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 clich├ęs 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 clich├ęs?) 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