Saturday, January 30, 2016

Phaedra Daipha's "Masters of Uncertainty"

Phaedra Daipha is assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth, and reported the following:
Masters of Uncertainty passed the test and the test passed Masters of Uncertainty. I was delighted (and somewhat relieved) to discover that page 99 can well serve as a benchmark of sorts for the book, in the sense that it nicely encapsulates how forecasters at the National Weather Service (NWS) endeavor to tackle meteorological ambiguity and uncertainty.

Right at the top of the page, I was greeted by the following passage:
It is precisely this visceral need to achieve an optimal gestalt, or “maximum grip” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, Dreyfus 1992), on the atmosphere that in practice compels NWS forecasters to oscillate between different ways of viewing the weather. Cast in this light, their habit of leaving their workstations to study the weather outside becomes central to understanding how they impose order out of the disparate and ambiguous fragments of information at their disposal.
The text next launches into a series of thickly described episodes from the field, so as to illustrate the “countless, indeed daily, instances where a forecaster would leave his workstation with the express purpose of checking on the weather outside, fully aware that a colleague had just been outside for the very same reason.”

The weather outside is forecasters’ passion and it is their nemesis. It remains forever elusive—too complex to be reconstituted and studied under controlled conditions inside, too dynamic to be perfectly predicted. To prevail over meteorological uncertainty and produce accurate and actionable weather predictions, NWS forecasters cannot afford to simply rely on the standard set of highly sophisticated information delivered to them on their computer screens. In practice, they harness a widely disparate assortment of meteorological cues to fashion a provisionally coherent representation of the future. Masters of Uncertainty takes the reader through firsthand accounts of several forecasting episodes to flesh out the dilemmas and challenges of creating weather predictions come rain or come shine. In the process, it advances a theory of decision making that foregrounds the practical and situated nature of expert cognition and casts new light on how we make decisions in the digital age.
Learn more about Masters of Uncertainty and read an excerpt from the book at The University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kyle Smith's "Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia"

Kyle Smith is Assistant Professor of Historical Studies and Religion at the University of Toronto and the translator of The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon bar Sabba'e.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity, and reported the following:
Every reader of this blog knows one thing about Constantine: he was the first Christian Roman emperor.

His decision to embrace Christianity certainly had a profound effect on the history of western Europe. But how did it affect Christians living outside of the Roman Empire?

Many believe that Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century politicized religious allegiances, that it divided the newly Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. Some think that it even led to the persecution of Christians in what is now Iraq and Iran and that this, in turn, sparked a war between Rome and Persia.

On page 99, I explain that although we do indeed have a lot of stories about the persecution of Persian Christians we need to radically revise how we read these texts and, with it, how we understand fourth-century history.

There was no religious war between Rome and Persia. There was no persecution either.

Upon closer inspection, the many ancient texts that claim otherwise present an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor. The literary memory of Constantine was undoubtedly very useful for shaping the political and religious identities of ancient Christian communities, but these texts have wrongly cast how we have understood the waning years of Constantine’s reign and, indeed, the emperor’s subsequent legacy.
Learn more about Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rebecca Mitchell's "Nietzsche’s Orphans"

Rebecca Mitchell is assistant professor of history at Middlebury College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Nietzsche's Orphans: Music, Metaphysics, and the Twilight of the Russian Empire, and reported the following:
As a cultural-intellectual historian, I am fascinated by the meanings that people have historically ascribed to artistic works and cultural production. One of my primary goals in Nietzsche’s Orphans was to examine the multiple meanings given to music in a particularly tumultuous moment in Russian history: the years between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. The book explores how, following in the footsteps of 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, members of Russian educated society conceived of music as the “Dionysian unity” underpinning phenomenal existence and a basis through which to offer a new understanding of “Russianness” amid the upheavals of modernity.

Although individual composers (Aleksandr Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nikolai Medtner) play an important role, Nietzsche’s Orphans does not circumscribe its focus to the meaning(s) specific artists ascribed to their music; rather it looks at multiple interpretations of music in society more generally to glean new insights into contemporary concerns. The Page 99 Test effectively highlights this aspect of the book. It drops us into the heart of Chapter Two, which examines the interpretation and reinterpretation of composer Aleksandr Scriabin by his Russian admirers, and introduces us to a minor historical figure who encapsulates this process: Aleksandr Brianchaninov.
A nobleman with an estate in the Perm region, a strong admiration for Napoleon, and a love for political dalliance, Brianchaninov introduced Pan-Slavic politics and Anglophile views into Scriabin’s inner circle. Together with his wife Mariia Brianchaninova (neé Gorchakova), Brianchaninov encouraged Scriabin’s interest in India as the location for his Mystery, finding in the work not the end of the phenomenal world but a future vision of the dominance of Slavic culture through Russian political and military victory, which he believed would come to pass through political affiliation with England. Brianchaninov offered to introduce the composer to British officials and assist in the practical matter of purchasing land in India for the performance of the Mystery (which, he logically concluded, would need the official approval of the British government). At the same time, he vehemently proclaimed a Pan-Slavic interpretation of the modern age, in which it was the messianic task of Russia to serve as the guiding light for the other Slavic peoples and ultimately for all humanity.
Scriabin believed that he would bring about the end of the world through his music (an idea shaped in part by his involvement in theosophy). Nietzsche’s Orphans adds to the literature on this composer and his philosophical views by exploring how the composer’s contemporaries interacted with and reinterpreted the composer and his music according to their own hopes. Brianchaninov actively encouraged the composer in his wild fantasy of building a performance temple in India, but his own understanding of Scriabin’s Mystery was heavily influenced by the Pan-Slavic ideals of the day. For Brianchaninov, the Mystery was about Russia’s call to free the Slavic peoples from the “German yoke” (both political and cultural) under which they suffered, an idea that dovetailed with the increased militarism surrounding the First World War.

Music and art are never separate from the larger political and social contexts in which they arise; Nietzsche’s Orphans shows how contemporary concerns (not always palatable ones) are central to artistic reception, and how audiences tend to hear what they want to hear in the music they admire: an observation certainly as true for contemporary as for late imperial Russian audiences.
Learn more about Nietzsche's Orphans at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Alexandra Shepard's "Accounting for Oneself"

Alexandra Shepard is Professor of Gender History at the University of Glasgow. She has published widely on gender and social relations in early modern England (1550-1750), including Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England (2003), and she is currently leading an International Network, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, on gender and work in early modern Europe.

Shepard applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Accounting for Oneself: Worth, Status, & the Social Order in Early Modern England, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls roughly in the middle of the first of the book’s three sections—on ‘Wealth and Poverty’—and contextualises the value of 40 shillings (£2) established through a series of equivalents:
In real as well as symbolic terms 40s. was not an insignificant sum. Forty shillings was a not untypical annual wage for a domestic servant in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Forty shillings comprised one-fifth of the amount required to rebuild a simple peasant or suburban dwelling after the mid-seventeenth century destruction of civil war. A variety of items amounting to the value of 40s. were regularly grouped together as lots in probate inventories, presumably to make the accounting process easier, but also suggesting that this provided a routine means of quantification through keeping the unit of value constant rather like the changing size (rather than price) of a penny loaf. Forty shillings was the fourth most frequent value assigned to goods itemized in a sample of inventories from Kent between 1600 and 1650, after 10s., 20s., and £5. In a selection of inventories from Thame (Oxfordshire) dating from between 1598 and 1699, 40s. was the second most frequent value (after 10s.), whereas 41s. occurred only once in the entire dataset. As is evidence from the Thame sample, in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries 40s. was the value frequently assigned to bedsteads and associated bedding—components of a household’s good requiring relatively high outlay. In a shoemaker’s inventory from 1604, for example, one truckle bed, one featherbed, one flock bed, two joined bedsteads, one straw bed, and a collection of bolsters, blankets, and ‘old coveringes’ were grouped as one item valued at 40s. Forty shillings also amounted to quite large quantities of furniture. In 1618, a table and frame, eight joined stools, eight cushions, two chairs, one cupboard, and two iron dogs formed one item in a yeoman’s inventory from select contents of his hall, valued collectively at 40s. In 1637, just four pairs of blankets and two coverlets that had been in a husbandman’s possession were appraised at 40s., comparable to the value of his “wearing clothes”, but 40s. worth of goods could still comprise a significant asset to a household in the later seventeenth-century, such as the range of brewing equipment itemized in the inventory of a blacksmith in 1682, which included at least thirteen barrels, vats, and tubs.
This extract forms part of a larger discussion of the complex culture of appraisal in the early modern period, and the ways in which certain values (in this case 40 shillings) held wider social and political associations beyond merely signifying quantity. Besides functioning as a very common unit of account, the possession of moveable property worth 40s. was the threshold for political participation of various kinds and it also functioned as a critical benchmark in processes of social estimation, increasingly used to demarcate a dividing line between those with at least a modicum of credit and self-sufficiency and those identified as poor and worryingly dependent on account of having nothing more than their labour on which to live.

The book is based on a sample of over 13,500 statements provided by witnesses in court between 1550 and 1728 in response to questions designed to establish their creditworthiness. It is designed as a ‘bottom up’ or grassroots account of the social order and social change—fully inclusive of the voices of women as well as men—on the basis of the language of self-description that witnesses deployed when asserting their credibility. Disappointingly, p. 99 does not include any direct reference to the myriad shards of self-positioning on which the overall analysis is centred. The book charts the dramatic widening of wealth inequality between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries and its consequences for the ways that people assessed their own and each other’s social position. A central argument is that the chasm that opened up between rich and poor involved not only the redistribution of wealth but also its redefinition. In addition, a shift of emphasis towards what people did for a living as opposed to what they had to live on (which became increasingly private), was part of the realignment of the calculus of esteem from the later seventeenth-century.

The book attempts to combine painstaking recovery of the details of the material lives and social perceptions of a broad social range of men and women with sustained engagement with larger debates about the character of economic and social change, and the place of class, credit and consumption in the development of modernity. Whether ‘the quality of the whole’ is revealed in this extract depends on an evaluation of the rest of it, but I’ll leave that to the reviewers!
Learn more about Accounting for Oneself at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Christopher Stevens's "Written In Stone"

Christopher Stevens is a writer and journalist. His runaway bestselling mnemonics book Thirty Days Has September hit the number-one reference book spot on Amazon. Stevens worked at the Observer for fifteen years before moving to the Daily Mail. He lives in London.

Stevens applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Written in Stone: A Journey Through the Stone Age and the Origins of Modern Language, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Romans referred to both coal and charcoal as carbo, from [the proto Indo-European word] kar [meaning hard or strong]. Carbunculus meant a small lump of coal, and that brings us to diamonds and all other gemstones: a carbuncle stone is any gem with a fiery colour. Hard red spots or pimples in the face, often caused by excessive boozing, are also called carbuncles.
There, on page 99 of Written In Stone, is one of the typical sets of connections between words which sound similar yet seem at first to have quite different meanings – the carbuncle that is a gemstone (like the one in the Sherlock Holmes story of the goose that swallowed a sapphire, "The Blue Carbuncle") and the carbuncle that is a hard, almost luminous boil on the face or the bottom.

Carbuncle sounds like carbon, because it comes from the same root – kar, in a language at least 6,000 years old, developed by the earliest farmers who lived on the steppes of what is now Ukraine and southern Russia.

Their language of evocative, often onomatopoeic syllables, single sounds that fitted together like Lego building blocks, was so effective and adaptable that it evolved into dozens of modern-day tongues, right across Europe and south as far as India and Vietnam.

My book examines about 100 of those syllables, and explores how they bind today's English words into families. The word for 'no' was ne – which is why all our negative words begin with an N, like none, no-one, nobody, nothing, not, never and so on.

Kar, as found on page 99, split into several families. For instance, because it could signify strong as well as hard, it formed the English suffix '-cracy' – as in democracy, bureaucracy and autocracy, meaning literally strength through the people, through officialdom and through dictatorship.

But in northern Europe, the 'k' sound was softened to an aspirate, and kar became har – giving us hard, harsh and hearth... where the Romans burned their carbunculi.
Visit Christopher Stevens's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lori A. Flores's "Grounds for Dreaming"

Lori Flores is assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Grounds for Dreaming begins with a picture, actually, of a group of Mexican agricultural guestworkers—known as braceros—lining up in front of a movie theater in Salinas, California in 1956. After their backbreaking workweeks harvesting fruits, nuts, grains, or vegetables, braceros all over the United States often used weekends for leisure activities such as watching movies, eating at restaurants, shopping for “American” things such as cowboy boots and radios, dancing at nightclubs, or going to church. The Plaza Theater in Salinas, which was established by a Mexican immigrant to California named Jose Enrique Friedrich, sought to provide braceros with Spanish-language entertainment that would make them feel more at home amidst their harsh work schedules and often lonely living conditions in segregated labor camps.

Unlike Friedrich, many California residents were loathe to embrace braceros’ presence, and this included some U.S.-born Mexican Americans who sought to distance themselves from braceros for fear of losing their own tenuous social status and respectability. One of the major points of Grounds for Dreaming is that the lives of Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals have always been intertwined. Circuits of labor and migration brought Mexican and Mexican American farmworkers together—either in cooperation or in conflict—in the fields, while social interactions between Mexican men and Mexican American women produced romantic relationships and families that transcended the borders of nationality. Popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s like “El Bracero y La Pachuca” described these controversial yet very common romances.

Ironically, in the very male-dominated world of agriculture, it was Mexican American women who served as important bridges between U.S.-born and immigrant Mexican communities. By the same token, they tended to suffer the most when these connections were shattered. For instance, when the INS ramped up its deportation efforts with “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s and apprehended countless undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Southwest, many Mexican American women experienced the sudden loss of their romantic partners and fathers of their children.

Page 99 captures some of the main characters and communities in the book’s story, but there are many more. From prominent agribusinessmen to the FBI to Cesar Chavez to the Catholic Church, several people and institutions had a part to play in the long drama of the U.S. farmworker rights movement—and it’s a drama that continues to unfold today.
Learn more about the book and author at Lori A. Flores's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Megan Pugh's "America Dancing"

Megan Pugh is a critic and poet living in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches at Lewis and Clark College. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, The New Republic, The Oxford American, and many other magazines.

Pugh applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk, and reported the following:
If you open America Dancing to page 99, you won't get a sense of my prose. Instead, you'll find a photograph—a man and a woman, dancing. Here's the caption: "Vernon and Irene Castle, ca. 1914 (Library of Congress)." The Castles' movements look simultaneously intimate and large. They hold hands, their bodies just a few inches apart, yet each kicks a leg—Vernon's goes forward, Irene's back—and their arms stretch out to the sides.

In the years before World War I, the Castles helped spread and popularize ragtime dance across the nation. They presided over an empire of clubs, cabarets, and consumer goods: you could watch them dance at Castles in the Air, the Castle Club, Castles by the Sea, and the Castle House, where you could also sign up for lessons. You could buy Castle corsets, Castle hats, or Castle bands to keep your Castle-style bobbed hair in place while dancing. The Castles' success came not just because of their skill, but also their savvy: ragtime dance was associated with the black and working-class dancers who'd pioneered it, but the Castles sanitized it—just enough—to appease middle- and upper-class white anxieties.

The Castles don't have starring roles in America Dancing—those go to the chief subjects of each chapter: Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Agnes de Mille, Paul Taylor, and Michael Jackson. Yet each chapter includes a large supporting cast: the Castles, for example, were models for Astaire and Rogers. And their career helps us see a recurring pattern in American dance history, and one that's central to my book: though people don't always want to acknowledge it, dance moves are forever crossing lines of race and class.

In the architecture of the Castle House, the Castles seemed to provide their white patrons a choice between recognizing black artistry or ignoring it: the building had two long staircases, each leading to a separate realm. Here's how I describe it, just a little after page 99: "Up one set of stairs was the masterful band of James Reese Europe, who, a few years later, accompanied the 369th Regiment to France, helped buoy the spirits of World War I soldiers with music, and became a hero for black America. Up the other set of stairs reigned white pianist Henry Lodge, composer of turkey trot spin-off "Oh! You Turkey."
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Pugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Daniel K. Williams's "Defenders of the Unborn"

Daniel K. Williams is an associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.

Williams applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, and reported the following:
For my first book, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, the Page 99 Test worked perfectly. A reader opening God’s Own Party up to page 99 would encounter a discussion about Billy Graham’s political relationship with Richard Nixon and would immediately be confronted with the central theme of the book: the tension-filled alliance between the Republican Party and conservative evangelicals.

But a reader opening up Defenders of the Unborn to page 99 would likely be puzzled, especially if she had read the introductory chapter beforehand. As the introduction makes clear, Defenders of the Unborn challenges conventional assumptions by demonstrating that in the early 1970s, before Roe v. Wade, there was a vibrant pro-life movement that won political victories in dozens of states. In fact, the movement succeeded precisely because it was a liberal movement that employed human rights ideology to forge an ecumenical, bipartisan coalition that gained endorsements from Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson. Its leaders included self-identified feminists, antiwar activists, and a Boston Methodist physician who was the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

But page 99 presents an apparent contrast to this revisionist narrative. The entire page is devoted to an analysis of pro-life Catholics’ failure to gain support from Protestants in the late 1960s – a phenomenon that seems to belie the picture presented in the introduction. What is going on here?

In reality, page 99 depicts a pivotal moment of crisis in the movement that eventually led to a strategic recalibration. Catholic opponents of abortion won critical victories in the early 1960s, and they would have even greater success in the early 1970s, but the late 1960s were “wilderness years” for the movement – a time of political defeats that led to soul-searching moments. A reader who read only page 99 of Defenders of the Unborn would not have much idea of the book’s central argument, but she would nevertheless get a sense of the challenges that the pro-life movement faced in the late 1960s. Maybe she would be intrigued enough to want to read the rest of the book to find out how the movement surmounted those challenges and found a way to appeal to Protestants, thus producing the pro-life coalition that continues to shape American politics today.
Learn more about Defenders of the Unborn at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: God's Own Party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Serhii Plokhy's "The Gates of Europe"

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize and author of Yalta: The Price of Peace and The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Plokhy lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Plokhy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, and reported the following:
I was curious to apply the “Page 99 Test” to The Gates of Europe, but what I found there came as a shock. The subject of the whole page is the massacre of the Jewish population of Ukraine perpetrated during the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648. Here is a taste of what I found:
The first letters that Bohdan Khmelnytsky sent to the Polish authorities as the revolt began already mentioned the Jewish leaseholders. The Cossack hetman complained of the ‘intolerable injustices’ that the Cossacks were suffering at the hands of the royal officials, the colonels—Polish commanders of the registered Cossacks—and “even” the Jews. Khmelnytsky mentioned the Jews in passing, placing them in the third or even fourth echelon of Cossack enemies, but the rebels in Right-Bank Ukraine, where Jews began to be attacked en masse in June 1648, had their own priorities. Jews were assaulted and often killed (especially men), leading to the destruction of entire communities, which were all but wiped off the map in the course of three summer months of 1648.
It was not the description itself that took me aback—after all, I researched and wrote that chapter—but its deviation from the central theme of the book. Although The Gates of Europe deals with wars, conflicts, and atrocities, it is essentially concerned with the ways in which Ukrainians of various ethnic and religious backgrounds learned to overcome their differences. It traces the formation of a modern multiethnic political nation that includes Ukrainians along with Jews, Russians, and representatives of other nationalities who consider Ukraine their homeland and are prepared to defend it, often at the cost of their lives, against the aggression of a much more powerful and ruthless neighbor. It shows how conflicts and traumas like the one described on page 99 were overcome. In the final analysis, perhaps the book did not fail the test after all.
Learn more about The Gates of Europe at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2016

Elaine Frantz Parsons's "Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction"

Elaine Frantz Parsons is associate professor of history at Duquesne University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction is about who Ku-Klux Klansmen thought they were, and why they committed violence against freedpeople and their allies in the way that they did. Defeated white men after the Civil War put on many different sorts of Klan costumes while attacking their black neighbors. Some had horns and animal skins. Some included elaborate masks with fake tongues and facial hair. Some used carnival colors and patterns and reflective materials. Some wore blackface, and many wore women’s dress.

These costumes worked differently, but all of them said that the man who wore them was out of control, and was not going to follow civilized rules. White southern men who dressed as Ku-Klux were saying that they were willing to use any sort of violence that would be useful to them: this would include murder, rape, theft, and a wide array of sadistic violence.
Hidden behind the Ku-Klux’s mask was a savage violence that, in the years immediately after the war, many were not yet willing publicly to acknowledge. Ku-Klux opponent Hugh Bond was horrified to learn, through accounts of Klan atrocities, that “the beast was so close under the skin of man.” Many Ku-Klux themselves seem to have conceived of the relationship of their violent to civilized aspects in a similar way.
Ku-Klux hid their violence under a costume, which not only removed the violent acts from their day-to-day identities, but also allowed it to appear a performance, which could make victim complaints seem less credible. In other parts of the book, I discuss how these costumes worked to turn individual attacks into “terrorism.”

This passage brings out a broader theme of the book: the Klan was so effective in part because it was able to exploit broader cultural ideas, ideas that often fascinated northern whites, to justify and frame its violence against black southerners. It also shows how different the first Klan (1866-1872) was from its revival in the 1920s in the wake of the 1915 release of Birth of a Nation. The second Klan was much more organized and less chaotic; in place of the terrifying carnival-like quality of the first Klan’s costumes, they purchased uniforms which were terrifying instead because of their military-like sameness.
Learn more about Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rick Shenkman's "Political Animals"

Rick Shenkman is the founder and publisher the History News Network (HNN), the only website on the Internet wholly devoted to the task of putting events in the news into historical perspective every day. He is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books, including Just How Stupid Are We?, and is an elected fellow of the Society of American Historians.

Shenkman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, it so happens, marks the beginning of a chapter: Number 7, “Do We Really Want the Truth?”

In the chapter I try to explain why it took Americans 11 months after the Watergate break-in for the news to finally sink in and convince a majority to rethink their support of Richard Nixon.

Here’s the opening:
Think about the way we remember Watergate. The story begins with the break- in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex overlooking the Potomac River. Ace Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigate, and explosive headlines follow. The Senate Watergate Committee—headed by the avuncular Sam Ervin, the soft-spoken, white-haired senator from North Carolina who speaks in a folksy Southern drawl—grills officials. John Dean, the White House counsel, testifies about the cover-up. Then a low-level bureaucrat reveals that Nixon had installed a taping system to record everything that was said in his presence. Nixon initially refuses to release the tapes, citing executive privilege. The special prosecutor demands the tapes, and the Supreme Court orders Nixon to turn them over. The decision of the Court is unanimous. Sixteen days later, after the “smoking gun” tape is released—this is the tape showing that Nixon ordered the CIA to block the FBI investigation of Watergate on national security grounds—Nixon resigns. Two thousand and twenty-six days after he assumed office Richard Milhous Nixon walks up the steps of a waiting helicopter on the White House lawn, turns and delivers his signature V-for-victory salute, and flies off into history. At noon Gerald Ford becomes president, declaring “our long national nightmare is over.”

On the day Nixon left office, August 9, 1974, 80 percent of the American people believed that it was time for him to go. That is an extraordinary number. Americans don’t even agree by that margin what the national sport is (34 percent say it’s football, 16 percent baseball). So to have 80 percent of us agree on anything, let alone something as controversial as Watergate, was truly remarkable.

You hear a statistic like that and you think that public opinion must be rational. Voters followed the evidence where it led and made the appropriate judgment, even though it was painful. This seems to be one of the plainest lessons of Watergate. You can trust public opinion. And because of that you can trust American democracy.

But how did voters react to Watergate as events unfolded?…
In my case I’d have to say that Ford Madox Ford’s injunction to judge a book by page 99 doesn’t really work. I built the book around stories and it takes more than one page for me to reach the denouement where I explain the significance of the story. But on the other hand, a reader can glean from page 99 my style.
Visit Rick Shenkman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Just How Stupid Are We?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Alison Collis Greene's "No Depression in Heaven"

Alison Collis Greene is Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta, and reported the following:
From page 99:
December 1932

Hopeful out-of-work Arkansans began to appear before brand-new county committees organized to distribute Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) work relief in the fall of 1932. Finally, the federal government had acknowledged the urgency of their need, and the state of Arkansas welcomed the RFC loans despite its own financial troubles. Those loans came with rules that promised not just work, but work for black and white men both at decent, albeit hardly generous, wages—twenty cents an hour for unskilled labor, and up to forty cents an hour for skilled workers. Eight hours a day at that rate and a man could put a little food on the table and maybe even a new pair of shoes on one of the kids’ feet. It seemed almost too good to be true.

Of course it was. Surely men’s hearts sank when they showed up to inquire about work and saw the same planters who distributed—and more often withheld—Red Cross relief also serving on the RFC committees. If Arkansas planters had any particular genius, it was too often aimed at slashing a poor man’s wages. After all, higher wages off the plantation meant fewer desperate cotton pickers on it.

True to form, each county’s planter-led committee crafted its own clever work relief plan—with emphasis on the work rather than the relief. In Phillips County, the committee assigned unemployed men to paint the county courthouse in Helena. Such skilled work usually brought forty cents an hour, but the committee set the rate at twenty. Wealthy locals were so pleased to find skilled men working for such low wages that they showed up at the courthouse and told them they would pay the same rate for the men to come paint their houses too. It looked like the RFC would bring down already-low wages in the county, which suited those paying them just fine.
Some context: No Depression in Heaven is a book about religion and the Great Depression—about the ways that people tried to make sense of the Depression and create a more livable world from the chaos that surrounded them, and the ways that religious communities engaged that process, both theologically and materially. On the latter front, religious agencies did a lot to help people out before the Depression, but it wasn’t enough even then. And that was before everything fell apart. By 1931, churches were barely scraping by, and they could hardly help anyone. They clamored for what became the New Deal in a fairly unified way, although of course that unity didn’t last, and I talk about that too.

In one sense, I fail the page 99 test, because my 99th page isn’t in the middle of a chapter. It is the first page of Part III, “The New Deal.” Each new part opens with a short narrative that provides a ground-level view of events and sets the stage for the chapters to follow.

But this page also highlights one of the things I wanted the book to do. You’re nearly halfway through the book before Roosevelt arrives. When we think about the 1930s, we often hasten to get to the (imperfect) solutions to the Depression, but for a good while there wasn’t a solution. There was just a sort of stunned agony and a lot of floundering. I talk a lot about that. This vignette also shows the problems with local administration of aid—it means the reproduction of local injustices.

The narrative begins after Roosevelt’s election, but before he took office, in December 1932. Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation made loans to the states for aid, and this excerpt is about where they went in the Delta.
Learn more about No Depression in Heaven at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Loren J. Samons II's "Pericles and the Conquest of History"

Loren J. Samons II is Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. He has published widely on Greek politics and history and on the relationship between ancient and modern democracy. His books include What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship (2004), Empire of the Owl: Athenian Imperial Finance (2000), and (with C. W. Fornara) Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles (1991).

Samons applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Pericles and the Conquest of History: A Political Biography, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Those of us inured to modern democratic politics may perhaps sympathize somewhat with the awkward position of those who opposed Pericles’ introduction of public payments or his support of the massive building program. How, after all, does a politician in a democratic environment oppose a rival who promises pay to his supporters? We have seen, for example, the effects of a political environment in which liberal politicians propose the expansion of government benefits while conservatives promise lower taxes or economic advantages. Both groups emphasize the economic benefits to their supporters, and few if any modern American politicians campaign successfully on the idea that it will cost voters more (one way or the other) to do the right thing for the larger economy or for our descendants.

Pericles’ opponents must have quickly discovered this conundrum. They could not oppose Pericles’ proposals without appearing to want to take “bread out of the mouths” of the voters. Could an argument from prudence or justice succeed in such an environment? Modern experience suggests the answer to this question is in the negative, and Athens’ history in the years after Pericles’ introduction of public pay shows that any serious, successful opposition to Pericles would come not from the right (as it were), [p.100] but from the left. Later politicians wishing to rival Pericles would propose higher public payments or the expansion of payments to other offices. Pericles, we may surmise, by that time could be painted as overly conservative or cautious more easily than he could be tarred as imprudently or unjustly spending money that was not his own (or even the Athenians’). Pericles himself from time to time may have concluded that he had created a monster where the hunger and will of the demos [the Athenian people] was concerned.
The test proves to work pretty well for Pericles and the Conquest of History. On page 99 the book concludes the discussion of the way Pericles’ chief rival in the 440s B.C., a conservative statesman named Thucydides Melesiou (not the historian Thucydides), ultimately lost out in his political battle with Pericles. The Athenians in fact chose to exile Thucydides for 10 years.

Pericles had advocated using moneys ostensibly collected from Athens’ “allies” against Persia to adorn the city of Athens with fantastically expensive buildings like the Parthenon. Thucydides apparently opposed both this redirection of the allies’ military funds and (I argue) Pericles’ proposal that public money should be used to pay the hundreds of jurors in large Athenian courts. The latter suggestion constitutes the first time (so far as we know) that the principal of payment for public service appears above the political horizon. I argue that it was momentous and that it has colored and debased democratic politics ever since. To put it crudely, democratic politicians since Pericles’ day have too often sought to find a way to “buy votes.”
Learn more about Pericles and the Conquest of History at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Marty Crump's "Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder's Fork and Lizard's Leg"

Marty (Martha L.) Crump is Adjunct Professor in Biology at Utah State University and at Northern Arizona University. She has been a herpetologist for more than 45 years, and for at least that long has been intrigued with the folklore of amphibians and reptiles. She is the author of In Search of the Golden Frog, Headless Males Make Great Lovers, Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers, and Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg. She is one of six co-authors on the textbook Herpetology, and a coauthor with James P. Collins on Extinction in Our Times: Global Amphibian Decline. For children, she has written Amphibians and Reptiles: An Introduction to Their Natural History and Conservation, Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon, and the award-winning The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog. She lives in Logan, Utah, with her husband Alan H. Savitzky and their long-haired dachshund, Conan.

Crump applied the “Page 99 Test” to Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg and reported the following:
Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg is the synthesis of my nearly 50 years’ worth of collecting folklore featuring amphibians and reptiles. I invite readers to embrace the spirits, dragons, demons, deities, heroes, and tricksters and to view the world of amphibians and reptiles through a different lens. My premise, distilled and formulated from folklore and from my career as a herpetologist and conservation biologist, is that our perceptions and attitudes about amphibians and reptiles matter a great deal for their conservation. We protect animals we admire, and we ignore those we dislike. Folklore provides a framework for understanding why we both respect and detest these animals, and why we almost always view them as powerful.

By page 99 of Eye of Newt, we have explored the role of amphibians and reptiles in creation myths, examined the contrasting views of snakes as good and evil, and read tales and folk beliefs associating frogs and snakes with rain and rebirth. Page 99 begins a new chapter with a quote from Sherman and Madge Minton’s book Venomous Reptiles, setting the stage for tales of love (and lust) that feature snakes in key roles:
“Men noticed very early that women regularly and mysteriously bled from their genitals in a manner that suggested they were snakebitten. However, women seemed to suffer few ill effects at such times, though they might reject males and wander off by themselves. Men suspected that their women might actually be consorting with snakes—perhaps sharing their magic secrets and practicing mystic rites of their own. They began to feel afraid of women and to develop a deep dread of menstrual blood.”
We learn that cultures from the Caribs, Cubeo, and Quechua of South America, to the Greeks and Italians, to the ancient Japanese have stories of snakes seducing and violating women. In contrast, some snake-human folktales are sentimental love stories. These tales reinforce the dual nature of human perceptions of snakes—fear versus respect.

Later chapters offer trickster tales, how and why stories, and folk beliefs about amphibians and reptiles. Several chapters discuss the various ways we use amphibians and reptiles, from harnessing their presumed sexual power to incorporating them in folk medicines and witchcraft. The final chapter addresses the importance of knowing why conservation is needed, who gets saved and who gets ignored, and how our perceptions of amphibians and reptiles influence the conservation of these animals.
Learn more about Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder's Fork and Lizard's Leg at the University of Chicago Press website.

Writers Read: Marty Crump.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt's "China's Early Mosques"

Nancy S. Steinhardt is Professor of East Asian Art and Curator of Chinese Art at the University of Pennsylvania where she has taught since 1982. She is author or co-author of Chinese Traditional Architecture (1984), Chinese Imperial City Planning (1990), Liao Architecture (1997), Chinese Architecture (2003), Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (2005), Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (2011), Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200-600 (2014), and more than 70 scholarly articles.

Steinhardt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, China's Early Mosques, and reported the following:
From page 99:
From d’Ollone’s and Na’s sketches, several features of the burial site before the most recent repairs are certain. Saidianchi’s cenotaph was standard for a Muslim in China. It was little different from the Song or Yuan cenotaphs in Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Yangzhou or from later Muslim burials in China or other parts of the world where Muslims lived. The stone base was about 4 m by about 2.5 m. Above it were layers of stone, each successively smaller in base dimension, capped by a semicircular prism. The current monument has straight sides. Originally the stone monument was enclosed by a pillar-supported wall or structure of 8 m by 6.5 m in perimeter that has today been replaced by a low wall. By the time d’Ollone visited, only pillar bases remained. In death, the tomb of the esteemed governor of the period of Mongolian rule was marked with no more glory than any Muslim who could afford a stone monument. That it has been preserved in a large city, however, is a testament to Saidianchi’s fame. At one time, a mosque, other Muslim tombs, a Muslim school, and a residence for imams were in close proximity to the tomb. Pottery remains found by Na confirm 20th c occupation in the vicinity (fig. 4.1).

The alternate tomb site is 12.5 km north of the city of Kunming at Majia’an, a location more closely supported by Saidianchi’s biography in Yuanshi and by Li Yuanyang’s Yunnan tongzhi (Gazetteer of Yunnan province), both of which state that the tomb is outside the north gate of the city. Scholars of the Qing period argued for a third location. They suggested that the corpse had been moved from Kunming, where Saidianchi died, for burial near Xianyang (a location that would reflect his title).

Saidianchi exemplifies the extraordinary impact Muslim individuals had on Chinese history during the Yuan dynasty. Because the period of Mongolian rule is a unique time when buildings other than mosques are associated with the powerful Muslim presence in China, several extraordinary mausoleums and an observatory are discussed below.

Muslim Tombs in Yuan China

After Saidianchi, the most famous Muslim buried in Yuan China was Tughluq Temür (1329/30-c. 1363) whose tomb is discussed below because it is dated later than the others. A less well-known and similar mausoleum that is likely to predate Tughluq Temür’s survives in Guyuan, Hebei province, on the route along which Mongols traveled between China and their summer capital Shangdu (Xanadu) (fig. 4.2).

Tomb in Guyuan

The monument is almost definitely referred to in the geographic study of a part of Inner Mongolia and contiguous regions undertaken at the request of the Qianlong (r. 1736-96) court by the official Jin Zhizhang sometime between 1732 and 1741, and published with additions by Huang Kerun in 1758.
[endnotes not included]
One question was with me every time I studied a mosque in China and as I wrote this book: What happens when a monotheistic, foreign religion needs worship space in China, a civilization with a building tradition that has maintained archetypical structures that resemble the Forbidden City for imperial, religious, funerary, and residential architecture through millennia? The story of this extraordinary convergence between Chinese and Islamic architecture begins in the 7th century and continues under the Chinese rule of Song and Ming dynasties, and the non-Chinese rule of the Mongols and Manchus, each with a different political and religious agenda. The politics behind mosque construction at certain times and in specific places is explored for each mosque. I believe I have shown that mosques, and ultimately Islam, survive in China because the Chinese architectural system, though almost always identifiable because of timber framing, bracket sets, and ceramic tile roofs, is adaptable: it can accommodate the religious requirements of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Islam.

I discuss approximately 70 old mosques, the the famous tourist mosques in Xi'an and Beijing, of course, and mosques in almost every other Chinese province and autonomous region. Most of them are Hui mosques, prayer spaces of Chinese-speaking Muslims. My study begins and ends with the buildings themselves, asking what is most necessary for Muslim worship space and showing that the convergence between a mosque and Chinese architecture is possible because so few structural features are necessary for a Muslim worship space, and all of them can be accommodated within the Chinese building system. I also explore the social and political aspects of Sino-Islamic architecture, and the challenges faced by religious construction in premodern and contemporary Asia.

Page 99, about one-third of the way into the book, deals with Muslim architecture in China under Mongol rule. The specific page finished discussion of the tomb of Mongol China's most famous Muslim, Saidianchi. It continued to discuss a tomb that almost no reader would know about. I hope that my book adds this monument to the canon of both Chinese architecture and Islamic architecture. The chapter is also the set-up for my argument why Islam survived into the 21st century in China whereas Christianity had a more tormented his tory and Judaism, except in Kaifeng, did not survive. I show that Mongol policies and the large number of foreigners in China is the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly Muslims like Saidianchi, were crucial to the continuation of Islam during the rule of later dynasties.
Learn more about China's Early Mosques at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stephen R. Bown's "White Eskimo"

Stephen R. Bown is a critically acclaimed author of eight literary non-fiction books on the history of science, exploration and ideas, including The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen.

Bown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic, and reported the following:
I was sceptical about this Page 99 gimmick. But surprisingly, to me at any rate, page 99 actually does cover some of the main themes and the varied style of storytelling of White Eskimo as a whole, particularly if you include the overlapping sentences from page 98 and page 100.

White Eskimo is the biography of the famous Danish-Greenlandic ethnographer and explorer, Knud Rasmussen. He led an incredible life of adventure and danger. His most daring and scientifically important expedition was a 20,000 mile dog sled journey from Hudson Bay to Nome, Alaska over the course of nearly two years. Rasmussen’s lifelong goal was to collect and write down all the oral culture of the Inuit people, their legends, stories, poems, songs and religious beliefs. He knew the world was changing and that the Inuit would not long remain in isolation and easing this transition into a globalized world is one of the themes of Rasmussen’s life. On page 99 I write: “If the process of “civilization” was inevitable, he wanted to do what he could to make it less painful and more on terms controlled by the Inuit.” Most of page 99 details his first efforts to gain Danish government support to establish a trading outpost in the far north of Greenland, which would provide him an excuse to live there and a means to finance his cultural and geographic explorations. That was his serious side.

But Rasmussen was also a character of incredible charisma and bonhomie, with a social intuition that guided him unerringly whether in a snow hut in the Arctic or the halls of power in Copenhagen or New York. His long time adventuring partner Peter Freuchen was a perfect foil to Rasmussen’s sincerity and optimism. When Rasmussen and Freuchen were initially rebuffed by the Danish government, as I write on page 99, Freuchen wrote that he and Rasmussen “ran up against the bureaucrats who asked such asinine questions and made such stupid objections that we knew our chances in that direction were nil... During the negotiations I saw a good deal of human nature at its worst. My respect for the human race lessened.” That style of writing and the salty unvarnished opinions characterize Rasmussen’s escapades throughout his life – a blend of the respectable and the passionate. He was truly a unique personality.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2016

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's "A Foot in the River"

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is the William P. Reynolds Professor of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. He has published numerous best-selling history books, including Civilizations, Millennium, 1492: The Year Our World Began, and Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration,  which was awarded the World History Association Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Foot in the River: Why Our Lives Change - and the Limits of Evolution, and reported the following:
From page 99:

The Chimpanzees’ Tea Party

The Discovery of Non-human Cultures

Most readers are probably not old enough to remember it. But it is one of my most vivid childhood memories. When I was little, I lived with grandparents near the London Zoo, where, every afternoon, the chimpanzees’ keepers laid out a tea party for them. Trestle tables, spread with white or gingham cloths, bore pots of tea, jugs of milk, plates of sandwiches and cakes. The result was chaos. The chimps spilt the tea, smeared the jam, clambered over the table, and used the cakes as inefficiently wielded missiles, while we children and most of the adults present stood around laughing.

I am penitent at the recollection of my politically incorrect conduct – a rank offence against the chimps’ dignity. Now, however, I suspect the joke was on us and that, if the chimps had sleeves, they would be laughing down them. Desmond Morris, the charismatic zookeeper, suspected that they deliberately hammed up their performance to please the crowd. But the reason for my present discomfort runs deeper than that. Why did we humans find the chimps’ antics entertaining? Most of us onlookers were children, and glimpsed, perhaps, some affinity between the apes and our own former, undomesticated, infant selves, who had not yet learned to observe table manners. Perhaps we admired or envied their freedom to be babyish. But the chimps were ridiculous chiefly, as I recall, because they were victims of a deeper dilemma: to us children they were like us, but without the opportunity, without the necessary nature, to grow up in the same way. Like clowns imitating the lion-tamer or a clod-hopper aspiring to balletics and tripping over his feet, they were attempting something beyond them. Though I should not have put it this way when I was five years old, I think the reason we humans found them amusing was that we assumed that our species was uniquely cultural, and that other animals were simply incapable of understanding that a meal could be for more than eating. A human tea party is an opportunity for practising decorum, respecting order, subscribing to cultural norms. Ideas of that sort – according to the assumptions of my childhood – were simply inaccessible to any other creatures.
Ford Madox Ford must have read A Foot in the River in a time-warp. Page 99 is a perfect match for his theory.
Learn more about A Foot in the River at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 2, 2016

George Cotkin's "Feast of Excess"

George Cotkin is a Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His books include Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick, William James, Public Philosopher, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900, Existential America, and Morality’s Muddy Waters: Ethical Quandaries in Modern America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility, and reported the following:
Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility begins in 1952 with composer John Cage and concludes in 1974 with performance artist Chris Burden. In 1952, Cage had composed a minimalist work, 4’33” – a piece for piano where for the complete duration nary a key was struck nor a note sounded. He also organized the first Happening, where “coordinated,” maximalist chaos reigned. In either case, excess was the key element. Burden gained fame for testing the limits of the body’s endurance and the audience’s relation to what was occurring. In one infamous work, in front of a dozen or so friends, he had himself shot. In another piece, he was crucified against the back of a Volkswagen.

In between 1952 and 1974, many other figures attempted to push limits, to break through boundaries, and to question the very nature of art. Each chapter in the book is devoted to a particular year, with a focus on an artist (or in some cases, more than one) at the moment when their work was teeming with excess, entering upon uncertain terrain. Diverse figures, across the cultural spectrum are placed within this emerging tradition: Patricia Highsmith, Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsberg, Marlon Brando, Anne Sexton, Andy Warhol, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Erica Jong, Diane Arbus and Susan Sontag). The conclusion examines how, and why, this imperative to excess might be useful – and also dangerous.

In the chapter that includes page 99, I examine rock singer, Jerry Lee Lewis. He was famous for excess. In the midst of the presumably conservative 1950s, Lewis’s songs dripped with sexual innuendo. He pushed performance, too, by pounding the piano keys and jumping atop the piano to dance lewdly. He was even reported to have set a piano on fire to prove that no other act could top him for volatility. On page 99 specifically, I look at the minefield of sex, race relations and music. While Lewis did cause a whole lotta shakin’, he was soon to be stilled, in part because he had married a remote cousin, thirteen years of age, while still legally married to another woman. Now that was excess aplenty.
Learn more about Feast of Excess at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Dive Deeper.

--Marshal Zeringue