Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meryl Gordon's "The Phantom of Fifth Avenue"

Meryl Gordon is the author of The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, as well as the author of Mrs Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of A Family Beyond Approach. She is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to Vanity Fair.

Gordon applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Phantom of Fifth Avenue and reported the following:
By the luck of the draw, Page 99 of The Phantom of Fifth Avenue marks the beginning of one of the most pivotal scenes in my book, leading up to the death of Huguette Clark's older sister Andree in 1918. Huguette was only 13 at the time and she was haunted by her sister's death for the remainder of her life. I was able to read Andree's and Huguette's diaries, plus family letters right before and after the death -- I teared up while reading these yellowing documents, it was so sad.
Visit Meryl Gordon's website.

See: Meryl Gordon's five best chronicles of high society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Michael L. Satlow's "How the Bible Became Holy"

Michael L. Satlow is Professor of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies at Brown University. He has been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How the Bible Became Holy, and reported the following:
When I set out to write this book, my goal was quite modest. I was going to take the consensus positions of the voluminous scholarship on the development of the authority of the texts that would end up in the Bible, synthesize them, and make them accessible to a non-scholarly audience. Although I knew most of this scholarship well, it was not until I sat down to write that I discovered two uncomfortable truths. First, many scholarly positions in this field do not really command a “consensus”; the evidence is sparse and cryptic and allows for many competing interpretations. Second, in many cases where there was at least an emerging consensus, I found myself increasingly disagreeing. Scholarly explanations often make sense in the narrow context in which they are often considered, but when placed into a larger historical narrative that I saw developing they often fell short. Disagreeing with my colleagues, especially in areas where they are more expert than I am, made me more than a little nervous. Given that I wanted to write an accessible narrative, I often also had to dispense with the tight and technical arguments to which scholars are accustomed.

Now take page 99. Here I discuss very briefly – too briefly – a topic that has and continues to vex biblical scholars: how was the Pentateuch produced? Who redacted a set of pre-existent sources into the Torah, and when and why did he, she, or they do it? I suggest that rather than understanding the Torah to be the work of the those Israelites who had been exiled to Babylonia after the destruction of the temple in 586 BCE (a common but far from unanimous position) we see it as a work that dates from the fourth century BCE, the work of scribes and priests in Jerusalem. The Torah, with its historical arc from creation to entrance into the land of Israel, should be seen together with the books of Chronicles, which contain a similar narrative arc and which we are relatively certain was produced in fourth-century BCE Jerusalem. Both emerged from the same milieu, and both attempted to create a history of Israel out of earlier sources that served the needs of a relatively young polity in Jerusalem.

To many scholars, those are fighting words.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Satlow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mimi Sheller's "Aluminum Dreams"

Mimi Sheller is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University. Through her research on Caribbean history, transnational and everyday mobilities, and mobile communication and locative media, she has helped to establish the new interdisciplinary field of mobilities research. She is the author of Democracy after Slavery (2000); Consuming the Caribbean (2003); and Citizenship from Below (2012), as well as several co-edited volumes in critical mobilities studies.

Sheller applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Aluminum Dreams is a striking 1943 advertising image from the Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corporation. The graphic illustration in rich hues pictures “A Possible Tractor of Tomorrow” and is part of a series of ads showing a railway observation car of the future (with a glass domed front), tomorrow’s power shovel, a future cotton picker (which looks like a giant futuristic vacuum cleaner), and a huge future tank truck for delivering milk. These images are a great way to show connections across the history of material culture and design, ideas of speed and modernity, and the political economy of global metals production and consumption.

The text on page 99 refers to futuristic designer Arthur Radebaugh who drew on the 1930s Streamline aesthetic of “formal compactness that lends static rigidity combined with a low weight and smooth, spherically shaped surfaces rendered in a bright, lightweight, metal.” Radebaugh applied this style to depicting life in the future with gleaming aluminum cities abuzz with personal helicopters, zeppelins, moving sidewalks, and elevated automated highways, and colonies on the moon. He is just one among a fun cast of maverick inventors, writers, architects and designers who appear in the book, including Jules Verne, R. Buckminster Fuller, Norman Bel Geddes, Jean Prouvé and Walter Gropius.

This image is crucial to the book’s argument that aluminum alloys contributed to the dream of high-speed travel and gravity-defying flight, which informed twentieth century mobile modernity and its visions of the future. Aluminum made the world modern both as a new material out of which to design streamlined modernism, and as a support for the entire infrastructure of fast transport and satellite communication that we associate with modernization. It appears in cars, trains, and planes; lightweight cans and aluminum-foiled foods; high power electricity lines and massive hydroelectric power projects for smelting; and aluminum powders that make their way into everything from cosmetics, food, paint and vaccines, to bombs, rocket fuel, and new nanotechnologies.

But aluminum also connects to darker dreams of modernization that came with heavy environmental costs in terms of mining bauxite in the Caribbean, West Africa, Australia and India, and using huge amounts of energy for smelting. Many harms and risks are embedded in this material culture, yet it is not easy to unravel aluminum from our everyday social practices.
Learn more about Aluminum Dreams at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kristie Macrakis's "Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies"

Kristie Macrakis, an author, historian and professor, was born and raised in Boston, MA. After completing her Ph.D in the history of science at Harvard University, she spent a post-doctoral year in newly unified Berlin, Germany. She is a professor in the school of history, technology and society at Georgia Tech in Atlanta where she teaches courses on history of science, Nazi Germany and the history of espionage.

Macrakis applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda, and reported the following:
Given the subject of my book – the history of invisible ink – I may well have opened up page 99 only to find a blank page! Instead, a facsimile of a developed invisible ink letter dating from the American Revolutionary War takes up about three quarters of the page. I can’t say this is typical of the whole book because it was understandably difficult to find invisible ink letters whether made visible or still invisible.

But the fact that a developed invisible ink letter dating from the American Revolutionary War exists, tells us quite a bit about the importance of this mode of secret communication in wartime. In particular, General George Washington was enamored with what he called “sympathetic stain.”

However, the letter reproduced here does not stem from the George Washington’s spies, but rather from the Tories. It is the first invisible ink letter that anyone has found since it dates from 6 May 1775. Benjamin Thompson, a turncoat – better known as the eminent physicist Count Rumford – wrote the letter to warn the British that the rebel army had grown to 30,000 men and that Congress intended to follow through with its plan of Independence at any cost.

This is an important bit of secret news and it needed to be sent in secret as if the patriots had discovered this message, Thompson would have been caught and hanged.

Aside from the content of the letter and the reason for using invisible ink to disguise it, another question to ask of it is, what kind of invisible ink formula did Thompson and George Washington use. The Revolutionary Ink chapter also uses detective skills to uncover the invisible ink formula used by both sides. The reader may be surprised to find out what the results were.
Learn more about Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies at the Yale University Press website and Kristie Macrakis's website.

The Page 99 Test: Seduced by Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kelly A. Ryan's "Regulating Passion"

Kelly A. Ryan is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Southeast.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Regulating Passion: Sexuality and Patriarchal Rule in Massachusetts, 1700-1830, and reported the following:
Regulating Passion explores the relationship between sexuality and hierarchy during the colonial era through the early republic. Page 99 of the book takes the reader to the heart of the American Revolution, with Bostonians living under British occupation. White Bostonians chafed at the relationship British soldiers created with African Americans, whom white Bostonians believed should be loyal to them. To quell their own fears about the immorality of slavery and this new partnership, white Bostonians published sexualized indictments of the relationship between the British and African Americans that hinged on the beliefs that interracial sex was immoral and that African Americans were hypersexual.

Page 99 of Regulating Passion features a quote from “A Vaudevil,” a song published in 1776 that intended to reveal the betrayal of various groups during the occupation. “FanFan” an African American woman, says she enjoyed the blockade because of the opportunity to “get kiss’d by white man” and “eat good salt pork,” which was likely a nod to the price of her kiss. Citing sexual motivations, rather than political ones, was a means of discrediting the British/African American alliance that was truly fashioned out of economic and political imperatives. Whites continued to sexualize African Americans’ political activities after the war. At the end of page 99, we see white Americans claiming that a planned slave rebellion by African Americans in Montserrat intended to kill white men, “but the women would be spared for wives for the Negros.” Avoiding their own complicity in the horrors of slavery, white Americans fashioned narratives of sexual misconduct to alleviate their conscience and bolster their claims to superiority.

Page 99’s theme is indicative of larger trends in Regulating Passion, and I often reference these trends during my book talks. Sexual mores, crimes, and reputations are the major themes of the book. The criminalization and unsavory sexual reputations ascribed to white women, African Americans, Indians, and the poor, supported the patriarchal hierarchy. Individuals resisted these sexual characterizations and tried living according to their own standards, while others sought to shape more positive sexual reputations to earn a place in the public sphere. As individuals fought for inclusion, they often became agents of patriarchy by asserting they fit into the sexual mores created to empower wealthy white men. Ultimately, I hope the reader sees that sexuality was a powerful force in early America, and that it was a time as steeped in sexual intrigue as today.
Learn more about Regulating Passion at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Austin Sarat's "Gruesome Spectacles"

Austin Sarat is Associate Dean of the Faculty, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science, and Director of Mellon Project on Student-Faculty Research at Amherst College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty readers will find part of the account of the botched execution of Allen Foster on May 2, 1953. Foster was executed in North Carolina’s gas chamber for robbing and raping the woman for whom he worked as a hired hand. In my book I try to tell the stories of those, like Allen Foster, whose executions went wrong and of the suffering they endured, but also about the suffering they inflicted on the victims of their grievous crimes. I do so in a way that treats a gruesome subject without sensationalism. Indeed, as one reviewer put it, “If ever a book took a measured approach to an incendiary subject, it is this one.”

My book offers the first comprehensive treatment of America’s botched executions and of their significance in law, popular culture, and in the struggle to end capital punishment. I studied every American execution from 1890-2010 and determined that just over 3% of them were botched. Among all of the technologies we have used to execute people—hanging, the firing squad, electrocution, the gas chamber, and lethal injection—the last is bungled the most, at 7%.

While botched executions have helped propel changes in the technologies used in capital punishment, they have played little role in the campaign to end the death penalty. This is so, in part, because they are seen as mere accidents with no broader significance. I hope that by offering a broad historical perspective that we can now more clearly consider whether there is something of broad significance about botched executions.

My book offers a chapter on each of the major technologies used in executions since 1890. In each I discuss the promises and aspirations associated with each new technology. I then examine the various ways that each technology goes wrong and tell the stories of the cases in which botched executions occur, focusing on the lives of the condemned, their crimes, and what happened to them when they were executed.

The book tells the story of America’s obsession with ideas of scientific progress, the way those ideas drove the search for efficient, reliable and humane methods of execution and how that search has come to naught in one technology after another.

I hope to help precipitate a conversation about whether 3% is an acceptable error rate in the practices of capital punishment.
Learn more about Gruesome Spectacles at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

James Turner's "Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities"

James Turner, a historian, is Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities at the University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, and reported the following:
Today, almost everybody who goes to college takes courses in the humanities—English lit, art history, classics, history, etc. That wasn’t always true. The humanities didn’t exist in American or British universities until fairly late in the nineteenth century. But where did they come from? My curiosity about that question eventually took me to ancient Greece and from there on a long journey back to the twentieth century. The result of this adventure is Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. Surprisingly, Philology is the first history of humanistic learning in the West as an integral whole. Parts of the story have been told (and often told well), but never stitched together. For me, research for the book was the most exciting voyage of a lifetime in scholarship, as I learned all sorts of curious stuff I’d never before dreamed about. Who knew that military engineers played an indispensable part in creating modern archaeology? I hope readers share my excitement.

Page 99 is actually pretty typical, in that it crosses continents and decades in two or three paragraphs. The topic happens to be the beginnings of modern linguistics, and the page jumps from British colonial officials studying Sanskrit in India to early investigators of Native American tongues. On another random page (301), readers will discover how excavation of primitive flint tools alongside bones of extinct animals in a cave in Devonshire paradoxically helped to birth the modern discipline of history. Opening yet another (83), we find an Anglican clergyman compiling a path-breaking work of Old English scholarship while on the lam to escape execution for treason.

Who might be interested in reading Philology? Well, anyone interested in how modern knowledge and modern liberal education came to take the shape they did. Likewise, anyone who follows current arguments over the relevance of the humanities and their possible futures. Understanding where the humanities came from, after all, is essential to informed debate about where they might and should go.
Learn more about Philology at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 18, 2014

David Reimer's "Count Like an Egyptian"

David Reimer is associate professor of mathematics at The College of New Jersey.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Count Like an Egyptian: A Hands-on Introduction to Ancient Mathematics, and reported the following:
Context is important, especially in mathematics. Our brains are overwhelmed each day with an excessive amount of data. Without motivation, abstract mathematics will be tossed out in our nightly purge with the rest of our useless short term memory. Context also helps us understand difficult concepts by giving us a model to supply meaning to abstract mathematical relations. Once we have a working paradigm, we can tie together disparate notions into the big ideas that define a subject. Count Like an Egyptian is a book on ancient Egyptian mathematics and page 99 is the beginning of a section that illustrates the importance of context.

The section starts by describing the annual flood of the Nile. It then explains how Egyptians knew it was coming, how high it would be and how they would trap the life bringing waters and fertile soil it carried. As the flood waters receded, ancient Egyptians confronted a new problem. The old boundaries that marked one farmer’s field from another were washed away. Even worse, the river may have changed its course making it impossible to reestablish the old borders. The best they could do was to give a farmer a new field of the same area.

Now that the importance of area has been established, the book describes various field area problems modeled after actual 3,600 year old word problems. It starts with rectangular fields. Since rivers rarely agree to cut fields at nice right angles, it then explains how Egyptians calculated the area of other shapes. As always the book then presents the reader with problems so they can directly experience ancient methods.

The section ends with the solution to one last problem. The answer is surprisingly short and elegant. It’s here one of the main themes of book is reexamined. Modern mathematics is dominated by equations and algorithms. If you follow the prescribed steps mindlessly you will obtain a correct answer. Ancient Egyptian mathematics favors creativity and wit. It provides a set of tools to be used on a whim. In the hands of the skilled, Egyptian math can reduce long computations to a handful of steps. Each Egyptian problem is a puzzle and its solution is an art.
Learn more about Count Like an Egyptian at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 16, 2014

Murray Carpenter's "Caffeinated"

Murray Carpenter has reported caffeine-related stories for the New York Times, Wired, National Geographic, NPR, and PRI’s The World. He has also written for the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor and other media outlets. He holds a degree in psychology from the University of Colorado and an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, and has worked as a medical lab assistant in Ohio, a cowboy in Colombia, a farmhand in Virginia, and an oil-exploring “juggie” in Wyoming.

Carpenter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, and reported the following:
This book grew from my belief that caffeine does not get the respect it deserves, and the drug’s role in shaping our behavior, affecting our moods, and boosting commerce are underappreciated. Most Americans take caffeine daily, and we consume most of that caffeine in coffee, in which it is a natural constituent. But over the last 60 years, we have increasingly been getting our caffeine fix from soft drinks and, more recently, energy drinks. Page 99 is where I was unraveling a vexing mystery.

Researching the book, I became intrigued with the industry that supplies the pure, powdered form of the drug. We import 15 million pounds of powdered caffeine annually, most of which is blended into soft drinks. Some of that is extracted from plant products, such as coffee or tea. But these processes account for less than half of the powdered caffeine we consume. Where does the rest of that caffeine come from?

It turns out that page 99 covers two of my unexpected findings: most of the powdered caffeine we use in the United States is not extracted from natural plant products, such as coffee or tea, but chemically synthesized in pharmaceutical plants; and Monsanto was one of the first large-scale caffeine producers in the United States.

From page 99:
“Tea wastes are the largest single source in domestic solvent extraction processes, and far more important than coffee which provides the chemical through decaffeination,” Chemical and Engineering News reported [in 1945]. “A practical process for the production of caffeine by complete synthesis would probably displace foreign sources for theobromine and caffeine in this country. . . . Wholly synthesized caffeine,” the journal reported, cost twice as much as extracted caffeine, which then sold for less than three dollars per pound.

Later that year, the same journal reported that an American firm was taking up the challenge, by diversifying from its tradition of producing natural caffeine: “Monsanto Chemical Co. has disclosed its intention to free the United States from dependency on foreign-produced natural sources of caffeine through construction and operation of what will be the world’s first large-scale plant for the manufacture of synthetic caffeine.”

Caffeine synthesis, assembling the chemical from its building blocks instead of carving it away from plant material, was a German innovation. The chemist Emil Fischer pioneered the process in 1895, using uric acid as the primary building block. (This was one of the achievements that earned him the Nobel Prize in 1902.)

And it turned out that Germans had also pioneered the industrial production of synthetic caffeine, a few years ahead of Monsanto. The German company Boehringer Ingelheim had built a large synthetic caffeine plant in 1942, though Americans may not have been aware of it. Then, as now, all of the major caffeine-consuming nations in Europe and North America lacked any commercially viable caffeinated crop. Chocolate, coffee, and tea are imported from less developed countries, to sate our appetites for legal stimulants. It can be challenging to keep the supply lines open, even in peacetime, but the war years were especially fraught, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ford Madox Ford’s test works well for this book. The distinctions between the caffeine that naturally occurs in coffee and tea and the powdered caffeine that is blended into beverages are primary themes throughout the book. And the historical tensions between the two forms of caffeine linger today. The Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the safety of energy drinks and other products with added caffeine. Most of that caffeine is now synthesized in pharmaceutical plants, but Monsanto is no longer producing caffeine.
Visit Murray Carpenter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

David N. Livingstone's "Dealing with Darwin"

David N. Livingstone is a professor of geography and intellectual history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is author of Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins.

Livingstone applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dealing with Darwin parachutes the reader into nineteenth-century Toronto, and in particular into the mind of the Scotsman Daniel Wilson, Professor of History and English Literature and later President of the University there. He’s grappling with the hottest question of the day – Darwin’s theory of evolution, and he casts it into the context of the debate over whether the human race is of single or multiple origin. Because he came from a strongly anti-slavery evangelical family and had long held to the monogenetic account of human origins, he was suspicious of any theory that might compromise the fixity of the human species. But Wilson’s response to Darwin’s challenge was cool and calm, as it was elsewhere in Canada. In fact it turns out that most Canadian scientists more or less ignored the theory, while the theologians at Knox College in Toronto engaged with it in creative and stimulating ways.

This circumstance might provoke in a reader the question: how was Darwin’s theory received elsewhere? How did other religious communities ‘deal with Darwin’? And that’s what the book is about. It seeks to tell the story of how religious communities sharing a strongly Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwinian evolution in a range of different settings – Toronto, Edinburgh, Princeton, Belfast, Columbia. All were major intellectual centers of Scottish Calvinism. All shared the same theological heritage. All were committed to the same confessional standards. Now, given the serious architectural similarity of their respective theological mind-sets, it might seem that they all responded in the same way to Darwin’s challenge. Right? Actually …. no. In Edinburgh, Darwinian evolution was embraced; in Belfast it was repudiated; in Princeton tolerated; in Columbia excoriated. Why? Because in each and every case the debate over Darwin was rooted in local cultural politics. How Presbyterians in these different locations dealt with Darwin was shaped in profound ways by such matters as who had the right to control higher education; long-standing convictions about race relations and the politics of ethnic segregation; the challenge of radical biblical criticism and subversive anthropology; and the influence of local scientists who were national leaders in their field. By telling the stories of these encounters, Dealing with Darwin challenges the assumption that it’s possible to speak of the relationship between science and religion.
Learn more about Dealing with Darwin at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 12, 2014

Matt Grossmann's "Artists of the Possible"

Matt Grossmann is a political scientist at Michigan State University and Director of the Michigan Policy Network. His first book was The Not-So-Special Interests.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945, and reported the following:
In Artists of the Possible, I explain the causes of American public policy change by relying on histories of policymaking in each issue area since 1945. I argue that national policymaking is usually insular, driven by negotiations among long-serving legislators, administrators, and interest groups. Policy change rarely reflects changes in public opinion, election results, media coverage, or events.

Page 99 addresses a contrary view, common in scholarship, which assumes that policymakers seek to address the public’s primary concerns: the public sets the agenda. Other scholars have found examples of new policies following changes in the agenda such as gun control after school shootings or environmental laws after Earth Day. I show that these are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Page 99 gives the contrary view its due (citing four examples of policies that did follow changes in issue agendas), but puts it in perspective:
Agenda setting factors are hardly irrelevant to the policy process, but they typically serve to… enable coalitions sufficient to enact significant new policies. Events, public opinion, and media reports are but a few of many factors that can play this role, including research or interest groups. Either way, the internal processes of coalition building are of primary importance.
Artists of the Possible reports the findings of policy historians regarding what mattered for policy change and conducts independent statistical analyses to see if changes in public opinion, media coverage, legislative hearings, or presidential speeches predict new policy in any branch of government. As page 99 reports, all this leads to the same answer:
The evidence from the collective judgments of policy historians and from the models designed to predict policy enactments via measures of agendas combine to paint a revised portrait of the policy process. Agenda setting factors rarely lead to significant policy change on their own [and] it appears unnecessary for an issue to rise dramatically on the public or elite agenda to result in significant policy change.
Does this reveal “the quality” of the book? It demonstrates that the book addresses big questions: Does government ignore the public and real-world events? The examples I cite on page 99 span four decades and three policy areas, illustrating its scope. The attention to specific episodes is clear, but the academic nature of the book also shines through: it is aimed toward sweeping theoretical conclusions.

Page 99 does not give any sense of the large differences across time periods and issue areas that I find in the rest of the book, but it does illustrate a primary lesson: government usually ignores what the public wants. Policy change comes from agreements among career politicians and interest groups, not democratic demands.
Learn more about the book at Matt Grossmann's website and in his recent writing for the Washington Post: "How Policymakers Ignore the Public’s Priorities," "The Liberal Arc of U.S. Policy," "Career Politicians are Just What We Need," and "Policymakers are Ignoring Us, but No More than Usual."

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 11, 2014

David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martín's "Culling the Masses"

David Cook-Martín is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Grinnell College and Director of its Center for International Studies. His work as a political sociologist focuses on understanding migration, race, ethnicity, law, and citizenship in an international field of politics. Cook-Martin is also author of The Scramble for Citizenship: Dual Nationality and State Competition for Immigrants.

David FitzGerald is Associate Professor of Sociology at UC San Diego and co-Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. His research aims to understand laws and policies regulating international migration as a total system of interactions among actors in countries of origin and destination. FitzGerald is also author of Nation of Emigrants: How Mexico Manages its Migration.

FitzGerald and Cook-Martín applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas, and reported the following:
Choosing immigrants by perceived race is today repugnant to ideals of equality and fairness. Generations of scholars have argued that racism was an aberration that democracies eventually worked out of their laws. Culling the Masses challenges this assumption by showing how governments in the Americas have, for most of the last 220 years, deliberately chosen their populations by ethnically selective immigration and nationality laws. The book draws on a survey of immigration and nationality laws in 22 countries of the Americas since 1790 and seven in-depth case studies. Surprising to some analysts, the most politically inclusive governments, whether democratic or populist, were most likely to select immigrants by race. The paragons of democracy in the Western Hemisphere modeled ethnic selection and maintained legal discriminations in immigration laws for the longest periods.

Against a common narrative, Culling the Masses also shows that countries like Chile, Mexico, and China, among others, spearheaded the move away from ethnic discrimination in immigration laws, not English-speaking settler states. Notwithstanding this record, massive migrations from a diversity of geographical origins transformed historically discriminatory states after World War II. The Pew Research Center recently noted that while in 1960 the population of the United States was 85% white, by 2060 it will be 43% white, a change mostly attributable to the more than 40 million immigrants who arrived since 1965, primarily from Latin America and from Asia.

On page 99 we ask why U.S. immigration law at the close of the 19th century restricted the entry of black and Asian immigrants but did not discriminate against southern and eastern European immigrants, who were considered liminally white and politically threatening. To answer this question, we look at the same factors that we examine formally throughout the Americas and in our case studies, including interest group politics, economics, ideologies of nationalism and racism in the domestic sphere (the “vertical plane” below), and intersections with similar factors in the international domain (the “horizontal plane”). Critical to the book’s argument is a consideration of how policy decisions at one point in time affected domestic and international factors at a subsequent moment (the “temporal” dimension), as well as how the likelihood of one country’s adoption of a policy pattern (e.g. a preference for Europeans) affects the likelihood that another country will adopt a similar policy (i.e. diffusion). The excerpt that follows illustrates how the U.S. case study advances the larger argument:
On the vertical plane, Zolberg argues that Democratic congressional dominance from 1835 to 1860, which was fortified by incorporating immigrants into urban political machines, prevented the enactment of nativist policies. On the horizontal plane, the fledgling republic wanted to build up its population to survive attacks from European competitors and expand west. It was not until the republic had become firmly established that policymakers had the luxury of restricting particular groups of Europeans.

Scientific racism on both planes gave a new shine to the old argument that certain races should be barred. Intellectuals in Europe and European settler societies circulated scientific papers and popularized works warning of the perils of race mixing. The most influential ideas originated in France, Germany, and Britain and spread through cultural emulation. In the United States, blacks and Asians were considered to be completely inassimilable, and discussion centered on how much the mixing of different European groups threatened national demographic health. Groups such as Celts and Alpines were considered different “races” with distinctive phenotypes and inherited social and behavioral characteristics.

Racism cut across the class divide on questions of immigration. By the 1880s, the Knights of Labor supported preferences for northern Europeans and restrictions on new sources from southern and eastern Europe. Business interests split. The National Association of Manufacturers opposed restriction, even as Protestant businessmen joined workers in the 2 million-strong American Protective Association that called for anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant measures in the 1890s. Irish and German ethnic lobbies fought against restriction, as did some social reformers.

Literacy tests became the preferred technique for restricting the entry of southern and eastern Europeans. Economist Claudia Goldin argues that literacy tests were motivated by the immigration of less educated groups with lower living standards, not by ethnocentrism, but this is unconvincing. Literacy tests were already an established model for facially neutral restrictions with racist goals, and proponents of tests for immigrants explicitly explained their motivation in racist terms. Mississippi already had adopted literacy tests at the polls to disenfranchise black voters, who were disproportionately illiterate. The Immigration Restriction League founded by Boston intellectual elites promoted a literacy test in the 1896 immigration bill. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a prominent member of the League, explained its goals: “The literacy test will bear most heavily upon the Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asiatics, and very light, or not at all upon English-speaking emigrants or Germans, Scandinavians, and French.” He invoked the warnings of French racist Gustave Le Bon, whose writings Lodge had encountered on a trip to France the previous year, that racial assimilation between superior and inferior groups would only progress if the numbers of the inferior group were small. [Restrictionists succeeded in implementing literacy tests in 1917, but] To the consternation of nativists, most immigrants from southern and eastern Europe passed the tests and gained admission!
Learn more about Culling the Masses at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: David Cook-Martín's The Scramble for Citizens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 9, 2014

Emily B. Baran's "Dissent on the Margins"

Emily B. Baran is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University. She specializes in the intersection of religion, modern state politics, and human rights in the postwar Soviet Union and its successor states.

Baran applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah's Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It, and reported the following:
American readers likely know Jehovah’s Witnesses solely for the Watchtower magazine presented by friendly, persistent strangers at their doorstep. Yet a long history of persecution and harassment worldwide has accompanied that knock at the door. Dissent on the Margins tells the story of how Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses survived decades of state persecution to emerge as one of the region’s fastest growing religions after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today over a quarter million citizens of former Soviet states belong to this religion.

The history begins in World War II, when the Soviet Union annexed territories along its western borders containing small, but close-knit Witness communities. These Witnesses’ dogged refusal to modify their core beliefs and abandon the shared practice of their faith elicited harsh repression by Soviet authorities. In 1949 and 1951, the state rounded up thousands of Witnesses, including children and the elderly, put them on cattle cars, and sent them into forced exile in remote outposts in Siberia and the Far East. In 1965, the state removed the terms of exile, but continued to repress Witnesses, who suffered job discrimination, police harassment, revocation of custody rights, arrest, and the near universal scorn of their neighbors.

In this regard, page 99 offers a representative snapshot of state persecution under the comparatively lenient tenure of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev:
Witnesses no longer faced the same scale of trials and arrests that they had under the two previous Soviet leaders. Courts convicted as many as a few hundred Witnesses a year for evasion of military service, while trials for illegal religious activities and for proselytism numbered only a few dozen annually…. Still, criminal investigations and convictions remained a feature of Witness life.
The page goes on to cover the cursory nature of such investigations:
Courts frequently interpreted a religious organization’s lack of registration as sufficient evidence that it was banned in the USSR and that all activities by believers were therefore criminal actions.
It also notes the use of other punishments to deter religious practices:
In 1966, the Supreme Soviet called on local soviets to issue warnings and fines to individuals for offenses such as unauthorized religious gatherings and baptisms. Those found guilty received fifty-ruble fines, a considerable sum of money, especially considering that some members received several fines.
Yet while the page 99 test accurately reveals the Soviet state’s intervention in religious life, it fails to highlight how religious believers responded to such persecution. In fact, the Witnesses operated one of the most sophisticated underground networks in the Soviet Union. They gathered in secret several times a week to read literature they smuggled in from abroad and reprinted on hidden printing presses. They baptized new members in nighttime rituals held in local lakes and streams. They skirted military service, did not vote in elections, did not join the Communist Party, and kept their children out of Party youth organizations. And they continued to knock on doors, preaching their beliefs to strangers as they do in the United States.
Learn more about Dissent on the Margins at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thomas Jundt's "Greening the Red, White, and Blue"

Thomas Jundt is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Brown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Greening the Red, White, and Blue: The Bomb, Big Business, and Consumer Resistance in Postwar America, and reported the following:
Greening the Red, White, and Blue tells the story of the rise of environmentalism following World War II, decades earlier than the sixties era that it is most often associated with. After the brutal light of atomic bomb flashes revealed a vulnerable planet, growing numbers of Americans recognized other ways that humans might destroy the earth. Corporate capitalism and atomic testing were leading sources of anxiety for their ability to alter the environment and threaten the planet’s inhabitants.

Page 99 reveals how two chemical components in fallout from nuclear bomb tests—strontium-90 and iodine 131—were widely feared as carcinogenic pollutants poisoning the planet. Toxins from contaminated plants and grains eaten by cows were concentrated in the animals’ milk and, subsequently, in the tiny bodies of milk’s biggest consumers: infants and children. Because strontium-90 lodges in bones, citizens groups began to collect children’s baby teeth for testing to determine how much radiation was being stored in their young bodies.

The final paragraph of page 99 touches on another of the book’s central themes. In this atmosphere of fear, a monthly journal published by the group Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information contained an article titled “Mothers Ask—What Should We Feed Our Kids?”

Environmental issues often became consumer issues. Food, the most intimate connection to the environment that most of us experience on a daily basis, was a particular focus of concern. A nationwide milk boycott helped push the government to finally ban aboveground nuclear testing in 1963.

Throughout the book citizens turn to their actions as consumers in an effort to combat a wide variety of other environmental ills or, at the very least, protect their loved ones from harm. Organics and other products believed to be environmentally friendly grew in popularity following World War II.

For critics, this is a troubling example of businesses’ ability to co-opt the ideals of reformers and sell them back to them as organic soy lattes. They charge those who practice personal politics through consumption with avoiding the more difficult work required to organize for participatory politics.

The history revealed in Greening the Red, White, and Blue demonstrates that the situation is considerably more complicated. Lacking adequate political solutions, with a two-party system beholden to the very corporations pillaging the planet, Americans turned to alternative green consumption because, however limited, it often seemed like the only game in town.
Learn more about Greening the Red, White, and Blue at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Deborah Feldman's "Exodus"

Deborah Feldman was born and raised in the Hasidic community of Satmar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

She is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (2012) and Exodus (2014), a memoir of post-religious alienation and identity.

Feldman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Exodus and reported the following:
On page 99, a cafe owner in Stockholm asks me "Are you Jewish?" which is certainly the question that sums up the entire book, that is "Am I still Jewish, and if so in what way, exactly?"

On page 99, what is happening to me is I'm spending some time in Europe and Scandinavia researching the journey my grandmother was on before she joined the Satmar sect in 1950, and everywhere I go I end up being asked this question, Am I Jewish?, because of my appearance. I learn that in Europe, a Jew is an abstract concept, or at least an exotic one. And I am left to wonder if it is my nose that makes me Jewish, and whether or not I actually have a choice in the matter anyway. What I learn in Exodus is that I can't be un-Jewed, no matter how much of my past I abandon, and no matter how many Jews themselves reject me. And it's a question of becoming comfortable with that, I suppose.
Visit Deborah Feldman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 5, 2014

Peter Bacon Hales's "Outside the Gates of Eden"

Peter Bacon Hales is professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture and director emeritus of the American Studies Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the author of several books, including Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project.

Hales applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now, and reported the following:
Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now traces the transformation of America from the beginning of the atomic age to the establishment of the virtual age. It is a history in which politics takes its rightful place in the uneasy background of everyday life, while ordinary people, activities and spaces dominate. I chose a series of charged objects, places and events, in roughly chronological order: test cases drawn from each of the mass media that emerged, dominated, and then faded as new technologies of information and entertainment overtook them—newsreels, movies, picture magazines, television, pop music, video games. I looked closely at each example—from Miracle on 34th Street to The Sims, then panned back to suggest their larger significance.

Two major themes emerged. The first concerns contesting images of atomic America—one darkly anxious and obsessed with powerlessness and fear, the other optimistic, even utopian, an America always about to be a rediscovered Eden. Over time, I’ve come to see these two as intertwined, often managed and manipulated by the dominating institutions, political and economic. The second theme concerns the ways Americans came to see themselves as actors on a global stage, eager or unwilling models of stability, independence, community and happiness, and justifying America’s place as the great moral superpower it hoped to be.

Both themes are embedded in the passage on page 99, which occurs in the middle of a close look at the layout of the Levittown model home and the significance of changes the builders made to the stock Cape Cod bungalow that had granted them fame and wealth. In 1949 and 1950, the Levitts abruptly abandoned their Colonial-style home for a version of a California ranch house, complete with modernistic two-sided fireplace, a carport, a floor-to-ceiling picture window, and a built-in television tucked into a living room wall. These changes reflected the Levitts’ decision to move from an avowedly traditional design, built into a tight-knit community, to an outward-looking, optimistic alternative, offering more freedom and independence, inside and out.
The final innovation moved this side of the equation further: it was the shift of living room from front, where visitors entering the house were immediately welcomed, to the back, where a long, wall-sized picture window and a doorway out to the back patio opened the living room to outdoors and, more importantly, to the intimate, informal, neighborly, communitarian space of the open backyards, the common area, rather than the sidewalk and street, the formal and efficient areas where the car was parked to take you to work and where the school bus came. Now rather than watching the kids from the kitchen, you watched them from the living room—from the space of leisure rather than labor.
Ah, but if only it had been page 98! For the book is full of wonderful images; on that page, you see Life magazine’s novel way of treating the changes in the Levitt house: they found a family that had traded up to each succeeding model, and posed them in front of each of their Levittown houses.
Learn more about Outside the Gates of Eden at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Priscilla Pope-Levison's "Building the Old Time Religion"

Priscilla Pope-Levison is Professor of Theology and Assistant Director of Women’s Studies at Seattle Pacific University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era, and reported the following:
Portland, Oregon. Nashville, Tennessee. Los Angeles, California. Zarephath, New Jersey. These communities, though far flung across the country, shared one common claim in the early twentieth century: each one housed headquarters for the institution-building enterprise of an entrepreneurial female religious leader. Page 99 in Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era offers the reader a description of the Portland headquarters of the Apostolic Faith Mission, founded by Florence Crawford (1872-1936). This particular headquarters served as hub for Crawford’s multi-faceted transportation collection.

Crawford’s transportation collection began modestly enough with a gospel wagon purchased for $250 in 1908. White canvas stretched tautly over each side provided a surface for religious slogans printed in large capital letters: PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD and TURN YE FOR WHY WILL YE DIE. She quickly transitioned to fourteen automobiles for use in religious work up and down the coast. Then she purchased a 3-passenger Curtiss Oriole, The Sky Pilot, and her son pioneered aerial evangelism, which entailed dropping religious papers from the air, as many as 1000 over rural Idaho and 9000 over Portland. Not content to capitalize only on highways or airways, Crawford bought a 28-foot motorboat to distribute religious literature onboard cargo ships and invite sailors to services at the downtown mission. For ships whose captains prohibited them on board, workers launched “gospel grenades”—waterproof packets of religious papers printed in the language of the sailors on that ship—as high as fifty feet in the air in order to land on deck.

On the other side of the country, Alma White (1862-1946), founder of the Pillar of Fire church, established a utopian-like village named Zarephath, on an extensive tract of farmland in rural New Jersey. Residents ate vegetarian meals, worshipped, exercised, farmed, ran a printing press, went to school, raised families, and were buried in the cemetery. Zarephath had its own third class post office and power plant with engine and boiler. Its dairy farm received the highest marks for cleanliness from state inspectors at their annual visits, and the homemade apple butter and whole wheat bread produced in its kitchens and the sweet corn grown on the farm remained legendary.

These headquarters emblematize the title of the book, Building the Old Time Religion, which features women evangelists who settled down from itinerant preaching to build institutions for gathering in converts and establishing a legacy in brick and mortar. With this key strategic change, these women transformed the quintessential expression of American Christianity—evangelism—from itinerancy into the grand task of institution building.
Learn more about Building the Old Time Religion at the New York University Press website and Pope-Levison’s home page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 2, 2014

Elaine Lewinnek's "The Working Man's Reward"

Elaine Lewinnek is Associate Professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Working Man's Reward: Chicago's Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl, and reported the following:
Frankly, I hope readers do not judge my book by page 99 alone. Page 99 [inset left. click to enlarge] of The Working Man’s Reward discusses the microlending institutions known as building and loan societies in which America’s nineteenth-century immigrants each paid fifty cents a month into a pot, then bid for the right to use the whole pot of money to buy a house. It is an important topic: it helps reveal the importance of access to credit for class mobility, the creative ways that various Americans achieved homeownership, the fact that it was nineteenth-century immigrants who designed the American dream of homeownership, the neglected source of banking auditor’s reports for understanding urban history, and also the high rate of foreclosures in turn-of-the-century Chicago. On page 99, I use the Illinois state auditor’s records of building and loan societies to calculate that Illinois’ foreclosure rate in the 1890s was, at a minimum, 20%, and perhaps as high as 50%. Although it was risky, it was a route to upward mobility for some nineteenth-century immigrants. On later pages, I explain that most of Chicago’s African-Americans arrived after banking rules changed, so that blacks did not have access to this microlending tradition for homeownership, adding to another way that spatial politics eventually reinforced economic and racial politics.

It is important – but, frankly, the days I spent poring over the Illinois state auditor’s reports were some of my least exciting days of research. I had more fun looking at social realist novels, boosters’ boasts, social workers’ exposes, early sociology dissertations, old guidebooks, subdividers’ advertisements, tourists’ memoirs, and Chicago journalism in English as well as German and Lithuanian and Czech. Some of Chicago’s prolific foreign-language press was translated in the 1930s as part of a New Deal project; for others, I had to hire a translator, because I really wanted to know why so many of Chicago’s newcomers made risky investments in working-class suburban homeownership. My project is an interdisciplinary project. I hope readers will look beyond page 99 to see these intriguing sources and what they reveal about Chicago’s diverse early suburban sprawl.
Learn more about The Working Man's Reward at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue