Friday, February 27, 2015

Tom Santopietro's "The Sound of Music Story"

Tom Santopietro is the author of The Importance of Being Barbra, Considering Doris Day (a New York Times Editor’s Choice), Sinatra in Hollywood, and The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me. He has worked for the past twenty years in New York theater as a manager of more than two dozen Broadway shows.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time, and reported the following:
Open The Sound of Music Story to page 99 and you land smack in the middle of the discussion of alternative casting: Jeannette MacDonald as the Mother Abbess? Dame Edith Evans? Irene Dunne? They were all seriously considered—as were Doris Day and Grace Kelly for the role of Maria. (Grace was otherwise occupied in Monaco, and Doris smartly stated: “I’m too American for anyone to believe me as a nun from Austria.”)

In starting the book, my hope was to provide a mix of behind the scenes stories--the filming of the title song ran into big problems when the farmer whose land they had rented grew furious at his cow’s lack of milk production, and took a pitchfork to the brook the production team had so artfully constructed--casting ideas (Noel Coward as Max)--and analysis of the film’s staggering popularity. In the end, page 99 actually fulfills the first two goals, but not the third--that arrives 90 pages later.

That said, I’ll take 2 of 3 goals achieved on page 99 as a good scorecard.

As for the film’s never-ending-50-years-and-counting-appeal, the underlying message of the healing power of family love proved universal. Except to Germans, Austrians, and big city critics like Pauline Kael, who called the film a “sugar coated lie.”

Exactly why were Pauline Kael and her cohort Judith Crist so vitriolic? Were they trying to prove their counter culture bona fides in 1965? Yes, events were compressed and changed, but Ben Affleck did the same at the end of Argo and nobody really objected. Instead, it was the sheer effectiveness of Robert Wise’s filmmaking that seemed to incense. Awful imitations like Song of Norway and Doctor Doolittle never inspired the same level of derision as did The Sound of Music, but the film’s essential truth remained: Maria did enter the abbey, leave to marry her naval hero employer, inherit seven step-children, give birth to three children of her own, organize a singing troupe, and outwit the Nazis. And while the von Trapps didn’t escape over scenic Alps--they simply took a train to Italy one day before the borders were sealed--in real life they were brave enough to defy Hitler not once, as shown in the movie, but three times. In these overwhelmingly ironic times, The Sound of Music’s heart on sleeve emotions seem almost revolutionary, providing, as they do, the most elusive commodity of all--hope.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Santopietro's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Godfather Effect.

Writers Read: Tom Santopietro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Todd M. Endelman's "Leaving the Jewish Fold"

Todd Endelman is Professor Emeritus of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. His books include The Jews of Georgian England, 1714-1830; Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History, 1656-1945; The Jews of Britain, 1656-2000; and Broadening Jewish History: Towards a Social History of Ordinary Jews. He is currently writing a biography of Redcliffe N. Salaman, communal notable, race scientist, country gentleman, and historian of the potato.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book Leaving the Jewish Fold: Conversion and Radical Assimilation in Modern Jewish History and reported the following:
Leaving the Jewish Fold records the paths by which hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe and America detached themselves from the communities into which they were born from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. It argues that religious conviction was rarely a motive for Jews who converted to Christianity and that those who left the fold were driven above all by pragmatic concerns – especially the desire to escape the stigma of Jewishness and its social, occupational, and emotional burdens. The book analyzes the social settings, national contexts, and historical circumstances that encouraged Jews to abandon Judaism and those that worked to the opposite effect, strengthening communal ties. It concludes that over time liberal societies, like Great Britain and the United States, were as likely to promote radical assimilation and the dissolution of Jewish ties as more hostile, illiberal societies, like Germany and Russia.

On page 99, I take up the fascinating case of the conversion of Moshe (ca. 1774-ca. 1853), the youngest son of the founder of the Lubavich Hasidic dynasty (the Habad sect), Shneur Zalman of Lyady, in 1820. Moshe was at odds with his brothers over the succession to their father’s position. He was also emotionally unstable. The combination of family discord and mental illness in all likelihood drove him to convert to Christianity, for which he was rewarded by the tsarist regime with a government position in St. Petersburg. He later was committed to an insane asylum, where he died. His conversion has proven to be an embarrassment to the leadership of the contemporary Habad movement, which vigorously contests the facts.

I use the example of Moshe to illustrate how conversion functioned more broadly as an escape from desperation and destitution for thousands of Jews in nineteenth-century Russia. Convicted Jewish criminals, for example, were allowed, until 1862, to escape punishment or to lighten their punishment if they chose baptism. Sons and daughters who were estranged from their families and women who were trapped in abusive marriages also could escape their plights by becoming Christians. I also note that in the case of nineteenth-century Russia prior acculturation, incomplete integration, and extensive identification with another national group were not factors in encouraging these conversions, since most converts there were unfamiliar with Russian culture and ignorant of Christian doctrine before being baptized.
Learn more about Leaving the Jewish Fold at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bryan R. Early's "Busted Sanctions"

Bryan R. Early is an Assistant Professor in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY and the founding Director of the Project on International Security, Commerce, and Economic Statecraft at the Center for Policy Research.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book,Busted Sanctions: Explaining Why Economic Sanctions Fail, and reported the following:
From Busted Sanctions:
The Emirati port city of Dubai, which was already a transshipment hub of some notoriety and hosted a large merchant community with historical ties to Iran, was well situated to take advantage of commercial opportunities U.S. sanctions created vis-à-vis Iran. Of especial importance in those efforts were the fleets of small trading vessels (known as “dhows”) at the disposal of traders in Iran and Dubai. Specific figures on how much trade was redirected from Dubai to Iran during this period are not available, nor are precise data on the types of products being traded. Figure 5.5 [available in the book], which compares U.S. exports to the UAE and the UAE’s exports to Iran, reveals corresponding increases in both during this initial round of sanctions. It is also notable that the quantity of U.S. exports received by the UAE markedly supersedes its recorded exports to Iran. Most of those surpluses were likely reexported to Iran via unreported trade. Indeed, much of the export trade between Dubai and Iran involved smuggling during this period because sanctions-busting traders sought to avoid paying customs duties on the products they sold to Iran or because the products they were exporting had been prohibited by Iran’s Revolutionary Government. Recognizing that lost tax revenues from smuggling posed a large problem for its weak regime, the Iranian government responded by forbidding private importers from bringing goods into the country in 1980. Instead, it mandated the use of state-run import offices. The Iranian government was much too weak to enforce this policy, however, and such restrictions were often easily evaded by smugglers. Although trading with Iran was perfectly legal in Dubai, the Iranian government created additional incentives for sanctions-busting traders to keep their transactions off the books.
Within my book Busted Sanctions, I seek to explain why the world’s most powerful and prolific user of economic sanctions—the United States—so often has its sanctions end in failure. I argue that the responses of other countries around the world can play a major role in undercutting the effectiveness of U.S. sanctioning efforts via the trade and aid they provide to sanctioned states. As my book explains, economic sanctions can create lucrative commercial opportunities for firms in some countries that can lead them to substantially increase their trade with sanctioned states. The emergence of even one of these trade-based sanctions busters can dramatically reduce the likelihood of U.S. economic sanctions being successful.

One of the major cases that my book explores is how Iran became incredibly effective at circumventing the United States’ economic sanctions. Since the very beginning of the U.S. sanctioning effort against Iran in 1979, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has served as one of Iran’s primary sanctions-busting trade partners. The emirate of Dubai, in particular, emerged as the best place in the world for Iranians to purchase products that U.S. sanctions denied to them.

The passage on page 99 recounts the origins of how the UAE-Iran sanctions-busting relationship developed after the U.S. Government sanctioned Iran in response to the hostage crisis. U.S. sanctions prohibited most U.S. firms from directly exporting products to Iran. In response, many major shippers that had U.S. products destined for Iran ended up dropping of their goods in nearby Dubai instead. Once the goods were in Dubai, they ended up being ferried across the Persian Gulf by a network of regional traders in tiny vessels called dhows. Dubai quickly gained notoriety as the chief diversionary point for U.S. goods whose end-destination was Iran but which could no longer be shipped directly to the country. U.S. exports to the UAE thus spiked upwards in 1980, which corresponded to a somewhat lesser uptick in UAE exports to Iran. The excerpt on page 99 is part of my explanation of how smuggling accounts for the lion’s share of the gap between the two. What is so fascinating about this particular case is that Iran’s Revolutionary Government initially resented the smuggling that was taking place on its behalf, despite the fact that it was ameliorating the sanctions’ ill effects on Iran’s economy. By October of 1980, however, the Iranian Government quickly back-tracked on its policies and came to embrace and rely upon its sanctions-busting trade relationship with Dubai. My book tells the decades-long story of the sanctions-busting relationship between the UAE and Iran, in addition to explaining the broader phenomenon of why U.S. allies like the UAE actively undercut U.S. economic sanctions.
Learn more about Busted Sanctions at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2015

Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe's "Island on Fire"

Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe are science writers in Boulder, Colorado. Witze is a correspondent for Nature who specializes in the earth and planetary sciences. Kanipe is an astronomy author whose books include The Cosmic Connection: How Astronomical Events Impact Life on Earth and Chasing Hubble’s Shadows: The Search for Galaxies at the Edge of Time. Asteroid jeffkanipe is named in his honor.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Island on Fire places the reader smack in the middle of volcanic action. It is late 1783, and the Icelandic volcano Laki has been erupting for months. Laki was no ordinary eruption; it poured out more lava than anyone had seen for centuries. Icelanders are hardened to the volcanic activity on their island, but even they struggled to cope with the sheer scope of the disaster. The Laki eruption annihilated the homes and the livelihoods of many rural communities. Page 99 describes the volcano’s widespread effects:
By late autumn, the situation for both humans and animals was dire. Laki’s ash had spread across nearly all of Iceland, poisoning the landscape far and wide. Huge areas of grassland had been destroyed, and much of the existing hay stocks contaminated. Deprived of pastureland and fodder, sheep and cattle perished. People began starving to death by December 1783, and thousands more of all ages and classes were to follow as winter progressed.
We then re-visit one of the main characters in Island on Fire, an Icelandic clergyman who lived near the eruption and recorded its many horrors in a detailed chronicle. His tales are some of the most descriptive of any early volcanic eruption; scientists today use it as an important reference to understand the extraordinary impact of this event. The clergyman, Jón Steingrímsson, described the extreme measures to which Laki had driven many Icelanders:
Jón recorded the many appalling measures taken by the starving. Some ‘cooked what skins and hide ropes they owned, and restricted themselves to the equivalent of one leather shoepiece per meal, which was sufficient if soaked in soured milk and spread with fat.’ Others resorted to cutting up hay into fine pieces and mixing that with meal to make porridge or bread. Fish bones found half-buried along the shoreline were collected, cleaned, boiled and crushed in milk as a gruel. Some in Jón’s parish took to eating horsemeat; most of them died. Others, Jón dryly observed, ‘would rather die than eat it.’
In the end, one-fifth of Iceland’s entire population perished in what they called the “mist hardships,” brought on by the Laki eruption. Island on Fire tells the story not only of the local people like Jón, but also the wider story of how the eruption affected European and scientific history. As lava and ash covered Iceland, so too did Laki’s volcanic gases spread across Europe, killing people and crops from England to France to Germany. Eminent scientists across Europe tried to understand the cause of the mysterious haze; Ben Franklin and several others eventually cracked the puzzle, reasoning that it came from a far-off Icelandic volcano. The Laki gases cooled the Northern Hemisphere for years and set off climate change that led to famine in Egypt and beyond. Its final death toll may have been well over a million people.
Visit the Island on Fire website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mary Pilon's "The Monopolists"

Mary Pilon is the author of The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game, a book about the history of the board game Monopoly (Bloomsbury, February 2015). She previously worked as a sports reporter at The New York Times and a full index of her work there can be found here, including dispatches from the London Olympics, doping coverage, features on legal and financial issues in sports and the occasional video shot from a dog sled or graphic novel about cage fighting in the heartland.

From June 2008 to November 2011, Pilon worked at The Wall Street Journal, where she covered various aspects of personal finance and the financial crisis for print and online editions and regularly appeared on national TV and radio. Among her lesser-known accomplishments: bringing slugs, yo-yos, the NYSE movie room and square dancing to the Journal’s front page.

Pilon applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Monopolists and reported the following:
The Monopolists tells the true story of the board game Monopoly through the people who lived it. For years, the story went that a man, Charles Darrow, dreamed up the game during the Great Depression, sold it to Parker Brothers, and everyone was saved from the brink of financial ruin. The true story, however is far more complex and traces to Elizabeth Magie, a left-wing woman who patented her Landlord’s Game in 1904. The game was played extensively for more than 30 years and Magie was largely lost to history until an economist accidentally unearthed the true story while engaged in a legal battle with Parker Brothers in the 1970s.

Page 99 of the book is right at the end of Chapter 7, when the reader knows that the “monopoly game” had traveled through the hands of many others just as Darrow begins to sell the game. The reader knows that Darrow, like many other players of the folk game, had tried to sell the game on his own in his hometown of Philadelphia after learning it from a friend, but it’s still unclear how he would land his deal with Parker Brothers or what fate would befall Magie.

Ironically, Darrow’s early attempts to have Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers publish the game were rejected, as revealed by the letters appearing on this page. We also learn how the game has changed since Magie’s original incarnation and that it now has bright colors, elegance and an ambitious design, some of Magie’s early homages to her hero, political economist Henry George, surviving, some vanishing. Yet during the Great Depression, those very traits (collecting money when passing Go, the railroads, the Chance question mark) could very well be read as positive takes on capitalism rather than as the critiques she had intended.
Visit Mary Pilon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2015

Nancy McCabe's "From Little Houses to Little Women"

Nancy McCabe is the author of four memoirs about a range of topics: adoption and heritage; violence against women, memory, and creativity; travel, childhood, reading, and children’s literature.

McCabe applied the “Page 99 Test” to her recent book, From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, and reported the following:
On page 99 of From Little Houses to Little Women I am in Mankato, Minnesota, wandering around the Maud Hart Lovelace wing of the Minnesota Valley Regional Library. What I really want to be doing is touring the houses up the hill where Lovelace and her best friend grew up, the houses that served as models for those occupied by fictional best friends Betsy and Tacy. I found them earlier, these two unassuming houses across the street from each other at the top of a hill alongside a road grinding with machinery. “It ran straight up into a green hill and stopped,” Lovelace writes in each of the first three books of the series. She’s describing Hill Street, modeled after Center Street. Lewis, the side street that intersects Center, has no name in the books; it is only known as “The Road Up the Big Hill.”

Today, I found The Road Up the Big Hill buzzing with yellow road graders that push their blades uphill and down, dust rising around them. The houses were shut up tight, since they’re only open for tours on Saturdays. I called the number on the door of the “Tacy” house and left a message in the hopes that I could get a tour. And now I’m killing time by studying a wall-sized mural of Lovelace’s characters and a reproduction of Lois Lenski’s illustration of “Deep Valley,” Lovelace’s fictionalized Mankato, with its undulating hills and tall trees and cozy little houses. As a child I loved this illustration on the endpapers of my library books, losing myself in the hills and trees and curving roads.

My stop in Mankato is something of an impulse on a drive through the Midwest to Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Missouri, which I write about elsewhere in the book. This trip will later inspire one to Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables territory, which I also write about, along with visits to Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson houses in Massachusetts. But on page 99, my journey is really just getting started, and I’m on the brink of some wonderful discoveries and rediscoveries about these books and these authors and how they shaped me.

As a child, I hesitated to admit aloud how much I loved Lovelace’s girls’ series, ten books that follow Betsy from the age of four into her mid-twenties. There were circles in which it was cool to be a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, but no one I knew had ever heard of Lovelace. Her name was embarrassing to say aloud, sounding like the bad pseudonym of a romance writer, like someone trying to be “mod” while at heart she was just a fuzzy, frilly valentine, a chocolate all soft in the center, oozing with goodwill and happy thoughts and upbeat endings.

But Maud Hart Lovelace was her real name, and I loved her stories even as a cynical youth because Betsy is a complex character, good-hearted and smart and funny, sometimes flighty and often prone to error, her mistakes and scrapes and passions making her human and relatable. Best of all, she is an imaginative and ambitious girl who loves words and wants to understand people.

I won’t give away whether or not I got to tour the “Betsy” and “Tacy” houses, but I will reveal that the return to Lovelace’s books was a magical one. Led to reread them by my visit to Mankato, I was able to picture the real landscape of the town on which Deep Valley was based and to revisit the self I was when I first encountered Lovelace’s books.
Visit Nancy McCabe's website.

Writers Read: Nancy McCabe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2015

George Thomas's "The Founders and the Idea of a National University"

George Thomas teaches Government at Claremont McKenna College and is the author of The Madisonian Constitution.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Founders and the Idea of a National University: Constituting the American Mind, and reported the following:
I must begin by bending the rules a little bit. As it happens, Page 99 captures a central contention of my book. But the key part of the argument begins on page 98. And it is that a constitution is not simply about the institutions of government: a constitution is also an effort to shape how citizens understand the world. As I put it earlier in the book, with apologies to Woody Allen, “a constitution creates its own moral universe.” That sounds pretty grand. Page 99 brings this down to earth by looking at the relationship between politics and religion.

Page 99 illustrates how political figures such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison sought to ameliorate the tension between religion and politics by creating a political order rooted in civic principles—principles such as religious liberty—that required a separation of theology from politics. Yet religious liberty could only flourish if citizens accepted certain civic principles, such as religion is the private choice of individuals. We may take this for granted—indeed, we might think this is the natural way the world is ordered—but fostering such a mindset was part of altering how people understood the world. Consider Puritan New England—a political theocracy with a profoundly different understanding of theological and political authority—to understand the shift in thinking this required.

Advocates of a national university, like Madison and Jefferson, saw it as fostering the ideas and habits of mind necessary to sustain America’s constitutional experiment. Crucial to this task was removing theology from the center of public education. As Madison put it, “there seems to be no alternative but between a public University without a theological professorship, and sectarian Seminaries without a University.” The separation of church from state should include the separation of church from college.

The national university would be a secular institution—in contrast to “church-state” colleges such as Harvard and Yale—and would help frame a mindset necessary to sustain the new constitutional order. It would seek to teach a certain understanding of how the world was put together. That’s the story this book seeks to tell. And it’s a story that remains relevant in thinking about how our educational institutions aid in sustaining American democracy.
Learn more about The Founders and the Idea of a National University at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Doug Rossinow's "The Reagan Era"

Doug Rossinow, professor of history at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the author of numerous works, including Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Oslo and is past president of the Peace History Society.

Rossinow applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Reagan Era, I talk about The Boss –Bruce Springsteen—and what his musical evolution tells us about the early 1980s. This comes near the end of my chapter on the Reagan Recession of 1981-82, which I call “a watershed in American social history” (p. 84). When I turn to Bruce, I have just explained that the recession was lifting in 1983 on a national basis, but that for working-class Americans in the “rust belt,” it hadn’t ended at all.
The country’s manufacturing heartland remained a trauma zone, a terrain of despair memorialized in popular culture through the songs of Bruce Springsteen’s uncompromising album of 1982, Nebraska. It was populated with characters like “Johnny 99,” a laid-off automobile-plant employee who, after drunkenly killing a store clerk, asks the judge at his trial to sentence him to die, and with the doomed losers of “Atlantic City,” desperate for a piece of the action in a rebuilt casino town whose new patina of glamour did not conceal the seediness beneath. In earlier recordings, Springsteen had made himself a working-class champion of immediate gratification and youthful male self-assertion, celebrating the joy of romance in a New Jersey landscape of motorcycles and epic partying. He became known as “the Boss,” an ironic nickname for a singer who railed against social authority. “I hate bosses,” he once said. Now, with his back-up band gone, accompanying himself almost solely with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, singing in a narrow vocal range marked by repetitious, mirthless rhythms and guttural shouts, Springsteen painted a scene of blasted hopes and stacked decks. Some of his songs referred to possibilities of rebirth and perseverance, but the overall tone of the record made these refrains sound foolish or sarcastic. A sense of entitlement to a happy, fulfilled life had died inside blue-collar America.
There are two takeaways here.

#1. Most books on Reagan and the 1980s say very little about the Reagan Recession. Read books like The Eighties by John Ehrman or Morning in America by Gil Troy, and you might miss it. This is incredible. It was a major event, and a basic part of Reagan’s record as president. It accelerated long-term trends: deindustrialization, erosion of union density, the rise of finance, and worsening inequality. Reagan didn’t foresee these results. But he cheered on the policy of the Federal Reserve, which very intentionally caused this recession for the purpose of wringing inflation out of the U.S. economy. It worked.

#2. Many persist in depicting Reagan’s brand of conservatism as something newly sunny and optimistic. But in fact his economic policy prescription was old-fashioned conservatism and it was harsh—not for everyone, but specifically for working-class Americans. He thought they had no right to expect anything, and he thought they needed to take the brunt of the deflationary policy he thought was necessary. He also succeeded in cutting assistance to the poor and unlucky during the recession. This was simply unprecedented—under both Republican and Democratic presidents—since Franklin Roosevelt, in the 1930s, established a new role for the federal government in combating economic distress. Andrew Mellon couldn’t have disagreed in the slightest. This was Reaganism, and we must stop pretending it was anything different.
Learn more about The Reagan Era at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

James McGrath Morris's "Eye on the Struggle"

James McGrath Morris is an author, columnist, and radio show host. He writes primarily biographies and works of narrative nonfiction.

His newest works are Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press and the best-selling Kindle single, Revolution by Murder: Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and the Plot to Kill Henry Clay Frick. His other books include Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power—which the Wall Street Journal deemed was one of the five best books on American moguls and Booklist placed on its 2010 list of the ten best biographies; The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism—a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and Jailhouse Journalism: The Fourth Estate Behind Bars.

Morris applied the “Page 99 Test” to Eye on the Struggle and reported the following:
From page 99:
...used the tactic in the Senate to forestall federal civil rights legislation. Lehman’s speech deepened the chasm between the Southern and Northern delegates and increased the likelihood of a floor fight.

“I should regret a floor flight,” Senator Lehman said, “but I will press for a strong civil rights plank even if it makes such a battle inevitable.”

Lehman wasn’t the only national figure that Payne witnessed campaigning for civil rights. “Fighting also for the respect of individual dignity and first class citizenship for Negro Americans was Minnesota’s fiery senator, Hubert Humphrey,” Payne noted. It was, indeed, an unusual spectacle for Payne. With the exception of Chicago African American congressman William Dawson, who was on the platform committee, here were white politicians publicly fighting to advance the cause of civil rights. They were motivated by the changing color of voters, Payne concluded. Keenly aware that the Negro vote had delivered Ohio and Illinois in the 1948 election, they wanted to capture a larger share of the vote. The fight, Payne concluded, “demonstrated the vast importance of the Negro vote.”

Instead of seeking time with the Democratic leaders who supported her cause and rewarding them with flattering pieces, Payne took an entirely different tack. She decided to enter the enemy’s lair. She sought an audience with the die-hard segregationist Senator Richard Russell Jr., one of the four leading candidates for the presidential nomination. His membership in the Democratic Party, like that of other segregationists, raised the hackles of the NAACP. “If the Democrats win,” asked its magazine Crisis, “won’t the Dixiecrat-GOP coalition kill civil rights?”

Slender in build, with a Roman nose and large ears made more pronounced by his close-cropped hair, Russell graciously received Payne in his ninth-floor room of the Conrad Hilton. He represented the bulwark of resistance to federal civil rights laws and was the wiliest of opponents. When he first reached the Senate in the 1933, Russell had taken upon himself to become the chamber’s most astute parliamentarian. He skillfully opposed every effort that he deemed...
I feel a bit like I won the literary lottery because page 99 of Eye on the Struggle captures well an important moment in Ethel Payne’s journey into covering national politics. Here she is at the 1952 Democratic National Convention witnessing for the first time white politicians fighting over civil rights and a preview of what she would see the following year when she goes to Washington as a correspondent for the Chicago Defender.

Secondly, what I so like about this moment is that Payne who has only about one year of reporting experience under her belt demonstrates incredible journalistic acumen. She decides to interview the segregationist and presidential candidate Senator Richard Russell from Georgia. To modern readers this may not seem like much of a challenge, but this was an era when segregationists felt free to use the word “nigger” on the floor of the United States.

So on this one page readers see both Payne’s early education about national politics and her remarkable skill that took her in a few years from being a cub reporter to the most important black reporter of the decade providing reporting for a national black readership hungry for stories that could not be found in the white media. From publicly challenging President Eisenhower’s commitment to desegregation in the 1950s to capturing the lives of black troops in Vietnam in the 1960s, she became known simply as “the First Lady of Black Press.”

Her unflinching yet personable reporting enlightened and activated black readers across the country and made her a trusted ally of civil rights leaders. When she worked in the ranks of the virtually all-white Washington press corps, she gave black America a voice and presence at the highest reaches of power that could not be ignored.

Ethel Lois Payne’s story offers a gentle reminder that the great power of a free press rests on a simple notion of rendering those in power accountable. Payne’s journalism invoked none of the angry name-calling fashionable in the news media today. Rather, she brought only one weapon with her when she gained access to the halls of power on behalf of her readers. It was to ask questions that others were not asking.

And she got answers.
Learn more about the book and author at the official James McGrath Morris website.

The Page 99 Test: Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chad Broughton's "Boom, Bust, Exodus"

Chad Broughton is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Boom, Bust, Exodus [inset below left, click to enlarge], George Carney is spiraling downward because of his impending layoff, and his girlfriend, Lynn Nelson, is struggling as this once energetic man succumbs to depression. Then, in 2004, Carney still worked at a Maytag appliance factory in Galesburg, Illinois, and faced losing his $15 an hour job, low-cost, high-quality health care, and a solid pension.

The Page 99 Test worked. This is the emotional core of the book, the personal battle to find a new life in an era of widespread job insecurity and growing inequality. For Carney, it’s largely tragedy, and in the book’s other pages we see other workers adapting—and sometimes flourishing—after the big factory closing.

What one page cannot capture, understandably, is the reach—across both time and geography—of the book.

In time, the book extends back to 1959, to give the reader a sense of what factory life was like in the heady postwar years. The book also extends forward a decade from the factory closing, so we can see former Maytag workers not only in the moment of trauma—around the time of the closing announcement and the layoffs—but also how they pick themselves up and endure for a full decade after the factory shutters.

Boom, Bust, Exodus also takes readers across North America, and roots half of the chapters in Mexico. The Maytag appliance factory went to Reynosa, Tamaulipas—a booming industrial city at the border—in 2004, and became a maquiladora (export-oriented factory). Those chapters tell the story of factory workers like Laura Flora, a single mother of three, who took up George Carney’s former appliance work at Planta Maytag III, the Maytag maquiladora in Reynosa. Factory workers in the borderlands like Flora are mostly internal migrants from Mexico’s south so, in addition, readers travel to the rural towns of Veracruz to learn about life there, and to see why people stay, why people leave for the border, and how all of this economic change looks from their point of view.

In a book that interweaves narratives from across North America and over several decades, it’s impossible that any one page could tell us everything. But Carney’s story, as revealed on page 99, is at the heart of this book about how the economic integration of North America has knocked many down—and their battle to make a new life amid rapid economic change.
Learn more about Boom, Bust, Exodus at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chad Bauman's "Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India"

Chad M. Bauman is Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University and is the author of Christian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868-1947.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India, and reported the following:
“…because recuperative conversions have become so common, even though they do not always endure, they remain the primary source of Christian growth in India today.”

Page 99 of Pentecostals, Proselytization, and anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India appears at the beginning of a chapter in which I argue that “recuperative conversions,” that is, conversions provoked by an experience of what the convert believes to be miraculous spiritual or physical healing at the hands of a Christian, are the most common reason non-Christians begin affiliating with Christianity in India today.

The argument is significant because the prevalence of recuperative conversions—provoked most commonly by Pentecostal Christians, and not unrelated to the reasons Pentecostals are disproportionately targeted in anti-Christian violence—complicates the stale accusation, widespread among Christianity’s critics since colonial times, that crassly self-interested members of India’s lower-caste and tribal communities convert primarily for material gain, and that predatory missionaries (usually imagined as “foreign,” but in contemporary times rarely so) prey upon those groups, “inducing” them to convert with offers of education, jobs, or money.

While the book acknowledges and even documents the many ways in which the greater wealth and technological power of the West has been aphrodisiacal, perhaps attracting some to Christianity who hoped they might by conversion gain greater access to it, explicit offers of material support for conversion to Christianity have at all times in Indian history been rare, and have been condemned as vehemently by mainstream Christians as by non-Christians. The primary function of the accusation, then, is not to identify a significant problem so much as to rhetorically bolster the Hindu nationalist narrative that Christianity is a dangerous, imperialistic, anti-Indian religion, in fact less a religion than a subversive political cancer like communism, and that drastic measures, like laws proscribing or prohibiting conversion, or perhaps even acts of intimidation or violence, are for this reason justified to arrest its progress.

However, as I argue in the book, this narrative, and in fact the entire debate about conversion in India today, is impoverished because it fails to recognize that the growth of Pentecostalism, and of Christianity in India more generally, is fueled primarily by recuperative conversions, in which Christian and popular Hindu healers compete on a more or less equal playing field for converts who cannot be accused of having converted for what critics might condemn as “material” reasons.
Learn more about Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Marilyn Morris's "Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics"

Marilyn Morris is associate professor of history at the University of North Texas and the author of The British Monarchy and the French Revolution.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls on the second page of Chapter 4: “Court, Courtship and Domestic Virtue”—
...affairs of the heart both facilitated valuable communication across party lines and led to dangerous connections, especially when they involved members of the royal family. The pressure to find a suitable love match created new opportunities for politicians to forge personal bonds as they helped one another through the nerve-wracking pre-marital negotiations, but could just as well bring jealousies and estrangements.

Domesticity’s very definition and nature have been hotly debated since Lawrence Stone presented his model of companionate marriage born of eighteenth-century affective individualism. Scholars have found evidence of the trends Stone describes occurring much earlier and have disputed his notions of patriarchy, household composition and women’s matrimonial experience, among other things. It remains undisputed, however, that a growing interest in the challenges and rewards of achieving wedded bliss took place in didactic literature and fiction, starting with criticism of mercenary matches at the end of the seventeenth century and, by the early nineteenth, blossoming into the ideal of the tender, loving family as a refuge from the bustle of public business. Literary trends, of course, had a nebulous relation to life. Conduct literature presented numerous models of marriage and novels required marital strife or adultery for plot purposes; nonetheless, this literary attention did reflect the time’s social pressure to marry. In the closing decades of the seventeenth century, the increasing number of people who remained single attracted concern, with various genres of writing dispensing pity on the ‘superannuated virgin’ as a victim of the short supply of eligible men. Other publications provoked controversy by contemplating the pleasures of the single life and advocating expansion of women’s educational opportunities. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the sinister figure of the ‘old maid’ dominated the discursive field because the economic opportunities that emerged between the 1690s and 1700s allowed women to be single by choice when England’s involvement in war raised anxieties about the birth rate and encouraged a political and cultural investment in the reproductive nuclear family. Aristocratic women countered with the idea of rational domesticity based on choice, even if it meant choosing not to marry. Nevertheless, bachelors continued to come under fire. The stereotype of the effeminate fop stigmatized men who rejected the now masculinised private domain of domestic responsibility.
This page captures one aspect of my investigation into the consequences of basing a political leader’s fitness to govern on an assessment of his (and now her) personal character. The earlier chapters explain how politicians’ private tendency to judge one another on the basis of their success with women and money increasingly crept into political propaganda. While Chapter 4 reveals the messy ethical constructs resulting from the gap between the new valorisation of domesticity and politicians’ actual attitudes and behaviour, Chapter 5 shows similar contradictions in moral principles respecting spending, credit and debt. Sporting the proper degree of personal finery involved achieving a level of expenditure that managed to rest on an ever-shifting line between parsimony and profligacy. As national and personal debt escalated, economic reform schemes came to nought as partisan posturing made financial ethics hopelessly ambiguous. Finally, the book turns to observations from the peripheries of the political world to demonstrate how the illusion of knowing the inner character of public figures by outward appearances shaped opinions regarding political policies, and how the consequent culture of hypocrisy brought heartache to families and friends of the ruling elite.

I first thought that surely Ford Madox Ford had his tongue placed firmly in his cheek when he suggested that on page 99, “the quality of the whole work will be revealed to you.” Uncannily, however, page 99 contains the issue that tripped me up. Based on the research I conducted for The British Monarchy and the French Revolution (Yale UP, 1998), my project rested on the premise that political principles and behaviour did change with George III’s domestication of monarchy. After a few false starts, I realized that anti-domesticity was the interesting story here. I also began seeing connections between the impossible domestic ideal touted in print and the wildly inconsistent principles of financial probity that featured in press coverage of the royal family.
Learn more about Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sally G. McMillen's "Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life"

Sally G. McMillen is the Mary Reynolds Babcock Professor of History at Davidson College. Her books include Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women's Rights Movement, Motherhood in the Old South: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infant Rearing, and To Raise Up the South: Sunday Schools in Black and White Churches, 1865-1915.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new biography, Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life, and reported the following:
The claim that one can know about a book by reading page 99 does not hold true for Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life. Few Americans know much about this nineteenth-century suffragist and abolitionist and the enormous impact she had on movements to end slavery and gain equal rights for women.

This Massachusetts farm girl was one of the first women in the country to earn a college degree, graduating from Oberlin Collegiate Institute in 1847. She then devoted her life to causes she held dear, becoming a well-paid lecturer, often attracting hundreds, even thousands, of people who came to hear her. By the 1850s, she had become one of the most famous women in America. Having denounced marriage because of the odious laws that removed women’s rights and subsumed them to an inferior position, Lucy’s mind changed after a persistent courtship by Henry Browne Blackwell. She married him in 1855. A year later, she decided to keep her maiden name, arguing that if men could be known by their own names, so could women. The birth of Alice in 1857 pulled her home to raise her daughter. After the Civil War, Lucy moved back into the fray, supporting the Fifteenth Amendment that gave black men the right to vote and forming the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, a counter to the National Woman Suffrage Association formed earlier that year by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Three years later after moving to Boston, Lucy founded The Woman’s Journal, the nation’s most influential women’s newspaper, one that endured until women won the right to vote in 1920. Unfortunately Lucy never witnessed that moment, having died in 1893.

Page 99 of my book addresses one instance among many that Lucy encountered when critics denounced her causes and even the way she dressed or behaved. Here, it was the famous abolitionist and fugitive slave Frederick Douglass who censured Lucy for speaking in a public hall in Philadelphia that refused to permit blacks. This was a difficult time in Douglass’s life, and he took Lucy to task, failing to understand that she and her sponsors had assumed the hall welcomed blacks. Informed only at the last minute of this rule, Lucy decided to speak but announced at the end of her talk that she would never again speak in this hall. This resolute woman never did.
Learn more about Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

John D. Fair's "Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon"

John D. Fair's books include Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell. He is a retired history professor (Auburn University, Montgomery, and Georgia College & State University) and has competed in nearly eighty weightlifting/powerlifting meets, served on the national AAU weightlifting committee, and judged many physique competitions, including the 1973 Mr. America Contest. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

Fair applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon, and reported the following:
Page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] is fairly representative of the subject matter and my writing style. It includes a Harry Paschall cartoon which is revealing about how some people felt about Mr. America and bodybuilders in general. Readers might find it amusing.

What the page doesn't include is any interpretive content which is an important part of the book. In this respect the book uses bodybuilding to reflect on the decline of American idealism and how the decline of the Mr. America reflected the changing culture of the times. The decline of Americanism is merely part of the larger process of a questioning of western values that are rooted in the so-called Greek ideal which became an American ideal. This process is particularly evident in bodybuilding at least since the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and the inception of the Olympics in 1896, and in 1939 the Greek ideal of mens sana in corpore sano became the Mr. America ideal. It was also reflected in depictions of American womanhood with the inception of the Miss America Contest in 1921 which served as a template for Mr. America. The thesis of the book is reflected in the dust cover picture of Steve Reeves (the choice of most bodybuilding buffs as the ideal Mr. America) posing as Myron’s Discobolos, the most famous Greek sculpture depicting the athletic ideal. Most revealing to me were my researches into the impact of Greek cultural values through Germany and Great Britain that informed how Americans viewed their bodies and society, at least until the late 1960s. I think my book helps inform the reading public how Mr. America symbolized a departure from those ideals and the extent to which a desire still exists for their return. Nowadays, however, few people understand this Greek connection to what we were and potentially what we hope to be. These ideas slowly unfolded over at least a decade while I engaged in full-time teaching and administrative work, writing articles on other subjects, seeking sources throughout the country, training and competing regularly, and maintaining a family life.
Learn more about Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon at the University of Texas Press website.

Writers Read: John D. Fair.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 9, 2015

Andrew Johnstone's "Against Immediate Evil"

Andrew Johnstone is a Lecturer in American History at the University of Leicester in the UK.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against Immediate Evil: American Internationalists and the Four Freedoms on the Eve of World War II, and reported the following:
Against Immediate Evil tells the story of how groups of internationalist-minded private citizens worked between 1938 and 1941 to convince the U.S. government and the American public of the need to act to stem the rising global tide of fascist aggression. Whether through the provision of aid to victims of aggression or ultimately through a declaration of war, organizations such as the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies pushed against the prevailing non-interventionist sentiment and urged a greater international role for the United States. Page 99 is drawn from chapter five which covers the summer and fall of 1940, and manages to cover two of the broader themes that run throughout the book: the close relationship between these private citizens and the Roosevelt administration, and the complicated relationship among the internationalists.

Page 99 opens with the end of a section on the destroyer-bases exchange, which saw fifty WWI-era destroyers traded to Britain in exchange for the right to lease air and naval bases in the western hemisphere from Newfoundland down to British Guiana. Winston Churchill had pleaded for the destroyers, but the idea of an exchange that would help bolster American security was first suggested to Franklin Roosevelt by private internationalists. Roosevelt then asked internationalist leader and Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White to sound out Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, and White was able to reassure the president that Willkie was sympathetic to the proposal. The internationalists also helped prepare the legal arguments that reassured Roosevelt he could conduct the exchange without Congressional approval. Page 99 concludes that “the exchange represented the closest interaction between the internationalists and the administration during the entire period.”

The rest of page 99 examines the growing tension within the internationalist movement that developed through 1940 between those who thought aid-short-of-war to friendly democracies was sufficient, and those who felt a more interventionist stance was required. A relatively minor spat over the contents of a newsletter providing background material for newspaper editors ended up highlighting divisions within the movement. These divisions ultimately led to the resignation of William Allen White over the direction of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and the creation of the more interventionist Fight For Freedom organization in 1941. Rather surprisingly, debates and turf wars among internationalists were just as bitter as those between internationalists and non-interventionists like the America First Committee.
Learn more about Against Immediate Evil at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Scott H. Podolsky's "The Antibiotic Era"

Scott H. Podolsky is an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, an associate professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. He is the author of Pneumonia Before Antibiotics: Therapeutic Evolution and Evaluation in Twentieth-Century America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Antibiotic Era: Reform, Resistance, and the Pursuit of a Rational Therapeutics, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a loaded 1962 advertisement for Upjohn’s Panalba, a historically fascinating combination antibiotic that serves to orient us regarding how we’ve been able (or unable) to regulate antibiotics in this country over time. Despite the advent of the sulfa drugs in the late 1930s, penicillin by the mid-1940s, and such “broad-spectrum” antibiotics as tetracycline by the late 1940s and early 1950s, staph infections could still wreak havoc, as many were found resistant to such heavily used drugs. In an apparent arms race, the pharmaceutical industry developed and widely promoted “fixed-dose combination” antibiotics, whereby two or more antibiotics would be administered in the same pill. Yet when leading infectious disease researchers studied such heavily advertised and administered antibiotics by the late 1950s, they found them no better – and potentially worse or more toxic – than their component parts. They demanded that such remedies be justified by “well-controlled” investigations, rather than via “testimonials.” When their rhetoric spread to Senator Estes Kefauver’s congressional hearings on the pharmaceutical industry, it helped lead to the passage of the 1962 Kefauver-Harris drug amendments, whereby all new drugs would have to be proved efficacious through such rigorous studies, establishing the FDA’s regulatory framework that persists to this day. After the passage of the amendments, the FDA commissioned a review of existing drugs, with an eye to withdrawing those not meeting the more rigorous criteria. The FDA’s withdrawal of Panalba – a combination of tetracycline and novobiocin, and widely prescribed by physicians – would be contested by Upjohn all the way to the Supreme Court as an infringement on prescribing prerogatives, but the judiciary found in favor of the FDA, in a crucial empowering of the FDA to shape the pharmaceutical market.

And yet, while seemingly inappropriate antibiotics were removed from the market, no one was empowered to regulate the inappropriate prescribing of appropriate antibiotics. And here is where the advertisement becomes doubly intriguing. The advertisement, labelled “Panalba promptly,” recommends the shoot-first use of the antibiotic as a “rational” approach to gaining “precious therapeutic hours … in bacterial tracheobronchitis.” Even at the time, infectious disease experts felt that most such infections were viral (and hence not treatable with antibiotics), and that even “bacterial” tracheobronchitis didn’t require antibiotics, or at the very least should be diagnosed by taking bacterial cultures. Instead, the widespread overuse of drugs like Panalba – and later broad-spectrum antibiotics – would help promote the development of the very antibiotic resistance that drugs like Panalba were supposedly designed to offset in the first place.
Learn more about The Antibiotic Era at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dallas G. Denery II's "The Devil Wins"

Dallas G. Denery II is associate professor of history at Bowdoin College. He is the author of Seeing and Being Seen in the Later Medieval World: Optics, Theology, and Religious Life and the coeditor of Uncertain Knowledge: Scepticism, Relativism, and Doubt in the Middle Ages.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Devil Wins: A History of Lying from the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment, and reported the following:
Sadly, read on its own, page 99 of The Devil Wins probably won’t make much sense -- so let’s give it some much needed context. Medieval and early modern thinkers repeatedly worried whether or not God could lie. There were good reasons for thinking he could. Among other things, the Bible includes stories in which God tricks, lies and deceives various people. Why, for example, did Christ conceal his divinity within the man Jesus? One longstanding answer, already found in Augustine’s early fifth-century writings and still useful to Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, was that Christ needed to deceive the Devil in order to successfully save sinful humanity. On the other hand, there were also good reasons, philosophical reasons, for believing that God was incapable of deception. Omnipotent and perfect, this philosophically conceived God remained aloof from his creation, unchanging and immutable. Why would a perfect God need to deceive, why would it need to do anything? A perfect being, after all, lacks for nothing, and lacking nothing never need do anything, including lying.

Whatever we might think of this question, it was important for medieval and early modern thinkers, and even for the brightlights of the Scientific Revolution. Page 99 picks up this story in the writings of Rene Descartes and some of his admiring critics. Not only does the Bible suggest God can deceive, everyday experience suggests as much:
“From time to time,” Descartes writes, “it does appear that we really are deceived by the natural instinct that God gave us, as in the case of the thirst felt by those who suffer from dropsy. These patients have a positive impulse to drink which derives from the nature God has bestowed on the body in order to preserve it; yet this nature does deceive them because on this occasion the drink with have a harmful effect.”
Descartes, who desperately wishes to prove God is not a deceiver, asks a simple question, “How is it possible that God seems to deceive us when, in fact, he does nothing of the sort?” His answer? God creates the world using the fewest rules to create the greatest order. For the most part, things work out admirably – when we are thirsty, for example, we really do need water. Occasionally though, as the rules work themselves out, certain unavoidable mishaps will occur at the individual level. God could, of course, miraculously intervene, creating one-off rules to prevent these outcomes. He could, but he doesn’t. Such minute fudging and amending would mar the simple beauty of creation, would violate the simplicity of God’s own nature. For Descartes, for most everyone involved in the Scientific Revolution, God could not deceive because, for all intents and purposes, God was no longer involved in the world. He set up the rules that structured the universe – and these were the rule scientists sought to uncover – and then sat back, admiring the simply beauty of it all, dropsy included.
Learn more about The Devil Wins at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ellen T. Harris's "George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends"

Ellen T. Harris is Professor Emeritus of Music and Theater Arts at MIT and President of the American Musicological Society. She has written widely on Handel, Baroque opera, and vocal performance practice. Her previous books include Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas (2001) and Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" (1987).

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends, and reported the following:
Hearing about the Page 99 test, I was tempted to dismiss it out of hand, and looking at page 99 of George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends only confirmed that view. After all, despite my book being about Handel, there is no mention on page 99 of the man or his music. But after some consideration, I thought again: maybe the lack of the composer’s presence on page 99 really is representative of a book that takes the approach of finding Handel, who has remained so elusive as a person, in his friends and the culture of eighteenth-century London. And, after still further thought: maybe the topic on page 99 of the East India Company does point to Handel, the composer of Italian opera, as no less an importer of luxury items from abroad as the great eighteenth-century British trading companies. In fact, the Royal Academy of Music, established to bring Italian opera to London, was founded on exactly the same financial basis as both the East India and South Sea Companies.

What started me on this search for Handel the man was the realization that he had left bequests in his will to friends and neighbors about whom we knew nothing. By pursuing these friends through the Bank of England accounts, legal cases in the Court of Chancery, and private correspondence, a picture began to emerge of Handel and his London friends whose real lives parallel the fictional lives found in Handel’s music (and are not dissimilar to those created more than a century later by Dickens).

As I write on page 11 (88 pages before page 99):
Handel’s operas set in the Middle East (Rinaldo, Tamerlano), for example, would not have seemed remote to James Hunter, who was an international trader and later in life worked directly with the British East India Company. The tension between a forced marriage and true love (Floridante, Imeneo) was not limited to exotic or fantastical climes but common to many: Mary Delany had both experiences. False accusations and legal problems (Solomon, Susanna) plagued Delany and her husband, while Hunter and Goupy both endured long court battles. Issues of religious toleration (Esther, Judas Maccabaeus, Theodora) touched them all.
Learn more about George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bartholomew Sparrow's "The Strategist"

Bartholomew Sparrow is a professor in the department of government at the University of Texas at Austin where he teaches American political development. He has received fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, and has been awarded the Leonard D. White and the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha awards from the American Political Science Association. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Chicago.

Sparrow applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[Gen. Alexander] Haig was running “the day-to-day operations,” [NSC staff member William L.] Stearman observed, and making the most of his decisions. And everyone in the White House “more or less assumed this was the case,” he added. Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski called Haig the nation’s “thirty-seventh-and-a-half president,” in light of his role in the period before Nixon’s resignation.
These first sentences from the top of page 99 indicate several things, it seems to me. One is that the book discusses Brent Scowcroft’s colleagues at some length. The rest of page 99 details Haig and Scowcroft’s distinct relationship, given that they’d been classmates at West Point (‘47) and were at once familiar with and somewhat wary of the other. The book similarly sketches the personalities of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, the two Bush presidents, Henry Kissinger, and Condoleezza Rice, among others, and explains how each interacted with Scowcroft and how those relationships developed.

Page 99 also suggests just how much an administration’s success depends on group dynamics. Scowcroft and Haig’s relationship was of no small consequence to the fate of US foreign policy over the last months of the Nixon administration. Kissinger’s relationships with Haig and Scowcroft likewise mattered for the purposes of policymaking. Neither can these relationships be viewed in isolation from the other. Scowcroft may have been caught in a difficult position between Nixon and Kissinger, for instance, but the fact that he got along well with both men also made him highly effective as the deputy national advisor. Later, President George Bush was able to form a very tight-knit and effective foreign policy team comprised of the president, Secretary of State James A. Baker, and Scowcroft as well as Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, deputy national security advisor Robert Gates.

The attention to Watergate on page 99 further reveals that the book also attends to important domestic politics. Whether in his roles as national security advisor, member of a presidential commission, or Air Force colonel in the Pentagon, Scowcroft had to take domestic interests and US institutions into account, just as he had to consider particular foreign interests and international factors.

A fourth is that the book is written in an accessible and engaging style. I wanted to be able to hold the attention of anyone interested in national security policy and the changes in US foreign policy from the last third of the Cold War up to the early 2010s or in Scowcroft’s own remarkable career.
Learn more about The Strategist at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Strategist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seth Koven's "The Match Girl and the Heiress"

Seth Koven teaches history at Rutgers University. He is the author of Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London and the coeditor of Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States.

His new book, The Match Girl and the Heiress, tells the remarkable story of a half-orphaned Cockney match girl, Nellie Dowell, and the pacifist feminist daughter of a great ship builder, Muriel Lester, who believed that in loving one another they would inaugurate a Christian revolution in the slums of early 20th century East London.

Koven applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Match Girl and the Heiress and reported the following:
When Nellie Dowell (aged12), the match “girl” of my book’s title, left the notorious poor law orphanage at Forest Gate in 1888, she immediately entered East London’s Lucifer match industry. A few months earlier, “girls” like Nellie grabbed global headlines when they went on strike against low pay and workplace exposure to “phossy jaw,” a deadly disfiguring disease. The Match Girls’ Strike of 1888 at Bryant and May and Co. was the first triumphant organization of “unskilled” women workers into trade unions. We know a lot about it.

Page 99 tells the inglorious, now forgotten but no less dramatic story of what happened next. It introduces two feisty “match girls,” Margaret McCarthy and Annie Sheehan, involved in the strike at Nellie’s employers in 1893, R. Bell and Co. McCarthy and Sheehan were accused of threatening to toss a strikebreaker, Emily Cakebread, into a nearby canal. Police came to arrest one; the other, unbowed, soon handed herself into custody. The Bell’s strike proved a complete disaster for many Bell’s match girls. Several strikers got draconian prison sentences for their defiance.

And what of Nellie Dowell? She later became a Christian revolutionary pacifist, but during the Bell’s strike of 1893/4 she put job security before solidarity with female trade unionists. Like the silent majority of women workers, Nellie never went on strike. Understanding why helps make sense of the logic governing most poor women’s workplace choices.

Page 99 has already elicited a remarkable response from a Western Australian reader, Annie Sheehan’s great granddaughter. I now know that Sheehan and McCarthy were daughters of an Irish docker and also strikers at Bryant and May in 1888. The sisters form an invisible link between that triumph and the crushing defeat of 1893/4. The mother of a young child at her arrest, Annie Sheehan Yates died a decade later in the Poplar sick asylum – the same Poor Law hospital that Nellie entered in 1890.

This postscript to page 99 has given me a lot to think about. It’s made clear that the past that we try to faithfully narrate is always provisional. What new stories might yet be recovered through the global information and communication networks of our digital world? It brought home to me that Nellie was relatively fortunate. Despite her profound hardships, she had the support of a loving network of kin. Family made all the difference then. It often still does.
Learn more about The Match Girl and the Heiress at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue