration of the importance of dissident voices and as a celebration of the independently minded citizen who resists the conformism of the majority. My take is that dissent is just one part of the story. The other part is about the collective intelligence that emerges from the deliberative exchanges among these 12 jurors. The dissident juror, no matter how right his initial intuition was, would not have been able to save the day on his own. All 12 jurors mattered, in all their diversity, because it is only through the interplay between their various arguments and sometimes contradictory interpretations of the evidence--colored as those are by their personal history, socio-economic background, type of intelligence, etc., which contribute to shaping what I call “cognitive diversity”--that something like the truth can emerge and the right outcome come about. This happens despite the fact that, as is also the case in democratic debates, the protagonists are flawed human beings, neither very smart nor always properly motivated: one just wants to get done with it and go to a baseball game, one is a bigoted racist, one is biased by irrelevant fatherly emotions, etc.

Based on this argument about the properties of inclusive deliberation, the book makes the more general claim that democracy, understood as a collective decision-making procedure combining inclusive deliberation and majority rule, is “smarter” than less inclusive decision rules (i.e., dictatorship and oligarchy). When it comes to solving our collective problems, I argue, we are better off including all regular citizens in the decision-making process (or where unfeasible their accountable representatives) than having a small group of “experts” solve these problems for us.
Learn more about Democratic Reason at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Joseph F. Kett's "Merit"

Joseph F. Kett is James Madison Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His books include The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750–1990 and (as coauthor) of The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Advancement by merit and not by bloodlines or wire-pulling was among the Founding ideals of the American republic, no less important than equal rights and government by consent. Merit, equal rights, and government by consent nevertheless had the potential to conflict with each other and Americans have spent over two centuries devising ways to reconcile these ideals. Merit argues that one means of reconciliation has been to try to make the unequal distribution of economic rewards as transparent as possible, so that everyone could see the basis of distributive justice. So, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we find Americans embracing scientific factory management and the personnel management movement. The former sought to base wages on small differences in individual productivity; the latter urged employers to publicize factory flow charts, so that each worker could see the basis of advancement from job to job, rank to rank.

Page 99 of Merit addresses a different aspect of the same reconciliation. It quotes John L. O’Sullivan, a leading Democratic Party editor and activist, who stated in 1840 that wealth acquired by the movements of paper money “controlled by a few gambling speculators” could never be “the test of merit.” O’Sullivan was writing at a time when guide books to the major American cities were listing their “leading men” by their net worth. In O’Sullivan’s eyes, however, these moneybags often owed their wealth to the frenzied ups and downs of the stock market. In the middle of the nineteenth century states, which traditionally had used lotteries to fund roads and schools, were outlawing lotteries, mainly because the American economy was starting to look like a gigantic lottery.

O’Sullivan worried about more than the pillaging of the many by the few. Echoing a point made by Andrew Jackson in 1832 (in his famous message vetoing re-charter of the Bank of the United States), O’Sullivan affirmed that if governments would stop legislating privileges for the rich that gave them advantages over ordinary Americans, then rewards would follow merit; economic ruin would be the natural requital of ill-desert. He added a psychological dimension: as long as rewards were seen to be based on merit, the bitterness spawned in America “by the deadly animosity of classes feeling themselves equal” would shrink.
Learn more about Merit at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2013

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette's "Science on American Television"

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian based in Washington, DC. She is the author of Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television and Science on American Television: A History.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Science on American Television and reported the following:
Page 99 of Science on American Television: A History concludes a chapter about 1960s science and nature documentaries. A new generation of filmmakers were accompanying researchers into laboratories, tropical forests, mountain caves, and deep-sea habitats and making celebrities of Jane Goodall and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Their projects began to combine education, entertainment, and political and ethical discussions into programs ostensibly about science. At the same time, the consolidation of decisionmaking power within media corporations meant that money, rather than creativity (or, in the case of science, importance and accuracy), determined what eventually appeared on the air. Without commercial sponsorship or charitable subsidy, even the most inspired, prestigious projects would not be produced.

Histories of science popularization have tended to analyze what audiences have read or watched and to ignore the harsh realities of media economics and competition. Page 99 concludes a summary of something proposed but never produced: a mini-series idea from extraordinarily accomplished, internationally known scientists and scholars, involving well-regarded creative talent, and backed by a renowned institution. By proposing to explore the interdependence of human life with the natural world, and the environmental consequences of decisions made for the sake of economic progress alone, the team had anticipated today’s contemporary political debates. To read the script treatments preserved in the Smithsonian Institution Archives is to long to see those imagined programs, to marvel at their foresight, and to glimpse the outcome of negotiated popular culture.

That unfunded television proposal represented one of many worthy ventures that never made it on the air. The records of such lost opportunities offer useful perspectives for the history of science popularization. By the 1960s, marketplace assumptions about viewer preferences were routinely shaping television’s science and nature presentations. To capture airtime on commercial television (or to secure funding), science filmmakers were being pressured to entertain, to entwine dramatization and re-creation with brief animated tutorials. Such subsuming of the science has become standard practice on television today. The poet Hughes Means once moaned that “Yesterday, upon the stair,/I met a man who wasn’t there” and then wished that vision away. If lucky, historians of popular science can experience the opposite: catch a glimpse of what was “never there” and locate archival records that help to explain why.
Learn more about Science on American Television at the University of Chicago Press website.

Writers Read: Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Victoria Emma Pagán's "Conspiracy Theory in Latin Literature"

Victoria Emma Pagán is Professor of Classics at the University of Florida. Her books include A Sallust Reader, Rome and the Literature of Gardens, and Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History. She also edited the Companion to Tacitus.

Pagán applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Conspiracy Theory in Latin Literature, and reported the following:
Or in this case, page 91:
Suspicion and its opposite, trust, bring us to the heart of conspiracy theory, for these twin acts of mind are social and epistemic at their core. Both are human responses to a ‘perennial epistemological gap.’ When faced with uncertain or unknowable outcomes, one attempts to map the available clues so as to minimize the risk of a wrong decision. For instance an emperor conducts an unusually large number of treason trials one year; as a result, a certain senator is unsure whether he will be prosecuted. In the face of uncertainty, he can extend to the emperor either trust or suspicion so as to secure for himself a purchase on the future. Should he trust the emperor and plan on seeing his children grow up, or should he go ahead and deposit his will with the Vestal Virgins? In deciding, the senator risks his reputation, his relationship with the emperor, and even his life. Such a decision must be made carefully and prudently.
As a classicist I strive to expose the fine edge between the strange world of far away and long ago and the familiar world of here and now. When we are most like the Romans, in say the exercise of suspicion and trust, we are also most unlike them: our prerogatives were not theirs. So in my study of conspiracy theory, I am at pains throughout the book to leave intact the particular circumstances of any given conspiracy theory, while at the same time developing a framework in which to understand the production and consumption of conspiracy theory.
Learn more about Conspiracy Theory in Latin Literature at the University of Texas Press website.

Writers Read: Victoria Emma Pagán.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 4, 2013

Deborah R. Coen's "The Earthquake Observers"

Deborah R. Coen is assistant professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Earthquake Observers: Disaster Science from Lisbon to Richter, and reported the following:
Perhaps you’ve read about the six Italian seismologists who were found guilty of manslaughter this fall for failing to predict the deadly 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila. If so, you may have gathered that seismologists today have something of a communication problem. Indeed, some of them have admitted that they are hard-pressed to communicate seismic risk in terms that the public will understand and act on. My book is about a time before that barrier arose. It’s about seismology’s origins as (what we would call) a “citizen science.” On page 99, we find Swiss citizens reporting to scientists about their experiences of ground tremors in 1885 and 1908. One records his impression that “under his feet a rockslide must be taking place.” Another recalls having thought: “If Switzerland were in Italy, one would say that this is an earthquake.” We then learn something about how scientists made use of these reports to understand the nature of seismic phenomena. That “rockslide,” for instance, is interpreted as a subterranean collapse, triggered by movement along a neighboring fault line. In short, page 99 neatly encapsulates two of the book’s central themes: how the experiences of ordinary people—in rather extraordinary situations—were transformed into scientific evidence; and how local events were pieced together to understand planetary processes. If you want to see how this nineteenth-century science has influenced seismology today, take a look at the United States Geological Survey’s website, Did You Feel It?.
Learn more about The Earthquake Observers at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Peter Temin's "The Roman Market Economy"

Peter Temin is the Gray Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The World Economy between the World Wars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Roman Market Economy, and reported the following:
Opening The Roman Market Economy at page 99 brings you to the opening of the chapter on how trade was conducted. The book earlier makes the claim that there was an integrated wheat market throughout the Mediterranean under the Pax Romana. The discussion on page 99 talks about the need for some institutions to facilitate this trade and make it helpful for all. The Romans were very sophisticated in their economic dealings, and the trade around the Mediterranean facilitated regional specialization and increasing incomes, particularly in Roman Italy where most Roman land-owners resided during the late Republic and early Empire.

The wheat market was the most important commodity market, and it operated similarly to many international markets up to modern times. Roman land was owned, bought and sold in ways that are closer to modern analogies than Medieval arrangements. Roman banks were surprisingly like private banks of the eighteenth century. Roman slavery however was not at all like modern American slavery; it was closer to long-term employment than to hereditary modern slavery. Slaves were part of the Roman labor force; they worked and competed with free workers.

The analyses of individual markets imply that the economy of the Roman Empire was working well. I show in the book how sustained growth can take place in a Malthusian world. Delays in the Malthusian model imply that the dismal science is only constraining in the long run. The final step was to evaluate the GDP of the Roman Empire around 100 CE. Making a proper comparison, it is clear that Roman Italy in the second century was as prosperous as the Dutch Republic in its golden age of the seventeenth century.
Learn more about The Roman Market Economy at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hilary Hallett's "Go West, Young Women!"

Hilary Hallett is Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Go West, Young Women!:
A piece on the imminent move of scenarist [screenwriter] Josephine Quirk from New York to Los Angeles resurrected Horace Greeley’s old advice for feminist ends. “When Horace Greeley penned those immortal words, ‘Go West, Young Man,’ he failed to reckon with the feminine contingent. That of course was before the days of feminism,” Louella Parsons excused. “In the good old days when Horace philosophized over the possibilities in the golden west he thought the only interest the fair sex could have in this faraway country was to go as a helpmate to man,” she explained. Parsons then spelled out what such a role entailed: “If her husband, her father or her brother set out to explore the vast unknown—she should accompany him as cook, chief sewer of buttons and to make sure that his home was kept clean.” Banishing the thought of consigning her readers to such an inglorious fate, Parsons declared, “But that was in the good old days. In the present day, if milady goes west she travels not to sew on buttons or do the family washing, she goeth to make her own fortune.” Calling Quirk “one of those up to date young women who is following Greeley’s advice,” Parsons heralded the better prospects faced by these modern adventurers. No possible calamity faced Quirk. Her “future is assured, since she has accepted a position with the Goldwyn Company."

And so the hopeful responded, traveling westward as before. By the time that Parsons encouraged Quirk’s imitators to go west, Los Angeles was known not just as “the Capital of Movie-Land” but as a “picture Eldorado” that particularly attracted ambitious single women. Journalists like Parsons helped to spark women’s westward migration by describing the first movie personalities and the social terrain they occupied as fantastically connecting the two most influential environments that young women moved into in this period: the world of mass culture and the world of work. Their stories described some of the most visible freedoms resulting from women’s work vis-á-vis the new social conventions that mass cultural forms like the movies and the press engendered and publicized. The place that women occupied within this industry as it settled in the West offered tangible evidence that women could succeed in areas, and on terms, previously reserved for men. And yet, in celebrating the glamorous side of feminine power, women celebrities shaped and sold a fan culture that acted as a bridge from the past, in effect promising young women they could have it all.
This page could not be more perfect to represent the book.

Page 99 describes the main theme of the first half of the book. My discovery of Louella Parsons's role in promoting the movie industry as a great new western frontier for ambitious women got me hooked on the topic in general. In seeing the movie industry through the eyes of early journalists like Parsons and her readers, I realized that there was a whole other image surrounding Hollywood's birth which had largely been erased from historical memory.

This page also inspired the title for the book!
Learn more about Go West, Young Women! at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue