Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Veena Das' "Affliction: Health, Disease, Poverty"

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Affliction: Health, Disease, Poverty, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Swapan was deteriorating. One night his mother discovered that he had begun to defecate in the room. She stood outside in the street and loudly lamented for all to hear: “Let the neighborhood now come and see. Does he belong to a house? Is it my fault?” The powerful combination of symbols of pollution and the woman’s voice as lament, forced open a public space in which her plight had to be received… Ironically, in this case it was not the mother crying out for revenge because the enemy had harmed her child but because the child is the enemy. Once earlier relating her story to me, Swapan’s mother had said to me, “I pray to god-oh god, lift him up to yourself-can anyone imagine such words, wrenched out of a mother, words asking for the death of the same son to whom she had given shelter in the womb, borne him in pain? He has made his mother into a dayan [female monster].”
This page describes the unfolding of a case of mental illness in a young man living in a slum in Delhi (India). The center of gravity in this discussion is not on the clinic and on the exclusion of the mad in asylums, but on the network of relations (human and nonhuman) within which madness is encountered, acquires shape and is lived. The book asks who is the subject of illness? It proposes that illness might be seen not as located in the body of the individual but in the family circumstances, medical markets, state provisioning , and singular lives, as it (the illness) moves between times of normalization and times of critical pathology. Given the incoherences that illness produces in these relations the book goes on to ask, How should we understand the ontology of disease and of cure?

The scene of health care among the urban poor in India is of a proliferation of practitioners from different streams of medicine, of the neglect of patients in public hospitals and clinics and of medical markets within which the poor diagnostic skills, aggressive marketing of pharmaceuticals, and a combination of high rhetoric of policy makers with complete indifference to the actual plight of patients, has led to a crisis in the quality of care that the poor receive. Paying close attention to how practitioners imagine their craft – and the knotting of the complex worlds of patients and healers, the book asks how new norms of living are continuously generated within this scene of illness and care. At once a tender and intimate account of the conditions in which small events of illness might morph into major catastrophes for the poor and a stringent criticism of self-congratulatory discourses of global health, the book seeks to unsettle the ease with which scholars and policy makers pronounce on the characteristics of health care for the poor from a comfortable distance. A closer look based on immersion in these lives, leads us away from either a nostalgic rendering of the poor or a paternalistic viewpoint from above that assumes that the expert knows best. The stance of the poor in face of such everyday crises might be best described as that of “ordinary realism” in which the anthropologist too participates as she navigates these complex worlds.
Learn more about Affliction at the Fordham University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 29, 2014

Andrea R. Jain's "Selling Yoga"

Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Selling Yoga is concerned with the misguided tendency to reduce modern postural yoga, a variety of modern regimens consisting of postures synchronized with breathing, to a mere commodity of global market capitalism. Page 99’s concern is key to one of the major arguments of Selling Yoga. The book suggests modern yoga transformed from a countercultural phenomenon to a part of pop culture when entrepreneurs succeeded in “selling yoga” by establishing continuity between postural yoga brands and the dominant trends of late-twentieth-century transnational consumer culture. Selling Yoga evaluates exempla from postural yoga in a way that takes insider perspectives seriously in order to demonstrate that popularized yoga, though a product of consumer culture, is not a mere commodity, but can also serve as a body of religious practice.

From page 99:
One response to postural yoga has been to ignore emic accounts (accounts from the perspectives of those who live inside the relevant body of practice, accepting its basic worldview, rituals, and values) and to instead analyze postural yoga based exclusively on etic accounts (accounts from where people live outside the relevant body of practice)...

... some exclusively etic accounts of postural yoga amount to broadly targeted refusals to take it seriously as a body of religious practice, since, from their perspectives, it can be reduced to impotent borrowings from ancient yoga traditions put in service to capitalist values. According to such thinkers, postural yoga represents a mere commodification that exploits or distracts from what is perceived as the ancient, traditional, and homogonous yoga tradition.

Accomplished yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein, for example, refused to seriously analyze postural yoga as a body of religious practice. He considered ‘the popularization of yoga as potentially destructive of the yogic heritage’ since it embodies ‘distortions’ of yoga (Feuerstein 2003).
These accounts and claims are seriously misguided. First, they rely on historically inaccurate visions of yoga, which has always been dynamic, hence the abundant divergences between even premodern yoga traditions and the concomitant absence of a single, homogenous yoga heritage. Second, though there is no doubt that many of the ways in which yoga marketers sell products reflect continuity with consumer culture, and many yoga insiders approach yoga as a consumer good in service to capitalist values, such as profit, postural yoga can also serve as a body of religious practice in the sense of a set of behaviors that are treated as sacred, as set apart from ordinary life; that are grounded in a shared worldview; that are grounded in a shared set of values or goals concerned with resolving weakness, suffering, or death; and that are reinforced through narrative and ritual.

Postural yoga has robust religious qualities when, for example, insiders put yoga commodities in service to aims ranging from moral improvement to self-perfection, approach the yoga class as a healing space set apart from the mundane dimensions of life, or repeat a rich mythology on the transmission of yogic knowledge across generations to their teacher, perhaps one of the postural yoga giants B. K. S. Iyengar or Bikram Choudhury, before finally reaching and transforming them in a local yoga studio on a rubber mat.
Learn more about Selling Yoga at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Greg Garrett's "Entertaining Judgment"

Greg Garrett, the 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University, is the author of twenty books of nonfiction, memoir, and fiction. His latest book is Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, which explores the stories we tell about death and the afterlife--and why we tell them.

BBC Radio has called Garrett "one of America's leading voices on religion and culture," and he has also written on such topics as spirituality and suffering, film, U2, Harry Potter, and the boom in superhero narratives.

Garrett applied the “Page 99 Test” to Entertaining Judgment and reported the following:
This turns out to be a useful exercise: Page 99 of Entertaining Judgment actually offers a pretty representative picture of what the book is trying to accomplish. Entertaining Judgment argues that much of what we know or think we know about death (and what follows) is a product of the human imagination. Page 99 is smack in the middle of my chapter on human imaginings of Heaven. In the chapter as a whole, I’m discussing literature, music, movies, art, and other forms of culture—as well as Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim holy texts—to see how human beings have tried to envision a positive form of afterlife.

Page 99 gives you a nice snapshot of the larger book, which takes on huge concepts by analyzing specific presentations of these abstract ideas across the centuries. In this particular photo, let’s imagine that you see parts of two bodies. Page 99 finds us at the end of a section exploring the heavenly archetype “Paradise.” On previous pages, I’ve been discussing how the idea of a place of joy and beauty distinct from our current existence gets developed in texts from The Grapes of Wrath to the cult classic Big Night (set in a failing restaurant called “Paradise”) to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

As the page opens, I’m finishing a close reading of Coldplay’s Grammy-nominated song “Paradise” and its bizarre but charming music video. Then I jump into another archetype of Heaven, “Elysium,” opening with this beautiful quotation from Homer’s The Odyssey and moving on to Shakespeare, Mozart, Tolkien, and the movies Gladiator and (natch) Elysium.

I do love me some Ford Madox Ford, and it turns out he’s mostly right about how the Page 99 project applies to Entertaining Judgment. Maybe no single page of my book could reveal the way I’m developing arguments about Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and our current fascination with the undead, but Page 99 does at least show you the breadth of the texts I’m exploring to do it, and that makes it a snapshot worth keeping.

From page 99:
The lyrics [of “Paradise”] however, can take us only part of the way to Paradise. At several points, the song offers only “ooos” and soaring “Ohs,” since no words can properly capture the ineffable reality of the world beyond. The video for the song presents the idea of moving from an unsatisfactory reality to—or back to—a place of beauty and joy. The narrative in the video is bizarre but serviceable: an “elephant” (lead singer Chris Martin wearing an elephant costume) escapes from a dingy cell-like zoo cage (filmed, interestingly, at Paradise Wildlife Park, north of London), and makes his way to South Africa via bike, Tube, plane, and unicycle. At last, he meets up with the other members of Coldplay—also in elephant suits—and together they play the chorus and “ohs” against the beautiful backdrop of the setting African sun, until the scene suddenly shifts to the band onstage—still wearing their elephant heads. The brightly-colored stage set continues the motif and ties the idea of Paradise now to the band’s performance and the audience’s enjoyment of it. They have all entered—or returned to—some place where the cares of this world can be set aside, if only for the length of a song.

Heaven is not simply for moderns, of course; the Greeks spoke of a land called Elysium or the Elysian Fields in which the heroic, the faithful, and those related to the gods would live after death, enjoying the good life—or an even better one. In The Odyssey, Book Four, the god-prophet Proteus tells Menelaus, King of Sparta, about his ultimate fate:

…It’s not for you to die

and meet your fate in the stallion-land of Argos,

no, the deathless ones will sweep you off to the world’s end,

the Elysian Fields, where gold-haired Rhadamanthys waits,

here life glides on in immortal ease for mortal man;

no snow, no winter onslaught, never a downpour there

but night and day the Ocean River sends up breezes,

singing winds of the West refreshing all mankind.

All this because you are Helen’s husband now—

The gods count you the son-in-law of Zeus.
Learn more about Entertaining Judgment at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Greg Garrett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2014

Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness' "Appealing to Justice"

Kitty Calavita is Professor Emerita of Criminology, Law and Society and of Sociology at UC Irvine. Her books include Invitation to Law and Society: An Introduction to the Study of Real Law; Immigrants at the Margins: Law, Race, and Exclusion in Southern Europe; Big Money Crime: Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Crisis; and Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS.

Valerie Jenness is Professor of Criminology, Law and Society and of Sociology at UC Irvine, where she is also Dean of the School of Social Ecology. Her books include Making Hate a Crime: From Social Movement to Law Enforcement Practice; Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence; Making It Work: The Prostitutes' Rights Movement in Perspective; and Routing the Opposition: Social Movements, Public Policy, and Democracy.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic, and reported the following:
Most of page 99 is taken up by a table that describes the characteristics of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) personnel we interviewed. Below that is the continuation of a paragraph that began on p. 98:
…almost everyone spoke positively of the legitimacy of the appeals process and prisoners’ right to file grievances. This commentary did not appear to be offered merely for the sake of political correctness, but was often voiced with, if not passion, then at least conviction. Henry Lopez, an official in the Inmate Appeals Branch (IAB), was among the most adamant: “This is a way of giving voice to people it matters to….We need to ensure they get a voice.”
Henry Lopez (pseudonym) is an inmate appeals official in the Sacramento CDCR office that provides the final level of appeal to prisoners who have gone through an administrative process to contest the conditions of their confinement--a process that is required by law before prisoners can file a federal lawsuit. Although few prisoners prevail, tens of thousands of such appeals are filed annually in California alone. Appealing to Justice is an examination of that process, and a rare look inside prison, one of the most closed and invisible institutions in American society. We gained unique access to a computer-generated random sample of approximately 500 prisoner grievances filed in California in 2005-2006, and received unprecedented permission to interview a random sample of 120 CDCR prisoners in three prisons for men, as well as 23 key CDCR personnel. What these grievances and conversations tell us about prison conditions and about the nature of disputing in such an asymmetrical context is illuminating, and sometimes shocking. Our most intriguing findings, however, relate to the multidimensional nature of prisoners’ and officials’ perceptions, which in turn speaks to the complex quality of prison as a contemporary American institution. As Henry Lopez reveals in the quote above, he strongly believes in prisoners’ right to appeal their conditions, “giving voice to people it matters to…” We were told some version of this by all the officials we interviewed. But, these same officials also (and seamlessly) spoke with hostility about prisoners who file grievances, calling them “narcissists,” “liars”, and “whiners” who are overly “entitled.” Apparent contradictions such as these appeared over and over again in our interviews with officials. Prisoners too articulated disconnects, disdaining the grievance system as a “joke” but continuing to use it, and speaking reverently about “the law” and “evidence” as valid arbitrators of truth and fairness. Such contradictions parallel almost precisely what are arguably two defining logics of our age: The emphasis on individual rights on one hand, and the culture of control on the other. We argue in Appealing to Justice that prisons sit at the fault line of these colliding logics, and surface in the contradictory narratives of both prisoners and their captors. In addition to making these empirical and theoretical points, the importance of Appealing to Justice lies in its “giving voice to people it matters to” —those who live and work in prison, and from whom we almost never hear.
Learn more about Appealing to Justice at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

John Edward Terrell's "A Talent for Friendship"

John Edward Terrell has long been recognized as one of the world's leading experts on the peopling of the Oceania and the remarkable biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity of modern Pacific Islanders. He is also a pioneer in the study of global human biogeography, baseline probability analysis, and the application of social network analysis in archaeology and anthropology. Since 1971 he has been the curator of Oceanic archaeology and ethnology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago where he now holds the endowed Regenstein Curatorship of Pacific Anthropology established there in 2005.

Terrell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Talent for Friendship: Rediscovery of a Remarkable Trait, and reported the following:
The “Page 99” test takes us almost to the end of Chapter 13 titled “You can’t get there from here.” Each of the 30 chapters is by design short. Each is in a way a separate essay—again by design—on one facet of the many sides of the jewel that evolution fashioned when it created us as a species.

Chapter 13 explores the vexing stubbornness with which we often cling to commonsense beliefs about what it means to be human despite scientific evidence to the contrary. One likely reason for this pigheadedness is that while science and common sense are alike grounded in human experience, the simplicity of most commonsense explanations can make it hard to win people over to the complexity and uncertainties of most scientific arguments.

This chapter explores the famous case of the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543). For much of history, one of the great mysteries of life was why certain stars do not stay put like all the others in the sky. For centuries, making accurate predictions about where these wandering stars would be on any given night was anything but a piece of cake. The irony is that the calculations involved were so challenging because everyone was accepting as the gospel truth the mistaken but utterly commonsense idea that the earth sits motionless at the center of the universe while the sun, moon, and planets move around us. And as I further observe on page 99:
I think it is sobering to know that both common sense and good practical (and scientific) reasoning in the 16th century spoke unequivocally against Copernicus and strongly in favor of the old Ptolemaic view of the universe—a point of view that we now know was not just a little wrong, but was completely, utterly wrong. A lesser known fact is that for years after Copernicus’s death in 1543, some of the world’s leading astronomers did their very best to salvage the older world view—efforts that went to the extreme of offering elaborate blends of the old and the new that kept the earth right there in the center of things where it clearly belonged while allowing some of the planets to go around the sun the way Copernicus wanted them to.

The point of my telling this story is a basic one. Regardless of how sensible and widely believed something seems to be does not make it true. This moral definitely applies also to what philosophers and scientists have all too often said about human nature. However logical and persuasive the claims made by men such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Pufendorf, Spencer, Boas, and others may still sound to many of us today, what they wrote shows us that when it comes to human nature, like Ptolemy, we can easily start off on the wrong foot.
Mentioning here Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and others is my way of alluding to what I had earlier written about in the book. These Enlightenment thinkers in the 17th and 18th century and others more recently, as well, argued in ways that have led many of us to believe that the individual is the basic measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others. Science is now showing us, however, that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the self-serving individual. Evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others. Or, to say it as I had said it back on page 17 in Chapter 3:
Our evolved ability, our psychological and biological capacity, to make friends even with strangers is a defining characteristic of our species, an evolved human trait marking us apart from most other species on earth just as surely as the other diagnostic traits that have been singled out as being characteristic of our kind, such as walking upright on two legs, having opposable thumbs and a prominent chin, and possessing the powers of both speech and complex abstract reasoning.
Learn more about A Talent for Friendship: Rediscovery of a Remarkable Trait at the Oxford University Press website.

Cover story: A Talent for Friendship.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holger Nehring's "Politics of Security"

Holger Nehring is Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Politics of Security: British and West German Protest Movements and the Early Cold War, 1945-1970, and reported the following:
The test worked – and here is how. Let’s start with a large canvas and gradually zoom in to find the spot that marks p. 99. Politics of Security asks how we can understand the Cold War as a war in Europe, although no real battles were fought. This issue has puzzled me since I was a boy, growing up close to a Pershing II missile base in Mutlangen, Germany, in the 1980s, at the height of a series of contestations over peace and security.

Normally, wars are understood to be a suspension of politics or, in Clausewitz’s famous words, the ‘continuation of politics by other means’. The history of debates about nuclear weapons in Britain and West Germany from the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s to détente in the late 1960s suggests a different reading: the Cold War in Europe was fundamentally political and involved a debate about the very foundation of politics. In particular, the debates over the nuclear arms race mobilised different and historically specific notions of security that were embedded in historical experiences, memories and social communities. Activists tried to wrestle the fundamental plank of legitimacy from their governments: the control over the meanings of security.

By developing images and phantasies of a possible future nuclear war in light of experiences of the Second World War, activists made the abstract notion of the nuclear arms race comprehensible to broader audiences. The book demonstrates how these experiences came together and diverged again, how they were prompted and challenged by specific events; and it highlights both the broad similarities of British and West German activism and the differences in their specific meanings and resonance.

Page 99 is part of a chapter that analyses the ways in which discussions about nuclear weapons enabled different political and social communities, with their diverse experiences and memories, to discover common interests and concerns against the backdrop of specific political challenges. Activists drew on different pasts to imagine common political utopias. This particular section discusses the ways in which some West German and British Protestant Christians came to interpret the arms race as an issue of fundamental religious as well as political importance.

Defining security is a political act; definitions of security are not fixed; claims for security are – and should be – constantly contested.
Learn more about Politics of Security at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Matthew Avery Sutton's "American Apocalypse"

Matthew Avery Sutton is the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University. He is the author of Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), and Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard University Press, 2007). He has published articles in diverse venues ranging from the Journal of American History to the New York Times and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the US Fulbright Commission, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism, and reported the following:
If Page 99 is a test, my book earns a low pass. The page alludes to a few of the key issues in the book, but misses most of the most sexy material. Alas, neither the Battle of Armageddon, not the Antichrist appear on these pages.

In this book I am offering a reexamination of the rise and evolution of American fundamentalism. I argue that fundamentalists’ sincere conviction that they were living in the last days just before the rapture, rise of the Antichrist, and Second Coming of Christ influenced them in profound ways. The conviction that the end was nigh shaped everything from their politics to their economics to their family lives to their understanding of world events including depression and war.

Page 99 hints at some of this. It falls within a chapter on World War I and the ways in which white fundamentalists and African American evangelicals understood the war through the lens of biblical prophecy. Their religious convictions made them bad citizens—they believed that war was inevitable (hence the League of Nations was a futile dream) and that Woodrow Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy was pointless. The political ramifications of what started as a theological debate led to a split in American Protestantism between liberals and conservatives that is with us to this day. I write:
Over the course of the war, premillennialists and postmillennialists waged a battle of pens, typewriters, tracts, and books, taking no prisoners. The war highlighted and exaggerated their differences, propelling the controversy forward. By the time Woodrow Wilson returned from treaty negotiations in France, Protestant leaders knew that a major schism was in the works. How it would end nobody knew. Recognizing that the future of American Protestantism was at stake, neither side sought an armistice.
From there, I transition to the next section of this chapter:
The publication of the Fundamentals and the ensuing war time controversy with modernists helped radical evangelicals sharpen their faith. But they understood that more work had to be done to establish a lasting movement.
The war gave them the impetus to build an identifiable movement, one that they soon called fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, in turn gave rise to Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the rise of modern American evangelicalism, which has shaped the course of American history in profound ways.
Learn more about American Apocalypse at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 19, 2014

Jonathan Petropoulos's "Artists Under Hitler"

Jonathan Petropoulos is John V. Croul Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College, and author of several books on culture in the Third Reich. He is former Research Director for Art and Cultural Property, Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

Petropoulos applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Well, it’s difficult for me to assess the quality of my own work (although not surprisingly, I believe I did a good job, having spent nine years researching and writing this tome), but I think page 99 is representative of the book as a whole. The page falls in the chapter on Paul Hindemith, the modernist composer who tried to find accommodation with the Nazi regime (but failed—as did the other cultural figures taken up in this section).

Page 99 engages many of the themes in the book: the defense of a modernist composer on ideological grounds (in this case by Wilhelm Furtwängler, who called Hindemith “purely Germanic”), the strong popular support expressed for these progressive artists during the Third Reich (audiences applauded for twenty minutes after Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted at the Berlin State Opera, although the reaction came because Furtwängler had defended Hindemith in a prominent German newspaper); and the active engagement of Nazi leaders in the formulation of state cultural policy. One of the great paradoxes of the Third Reich is that the Nazi leaders—the most barbarous and malevolent men in history—devoted so much time to cultural pursuits. They not only collected art, but were very hands-on in making cultural policy.

This page is representative of the book in other ways too. First, it is part of a case study approach. Because I seek to discern the motivations of these modernist cultural icons, it is important to examine the specifics of their lives. Every figure had his or her own reasons for seeking accommodation with the regime. Of course, they are comparable in many ways (hence the organization of the book, with one section on those who sought to find a place in the Reich and failed, and another about those who tried and succeeded). But it’s important to focus in on the specific thoughts and circumstances of these very complicated and accomplished artists.

I think this book is also representative because it shows that many modernist cultural figures continued to be productive during the Third Reich, and that is one of the arguments of my book. There is a myth that all Nazis were anti-modernist and that they prevented the creation of modern art between 1933 and 1945. That’s very far from the truth. Many modern artists not only continued to work, but enjoyed the most productive periods of their career. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult, but for many, the dangerous environment imparted a sense of meaning, even urgency, with regards to their work. The trade in modern artworks continued up until 1945—one could buy and sell works by Emil Nolde, Ernst Barlach, Franz Marc, or Käthe Kollwitz. It’s important that we develop a more nuanced understanding of the cultural life of Nazi Germany.
Learn more about Artists Under Hitler at the Yale University Press website.

Writers Read: Jonathan Petropoulos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lee A. Farrow's "Alexis in America"

Lee A. Farrow is professor of history and distinguished teaching professor at Auburn University–Montgomery.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke's Tour, 1871-1872, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, I begin the description of Alexis’s visit to Harvard University in the fall of 1871. Over a period of three months in 1871-1872, Grand Duke Alexis, son of Russian Tsar Alexander II, traveled all over the United States, visiting all the major American cities of the time (including Chicago right after the Great Fire) and meeting many famous Americans of the period, including Albert Bierstadt, Oliver Wendell Homes, Samuel Morse, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ulysses Grant. He also traveled by train for a buffalo hunt with Buffalo Bill and Custer and was present for the first daytime celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. His visit occurred during the high point of Russian-American relations and the success of his visit was seen as a measure of the reliability of the Russian-American friendship. This is the first book to cover this fascinating story. Because I wanted any history lover to read it, I wrote it with a general audience in mind. In that sense, page 99 does represent the whole of the book. It discusses one of Alexis’s encounters with Americans and American life and, I hope, it is engaging for readers of all kinds.
Learn more about Alexis in America at the LSU Press website.

Writers Read: Lee A. Farrow.

My Book, The Movie: Alexis in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Raanan Rein's "Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina"

Raanan Rein is Sourasky Professor of Latin American and Spanish History at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina, and reported the following:
This book focuses on the history of the Club Atletico Atlanta, a soccer/football club located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. I consider soccer as a privileged avenue in Argentina for negotiating social, ethnic and gender identities. Although populated by many ethnic groups, Villa Crespo has long been considered, by Jews and non-Jews alike, as a Jewish neighborhood. Since the mid-20th century, Jews have constituted a substantial proportion of the fans, administrators and presidents of Atlanta, so much so that the fans of rival teams often chant anti-Semitic slogans during matches.

Page 99 begins a discussion about a critical stage in Argentine history, including the history of sports. The rise of a populist movement headed by the charismatic Juan Perón changed the rules of the political game to this day. The use and abuse of sports by the Perón regime influenced the history of Club Atlanta, as well as the relations of Jewish-Argentines with the government. The bond between Atlanta and Juan and Evita Perón started in 1944, when club members, many of them Jewish, donated money in order to assist the victims of the San Juan earthquake. They were part of a nationwide solidarity campaign headed by Juan Perón.

In the following years Atlanta, like many other soccer clubs, enjoyed financial support from the regime and paid back by expressing support of the government. The planned stadium of Atlanta was supposed to be named after Eva Perón. However, the military coup d'etat that deposed Perón in September 1955 also put an end to this plan. The new national authorities briefly closed the Villa Crespo stadium, a measure motivated by political consideration. The Jewish image of the neighborhood, and, by extension, of Club Atlanta, may have contributed to a certain attitude of suspicion and mistrust on the part of the new government. It was a time when nationalistic Catholic groups were distributing anti-Semitic pamphlets that included accusations against the Jews and the Masons of supposedly encouraging Perón to enter into a conflict with the Catholic Church.

The Jewish identity of Club Atlanta is similar to the one of Ajax Amsterdam and London's Tottenham Hotspur. The book thus discusses identity issues within and without the stadium and the cases in which identity is assumed by people or imposed on them.
Learn more about Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

R. S. Deese's "We Are Amphibians"

R. S. Deese teaches history at Boston University. His work has been published in AGNI, Endeavour, Aldous Huxley Annual, MungBeing, and Berkeley Poetry Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We Are Amphibians: Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species, and reported the following:
Just as some films are only remembered for one or two lines, some authors are only remembered for one or two books. Often this winnowing of our collective memory is just, but sometimes it is not. For example, the human race will probably get along just fine when the only thing that anyone can recall from the ill-fated Godfather, Part III is the line that Al Pacino made famous in the trailer: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” In contrast, the world would be a poorer place if the only books that anyone recalled from Aldous Huxley’s massive body of work were Brave New World and The Doors of Perception. Dystopian novels and psychedelic drugs are fine as far as each of them goes, but there is so much more to the life and thought of Aldous Huxley. This was a man who maintained a childlike interest in just about everything until the bitter end, and his ideas concerning such subjects as science, religion, and the future of our species still possess the power to surprise and enlighten curious readers more than half a century after his death.

We Are Amphibians explores the lifelong dialogue between Aldous Huxley and his brother, the biologist Julian Huxley, about all of these big, chin-scratching subjects. When I put this book to the Page 99 Test, however, I suddenly imagined Aldous Huxley stealing that line from Al Pacino (though with less lockjawed anger and more ironic aplomb). The problem is this: Although my book is only a little bit about drugs, page 99 is wall-to-wall tripping tales, thus throwing Aldous right back into to the same bin with Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and other lesser lights who made their reputations as gurus of pharmaceutical mysticism. On the bright side, the tales of altered states recounted on page 99 of We Are Amphibians are not from the well-explored terrain of sixties psychedelia, but concern the mind-expanding experiments of people who predated Aldous Huxley by decades, such as William James, Havelock Ellis, and Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Aldous was aware that William James had experimented with nitrous oxide and he shared the philosopher’s notion that other worlds of consciousness lay in wait for us just beyond the edges of our quotidian experience. He also drew inspiration from the physician and pioneering sexologist Havelock Ellis, who dosed himself with peyote in his gas-lit London flat in the 1890s and wrote an essay expounding on the significance of his experience. That essay, “Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise”, was published in 1898, and it may have played a role in inspiring others to repeat the experiment. On the eve of the First World War, the wealthy American bohemian Mabel Dodge Luhan conducted what she called ‘an experiment in consciousness’ in her Greenwich Village apartment by ingesting peyote buttons with friends in an improvised recreation of a Native American spiritual rite.

After recounting these antecedents to Aldous Huxley’s initial experiment with mescaline in 1953, page 99 of We Are Amphibians points out that his interpretation of the psychedelic experience owed a great deal to the thinking of the French philosopher Henri Bergson.
In a letter dated April 10th, 1953 to Humphry Osmond (the psychiatrist who would soon give him his first dose of mescaline), Aldous cited Bergson’s conception of how the human brain processes our experience of the world around us. This Bergsonian paradigm would guide his interpretation of his experiments in The Doors of Perceptions and of his subsequent essays and lectures:
It looks as though the most satisfactory working hypothesis about the human mind must follow, to some extent, the Bergsonian model, in which the brain with its associated normal self, acts as a utilitarian device for limiting, and making selections from, the enormous possible world of consciousness, and for canalizing experience into biologically profitable channels. Disease, mescaline, emotional shock, aesthetic experience and mystical enlightenment have the power, each in its own way and to varying degrees, to inhibit the functions of the normal self and its ordinary brain activity, thus permitting the ‘other world’ to rise into consciousness.
Although there is only a passing mention of Julian Huxley on page 99 of We Are Amphibians, this reference to the thinking of Henri Bergson points to the common intellectual heritage that Aldous Huxley shared with his brother. As descendents of T. H. Huxley (a.k.a. “Darwin’s Bulldog”) both brothers tended to view every question that commanded their attention from the broad perspective of evolutionary biology. Bergson’s expansive musings on evolution and human consciousness were a source of inspiration for Julian Huxley’s earliest essays on the life sciences, and proved to be a seedbed of ideas to which Aldous Huxley would return throughout his career.
Learn more about We Are Amphibians at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 15, 2014

Andrew Denning's "Skiing into Modernity"

Andrew Denning is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of British Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History, and reported the following:
A fascinating sketch [below left; click to enlarge] dominates page 99 of Skiing into Modernity. This piece, drawn by the German artist Toni Schönecker and published in a popular ski magazine in 1924, encapsulates the appeal and meaning of the sport in the decades before World War II. Schönecker depicts skiers walking through the city after a day on the slopes. They make their way down a narrow sidewalk, surrounded by the city’s shadowy denizens. A path opens up before the two skiers as they walk with their skis slung over their shoulders, and an aura of light emanates from their bodies, cutting through the gloom of the modern city.

As Schönecker suggests and countless skiers from the hills of Nice to the gates of Vienna argued, Alpine skiing offered a necessary antidote to the physical, emotional, and spiritual hazards of modern life. By taking to the Alps on skis, modern individuals reconnected with the overwhelming beauty of nature while moving through it at great speeds, a paradoxical mix of harmonizing with nature and mastering it that formed the cardinal appeal of the sport in the interwar era.

I describe the motivating ideology of skiers as Alpine modernism, as it was the sport’s beneficent blend of timeless nature and modern values that convinced skiers and the public at large that skiing was more than a mere pastime, it was a potentially transcendent way of life. Skiing into Modernity traces the path of skiers through the twentieth century, examining the changing complexion of Alpine modernism as the sport transformed from a niche sport practiced by European elites to a pillar of the European service economy and a mark of middle class identity.
Learn more about Skiing into Modernity at the University of California Press website and Andrew Denning's website.

Writers Read: Andrew Denning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joshua A. Sanborn's "Imperial Apocalypse"

Joshua A. Sanborn is Head of the Department of History and Chair of the Russian and East European Studies Program at Lafayette College. His books include Drafting the Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905-1925 and, with co-author Annette Timm, Gender, Sex, and the Shaping of Modern Europe: A History from the French Revolution to the Present Day.

Sanborn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 is indeed an important page of the book. It is in the heart of the central chapter, which deals with the military, social, and political consequences of Russia’s "Great Retreat" in 1915. I deal on page 99 with the revival of oppositionist politics in the summer of that year after several months of a self-imposed political truce. In particular, I cite the speech of a liberal politician from Kyiv at a party conference of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party in June:
"The moment is critical for the Kadet party; either it helps save the country or it will perish itself. The imprint of old tactics lies upon the theses of the Central Committee [of the Kadet Party]… Already in August [1914] we in Kiev were more closely aware of the true state of affairs and already in December urgently pressed to convene a conference in order to tell you those things that you only now are understanding. And if you had listened to us, maybe things would have turned out differently."
This sentiment is telling, as it highlights one of the core arguments of my book. Social and political unrest migrated from the (destabilized) war zones in the western empire back to the center over the course of the war. Thus, the political frictions were not simply between opposition parties and the autocratic government, but even within those blocs based on how close they were to the fighting. As the war proceeded, however, this distinction lessened, as the "home front" experienced the social (and epidemiological) pathologies that had infected the war zone as early as 1914.

These were the "things that you only now are understanding," and as that understanding grew, so too did the momentum for revolution. The "revolution" that emerged, however, was bound to express itself in different ways in different zones of the empire. If social class framed the revolution in the metropole, anti-imperial sentiment helped to do so in the western borderlands. It mattered that the dark truths of the Great War became evident first to people living in Poland, Ukraine, and Armenia. The collapse of the empire was well underway even before Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne.
Learn more about Imperial Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2014

David Green's "The Hundred Years War"

David Green is Senior Lecturer in British Studies and History, Harlaxton College, and a regular speaker on medieval history at conferences and seminars in the UK, Ireland, and the US. He is the author of Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe.

Green applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hundred Years War: A People's History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The citizens of London constructed giant figures on London Bridge: one, a man who:

…held like a champion, a great axe in his right hand and, like a warder, the keys of the city hanging from a baton in his left. At his side stood a figure of a woman . . . wearing a scarlet mantle . . . and they were like a man and his wife who . . . were bent upon seeing the eagerly awaited face of their lord . . . And all around them, projecting from the ramparts, staffs bearing the royal arms and trumpets, clarions, and horns ringing out in multiple harmony embellished the tower [on the bridge], and the face of it bore this choice and appropriate legend inscribed on the war: Civitas Regis Iustice.

There were turrets bearing heraldic emblems and insignias, statues of St George, tapestries, choirboys dressed as angels, a company of older men dressed as the Apostles, and others as prophets; flocks of small birds were released as the king passed by. Maidens sang to the returning king as if he were David returning from the slaying of Goliath. Later, in 1419, there was dancing in the streets of London when news arrived of the successful capture of Rouen. Henry V’s victories and the Burgundian alliance led to the treaty of Troyes in 1420 and the chance of a permanent resolution.

However, like previous agreements, the treaty only led to further conflict. Indeed, it did not result in any period of peace at all. The treaty of Troyes was far more ambitious than the Brétigny settlement of 1360. It did not seek merely to transfer various French territories to English sovereign control. Rather King Henry sought to gain sovereignty over all France and seize the French throne. Through his marriage to Charles VI’s daughter Katherine he would change the line of succession, thereby avoiding a conflict with Salic law. Henry became Charles’s son and heir: the aging, deluded king retained his title but with Henry serving as regent: on Charles’s death he would take the Crown.
This page begins with a description of the fantastic and fabulous celebrations held to honour the King Henry V of England on his return after the victory at Agincourt in 1415. A subsequent campaign saw the king conquer (or perhaps from an English perspective reconquer) the duchy of Normandy and the political momentum he gained from this, allied with a catastrophic civil war in France, allowed Henry to enforce the treaty of Troyes in 1420 – this proved to be the most significant peace settlement of the Hundred Years War.

The war had been fought by the English, at least in part, to regain sovereign authority over their ancestral lands in France – the territories of the former Angevin Empire. Anglo-French hostilities had also intensified following the death of the last Capetian king of France in 1328 and the establishment of the new Valois dynasty in the face of counter-claim from the Plantagenet rulers of England. With the treaty of Troyes, Henry V appeared to have resolved both these issues and brought the conflict to an end. It proved, however, to be a false dawn.

The political dimensions of the Hundred Years War are important in this book, I am, however, much more interested in exploring the impact of the war on those who prosecuted it and were persecuted by it – on the soldiery, the peasantry, the churchmen and women who were caught up in the struggle; by those who were captured and held for ransom, as well as the monarchs and members of the military aristocracy whose roles and responsibilities were reshaped by more than a century of endemic conflict. As this extract from page 99 also shows the war engendered a new sense of national identity on both sides of the Channel. This was not the nationalism of the modern age but there is no question that France and England were fundamentally re-forged through the Hundred Years War. In that sense this book is about peoples as well as people.
Learn more about The Hundred Years War: A People's History at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2014

John M. Owen IV's "Confronting Political Islam"

John Owen is the Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics and Liberal Peace, Liberal War.

Owen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West's Past, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Following Thomas Jefferson, Americans believe that the truths in the Declaration of Independence are self-evident. True they are, but if their truth were self-evident then U.S. counterterrorism and counterinsurgency would not need to win the “hearts and minds” of millions of people. Indeed, across history countless thinkers have thought that all persons are not equal. The truly self-evident truth is that American values are contested around the world. That means that to many around the world the United States is an ideological country, not a rational one.
So begins page 99 of my book Confronting Political Islam. I am arguing that the United States is, in an important sense, an ideological country.

Why a passage about the early United States and Europe in a book about Islamism – an ideology that insists that Islamic law be the law of the land? Because there is an important analogy. Often when people in the Western world consider an Islamist state such as Iran, they disagree sharply over whether that state is rational or ideological. The presumption is that a state cannot be both. That presumption is wrong. In fact, a state can have ideological goals yet employ rational (that is, efficient) means toward those goals. To outsiders, Iran’s stubborn persistence in its nuclear program may look irrational, because it has brought on international sanctions and the threat of a U.S. or Israeli nuclear strike. But Iran’s rationality becomes clear once we recognize that one of its stated goals is to reduce American influence in the Middle East. And that goal is a product of the Iranian regime’s ideology.

Ironically, to Europe’s monarchies the young United States looked like Iran does today. America pursued policies that some Europeans thought irrational. But American leaders had distinctive goals for their country and for the international system, goals shaped by their liberal-republican ideology and pursued rationally. Page 99 continues:
Indeed, Jefferson himself knew well that the young United States held a revolutionary set of ideas about how both domestic and international life ought to be ordered. America was a revisionist power. In the late eighteenth century the Western international system, based in Europe, was built upon the legitimacy of thrones. The only legitimate states were monarchical states. For more than a century, the crowned heads of Europe had been increasing their power by subduing the nobles who had been so powerful in the Middle Ages. Europe had republics dominated by nobles—Venice, the Netherlands, and Switzerland were the outstanding examples—but the great military powers were all monarchies, modeled on the successes of France’s Louis XIV. Around this system had been built an ideology of royal sovereignty, seen in the writings of England’s James I and of the Frenchmen Jean Bodin and Bishop Bossuet.

As important, these monarchies sought empires—pieces of extra territory to rule and monopolize economically. Some European empire building in the eighteenth century took place in Europe itself, but most of it was in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. European monarchs commissioned private entrepreneurs and adventurers to claim new land for the purposes of economic exploitation. Under the system known as mercantilism, an imperial state (or metropole) would send colonists to subdue and govern a territory; the territory would export raw materials to the metropole; and the metropole would export manufactures back to the colony. Each imperial power claimed a monopoly on trade with its colonies, and so competition for territory could be fierce.

Mercantilism came under increasing criticism in Western Europe in the eighteenth century. In France the Physiocrats argued that agriculture, not the acquisition of precious metals or the development of manufacturing, was the engine of wealth. In Britain Adam Smith argued that political barriers to economic exchange actually impoverished nations; better to let people conduct commerce freely, without monopoly privileges within or among nations.
Lesson 4, “A State May Be Rational and Ideological at the Same Time,” is just one of the book’s six lessons from the West’s past on how to deal with political Islam. There are many books on Islamism, many of them very good. My book takes a fresh approach to the subject by considering Islamism and its struggle against secularism not in isolation but as an example of a general recurring phenomenon in world history: ideological contests that cut across entire regions for many decades. Islamism’s 86-year-old struggle against secularism is much like struggles between Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe 400 years ago; republicanism and monarchism 200 years ago; and communism, fascism, and democracy 70 years ago. We have much to learn from those struggles about the vexing and confusing dynamics of the Muslim world today.
Learn more about the book and author at John M. Owen IV's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Clash of Ideas in World Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shane Harris's "@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex"

Shane Harris is currently a senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, where he covers national security, intelligence, and cyber security. He is also an ASU Future of War Fellow at New America.

His first book, The Watchers, tells the story of five men who played central roles in the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, and reported the following:
Page 99 captures one of the core arguments of my book: that the U.S. government, and particularly the National Security Agency, should be in the business of protecting the Internet, not trying to weaken it. This page looks at "zero day" vulnerabilities, which are flaws in software or operating systems that have never been discovered by the manufacturer. If a hacker found such a vulnerability he could use it to commandeer or damage a computer system, and potentially physical infrastructures regulated by it. Hackers sell this zero day information to the highest bidder in a shadowy online market, and the NSA is the single largest buyer. The agency hordes zero days in order to build exploits for hacking into commercial technology used around the world, both to spy on America's adversaries and potentially attack their infrastructure.

But the NSA could be disclosing these zero days, so that manufacturers can fix their products, and so people will know not to use vulnerable technology. On page 99, I use the analogy of a neighborhood security guard, which is essentially what the NSA claims it wants to be in cyberspace.
What would happen if the guard hired to watch over a neighborhood discovered an open window but didn’t tell the owner? More to the point, what if he discovered a design flaw in the brand of window that everyone in the neighborhood used that allowed an intruder to open the window from the outside? If the security guard didn’t alert the homeowners, they’d fire him— and probably try to have him arrested.
The NSA should start acting like a security guard. Instead, it's behaving more like a burglar.
Visit Shane Harris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Esra Özyürek's "Being German, Becoming Muslim"

Esra Özyürek is an associate professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics. She is the author of Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe, and reported the following:
Being German, Becoming Muslim is about Germans who embrace Islam. Every year more and more Europeans, and Germans, convert to Islam. It is estimated that there are now up to one hundred thousand German converts – a number similar to that in France and the United Kingdom. What stands out about recent conversions is that they take place at a time when Islam is increasingly seen as contrary to European values. The book explores how Germans come to Islam within this antagonistic climate, how they manage to balance their love for Islam with their society’s fear of it, how they relate to immigrant Muslims, and how they shape debates about race, religion, and belonging in today’s Europe.

Page 99 of the book discusses “halal entertainment” as a way in which German Muslims bring together Islamic values and German youth culture. Here I specifically discuss a group called Muslim Youth Germany (MJD) which is a home to many converts but also to born Muslims who are committed to embracing their German identity.
The MJD, which was in tune with emergent Muslim youths, was the first group in Germany consciously to build bridges between German youth culture and an Islamic lifestyle. ‘Fun and Islam?’ is a question that MJD provocatively asks on its Web site. It supplies the answer right away: ‘Yes please! It is possible to have fun in the Islamic way, without setting boundaries between the two.’ Islamically proper fun, or fun Islam, involves going to concerts with Muslim rappers, joining workshops on how to rap, celebrating New Years’s eve, organizing paint wars, and taking field trips within and outside Germany. In one MJD gathering I watched video-recorded funny skits of annoying little things some people do in mosques – such as taking too long during group prayer, not showering before coming to the mosque, moving around too much during lectures, and so on. The skit that made the audience of MJD members laugh their heads off started with the slogan ‘Because it is halal to laugh!’ Such an approach that aims to bring fun and Islam together is genuinely unique to MJD, or was until ten years ago. Before that, Muslim communities in Germany were not especially welcoming to youths, and Islam was not associated with having fun.

The past few decades of the Islamic scene across the globe have simultaneously witnessed increasing strictness and avoidance of ‘fun’ alongside an increasingly widespread global culture of Islamic consumerism and fun. In his article “Islamism and the Politics of Fun,” Asaf Bayat asks why puritanical Islamic movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, and mullahs in Iran have been so vehemently against Muslims, especially the youths, having fun. He argues that what he calls “anti-fun-damentalism” has to do with preserving power: “At stake is not necessarily the disruption of the moral order, as often claimed, but rather undermining of the hegemony, the regime of power on which certain strands of moral and political authority can rest” (Bayat 2007, 435). Perhaps it is no coincidence that especially within the West, global Muslim youth culture, which both stands in opposition to mainstream Islamic society and wants to be an integral part of it, has embraced fun, which Bayat (ibid., 434) defines as “a metaphor for the expression of individuality, spontaneity, and lightness, in which joy is the central element.” Unlike the cases that Bayat discusses, Muslim youth culture in Germany is not hegemonic in its orientation. Fun-approving Muslim youth cultures such as the MJD aim to challenge the moral and political authority of both German mainstream society and the traditional authority structures of their Muslim communities.
Learn more about Being German, Becoming Muslim at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 8, 2014

Max M. Edling's "A Hercules in the Cradle"

Max M. Edling is a lecturer in North American history at King’s College London and is the author of A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Hercules in the Cradle: War, Money, and the American State, 1783-1867, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford did not come up with the Page 99 test with A Hercules in the Cradle in mind. I only wish there was something a little more riveting on this particular page. Nevertheless, it deals with an important innovation in American public finance.

When the United States became independent, it was bankrupt. The person asked to fix this was Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. He did well. On page 99 we have reached the year 1794, when US securities have gone from close to worthless to par value. But to make American public credit rock solid, one important element remains. Hamilton has yet to provide for the amortization of the debt. Like other statesmen of the time, Hamilton, too, thought that public debts were an evil. The ability to borrow in times of crisis was crucial, but the government should always strive to be debt free. It was Hamilton who formulated the “fundamental maxim, in the system of the public credit of the United States, that the creation of public debt should always be accompanied by the means of extinguishment.” It remained a pillar of American public finance into the early twentieth century.

The rest of Hercules is less about amortization and more about borrowing, however. In the 80+ years after independence, the US was an avid borrower that financed both three major wars and a spectacular territorial expansion with other people’s money. When the Civil War ended, the US was already the world’s second- largest debtor, trailing only Britain. But far from a sign of weakness, this was a show of strength. Public credit is a vital resource that allows governments to do things they could not otherwise do. In the period covered in this book, borrowed money made possible both the conquest of North America and the preservation of the American union. In later years, public credit underpinned the nation’s transition first into a great power in the late nineteenth century and then into superpower at the close of the Second World War and, finally, into a hyperpower at the end of the Cold War.

A Hercules in the Cradle is the history of how it all began.
Learn more about A Hercules in the Cradle at The University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Donald Stoker's "Clausewitz: His Life and Work"

Donald Stoker is Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is the author of The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War.

Stoker applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Clausewitz: His Life and Work, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us at a moment when Clausewitz is worried about the situation he is facing because of his decision to resign from the Prussian army and take service under the Russian Czar. It is the spring of 1812 and Napoleon is preparing his famous invasion. Clausewitz’s homeland of Prussia has been coerced into taking part on the French side. Clausewitz hated Napoleon (and the French) and refused to fight as their ally. He is on his way to Russia, but he has had to borrow money from one of his friends and mentors, August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, in order to make the trip. He’s expecting some other payments to reach him, and they eventually do, but he’s worried about providing for his wife while he was away—and himself as well.

Clausewitz would go to Russia and fight in the 1812 campaign from beginning to end. He saw the horrors of Borodino, the burning of Moscow, and Napoleon’s famously disastrous retreat across the Berezina.

We also see Clausewitz hurriedly finishing one of his first theoretical works, a slim volume known to us as The Principles of War. He penned this for his student, the Prussian Crown Prince (the future Frederick William IV), hoping it would “breath a spark” into the teenager’s soul. Clausewitz did not intend it as a manual for how to fight wars (an impression easily and mistakenly conveyed by the English title)—wars are too individually unique and complicated for that—but as something that would serve as a way to teach the Prince how to think about some of the tactical and strategic problems a war leader might face. This book did not form the basis for Clausewitz’s most famous work, On War (though it does touch on some of the same subjects such as the relative merits of the offense and the defense), but it is an important intellectual steppingstone on the way to his magnum opus.
Learn more about Clausewitz: His Life and Work at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Grand Design.

My Book, The Movie: Clausewitz: His Life and Work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Neguin Yavari's "Advice for the Sultan"

Neguin Yavari studied Medieval History at Columbia University. She is Assistant Professor of History and Humanities, Eugene Lang College, The New School, New York.

Yavari applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Advice for the Sultan: Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam, and reported the following:
Advice for the Sultan is a study in comparative political thought. This is the central question with which it is concerned: Is the study of political thought in a non–European and non-modern context possible? Or, should a comparative focus in intellectual history be premised upon difference—an illiberal Islamic tradition pitted against a liberal Western one –as suggested by the many advocates of comparative thought? And, does intellectual history become global only after some point in the nineteenth century, when “global” itself is born?

The lens is fixed on mirrors for princes, treatises on rules for governance and exhortations to proper conduct written by counselors and political thinkers of all stripes, using a motley of sources. Hybrid origins and speaking truth to power are salient features of mirrors for princes. Universally, they praise the prince and his wisdom, and proceed to tell him what to do and how to rule. Mirrors guard the secret to good rule, and the formula for a perfect prince. Without good advice, the wise, prescient, strong and vigilant prince will perish, no matter his virtues. What is to be made of a “perfect prince” who cannot rule without good advice? That the paradigm of a perfect prince is upheld and upended at the heart of every mirror poses a devilish challenge, to the prince, as well as to the audience.

Page 99 of Advice for the Sultan: Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam looks at advice from Aristotle to Alexander, as collected in a (allegedly) Sasanid text, The Letter of Tansar. The text at hand is a thirteenth-century Persian translation of an eighth-century Arabic translation of a Pahlavi original. The alleged original author, Tansar, was a high priest in the court of Ardashir I (r. 224-40), and the translator an Iranian convert, ‘Abdallah b. al-Muqaffa‘, an influential political thinker of the early ‘Abbasid (749-1258) period. Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ was charged with heresy and executed in 759.
Tansar’s letter is addressed to Gushnasp; a local Iranian prince who had refused to submit to Ardashir’s newly established polity. Gushnasp had presumably spelt out his reasons for defying Ardashir in a separate letter. In his response, Tansar cites Alexander’s history as an exemplum. After defeating Darius and conquering Iran, Alexander wrote to Aristotle to seek his advice on how best to rule Iran. His own instinct, Alexander wrote, was to execute the entire nobility, so as to prevent future mischief. Aristotle responded, “Truly the people of each of the world’s climes are distinguished by some excellence, some talent and some dignity which those of other climes do not possess. The people of Pars are pre-eminent for courage and boldness and skill on the day of battle, qualities which form one of the mightiest tools of empire and instruments of power. If you destroy them, you will have overthrown one of the greatest pillars of excellence in the world...Beware! [T]hat the rule (shari‘a) and religion (din) of fair fame be not erased for the sake of tranquility of mind during this brief span of life, which is unsure and lacks both truth and certainty. Man is but a tale told after him: be then a sweet tale for him remembering it.” Aristotle’s advice to Alexander was to put a number of native princes in charge of the realm. “There will appear among them so much disunity and variance and presumption and haughtiness, so much opposition and rivalry about power, so much bragging and vaunting about wealth, so much contention over degree, and so much ruffling and wrangling over retainers, that they will have no leisure to seek vengeance upon you, and being occupied with one another will not be free to think upon the past.” Alexander returned after fourteen years to conquer Babylonia, never having to face an Iranian challenge. Babylonia succumbed to Alexander, and he to death. They had hardly buried him before civil war broke out among his generals. Then Ardashir, from the house of Sasan, took advantage of the warring generals and united the Iranian lands, killing ninety of them. Gushnasp was spared, ostensibly because of his loyalty to Iranian customs and resistance to Alexander’s successors. The Letter of Tansar evokes the figures of Alexander and Aristotle to augment its own authority, and to promote the agenda of advice. Without Aristotle’s advice, Alexander would have failed to subordinate Iran. He listened to advice, and subordinated Iran, only to succumb to death.

In the vastly popular medieval European mirror, Secretum secretorum, itself based on a ninth-century Arabic original, the story is repeated almost verbatim. The book opens with praise for Aristotle, introduced as a prophet and Alexander’s teacher. An example of Aristotle’s sound advice is his instruction to Alexander after his conquest of Persia. “If you are bent upon killing all of them, and are able to do so by reason of your power over them, you cannot change their climate and their country. Therefore conquer them by kindness and benevolence, and so obtain their love.” The lavish praise heaped on the people of Iran in the Letter of Tansar is missing and the narrative is shortened, but the basic outline of the story is preserved.

The grammar of advice rests on the almost total separation between its purveyor and the symbolic audience. The Greeks purportedly collected old Egyptian wisdom, and the Muslims studied the wisdom of their vanquished predecessors, on whose authority they chose to construct the philosophical edifice of their civilization. In a similar manner, authors of medieval mirrors erected degrees of separation between teachers and those taught. Distance, separation, alterity, hybrid origins and veiled strategies, as well as the pairing of contraries, comprise the commonplace in premodern political thought. How may all that be translated into conceptual idiom? [footnotes omitted]
Learn more about Advice for the Sultan at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Karen Abbott's "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy"

Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and, most recently, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal and Amazon.

Abbott applied the “Page 99 Test” to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy and reported the following:
From page 99:
At night, after the last snap of snare drum and game of cards, Belle Boyd crept about Union camps gathering unattended sabers and pistols, and depositing them at a temporary hiding place in the woods, just far enough from the enemy pickets. A network of rebel ladies joined her, weaving arsenals through the steel coils of their hoop skirts, passing each other balls of string to secure the weapons tight. One day the 28th Pennsylvania Regiment, encamped near Harpers Ferry, discovered a cache of 200 sabers, 400 pistols, cavalry equipment for 200 men, and 1,400 muskets, all stashed inside barns and outhouses and buried underground, awaiting transfer to Southern lines. "I had been confiscating and concealing their swords and pistols on every possible occasion," Belle confessed, "and many an officer, looking about everywhere for his missing weapons, little dreamed who it was that had taken them, or that they had been smuggled away to the Confederate camp, and were actually in the hands of their enemies to be used against themselves.
Page 99 of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy describes the clandestine activities of Belle Boyd, a 17-year-old Confederate spy living in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. In an attempt to "starve" the South of food, coffee, sugar, medicine, material, weapons and anything its people—civilian or military—might need to survive, the Union blocked 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline, rendering goods prohibitively expensive or impossible to find. In response, Belle and other rebel women devised ways to smuggle necessities across the lines to Southern soldiers. The women often tied goods to their crinolines, the rigid, cage-like structures that could reach a diameter of six feet. One woman managed to conceal inside her hoop skirt a roll of army cloth, several pairs of cavalry boots, a roll of crimson flannel, packages of gilt braid and sewing silk, cans of preserved meats, and a bag of coffee—the contraband tally for a single crossing. To me, this practice represented one of the most fascinating aspects of women's roles during the Civil War, illustrating how they used their gender as both as physical and psychological disguise. While hiding behind social mores about women's proper roles, they could hide evidence of their treason on their very person, tucked beneath hoop skirts or tied up in their hair. Authorities slowly began to realize that women were capable not only of significant acts of treason, but of executing them more deftly than men.
Visit Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

The Page 99 Test: American Rose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Geoffrey Parker's "Imprudent King"

Winner of the 2012 Heineken Prize for History, Geoffrey Parker is a renowned British historian who taught at the University of St Andrews, the University of Illinois, the University of British Columbia and Yale University before becoming Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History at The Ohio State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II, and reported the following:
As soon as Marshal Zeringue reminded me of Ford Madox Ford’s “Page 99 test”, I turned with trepidation to the relevant page of Imprudent King to see whether it would pass muster. The last time Marshal challenged me, with Global Crisis, page 99 turned out to contain only graphs. This time, by contrast, it forms the conclusion of a chapter entitled “The king and God” that discussed whether his deep religious faith convinced “Philip the Prudent”, as he became known, that his policies, however unrealistic, would always enjoy divine favour.

Page 99 argues that at least until the failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588:
A spectacular success always counterbalanced each defeat: against the failure of his plan to dethrone Elizabeth [of England] in 1570-71, Philip could set the victory of Lepanto (which seemed to end the Turkish threat) and the massacre of St Bartholomew (which appeared to deal Protestantism in France a terminal blow). His losses in the Netherlands, and the unsuccessful war to regain them, were far outweighed by the acquisition of Portugal and its overseas possessions, creating the first empire in history “on which the sun never set.”
But why did Philip, who ruled from 1556 until his death in 1598, choose to see only the successes as evidence of that God was “in his side’ and to dismiss each setback and defeat as a sort of Divine “hazing”, sent by God to test his resolve?

The premise that policies founded on faith alone usually do not work, whether in the sixteenth or the twenty-first century, is central to Imprudent King, so that readers who do not like page 99 are unlikely to enjoy the rest of the book. Ford Madox Ford was right.

I have only one regret. Imprudent King includes much material from a previously unknown source: a collection of some 3,000 documents that crossed Philip II’s desk and then disappeared from view until rediscovered and identified in the magnificent manuscript collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York City. Although some documents merely confirm things that historians already knew, many provide exciting new insights into the king and his world; yet page 99 refers to none of them. I thank Marshal Zeringue for allowing me to include one on his blog. In return, I promise that next time I write a book, I will write page 99 first.
* * *

This previously unknown manuscript from 1588 in the Hispanic Society of America reveals an amazing episode from the sad saga of the Spanish Armada. When Philip II informed the duke of Medina Sidonia, the wealthiest aristocrat in Spain, that he must lead the fleet against England, the duke responded with blackmail, claiming that he “would leave my family deeply in debt, with a young wife and four children…. Sacrificing myself like this,” the duke continued shamelessly, in his own hand, “causes me acute pain” – and to ease that pain, he demanded that Philip grant substantial estates “antes que yo parta [before I embark]”.

Credit: Hispanic Society of America, Altamira, 1/I/45, duke of Medina Sidonia to Mateo Vázquez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 29 February 1588. [The passage quoted appears at the top.]
Learn more about Imprudent King at the Yale University Press  website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Lisa Wilson's "A History of Stepfamilies in Early America"

Lisa Wilson is the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of American History at Connecticut College and the author of A History of Stepfamilies in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). She is also the author of the award-winning, Ye Heart of a Man: The Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England (Yale University Press, 1999) and Life After Death: Widows in Pennsylvania, 1750-1850 (Temple University Press, 1992).

Wilson applied the “Page 99 Test” to A History of Stepfamilies in Early America and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book demonstrates the early nineteenth-century attempt to retrain stepchildren to treat their stepmothers with more respect and teach stepmothers to be more loving. As middle-class families became mother-lead and child-centered at the end of the eighteenth century the prejudice against stepmothers worsened. Since mothers could no longer behave badly and fit this new ideal the traditionally evil stepmothers took on the baggage of cruelty they left behind. Mothers were seen as angelic so stepmothers became more devilish. In the early nineteenth century there was an effort to alleviate the plight of stepmothers and stepchildren. Primarily in women's and children's magazines, stepmothers were taught to be kind to their stepchildren and stepchildren were urged to be more respectful to their stepmothers. This literature argued that stepmothers were the best replacements for mothers. Likewise children were told that not all stepmothers were evil. Although a fascinating cultural intervention this magazine campaign failed to change our characterization of the stepmother/stepchild relationship even today.
Learn more about A History of Stepfamilies in Early America at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue