Thursday, December 31, 2015

Roger Crowley's "Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire"

Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul. He has traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging interest in its past and culture, as well as in seafaring and eyewitness history. He is also the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, and City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas.

Crowley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, and reported the following:
I rather wished this had been the Page 98 test, as 99 is a chapter end in the US edition, little more than a short paragraph. However it describes the deteriorating relations between the Portuguese, newcomers to the Indian Ocean, and the ruler of Calicut, a key city on the West Coast of India for the trade in spices.

Conquerors traces the efforts of the Portuguese to find a sea route to India – 60 years of intense and quite single-minded effort down the coast of Africa. When Vasco da Gama finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 and crossed the Indian Ocean, he arrived with two objectives. To grab a share of the rich spice trade with Europe, and to hunt for Christian allies against the Islamic world. Instead the Portuguese found the trade of the Indian Ocean fully in the hands of Muslim merchants and that the raja of Calicut, far from being a Christian, was a ‘heathen’ – they were unaware, when they first arrived, of the existence of Hinduism. Page 99 clarifies this misconception and tilts the balance of the Portuguese presence from peaceful trade to armed violence – to the role of ‘Conquerors’.

The little known story of the Portuguese discovery of the world is the subject of my book. It focusses particularly on the crucial thirty year period from their arrival in India until they almost controlled the whole ocean. It’s something of an epic of maritime skill, ruthlessness and limitless ambition, in which a few thousand European incomers armed with a superior technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – attempted to monopolize the hub of world trade, encircle Islam and recapture Jerusalem. It’s rich in extraordinary episodes of courage and violence, trading deals, messianic crusading dreams and sea battles, for which there are excellent eyewitness accounts. By 1515 the Portuguese had laid the foundation of the first global empire –a crucial kick start to the rise of the West in world history.
Visit Roger Crowley's website.

Writers Read: Roger Crowley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bruce E. Baker and Barbara Hahn's "The Cotton Kings"

Bruce E. Baker is Lecturer in American History at the University of Newcastle, and Barbara Hahn is Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Cotton Kings: Capitalism and Corruption in Turn-of-the-Century New York and New Orleans, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Cotton Kings describes a crucial moment in the book and illustrates two of our main points. First, it demonstrates how cotton brokers in the early twentieth century, the smart ones anyway, used the agricultural calendar as the basis of their trading strategy. Second, it shows how two of these cotton brokers came to New Orleans before the turn of the twentieth century and built a network of bull traders that wrested control of the market away from bear traders based in the corrupted New York Stock Exchange. William P. Brown and Frank B. Hayne did make fortunes, especially in 1903 when they cornered the world’s cotton supply, earning millions of dollars and pushing the price of cotton up to enrich the farmers as well as themselves. Still, corrupt practices on the New York Cotton Exchange continued to keep prices artificially low, enriching bear traders but spelling disaster for hard-pressed farmers and manufacturers dealing with volatile prices for their raw materials. The moment this page describes, in 1909, sees Brown and Hayne building an ever bigger network of bull traders, backed by cotton manufacturers in the South. This new network cornered the market again and threatened to effect a permanent squeeze. But then, as one observer noted, “all the bears [got] so scared that they [had] to call for the policeman,” and the case eventually wound up in the Supreme Court.

The “summer shortfall” was the key to Brown’s trading strategy. He bought up cotton futures contracts that would mature in the summer months before the new crop began to come to market in August. If he could buy enough futures contracts, and if he had enough money to pay for the cotton, he could demand the sellers deliver the actual cotton they had promised. As supplies of cotton ran short, the sellers would have to buy cotton for whatever price it was available, even if they lost money on each bale. If they could not meet their contracts, they risked being kicked out of the exchange. Brown would become the only person with cotton available, and sellers would have to buy it from him (at a high price) just in order to sell it back to him (at the low price promised in the contract).

Page 99 therefore captures a great deal of the drama of cotton futures trading and its main characters, and captures the argument of the book as a whole.
Learn more about The Cotton Kings at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2015

Theresa Kaminski's "Angels of the Underground"

Theresa Kaminski is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She is the author of Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, An American in the Philippines and Prisoners in Paradise: American Women in the Wartime South Pacific.

Kaminski applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test, as Ford Madox Ford set it out, works for my book in revealing both its quality and its scope. The page centers on one of the angels, Yay Panlilio, revealing how she became involved in anti-Japanese resistance.

On page 99, the reader is plunged into Japanese-occupied Manila in January 1942. Yay, a Filipina-American newspaper reporter and undercover intelligence agent for the United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE), had been trying to figure out how to help the troops that had withdrawn to the Bataan Peninsula in a futile wait for reinforcements. She’d wanted to go with them, to drive a truck, do anything to help, but a USAFFE officer had been dismissive--she was only a woman, what use would she be?

Yay remained in Manila, unaffected by the Japanese roundup of Allied civilians for internment because of her Filipino heritage. She took every opportunity to observe the enemy forces and assess their strengths and weaknesses. When a Japanese businessman, a prewar acquaintance, asked Yay to help launch radio station PIAM, the mouthpiece of the occupation, she agreed.
Yay was presented with broadcast scripts tightly controlled by Japanese censors, still she concocted phrasing Japanese translators would not fully understand but her English-speaking audience probably would. Using ‘innuendo so obscure sometimes that only mental telepathy could decode it,’ she cautioned Filipinos about how to deal with occupation forces, gave advice to the Voice of Freedom broadcasting from Corregidor, and passed along military information to USAFFE officers.
It worked, at least for a while. Yay stayed at it as long as she could, until the Japanese caught on and she had to flee Manila. Even then, she declined to sit out the remainder of the war doing nothing. Yay headed to the hills east or the city, where she joined up with guerrilla forces and continued her fight from the field.
Learn more about Angels of the Underground at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mario Erasmo's "Strolling Through Rome"

Mario Erasmo is Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia specializing in the Legacy of Classical Antiquity. He is the author of several books, including Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy and Reading Death in Ancient Rome and the volume editor of A Cultural History of Death in Antiquity. His forthcoming Strolling Through Florence: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Renaissance City (IBTauris) offers step-by-step strolls through historic sites and streets in the shadow of Brunelleschi's iconic dome.

Erasmo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his 2015 book, Strolling Through Rome: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City, and reported the following:
Every step in Rome is a walk through the annals of history. In antiquity, the area around the Theatre of Marcellus between the Capitoline Hill and the Tiber River on Page 99 is no exception. It was the location of the Circus Flaminius where the Triumphal processions of victorious generals set out and it was the focus of the Emperor Augustus' architectural program that elevated his sister Octavia and her son Marcellus to Imperial status. In the Middle Ages, the powerful Orsini family that produced several popes over the centuries turned the area of the theatre into fortifications and in the Renaissance, architect Baldassarre Peruzzi converted it into a palace complex. The Theatre of Marcellus was the second stone theatre in ancient Rome. For the Emperor Augustus who obsessed over his public persona, the opening gala ceremony did not go as planned when his chair broke within view of the assembled guests. The ruins of the monumental entrance to the Porticus of Octavia are now connected to the church of Sant' Angelo in Pescheria named for the former medieval fish market located here. The three columns of the Temple of Apollo Medicus Sosianus were uncovered during intensive excavations of the area in the 1920's when Mussolini sought to liberate ancient ruins from medieval additions as part of his city-wide campaign to cast himself as the emperor Augustus presiding over a modern-day Roman Empire with the restored monuments of ancient Rome at its centre.

Contrasting against Imperial pomp, the ruins around the Theatre of Marcellus are at the edge of the former Jewish Ghetto whose boundaries were first delineated by Pope Paul IV Carafa in 1555 after centuries of migration from the area of modern day Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber River where Jews first settled in the 1st century BCE in the first Jewish Diaspora. The population increased following Vespasian's Jewish campaigns that brought thousands of Jewish slaves to Rome largely used for the construction of Flavian era monuments, including the Colosseum. A funerary monument on the Via Appia Antica of three former Jewish slaves from this period indicates that some gained their freedom. Largo 16 Ottobre 1943 adjacent to the theatre and the Great Synagogue of Rome (Tempio Maggiore) commemorates the location where Nazi trucks parked when Nazis threatened to round up Jews to transport them to concentration camps unless 110 pounds of gold were delivered in 24 hours. Jews and non-Jewish Romans raised the amount but the Nazis returned and took more than 2000 Jews away. The walls of the Ghetto came down at the end of WWII but a section remains a block away from the theatre in Piazza Costaguti that is now at the centre of a thriving Jewish community.
The Page 99 Test: Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy.

Writers Read: Mario Erasmo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2015

David A. Bell's "Napoleon: A Concise Biography"

David A. Bell is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton. Born in New York and educated at Harvard, Princeton and the École Normale Supérieure, he previously taught at Yale and Johns Hopkins, where he also served as Dean of Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of three prize-winning books, most recently The First Total War (2007).

Bell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Napoleon: A Concise Biography, and reported the following:
Napoleon: A Concise Biography is a very short book, so page 99 actually brings us close to the end. It covers events in the spring of 1815, when Napoleon Bonaparte had already been defeated and sent into exile on the island of Elba. But then he dramatically escaped, landed on the French coast, and marched to Paris He attracted enthusiastic support along the way and returned triumphantly to power. He would not stay there for long, however: just one hundred days. In June he would lose the battle of Waterloo, and be forced back into exile, this time on the small South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where he would die in 1821.

The principal paragraph on page 99 recounts the beginning of the Hundred Days. It also refers back to a particularly dramatic confrontation between Napoleon and the army of the restored Bourbon dynasty (the “encounter at Laffrey”) with which I opened the book:
It was under these conditions that Napoleon fled Elba on February 26, 1815, easily evading lackluster British and French patrols and landing on the French coast three days later. As he marched north to Paris, he met with an increasingly enthusiastic response from stunned onlookers, and his talent for stage-managing dramatic events for maximum effect, as in the March 7 “encounter at Laffrey,” had not deserted him. More such events followed. His longtime subordinate Marshal Michel Ney had sworn an oath of loyalty to Louis XVIII, and on hearing of Napoleon’s return promised to bring the emperor to Paris in an iron cage. On March 14 Ney changed sides again and tearfully embraced his old master. Five days later, the army defending Paris declared its loyalty to Napoleon as well. Louis XVIII, who had pledged to die rather than abandon his capital, abandoned his capital and fled the country. On March 20, tens of thousands of Parisians, many of them weeping hysterically with joy, welcomed Napoleon back to the city.
Learn more about Napoleon: A Concise Biography at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: David A. Bell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Michael A. McDonnell's "Masters of Empire"

Michael A. McDonnell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America (Hill and Wang, 2015), Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation-Making from Independence to the Civil War (2013), and The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (2007), winner of the 2008 New South Wales Premier’s History Prize. His work was included in the Best American History Essays 2008 and he won the Lester Cappon Prize for the best article published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2006. He has received numerous research scholarships and grants in the United States and Australia and has served as a distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his family.

McDonnell applied the “Page 99 Test” to Masters of Empire and reported the following:
To my surprise, there was an image on page 99. While I’m not sure what that says of the “quality of the whole,” it is in fact the key to unlocking much of the story that is told in the book. The image is of pictographs from the Great Peace of Montreal of 1701. It consists of drawings by Native ogimaag, or chiefs, representing their doodem (pronounced doh-dem) – or as we sometimes call them, their clan. These were their signatures. And they are almost the only written ‘texts’ we have from many Native Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To view this image, see:

Recently, scholars such as Heidi Bohaker and Michael Witgen, working closely with Native communities, have tied these pictographs to the social and political organization of the Anishinaabeg – or the real, or original peoples. We often know them only by the names Europeans gave them: the Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Nipissing, Algonquin and Mississauga. But they all spoke Anishinaabemowin, and they were all, as they put it, “Allies to each other and as one People.” They were connected across the massive expanse of the Great Lakes region by language, trade, and kinship. This made them one of the most powerful Native nations in the colonial period.

Once these connections became clearer, I was able to put together a story centered on an Anishinaabe Odawa community at Michilimackinac – a narrow strait that connected Lakes Huron and Michigan (at present day Mackinaw City, Michigan). Here, a large - and growing - group of Ottawa (or Odawa) managed to use their extensive kinship ties, their mastery of the canoe, and their strategic location to carve out a central place for themselves even in the midst of European imperialism.

And while few people today appreciate the role of the Anishinaabeg in shaping the early colonial history of North America, most contemporaries at the time were well aware of the dramatic impact the native peoples of the Great Lakes had on the course of human events. The kings of France, ministers in London, and imperial and military officers in America, including George Washington, feared – and respected – the Anishinaabeg. They played an influential role in shaping French colonial efforts, the Seven Years’ War in America, and the conflict we now mistakenly call “Pontiac’s War.” And it may be no exaggeration to say that they played a part in lighting the fuse that would ultimately ignite the American Revolution.
Visit Michael A. McDonnell's website, blog, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Michael A. McDonnell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christopher R. Oldstone-Moore's "Of Beards and Men"

Christopher R. Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer in history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair, and reported the following:
Page 99 offers a fair reflection of what is on offer in Of Beards and Men: the Revealing History of Facial Hair. It discusses the self-fashioning of medieval French kings and crusaders, who helped establish a strong conceptual link between virtue and the shaved face that endures to this day. I write that “Louis VII was [in 1144] setting two precedents for French royalty: piety and beardlessness. Over the next three and a half centuries, the former was not regularly observed, but the latter was. It proved easier to look virtuous than be virtuous.” King Louis was also leader of the Second Crusade, and his knightly retainers similarly shaved or cropped off their beards in the style of the holy pilgrims they saw themselves to be. Earlier pages of this chapter provide the background for this style choice by explaining how and why medieval church theologians favored shaving as a symbol of spiritual and moral discipline.

This account of medieval kings and knights relates to the larger story of masculine virtue in the Middle Ages and subsequent eras. It illustrates how the church successfully promoted shaving for clergy and laity as part of its effort to steer all men to a life of pious mindfulness of spiritual rather than worldly purposes. Though men of the Renaissance countered these ideals with a forthright and bearded humanism, this older idea of shaven virtue endured, reborn in new guise in later centuries. These longer trends, in turn, illustrate some of the key themes of the book, particularly the fact that over the course of Western Civilization from Hellenistic Greece to our own day, shaving has remained the default mode of ideal manliness, interrupted only by relatively brief bearded eras. Explaining this lopsided pattern, and its peculiar timing, tells us a great deal about changing formulations of masculinity over time. In this respect, the history of men truly is written on their faces.
Learn more about Of Beards and Men at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Miguel de Baca's "Memory Work: Anne Truitt and Sculpture"

Miguel de Baca is Associate Professor of Art History at Lake Forest College. He specializes in modern and contemporary American art history and American studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Memory Work: Anne Truitt and Sculpture, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Memory Work: Anne Truitt and Sculpture, I discuss Truitt’s use of small painted sketches on paper to work out a larger, sculptural problem having to do with what she called “lines of force” (essentially lines between colors on the painted surfaces of her sculptures). I link these sketches back to drawings Truitt made in Tokyo in 1965 and 1966, largely based on the memory of American white paled fences, which also hearken back to the subject of her first sculpture made in a minimalist style, First (1961)—a sculpture that is the subject of the first chapter of Memory Work.

Truitt’s three years in Japan were full of personal turmoil. The artist had emerged into the New York art world in 1963 with a much-vaunted solo debut at André Emmerich Gallery. The show was one of the very first to introduce minimalism, and Truitt was by all means a pioneer of this style. However, she moved to Tokyo in 1964 on account of her husband’s career in journalism, and this, I think, caused a great deal of worry about being able to keep up with her newfound success from half a world away. Her works on paper from this period reveal an anxious linkage to formal and conceptual tendencies that would be realized sculpturally later.

Indeed, until now, the sculptures that Truitt made in Japan have been understood as an anomaly in her practice, exacerbated by the artist’s own statements about the work, which she destroyed in the early 1970s. In Memory Work, however, I argue that Truitt’s time in Japan was a crucial bridge between her early work and the particolored wooden columns for which she is known and celebrated today. Particularly important is the theme of memory of landscapes, architecture, and geographies from both her personal past as well as American cultural history, as is plainly evident in her drawings. There is much to learn from the fact that Truitt resorted to memory in order to find her way through a present creative impasse.
Learn more about Memory Work at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2015

Graeme Gill's "Building an Authoritarian Polity"

Graeme Gill is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. His books include Symbolism and Regime Change in Russia and Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics.

Gill applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Building an Authoritarian Polity: Russia in Post-Soviet Times, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, the results of the 2007 parliamentary election in Russia are discussed. This election, and the campaign that preceded it, highlights the way in which the Russian authorities manage political parties and, through them, the so-called "systemic opposition" in Russia. Through a combination of promoting a popular leader, tilting the electoral arena significantly in favour of the ruling party, and a lop-sided campaign, Putin and his supporters were able to achieve a decisive electoral majority which helped to consolidate authoritarian rule. But the structuring and manipulation of the electoral process was only one part of the broader strategy of building an authoritarian political system that has been followed since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

There were three other broad components of this strategy: the restriction and structuring of the activity of civil society forces so that they were directed into safe channels, the building of a relatively coherent administrative structure that answers to the president, and the stabilisation of elite relations so that conflict and division do not break out within that group. This strategy has not been completely successful in any of these areas, and there have at times been clear instances where the attempt to implement the strategy produced results significantly short of what was desired. In particular, the strategy was much less successful under President Yeltsin than it has been under President Putin. Nevertheless, the strategy was followed by both presidents, so that the picture of Yeltsin as the democrat being replaced by Putin the autocrat is a caricature. And it is due to the efforts of both that Russia has reached the stage of authoritarian rule that now characterises it.
Learn more about Building an Authoritarian Polity at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell's "The Murder of King James I"

Alastair Bellany is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and the author of The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England. Thomas Cogswell is professor of history at UC Riverside. His books include The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War, 1621-1624.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Murder of King James I, and reported the following:
The Murder of King James I is essentially a book about a book—a 1626 pamphlet, The Forerunner of Revenge, that alleged that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham had poisoned King James I of England, an allegation that would play a remarkable role in the tumultuous politics of England’s century of revolution. Unlike most political libels, The Forerunner openly advertised its author, George Eglisham, a Scottish physician. But who was George Eglisham? What drove him to write his dangerous book? And how did he write it so well?

We began with only a handful of clues, but several serendipitous finds and a lot of old fashioned archival legwork eventually allowed us to understand the man and the forces that drove him to write his sensational tract.

Page 99 [inset; click to enlarge] finds Eglisham in 1612, the year his fortunes were made. He is in Holland, having rushed north from Paris to assist James I’s campaign to remove the anti-Calvinist Conrad Vorstius from the chair of theology at Leiden. Eglisham would write two caustic philosophical critiques of Vorstius’s supposed atheism—we reproduce the title-page of one at the foot of page 99—and James rewarded his efforts by granting him the title of royal physician. The Vorstius pamphlets also revealed some of the talents Eglisham would later deploy against Buckingham—linguistic and rhetorical facility, self-confidence bordering on arrogance, a taste for the dramatic, and a passion for the politics of personal destruction.

We also came to realize that his year in Holland was part of a bigger story about Eglisham’s cosmopolitanism. As a Catholic Scotsman, Eglisham was an outsider in his own country, forced to acquire an education in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) and to work in Rouen and Paris. James’s favor allowed him a comfortable living in London, but when forced to flee England in 1625, Eglisham would find safe haven in Catholic Brussels, where his transnational connections provided the support, opportunity and ideological perspective to write his devastating exposé of the Jacobean court’s murderous poison politics. The lesson was clear: to understand the strange history of The Forerunner of Revenge, we had to explore the complex entanglement of British and European politics.
Learn more about The Murder of King James I at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Robert Pollin's "Greening the Global Economy"

Robert Pollin is Distinguished Professor of Economics and Codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has served as a consultant on energy and the economy for a wide range of organizations and institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Program (UNIDO), and numerous nongovernmental organizations. He is author of Back to Full Employment and Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.

Pollin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Greening the Global Economy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Greening the Global Economy, I introduce the topic of “Prospects for Alternative Ownership Forms” through greatly expanding investments in clean renewable energy supplies. Clean renewables include solar, wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro power, and low-emissions bioenergy sources, such as ethanol produced with agricultural wastes. Dramatically expanding the supply of renewable energy needs to be one of the two key factors pushing down global carbon dioxide emissions (the other being dramatically raising energy efficiency standards). Dramatically pushing down carbon dioxide emissions, is, in turn, the single most important action needed to control climate change.

One major question here is whether the newly expanding clean renewable energy supplies will end up being dominated by the giant corporations that dominate today’s fossil fuel energy sector—i.e. Big Oil and the various energy companies owned by the Koch brothers. If we do continue depending on these giant corporations, and their overriding imperative of making the largest possible profits, how can we expect to take control of our energy system to the extent needed to control climate change?

In fact, as I discuss on p. 99 and beyond, large-scale investments in renewable energy will create major new opportunities for alternative ownership forms, including various combinations of smaller-scale public, private and cooperative ownership. For example, community-based wind farms have been highly successful for nearly two decades in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. A major reason for their success is that they operate with lower profit requirements than big private corporations.

Falling costs for clean renewable energy, solar in particular, is also opening major opportunities for people to install and operate their own small-scale “distributed energy” systems that rely less and less on electrical grids. In January 2015, the Financial Times reported that “across the U.S., about 45,300 businesses and 596,000 homes have solar panels.... Over the past four years, the numbers have risen threefold for businesses and fourfold for homes, as the costs of solar power have plunged.” The prospects for distributed energy are still greater in developing countries such as India, where over 40 percent of rural households do not have access to grid-based electricity.

Overall, a green energy investment program can converge powerfully with a ‘small-is-beautiful’ approach to ownership and technology development. This becomes one of the major benefits of a green energy transition that will accompany the dramatic decline in emissions.
Learn more about Greening the Global Economy at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

David Lough's "No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money"

David Lough studied history at Oxford under Richard Cobb and Theodore Zeldin. After a career in financial markets, he founded a business that advises families on looking after their investments, tax affairs and estates.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money, his first book, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test inevitably homes in on the one page that I added to No More Champagne after delivering it to its publishers!

I did not add the page lightly. A corner of the archive suddenly solved a puzzle of Churchill’s finances that I had thought was destined to remain a dark mystery. Why did Churchill open a special ‘C’ account at his bank in 1910? Why did he add a ‘D’ account in 1912? Why did he deposit today’s equivalent of $5 million in them? Who sent it? And why did Churchill ignore the $5 million when claiming at the time to be too poor to move into the official residence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, the ministerial post he assumed in 1912?

The answer lay in a letter from James Caird, one of Churchill’s constituents in the city of Dundee. Caird had earned his fortune in the jute trade. He was unmarried and wanted to spend some money on political lobbying. He favored free trade and home rule for Scotland.

He therefore sent a series of checks made out directly to Churchill himself, explaining quite simply that Churchill, as a ‘statesman’, would spend it better than Caird himself could. Remarkably he imposed no conditions on how Churchill should spend the money.

Page 99 recites how Churchill nevertheless separated the money scrupulously from his own and reported diligently to Caird on how he had spent it. He did so despite a gaping hole in his own finances and despite widespread political corruption in British politics. The episode suggests a fundamental honesty in Churchill that I had begun to question when my researches elsewhere uncovered evidence of half a lifetime of tax avoidance, abetted by what lawyers euphemistically call ‘economies with the truth’. Page 99 restores some balance.
Visit David Lough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Kim MacQuarrie's "Life and Death in the Andes"

Kim MacQuarrie is a writer and is perhaps the only American to have been chased up a tree by a female grizzly bear, to have lived with a recently-contacted Amazonian tribe, and to have won four national Emmys for his documentary films. He is the author of The Last Days of the Incas, a non-fiction work that is currently being made by FX into a 13-part dramatic series and, most recently, of Life and Death in the Andes.

MacQuarrie applied the “Page 99 Test” to Life and Death in the Andes and reported the following:
Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries, is about a 4,300-mile journey I took the length of the Andes, while looking into the stories of such diverse characters as Pablo Escobar, Che Guevara, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thor “Kon Tiki” Heyerdahl, and Charles Darwin, among others. For example, in the small Andean village of La Higuera, in Bolivia, I met a woman who was a 19-year-old schoolteacher when she met and gave Che Guevara his final meal, on the last day of his life. The impact of that experience changed her own life forever. Similarly, in the old Bolivian mining town of San Vicente, I met a man whose father was a young boy when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rode into town and then had their final shootout. To land of page 99 of the book is to land towards the end of a chapter where I traveled out to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, in order to look into when Charles Darwin actually came up with the theory of evolution. Was it in Patagonia? In the Galápagos? Or later? On this particular page I reproduce a letter from Darwin to a friend in 1878, towards the end of his life. Darwin is responding to a recent attack by a clergyman on his theory of evolution:
“[The reverend’s attack],” Darwin wrote, “will be powerless to retard by a day the belief in evolution as were the virulent attacks made by divines fifty years ago against Geology, & still older ones of the Catholic church against Galileo, for the public is wise enough always to follow scientific men when they agree on any subject; & now there is almost complete unanimity amongst biologist and evolution”
Darwin is an example of all of the characters I investigated during my voyage, whether men or women, for each was emblematic of the book’s theme, which is encapsulated by a quote in the frontispiece by T.E. Lawrence:
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
Writers, too, are dreamers. If you were not, then you would never write a book.
Visit Kim MacQuarrie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 11, 2015

David Silverman's "Fighting God"

David Silverman is the president of American Atheists and one of the best-known atheists in America. Known as “America's loudest heathen,” a term he embraces proudly, Silverman is passionate about atheism and atheist equality.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, and reported the following:
“This is not love. This is Terrorism”. These are the first words on page 99 of my new book, Fighting God. I go on to describe the terrorism inherent in the religion of Christianity, making the case that the constant fear believers have that they will not have enough faith to get into heaven makes them afraid for their whole lives -- a fear never fully alleviated unless all doubt is squashed out, or they die. The problem is, there are so many deep flaws in religion – all religion – that few people can honestly and completely eliminate the doubt from their mind. As a result, Christians live in a constant fear that when they die the all-powerful mind-reader will determine their faith is not strong enough to get them their harp and cloud.

I go on to describe how the “virtues” of Christianity (faithfulness, charity, productivity, etc,) in conjunction with their “deadly sins” of greed, sloth, pride, etc, all work together with the fear of doubt to create a believer who works hard and gives lots of money to the church. These are not behaviors that create good Christians or good people, but good donors.

Religion sucks, and moderate religion gets no pass from me. It’s a lie that squelches, silences, and robs nice people under the guise of love. Believers are promised a bill of goods they will never receive, and in exchange work hard and live in fear for their entire lives, while breeding new believers who will live in fear for the next generation. Indeed, breeding non-Christian children makes you a failed parent in the eyes of God, even if the kids are wonderful people, because the important thing is the faith, and the fear it accompanies.

Page 99 of Fighting God is a strong page which makes points I haven’t seen made elsewhere. I’m as proud of page 99 as I am of the rest of the book, and yes, I believe the “Page 99 Test” rings true. Fighting God is chock full of new information, new data, and new conclusions that will make the reader think twice about granting religion the relevance or respect it demands.

Religion deserves to die.
Learn more about Fighting God at the publisher's website, and follow David Silverman on Facebook and Twitter.

Writers Read: David Silverman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thomas Dixon's "Weeping Britannia"

Thomas Dixon is a historian of emotions, philosophy, science, and religion at Queen Mary, University of London, where he directs the Centre for the History of the Emotions. A regular contributor to radio and television programs as an academic consultant, interviewee, and presenter, he was the consultant for Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain, a three-part BBC Two series in 2012. The author of several books and numerous articles on the history of ideas, in 2008 he was awarded the Dingle Prize (for the best book on the history of science accessible to a wide readership) for his Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears, and reported the following:
I almost shed tears of joy when I turned to page 99 of my book and found that it contained a discussion of the most famously lachrymose character in all of English literature – Harley, the unworldly and sensitive hero of Henry Mackenzie’s 1771 novel The Man of Feeling. Harley cries in sympathy with beggars, prostitutes, orphans, and lunatics. On page 99 of Weeping Britannia, I quote several examples of Harley’s weeping, including a moment when he grieves with an old soldier’s grandchildren at their parents’ grave, concluding: ‘The girl cried afresh; Harley kissed off her tears as they flowed, and wept between every kiss.’

The Man of Feeling was just one example of the sentimental novels that were so popular in Britain and the rest of Europe in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. The popularity of such books is a useful reminder that the so-called ‘Age of Reason’ was also an age of passion, enthusiasm, feeling and sentiment. For the first time, in the eighteenth century, it was to works of prose fiction, as well as to religion, drama, and poetry, that people turned in large numbers for the education and exercise of their feelings, and for the pleasurable experience of shedding sympathetic tears. This kind of reading and weeping was new, and became a recognised characteristic of eighteenth-century culture.

One of The Man of Feeling’s most admiring readers was the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who was moved to tears by Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and by favourite biblical passages, as well as by Mackenzie, and he also gets a mention on page 99. The dual quest both to find partial historical precedents for our own new age of sensibility, and to try to understand how and why our ancestors’ emotions differed from ours, is well served by a consideration of the tears of Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling. So, I think page 99 provides an appropriate sample of my book – a representative droplet from a larger sea of tears.
Learn more about Weeping Britannia at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Johanna Schoen's "Abortion After Roe"

Johanna Schoen is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Abortion after Roe: Abortion after Legalization, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test takes us to a place in Abortion After Roe that feels almost preliminary – a discussion about the sense of relief and epiphany abortion providers felt when they established the National Abortion Federation [NAF] in 1977. Four years after the legalization of abortion, NAF brought together a wide assortment of individuals: members of feminist health collectives, owners of for-profit clinics, and abortion providers from diverse backgrounds were joined by researchers, academics, lawyers, and policymakers. While all came together to carve out a future for abortion services now that the procedure was legal, consolidation did not come easy. Feminists wanted abortions to be performed as an act of empowerment and consciousness-raising for women in a non-hierarchical woman-centered setting at the lowest cost possible. Male physician providers hoped to center abortion services in a medical office or clinical setting that emphasized medical safety and professionalism. At odds over the meaning of professionalism and the importance of feminist care, NAF members still came together and established a set of standards with the hope of integrating abortion care into mainstream medicine.

But four decades later, the hopes of abortion providers, that abortion services would be easily accessible, integrated into mainstream medical practice, are far from reality. As Abortion After Roe chronicles, by the 1980s, the rise of a powerful anti-abortion movement determined the shape that abortion care was going to take. As anti-abortion activists redefined abortion as murder and the fetus as a baby, they began to exert an extraordinary influence on the delivery of abortion services, pushing both patients and providers into the defensive. Anti-abortion politics shaped the performance of abortion procedures, and stigmatized abortion services and those who participated in them. Overregulated and forced to practice defensive medicine, abortion providers found it increasingly challenging to offer woman-centered feminist care.

Yet, Abortion After Roe also illustrates how patients and abortion providers pushed back. They educated local and federal law enforcement about harassment and violence against clinics and staff. They pushed for legal protections and the prosecution of violent anti-abortion activists. And they began to articulate a new understanding of reproductive justice that positions abortion care as moral work. Women, too, reclaimed their moral authority to make their own reproductive decisions and speak about abortions as a positive choice. This book does not offer a solution to the abortion debate. But it explains how we ended up at a time when attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and discredit women’s health services regularly resurface and it offers an assessment of the ways in which supporters of reproductive justice might articulate a powerful support for abortion care.
Learn more about Abortion after Roe at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 7, 2015

Bonnie Lander Johnson's "Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture"

Bonnie Lander Johnson is Fellow and Lecturer at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture, and reported the following:
Is modern science the bastard child formed in an act of unchastity? The 1663 poem that features on page 99 of Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture suggests that it was. Abraham Cowley’s ode to his friend William Harvey draws on the classical literary tradition of chastity in order to praise the great anatomist as a plunderer of nature’s secrets and a methodological trail-blazer. Harvey’s empiricism was rebellious: the medical establishment at the time focussed on disputation and looked for truth in its philosophical tradition. Instead, Harvey investigated the body on the slab before him. Cowley’s poem describes this new approach as a glorious rape of nature, a conquest of both nature herself and of Harvey’s competitors, who had failed to properly advance upon the truths hidden in the body. The poem goes on to argue that the rape is redeemed because the truth it reveals is God’s design. Cowley’s Harvey may have performed an act of unchastity upon coy nature but ultimately his investigation revealed those truths written on the body by God himself. In an inversion not unlike Donne’s ‘Batter my heart three-person’d God’, the sanctifying revelation enabled by Cowley’s Harvey undercuts the violence of the doctor’s search, turning ravishment into the revelation of God’s truth.

Cowley’s Ode playfully pushes against a number of early modern definitions of, and concerns about, chastity and unchastity. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the intersection between medical innovation, theological reform, and representations of chastity (both popular and literary) were numerous. However, the abiding interest in Elizabeth I as chaste icon of the British monarchy has obscured the fact that the decades following her death were crucially concerned with the virtue and how it shaped both private and public life. Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture explores this concern through literature and drama, sermons and political tracts, court ceremonies (including birthing rituals), legal trials, architectural theory, and plague writing. It concludes that chastity was a key consideration in the conflicts that led up to the Civil Wars and shaped the way literary genres were understood.

For those contemporary westerners who do not observe chastity for religious reasons, the virtue has all but faded into obscurity. It is perhaps for this reason that we have forgotten its crucial historical importance. This book seeks to remind its readers that for centuries chastity mattered – not just as a way of personal sanctity, but as political policy, literary trope, medical imperative, and revolutionary force.
Learn more about Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture at the Cambridge University Press website.

Cover story: Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lisa D. Edwards's "Please Don't Bite the Baby, and Please Don't Chase the Dogs"

Lisa Edwards, CPDT-KA, CDBC, is a professional dog trainer and dog behavior consultant, a Pet Partners evaluator and instructor, and an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator. Her book A Dog Named Boo was a London Times bestseller.

Edwards has been training dogs professionally and performing animal-assisted therapy since 1999. She has trained hundreds of therapy dogs and service dogs for veterans and individuals with PTSD. She is the lead trainer and behavior consultant for the Animal Rescue Foundation–Beacon and the Danbury Animal Welfare Society. Edwards also lectures on dog/child safety, runs webinars for Pet Partners, and operates a teaching and consulting business, Three Dogs Training.

Edwards applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Please Don't Bite the Baby (and Please Don't Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together, and reported the following:
From page 99:
- Some folks like a go-bag. I don’t usually put one together since the things in it might expire by the time I would use it. Instead, I keep all emergency supplies and equipment in the same cabinet so I can easily access what I need or throw it into a bag.

» Dry baby formula or breast pump, many bottles, diapers and diapering supplies, along with multiple changes of clothing for the baby (and you, too—let’s face it, a messy poop can get everywhere), and a few favorite toys to occupy the baby.

» Pet food and medications, feeding and water bowls—one for each pet.

» Leashes, harnesses, and collars. Be sure they fit ahead of time. Depending on your pet, you may also need towels and blankets.

» ID tags with phone numbers, rabies tags, and the rabies certificate. One easy thing to do is make a copy of your pet’s rabies certificate as soon as the vet gives it to you and keep it in the glove compartment of your car. This will come in handy if your dog ever gets lost or picked up by animal control.

- You may want a crate for your dog for a number of reasons. If your dog is small, it will be easier for you, but with bigger dogs that are not friendly to strangers or other dogs, a crate will allow for safe, movable containment. Be sure to think about this ahead of time and ask shelters about crate requirements or restrictions.

» If you cannot all stay together, have a list of boarding facilities in and out of your area in case you must board your pets for the short- or long-term.
Each chapter in Please Don’t Bite the Baby, And Please Don't Chase the Dogs is split between a narrative memoir in the first half and training tips in the second half. Page 99 of Please Don’t Bite the Baby lands in the middle of the tips portion of Chapter Six, Reflections After the Storm, and is somewhat representative of the other tips sections of the book.

While page 99’s tips are primarily an outline of storm preparedness and management strategies for families with pets as it relates to the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy that left us without water, heat and electricity for ten days, the tips sections in other chapters revolve more around training and behavioral advice along with other management and preparedness considerations.

I chose to split Please Don’t Bite the Baby’s chapters into half memoir and half training tips because over the years I have discovered that allowing clients and students to see how the skills and behaviors we are teaching our dogs relate to real-life experiences makes it easier to understand the importance of these skills and motivates the humans to work harder on the training because they can see an applicable useful outcome.

If Page 99 could point back to the narrative section of Chapter Six, it would point to this passage:
Indy weathered the storm better than the dogs…the dogs were already stressed by the sound of the storm and the following confusion. It was difficult to navigate the house with the few lights the portable generator could power and there was no light at all in the yard at night. When power goes out we humans miss all the amenities, but the dogs notice things on a different level. Without electricity, our homes lose their regular hum and many dogs are sensitive to this...

By day seven, Indy’s aunties had their power restored. He and I went to stay there while Lawrence tried to prevent the pipes from freezing by keeping fires going in the fireplace, as he looked after the confused and stressed animals.
Visit Lisa J. Edwards's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Edwards.

Coffee with a Canine: Lisa J. Edwards & Pinball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 4, 2015

Robbie Aitken and Eve Rosenhaft's "Black Germany"

Robbie Aitken is a Senior Lecturer in Imperial History at Sheffield Hallam University. Eve Rosenhaft is Professor of German Historical Studies at the University of Liverpool.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their book, Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884–1960, and reported the following:
The ‘test’ got it just right: page 99 of Black Germany introduces one of the many personal stories and micro-histories through which we recount ‘the making and unmaking of a diaspora community’ in Germany.

The German Empire acquired colonies in Africa in the 1880s, and lost those colonies after being defeated in World War I. During those decades, Africans (mainly young men) began to travel to Germany, and some of them settled there, marrying white Germans. Had Germany continued to be a colonial power after 1919, those settlers would probably have become the founder generation of a growing Afro-German population fed by new arrivals and building its own community institutions – as happened in twentieth-century France and Britain. In fact, the enforced end of Germany’s colonial empire closed off this possibility in two ways: Travel from Africa to Germany largely ceased, while German Africans and their children entered into a kind of political limbo – no longer colonial subjects but not citizens either. At the same time, the loss of colonies under the Versailles Treaty fuelled a politics of national resentment which culminated in the Nazi takeover of power. Under National Socialism, black people and their ‘mixed-race’ children were formally named as racial aliens. They were subject to various forms of exclusion and harassment; most traumatically, young men and women of the German-born generation became victims of forced sterilisation.

Black Germany traces this development by following the careers of a generation of travellers from the German colonies. We examine the conditions of their arrival, work and family life. We also explore their associational life and political activity, and the forms of personal and international solidarity with which they responded to the Nazi threat. Our focus is on the ways individuals and their experiences exemplify historical processes.
On page 99, we begin to tell the story of Johannes Kohl, an African who arrived as a child in 1904, and his efforts to gain custody of his son who had been abandoned by his white mother. Here, Kohl’s story helps to illustrate the problem of uncertain civic status and the ways in which questions of citizenship and race interacted at the point where Africans sought to build families in Germany. The story ends in a later chapter, with the death of Kohl’s (now teenage) son in care under the Nazi regime.
Learn more about Black Germany at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham's "Inside the Politics of Self-Determination"

Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham is an Associate Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland. She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego and has been a Fulbright Scholar and a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Her book Inside the Politics of Self-determination received the Book of the Year award from the British Conflict Research Society.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Inside the Politics of Self-determination and reported the following:
Page 99 concludes the chapter on accommodation of groups seeking greater self-determination (SD). This is the most interesting part of the book for me because these pages answer the motivating question for the entire research project: Why do some groups get accommodated while others do not? This puzzle, in turn, led me to examine why some self-determination groups fight civil wars against their states and why some groups are plagued in infighting. I write on page 99,
Politics within SD groups is characterized by unstructured competition where SD group factions can act independently of one another, and this competition creates a significant degree of uncertainty for the state about what the group might settle for. Yet, multiple internal factions in a SD group also provide states with an incentive and opportunity to use concessions to reveal information (thus reducing uncertainty) and to bolster moderates.
This quote highlights two of the central claims of the book. First, internal competition among factions in nationalist (or other opposition) groups provide both opportunities and challenges for conflict management. States and international actors can pick specific factions to work with, giving them potential partners in the management of disputes. Yet, individual factions often have trouble generating credibility and warding off challenges from within their own group, complicating efforts to fully resolve disputes.

Second, accommodation is not just the conclusion of a dispute; it can also be used strategically to shape the challenges that states must overcome. When faced with multi-faceted social movements, states can use concessions to bolster moderate factions. Page 99 ends with a summary of the global statistical analyses and qualitative case evidence from India. This data further supports the argument that internally divided SD groups are more likely to get accommodation than those presenting a more coherent challenge to the state.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Patricia Appelbaum's "St. Francis of America"

Patricia Appelbaum, an independent scholar of religion and American culture, is author of Kingdom to Commune: Protestant Pacifist Culture between World War I and the Vietnam Era. Her new book is St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint.

Appelbaum applied the “Page 99 TestIs Ford Madox Ford’s statement “Open the book to page 99 and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you,” accurate for your book?to St. Francis of America and reported the following:
My first response was, “Goodness, I hope not.” Page 99 is mostly just descriptive. It begins in the middle of a sketch of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel about Francis and continues with an outline of Elizabeth Goudge’s narrative biography of him. Certainly these are two very different accounts of Francis, and if the reader looks back at page 98, or goes on to page 100, it will be clear that both works challenge sentimental stereotypes about him. So to that extent, the descriptions do suggest something about the whole book, which argues that interpretations of Francis have varied more than most people realize, and that many constructions of Francis are countercultural critiques. But page 99 doesn’t include much historical interpretation, analysis, context, new insights, or advancement of my thesis – nothing to move it past a description of one thing after another, though I hope it’s a clear and engaging description.

On further reflection, though, I wonder if “quality” of the whole means its character or nature, rather than its overall structure and purpose, or its value and merit. From that perspective, page 99 reveals a good deal. It shows that I like to use close readings of texts and that I think individual texts can tell us a lot about cultural currents. It shows that I provide some sense of the literary and theological contexts of these writings, though it misses my references to historical and social matrices, to say nothing of visual art and material culture, or practice and action.

Even better, it shows how drastically the various visions of Francis can differ. Kazantzakis’s Francis affirms the goodness in nature but tries to transcend it; Goudge’s Francis finds God in it. Kazantzakis muses on sex and eating while Goudge thinks about the human spiritual journey. Goudge’s Francis works through struggle and sin toward mystical union with God. Kazantzakis’s God looks at all of Francis’s desperate efforts and screams “Not enough!”

So page 99 supports one of my guiding questions to the reader: What is missing from your vision of Francis? In other words, how is it partial or limited? How might you enlarge and complicate it in light of the history of interpretation?
Learn more about St. Francis of America at the University of North Carolina Press website and Patricia Appelbaum's blog.

Writers Read: Patricia Appelbaum.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"The Egyptian Dream"

Noha Mellor is Professor of Media, with special focus on pan-Arab media, as well as Deputy Director of the Research Institute for Media, Arts and Performance at the University of Bedfordshire and co-director of Centre for International Media Analysis, Research & Consultancy.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Egyptian Dream: Egyptian National Identity and Uprisings, and reported the following:
As a native Egyptian, I was moved by the 2011-uprising and the people’s chant to overthrow the regime. I have wanted to write about the uprisings since then but so much has happened, and it was difficult to structure an informed discussion while changes constantly disrupted the political scene. One topic that really intrigued me was the Egyptian identity especially when one American friend asked me if Egyptians share one national ethos, or a dream like the American dream. This book The Egyptian Dream is an attempt to explore that question.

On page 99, I discuss one of the main cornerstones of national identity, namely education, and I argue that education system in Egypt has contributed to consolidating a two-tier society, in as much as it is involved in stratifying citizens, not necessarily according to their intellectual abilities, but according to their socio-economic status. The Egyptian education system is characterised by its bifurcation, but this is also mirrored in the state of the language as the tool to articulate national identity and the main instrument for social interaction between educators and students. The written variety of Arabic is largely taught at state schools, although the Egyptian vernacular has been recently debated as a proof of the uniqueness of Egypt casting doubt on its ‘Arab-ness’. On the other hand, English language has prevailed in the ever-increasing number of private schools. In fact, the 2011-revolution is an example of the success of privately-educated people with a host of skills, including English language and media skills, who attracted a great deal of attention from both regional and Western media.

After discussing education, language, religion, social class and revolutionary ideas, the book concludes that Egyptians may not share a set of values which they can ascribe to themselves á la the American creed, whether in work ethics or democratic or constitutional values, and which could incorporate diverse groups, including non-Egyptians, into the national Egyptian fabric. The only dominant value, which has gained more force since 2011, is patriotism, as a manifestation of strong loyalty to the territory rather than to a set of norms. Diversity in ideologies and beliefs, however, and which used to prevail during the early part of the twentieth century, has now become a divisive force in Egypt.
Learn more about The Egyptian Dream at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christian Lange's "Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions"

Christian Lange is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Utrecht University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions, and reported the following:
Applying the page 99 test to my book, a cultural history of Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions, I find that its 99th page wraps up a discussion about the views on the afterlife held by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, an 11th-century professor of Islamic law and theology at Baghdad and quite possibly the most famous Muslim scholar of religion of all times. The Islamic afterworld enjoys a reputation among non-Muslims that is not exactly glowing. As I recapitulate in the introduction to the book, there is a long history of polemics against Islam that targets the Muslim paradise in particular. The Islamic otherworld, according to its critics over the course of centuries, is grossly sensualist—there is even sex in it! And the God that presides over it, the same detractors maintain(ed), is excessively lenient and ready to forgive Muslims, even if they’ve sinned; as for non-Muslims, there is only eternal punishment in hell.

Enters al-Ghazali. His contribution consists in resisting easy categorizations of God as either lenient or violent, and also in refuting simplistic materialist interpretations of the afterlife. His is a voice of moderation, and as such he is remembered by Muslims today: as someone who brought the various strands of Muslim thought under the same single fold of a law-abiding, rational and deeply spiritual version of Islam. Al-Ghazali maintains that God is just, which means that people mustn’t think they can shun responsibility for sins. However, God is also kind, which puts moral rigor into perspective; forgiveness is real! And then, the great promise of human life is not material, but spiritual, because the greatest joy in paradise is to see God, a joy that “shall cause one to be quite oblivious of the other pleasures of paradise”.

Al-Ghazali’s middle course is flanked on both sides by literalist, materialistic as well as highly speculative and intellectualist teachings about paradise and hell. All these traditions of thought are examined in my book, which, I dare say, is the most comprehensive study of the topic so far. Yet al-Ghazali remains a central figure, not just because he resolves dogmatic issues but because he is a writer who engages the imagination. And that, after all, is the basis of which paradise and hell have at all times flourished.
Learn more about Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 27, 2015

Timothy Cheek's "The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History"

Timothy Cheek began studying China at the Australian National University in the 1970s and has traveled to China and worked with Chinese colleagues since 1981. After receiving his PhD in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University in 1986 he taught in the US until 2002 when he took up the Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia.

Cheek applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History ends with this quote:
“If the intellectuals still loll about in the relaxed atmosphere of the cities and the foreign concessions, then they will not make revolution.”
Mao Zedong? Some Chinese anarchist or other Bolshevik? No, the words of Liang Shuming, noted as “China’s last Confucian.” The page focuses on the 1920s and 30s, about a third of a way through the arc of the book that maps the words and deeds of Chinese intellectuals who tried to shape public life from 1895-2015.

This page has the story of two Liangs—Liang Qichao the famous reforming journalist of the early 1900s, now disillusioned with the West after visiting the devastation of post Great War Europe, and Liang Shuming, whom I present as a revolutionary conservative seeking many of the goals we associate with Mao and the rural revolution of the Communists, but Liang set up his rural revolution on Confucian principles. Liang Shuming would meet with Mao in Yan’an, the Communist’s rural capital, in the late 1930s, and before that he would join forces with trans-Pacific Chinese liberal James Yen in promoting science and education in the villages in a joint Rural Reconstruction Movement.

Two themes of the broader story appear on page 99. First, While China’s intellectuals were understandably focused on fixing China—then at a low point of ill-governance, poverty, and domination by imperial powers—they looked not only to the new and the West, but also to native resources (and not simply “tradition”) as well as other Asian examples, notably from India. Second, by the 1920s reformers and revolutionaries alike accepted that rural China had to be a focus of their efforts. There lived the vast majority of Chinese and for some, like Liang and Mao in their different ways, there breathed the best virtues of Chinese civilization.

Both Liangs on page 99 reflect the dynamism and range of choices, as well as terrifying challenges, confronting Chinese intellectuals in the decades between Empire and Socialist State.
Learn more about The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ginger Strand's "The Brothers Vonnegut"

Ginger Strand grew up in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, but mostly on a farm in Michigan. She is the author of one novel and three books of narrative nonfiction, including Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate. She has published essays and fiction in many places, including Harper's, The Believer, Tin House, The Iowa Review, The New England Review and the New York Times, as well as This Land and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. In addition to writing frequently about collisions between nature, culture, science and the arts, Strand frequently works with photographers, and has contributed essays to photography books by Lisa Kereszi, Kyler Zeleny, and the Magnum Agency project Postcards from America.

Strand applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Brothers Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut is feeling frustrated at his PR job at General Electric. His brother Bernard, a brilliant scientist, is making headlines at GE with his startling new project: weather control. Kurt is trying hard to be a good company man, while trying to write marketable short stories at night and on weekends. But his efforts are only getting him a stack of rejection slips. And the position he had hoped would be a safe, easy job to feed his family while he launched his writing career is beginning to feel like a trap.
The new section opens like this:
Kurt was doing his best for GE. But it wasn’t enough to applaud every new gadget or machine the company cooked up as if it would change the world. It wasn’t enough to obey your GE boss and play softball on a GE team and buy your appliances at the GE employee store. The company wanted to tell you how to think too.

Every week or so, a new poster went up, Lemuel Boulware’s florid signature at the bottom. “Why must we SAVE more—as well as PRODUCE more?” “Should pay be equal everywhere?” “What is Communism? What is Capitalism? What is the Difference to You?” You could be sure Mr. Boulware—a.k.a. Mr. Bullwhip—would tell you the answers. He had all the answers, Mr. Bullwhip did. Mr. Bullshit was more like it, at least as Kurt saw it. Boulware’s messages to the employees were unabashedly pro-America and anti-labor.
This is fairly representative of something I was trying to do throughout this book, something I have never done before: write nonfiction from a close-in third-person point of view. I wanted the book to read like a novel, even as it was strictly factual, and fully documented in endnotes. I wanted the reader to feel like she was in Kurt Vonnegut’s head, or Bernard Vonnegut’s head, as the two brothers navigated the moral landscape of America in the new atomic age.
Learn more about the book and author at Ginger Strand's website.

The Page 99 Test: Killer on the Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton's "The Con Men"

Terry Williams is a professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research. He specializes in teenage life and culture, drug abuse, crews and gangs, and violence and urban social policy. He is the author of The Cocaine Kids: The Inside Story of a Teenage Drug Ring; The Uptown Kids: Hope and Struggle in the Projects; and Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line, and is the founder and director of the Harlem Writers Crew Project, a multimedia approach to urban education for center city and rural youths.

Trevor B. Milton is assistant professor in social sciences at Queensborough Community College, CUNY, and author of Overcoming the Magnetism of Street Life: Crime-Engaged Youth and the Programs That Transform Them. His areas of research include prison reform and alternative-to-incarceration programs and the intersectionality of class and racial identity.

Milton applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, and reported the following:
I would say that The Con Men passes Ford Madox Ford’s “page 99 test” (with flying colors, in my opinion!). The Con Men focuses on both Con(fidence) Artists (grifters who have mastered the art of deception) and hustlers (street entrepreneurs who have learned the science of persuasion). Page 99 falls into the middle of the chapter on “Petty Street Hustles,” where hustlers play an intrinsic role in the informal economy of New York City. Terry Williams and I wanted to emphasize that con artists and hustlers are a part of the city (for better or for worse), rather than being a contaminant in it. Hustlers in particular add to the convenience of city living, even if residents are opposed to the legality of their trade. As is said on page 99:
They are fully aware of the petty needs of the average New Yorker, and they appear along commuter pathways and well-worn tourist and weekend walking routes to accommodate vice, habit, and curiosity alike. Maybe you’ve never tried a shawarma, but walk enough sidewalks, and the option will appear; maybe you’ve decided to quit smoking, but a local man selling loosies in front of a bodega has decided otherwise; if it starts raining during your daily commute, someone will reliably be there to sell you a five-dollar umbrella as you exit your train stop.
For those who have ever lived in New York City—or even walked its streets as a tourist—there is something in this book for everyone. New Yorkers try to avoid the traps of con artists; with auto-suspicion of a smiling face asking for “just a minute of your time.” New Yorkers make hustlers a part of their daily commute: whether buying bottled water at a traffic light, a pirated DVD while seated in a restaurant, or an out-of-print magazine while strolling down a sidewalk.

Even though they may be a blessing or a detriment to one’s wallet, con artists and hustlers are fixtures in the New York community (for better or for worse!), and are the life-blood of New York’s character. Also said on the same page:
It is the duty of petty hustlers to make a home on the city streets, whether that’s a card table on a sidewalk or a predetermined route up and down certain city blocks…. Cigarette vendors occupy certain landings on the subway steps. Drug dealers hold down entire bodegas. For their customers, their whereabouts needed to be predictable.
Learn more about The Con Men at the Columbia University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Con Men.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Douglas Rogers's "The Depths of Russia"

Douglas Rogers is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. He is the author of The Old Faith and the Russian Land: A Historical Ethnography of Ethics in the Urals.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism, and reported the following:
The Depths of Russia provides a new and different perspective on Russian oil and oil companies, one that unfolds in a single oil-producing region—the Perm region of the Russian Urals—rather than focusing on big-name oligarchs, the Kremlin, or international pipeline politics. The story I tell begins in the early Soviet period, with the discovery of oil near Perm in 1929. It ends with an account of Perm’s oil-fueled attempt to be named a European Cultural Capital in 2009-2012.

On page 99, I am wrapping up my discussion of the early 1990s—the turbulent years right after the end of the Soviet Union—and comparing some of what unfolded then to the politics and economics of oil at other times and places. One of the most interesting and distinctive things about this period is that crude oil and refined oil products were generally not sold or exchanged for money. Instead, given the encompassing economic collapse and resulting demonetization, they were bartered—exchanged directly for everything from barges of sugar to truckloads of timber. This petrobarter, as I call it, turned out to be crucial for the remaking of the Perm region in the post-Soviet period. Petrobarter kept the struggling agricultural sector alive through exchanges of tractor fuel at the time of sowing for crops at the time of harvest. Petrobarter enabled a new, oil-focused regional elite to emerge, even before the privatization of the oil sector. And petrobarter linked regional oil to regional identity in a new and powerful way: by making the exchange of the region’s own oil—and not rubles issued by the federal Russian state—the lynchpin that kept the regional economy afloat in a time of acute crisis. Although comparatively short-lived, petrobarter was absolutely central to the making of the Perm region as an oil region.

We tend to think of oil and money as very tightly entangled. Post-Soviet petrobarter shows that this is not always the case. It is just one of the ways in which the story of Permian oil expands our understanding of oil’s place in the shaping of human lives and possibilities.
Learn more about The Depths of Russia at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue