Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dominic Janes's "Oscar Wilde Prefigured"

Dominic Janes is professor of modern history at Keele University, United Kingdom. He has most recently published Picturing the Closet (Oxford University Press), Visions of Queer Martyrdom and Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900 (both from University of Chicago Press).

Janes applied the “Page 99 Test” to Oscar Wilde Prefigured and reported the following:
Oscar Wilde Prefigured discusses the ways in which the appearance of men was regularly scrutinized for evidence of deviant sexual desires in the decades leading up to the trials of Oscar Wilde for gross indecency on the grounds that he regularly posed as a sodomite. This sometimes meant looking out for obvious effeminacy, but that was not always the case. Page 99 of the book is exemplary of this in that it argues that the fine figures of young military men were often examined with a peculiar mixture of suspicion and desire at the time of the Napoleonic wars. As it says on the page:
Suggestions surface that soldiers were sometimes picked and promoted because of their attractive appearance and they were sometimes depicted as imbecilic dollies as a result. These practices and caricature of them continued into the Victorian period, as can be seen from John Doyle’s The New Regulation Infantry Hat; Prince Albert's Own (c. 1843). The alleged sexual implications of wearing Albert’s design for a shako (a high military hat) are not made obvious as they were to be a century later when Men Only published Oh Sir, Spare a Copper (1936), in which a man wearing make-up addresses a red-faced sergeant and his baby-faced troop of constables. Yet the implication was very much present at the earlier time that young men who were dressed up in uniform by their superiors dangerously undermined their male autonomy because this rendered them objects of aesthetic spectacle.
In other words what made a man a real man was not necessarily his apparently butch army uniform. This is not to say that Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria at the time when the British Empire was at its height, was homosexual. But the fact that his name has been applied to a modern item of genital jewelry flags up that understanding the history of sexual desire involves thinking in ways that engage on an ongoing and critical basis with our contemporary expectations of sex lives in the past.
Learn more about Oscar Wilde Prefigured at the University of Chicago Press.

Writers Read: Dominic Janes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ruth Franklin's "Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life"

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi, to which she contributes a regular film column. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Franklin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, and reported the following:
Much of page 99 is occupied by a large photograph of Stanley Edgar Hyman, Shirley Jackson’s future husband, taken during his college years and inscribed to her, “Love, look with favor…” Jackson first caught Hyman’s attention when he read her short story “Janice” in a college literary magazine—he decided on the spot that he wanted to marry her. Despite their intellectual affinities, in many ways Jackson and Hyman were perfect opposites. The daughter of a socialite and a businessman, Jackson was raised as a Christian Scientist in the tony suburb of Burlingame, California, and knew as a child that she wanted to become a fiction writer. Hyman, on the other hand, had a traditional Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn (though he was an atheist and a Communist by the time Jackson met him) and found his calling as a critic almost as early. He saw Jackson as his ideal subject, and saw himself as the cool-headed intellectual who would help her realize her full creative powers and then explain her genius to the world.

The relationship was tumultuous from the start. The differences in their backgrounds couldn’t have helped, but the real problem was Hyman’s infidelity, which would persist throughout their nearly twenty-five-year marriage. Why Jackson stayed with Hyman—and there is considerable evidence that she may have considered divorce—is one of the enduring questions of her life story. In addition to being unfaithful, he belittled her and put pressure on her to constantly produce the women’s magazine stories that supported their family. (Jackson was the breadwinner during most of their marriage.) Yet he also was her greatest champion and cheerleader, writing copious notes on all her drafts and constantly exhorting her to improve.

After Jackson’s sudden death from a heart attack at age forty-eight, just a few days before their twenty-fifth anniversary, a grief-stricken (and perhaps guilt-stricken) Hyman devoted himself to promoting her reputation. “I think that the future will find her powerful visions of suffering and inhumanity increasingly significant and meaningful, and that Shirley Jackson’s work is among that small body of literature produced in our time that seems apt to survive,” he wrote in the introduction to The Magic of Shirley Jackson, an anthology of her work that he compiled. By now, it seems safe to say that he was correct.
Visit Ruth Franklin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Kenneth Stow's "Anna and Tranquillo"

Kenneth Stow is the author of Theater of Acculturation and Alienated Minority and founding editor of the journal Jewish History. He is currently a research associate in the Department of History, Smith College, and emeritus professor, University of Haifa, Israel.

Stow applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Anna and Tranquillo: Catholic Anxiety and Jewish Protest in the Age of Revolutions, and reported the following:
The story of Anna del Monte, kidnapped and held in the Roman House of Converts for thirteen days in 1749—to no avail, for she refused to convert and returned to the Roman Ghetto a Jew—is one link in the long chain of attempts to erase Jewish existence. The essence of that chain is the topic of page 99, the first mass attempt at conversion through violence that took place during the first Crusade of 1096. However, that violence, largely unorganized and orchestrated from (near) the bottom up, was also unapproved. The Church wanted order, which is what Anna’s story illustrates. There had to be rules and regulations, perverse by current standards, but still rules and regulations punctiliously observed. Anna knew these rules, somehow. Her brother Tranquillo, who perfected Anna’s original memories that she set down in writing, knew them even better, and one sees in Anna’s so-called diary, the core of my book, as a kind of manual. How does one avoid falling into the conversionist trap? But the diary is also a protest. Jews in Rome were, in civil terms, full citizens; every lawyer and jurist, non-Jewish ones, that is, said so. But Jews were also restrained by the ghetto, for reasons of religion. The absurdity of this contradiction, citizenship, yet discrimination founded on religion, is also the diary’s implicit message. Anna’s story, in the context of the reality of Jewish life in the Roman Ghetto, illustrates the pitfalls of the confessional state, one with a formal religion that also privileges religion in law. That kind of state would go out of existence only when the American Constitution intentionally ignored religion as a criterion for citizenship; George Washington told the Jews of Newport, R.I., that a good citizen is one who obeys the law; hence, obedience to law creates the citizen. Till then, the criterion was “rebirth,” “regeneration,” through baptism. The French Revolution followed suit. It was, however, only with Napoleon’s Code Civil of 1804 that modern secular state in Europe was fully born. Only then could Jewish Emancipation, the diametrical opposite of Roman Ghetto life, become a true reality. In Anna’s Rome, that event occurred only in 1870, with the fall of the Papal State and the founding of the Italian Monarchy.
Learn more about Anna and Tranquillo at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 26, 2016

Catherine Reef's "Florence Nightingale"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, and reported the following:
A painting in warm tones dominates page 99 of Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. It depicts a scene at Scutari (the Üsküdar district of Istanbul) between 1854 and 1856, during the Crimean War. Sick and wounded British soldiers have arrived at the army’s Barrack Hospital. Most are ambulatory, although this often was not the case, and one reclines on the stone floor. The men likely waited days for transport from the camps and battlefields where they were stricken. Florence Nightingale is at the door, receiving them.

Most images of Nightingale created at this time were fanciful, romanticized presentations of a selfless, dedicated lady bearing an oil lamp and bringing kindness and comfort to ailing men far from home. The painting on page 99 [inset,left; click to enlarge] is different because the artist, Jerry Barrett, journeyed to Scutari and sketched from life. His is the real Nightingale, businesslike and plainly attired in a brown dress and white cap. She is flanked by Charles and Selina Bracebridge, her married chaperones. As important as she was—keep in mind that she was in charge of nursing in the British military hospitals in Turkey—Nightingale was still a Victorian lady, and it was improper for her to travel alone.

The scene at the Barrack Hospital is at the heart of Nightingale’s story. She spent her first thirty-four years preparing for it by studying hospital reports and tackling subjects that made up a man’s curriculum, such as algebra and chemistry; by resisting pressure from her family and society to marry and live a conventional life; and by answering what she believed was a call from God to pursue nursing, then a lowly line of work. As a result, when Britain was at war and her government appealed to her for help, she was ready.

Ignorance and mismanagement had allowed the nation’s military hospitals to become places of suffering and filth, where thousands of soldiers were dying needlessly of infection, disease, and neglect. There was “but one person in England” capable of assembling a skilled nursing team and turning such a horrific situation around, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert knew, and he reached out to her. He warned Nightingale that the task would be “after all full of horror, & requiring besides knowledge & goodwill, great energy, & great courage.…” Nightingale was undaunted.

By page 99 Nightingale has won over the doctors who initially rejected help from her female nurses. She and her staff have cleaned and dressed many wounds, replaced foul bedding, and scrubbed the wards. Morale is improving, and the death rate is falling. But shortages persist, and providing palatable food remains a problem.

Twenty pages later, with the coming of peace, Nightingale will return to England. For the remainder of her long life—and the book—she will work for the public good, improving health for all Britons and elevating nursing to a respectable profession for women. As she professed, “Constant progress is the law of life.”
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Alex Beam's "The Feud"

Alex Beam has been a columnist for The Boston Globe since 1987. He previously served as the Moscow bureau chief for Business Week. His books include three works of nonfiction: American Crucifixion, Gracefully Insane, and A Great Idea at the Time; the latter two were New York Times Notable Books.

Beam applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book opens Chapter Seven, the very beginning of what newspapermen might call the "tick-tock" of the actual feud between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson. It explains how Nabokov savaged the respected scholar Walter Arndt, who ended his career at Dartmouth College, when Arndt politely asked for comments on his translation of the famous Alexander Pushkin poem, "Eugene Onegin."

Nabokov, who had been working for years on his own translation of "Onegin," which he immodestly considered to be a masterpiece (it wasn't), anathematized Arndt, first in correspondence and soon after in a vitriolic attack in the New York Review of Books. That appeared in 1963. Two years later, Edmund Wilson chose the Review to unleash his famous, 6600-word attack on Nabokov's "Onegin" translation, the event that precipitously ended the men's quarter-century long friendship.
Visit Alex Beam's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Gracefully Insane.

The Page 69 Test: Gracefully Insane.

The Page 99 Test: Great Idea at the Time.

The Page 99 Test: American Crucifixion.

My Book, The Movie: The Feud.

Writers Read: Alex Beam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jessica Winston's "Lawyers at Play"

Jessica Winston is Professor of English and Chair of History at Idaho State University. She is the author of numerous articles on the English laws schools and legal societies, Inns of Court and, with James Ker, she is editor of Elizabethan Seneca: Three Tragedies (2012).

Winston applied the “Page 99 Test”“Page 99 Test” to her new book, Lawyers at Play: Literature, Law, and Politics at the Early Modern Inns of Court, 1558–1581, and reported the following:
In 1567, the poet George Turberville (c. 1540–1597) published a translation of the ancient Roman poet Ovid. Near the close of the work, he claimed, “It is a work of praise to cause | A Roman born to speak with English jaws.” In the 1560s, the word “cause” connoted force. What is praiseworthy about forcing an ancient Roman to speak in English? Page 99 of Lawyers at Play discusses the almost jingoistic fervor for classical translation in London in 1560s and 1570s, particularly among members of the early English law schools and legal societies, the Inns of Court. Page 99 asks, why was classical translation so popular among innsmen at this time?

The answer to this question lies in the central background and major claims of Lawyers at Play. In Renaissance England, sons of nobles, aristocrats, and well-to-do commoners often attended an inn of court to learn law and make social connections that would serve them later at court and in other prestigious social circles. While at the Inns, many of these men, such as the poet and future Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne (1572–1631), also wrote poetry, translated classics, and performed plays. And this made the Inns important literary centers too. At the Inns, legal study was not required and, for young men with time on their hands, writing and sharing verse, performing plays, and publishing translations of classical and continental texts were important social pastimes—ones that sharpened linguistic skills, promoted social connections, and facilitated professional networking.

The Inns originated sometime in the fourteenth century, but the literary culture only emerged strongly in the sixteenth century. The Inns were always legal and social centers. So why did literature become a prominent part of this world only in the 1500s? Lawyers at Play proposes that the literary dynamism of the Inns was part and product of the legal culture the period: The Inns’ literary culture of the Inns intensified in decades of profound transformation in the legal profession. To illustrate this point, Lawyers at Play focuses on the 1560s, the period when the Inns first became an important literary hub. The book’s central claim is that the artistic surge of this time grew out of and responded to a period of rising litigation and attendant expansion in the legal profession. In this context, writing and performance carried a cultural cachet that elevated the status of law students and legal men. At the same time, it defined the members of an emerging profession as centrally important to the culture and prestige of the nation.

So how does this relate to page 99? In the 1560s and 1570s, translations of the classics were especially popular, particular works by Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Caesar, even Euclid, and Ovid too. Lawyers at Play shows that translations were important since they assisted members of the Inns in the move from educational to professional life, allowing them to demonstrate linguistic ability and more: for civic-minded innsmen, translation was itself a form of national service. They imagined translation as a form of translatio imperii and translatio studii—that is, as a way of transferring the political and intellectual dominance of Greece and Rome to England. By importing the might and learning of ancient empires, translation helped to catalyze men looking for positions in the state into contributing members to the commonweal, at just the time when the local and national government was looking to hire more legally trained me into bureaucratic and administrative roles. Thus when Turberville describes his translation as a laudatory form of physical transmogrification, he suggests that his work is a salutary force for another kind of change: the transformation of the professional personas of translators themselves and the vitalization of the intellectual and cultural world of England, a point that other chapters develop with respect to lyric poetry and drama too.
Learn more about Lawyers at Play at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Laura Alice Watt's "The Paradox of Preservation"

Laura Alice Watt is Professor of Environmental History and Policy at Sonoma State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore, and reported the following:
Page 99 in The Paradox of Preservation is the first in Chapter 4, titled “Landscapes as (Potential) Wilderness.” Because of the title page formatting, it contains minimal text—only a paragraph or so, describing how inhabited, managed, and modified the southern end of the Point Reyes peninsula, located about an hour north of San Francisco, had been since Anglo settlement in the 1850s (not to mention impacts from Spanish/Mexican and Native American residents in prior decades and centuries, respectively). Yet in 1976, most of this area was formally declared to be federally designated wilderness.

Despite its brevity, this page highlights a theme throughout the book of shifting definitions—of what “counts” as historic, what “counts” as wild—and how our expectations for parks shape what we see, and how we interpret what we see, in those landscapes. Once a place that for over 150 years supported numerous working dairies and beef ranches, as well as other crops, military outposts, and paved roads, is identified as wilderness, our perception and understanding of it changes; suddenly historic ranches no longer seem to “belong” here, and traces of human uses (other than tourism) become problems to remove or fix, rather than indications of residents’ relationship with the places they live and work. Once it is managed as wilderness, it gradually becomes one.

Page 99 further reflects the larger reality of the book’s title: that preservation paradoxically changes that which is preserved, just as pickling fresh cucumbers changes them into something very different. Yet these changes often remain invisible to visitors, taking for granted that what they see in a preserved landscape is “how it has always been.” They also frequently remain invisible to park staff, whose management decisions further reshape the place to meet our expectations of what a park “should be.” And if the object of preservation is a working agricultural landscape, this process can gradually disconnect the residents from their own homes, bringing their presence into question and sacrificing their needs to the illusion of untouched nature and pristine wilderness. By making this process more visible, this book aims to help make conservation efforts more inclusive of people in protected landscapes—arguing there is no need for a zero-sum game of sustainable agriculture versus wilderness in parks; there is room, and an essential role, for both.
Learn more about The Paradox of Preservation at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 19, 2016

Avery Kolers's "A Moral Theory of Solidarity"

Avery Kolers is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Social Change minor at the University of Louisville. Since completing his PhD at the University of Arizona, he has published widely in the areas of social and political philosophy and applied ethics. His first book, Land, Conflict, and Justice: A Political Theory of Territory (2009) was awarded the Canadian Philosophical Association's Biennial Book Prize.

Kolers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Moral Theory of Solidarity, and reported the following:
Suppose we want to be in solidarity with others in a shared struggle. Should we join with those we already agree with? Or should we join with others before knowing whether or how far we agree with them?

A major theme of A Moral Theory of Solidarity is that taking sides is prior to agreement, and this for at least two reasons. First, as a sociological matter of fact, we tend to side with people on the basis of mutual recognition, sympathy, or prior relationship, and only afterwards come to understand the issues at stake in the struggle. Second, what is distinctive about solidarity as opposed to coalition or alliance is precisely that solidarity involves sticking with others through thick and thin. Whereas coalitions fracture over ideological or strategic disagreements, solidarity involves deferring to the group even when we disagree.

But just for that reason, solidarity can be a perilous idea. How can we know whether we are “on the side of the angels,” and not “on the wrong side of history”?

Page 99 of the book is considering the hypothesis that we should defer to others when we are in a certain kind of relationship with them. I call this relationship deference.
In relationship deference, then, our ends are chosen in dialogue with others…. We decide upon ends together. Hence the group is prior to any particular aims, and the justice of the ends … cannot be taken for granted…. [Person] B might disagree with the action—might think it ill-advised or immoral or otherwise inapt. But that does not automatically count as a reason for B not to do it. Rather, provided B is interested in maintaining the relationship, such doubts serve to initiate a critical dialogue the purpose of which is as much to maintain the relationship as it is to accomplish any particular action.
I argue that, although relationships “are an indispensable part of the process of deference when we are engaged with the same group over time,” nonetheless “relationship deference is not self-sufficient; it requires appeal to social structures.” This is because we should actively seek to enter into such relationships with those who are oppressed, and within such relationships we should defer to them. For this reason, relationship deference must be supplemented or superseded by what I call structural deference to the least well-off.

The book goes on to defend solidarity with the oppressed on the basis of equity or fundamental equal treatment. To be in solidarity is to treat people equitably, and, since equitable treatment is intrinsically valuable, solidarity-as-equity is intrinsically valuable—even, or especially, if we fight a losing battle.
Learn more about A Moral Theory of Solidarity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Heath Brown's "Immigrants and Electoral Politics"

Heath Brown is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of Pay-to-Play Politics: How Money Defines the American Democracy.

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Immigrants and Electoral Politics: Nonprofit Organizing in a Time of Demographic Change, and reported the following:
On Page 99 of Immigrants and Electoral Politics, I describe the work of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, an immigrant-serving 501c3 nonprofit in New York City. When the MinKwon Center in Queens NY developed a more rigorous approach to mobilizing its primarily Korean-American constituents, they developed a plan. Their 3-step process begins with registering voters. In 2012, MinKwon mobilized over 10,000 new voters, and in 2016 they continued registering new voters, always in a non-partisan fashion.

Next, they educated voters. They did this, in part, because many in the community are limited English proficient and thus struggle to read educational material from political parties and other sources. MinKwon develops bi-lingual voter guides and holds community forums on the election. In many cases, they invite candidates for office to speak about the issues that the community cares most about.

Third, they mobilize voters. For MinKwon, this ranges from traditional door-knocking and phone-calling to remind registered voters to vote, but also now relies on technology as well. The organizations relies on sophisticated voter databases to target mobilization at the exact voters with whom they want to communicate.

This comprehensive plan is unique. My book finds that most immigrant-serving nonprofits -- 60% -- never take even one of these steps. Limited resources, concerns about losing their protected 501c3 IRS status, and worries about the implications of taking too bold a political stand explain this low percentage.

Others, like MinKwon, adopt much more ambitious plans to energize immigrants about voting, in particular, and politics, more generally. The findings of the book, drawn from qualitative and quantitative research, explore in detail the past, present, and future of this issue and the position of immigrants in US politics.
Learn more about Immigrants and Electoral Politics at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christopher Lane's "Surge of Piety"

Christopher Lane, a winner of the Prescrire Prize for Medical Writing, teaches at Northwestern University. A former Guggenheim fellow and a Victorianist by training, he has a secondary interest and specialization in 19th- and 20th-century psychology, psychiatry, and intellectual history, and has held Northwestern’s Pearce Miller Research Professorship.

He is the author of six books, most recently Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life. His other books include The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty and Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

Lane applied the “Page 99 Test” to Surge of Piety and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book appears near the end of a chapter on “The Peale-Hoover-Eisenhower Empire.” Its focus is the way religious conservatives in the 1950s set about turning Dwight D. Eisenhower into the nation’s “spiritual leader.” The Republicans fought a bitter, divisive primary in the 1952 presidential. Despite attending church only sporadically, Eisenhower decided to run on a faith ticket, with billboards proclaiming: “Faith in God and country; that’s Eisenhower—how about you?” He ended up securing the nomination and then a landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson, carrying 39 states. Once the election was over, Republicans looked to heal the party and bring the nation together by making religiosity the unifying issue. They promised “government under God,” recast the U.S. as “one nation under God,” and encouraged prominent ministers such as Norman Vincent Peale to baptize the newly elected Ike “God’s chosen leader for this time of crisis.”

Surge of Piety focuses on the role that Peale played in promoting the massive wave of religious sentiment that swept the nation in the 1950s, much of it orchestrated by his ministry and allies, and concentrated in the Congress, Pentagon, FBI, and White House. Opening in the Great Depression, the book draws on far-reaching but neglected archival evidence of Peale’s role as a hardline conservative activist when, politicizing his ministry, he repeatedly attacked FDR’s New Deal as “un-American” and Roosevelt himself as “indifferent to religion,” though the four-term president was in fact anything but.

After Peale was appointed minister to New York City’s Marble Collegiate Church, one of the oldest in the nation, he threw high-profile support behind Senator Joseph McCarthy in the latter’s crusade against “subversives” in the federal government. The book also brings to light Peale’s shared efforts with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to make “the godless tyranny of atheistic communism” appear the nation’s greatest existential threat. Through its rejection of communism and embrace of evangelical Protestantism, Peale preached weekly from his pulpit and opined in his phenomenal bestsellers, the nation would find both success and salvation. He also warned Americans, “The man who shows no interest in Christianity and fails to support it is the real enemy of our social institutions.”

One of Peale’s most lasting and least discussed legacies, the book brings to light, was his well-funded campaign to align religiosity with mental health, to make religious belief a prerequisite for individual and national prosperity. Though the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, Inc., an evangelical organization he co-founded in 1953, Peale succeeded in making American medicine issue a “proclamation of faith,” turned what he called “religio-psychiatry” into a national movement, and persuaded millions of Americans that the solution to their and the nation’s problems were religious in character.

It will doubtless surprise a few that the man we often associate today with positive thinking and can-do optimism had such a dark history of public and behind-the-scenes activism. In the late 1920s and through the next decade, Peale even joined forces with hardline Christian nationalists, voicing as his explicit goal the ability to “generate [the] enthusiasm and vitality necessary for Christian world conquest.”

In the immediate aftermath to our own recent presidential election, when the political and cultural landscape seems yet more divided, we can only hope the nation will unify around policies and platforms that don’t repeat the turbulent, bruising history documented in Surge of Piety. As but one way forward, my Coda, “Faith as an Ongoing Force,” looks at strategies for reining in religious extremism while also acknowledging the complex ways that religious beliefs continue to shape our politics and society.
Learn more about the book and author at Christopher Lane's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Age of Doubt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hillary Miller's "Drop Dead"

Hillary Miller is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at California State University, Northridge. Her essays and reviews have appeared in publications including Performance Research, Lateral, The Radical History Review, Theatre Survey, and PAJ. From 2013-2015, she was a Lecturer in Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric and Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture.

Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York City, and reported the following:
Each chapter of Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York City is a case study focusing on a company, a production, or an element of New York’s theater infrastructure during the municipal crisis of the 1970s. The book visits Broadway, Off-, Off-Off-, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, community theater, and other locations to bring into focus the changes wrought by the financial realignments of the day.

Chapter 3 of my book looks at the theatre director Vinnette Carroll, who directed Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope (1973) and Your Arms Too Short to Box With God (1976) on Broadway. Page 99, however, is part of a section within that chapter, “Martin Segal and the Dollar Approach to Culture,” which analyzes the ways in which the municipal government’s philosophies toward supporting the arts in the city changed due to the 1975 fiscal crisis.

Vinnette Carroll’s ensemble, the Urban Arts Corps, had at one time been the beneficiary of funding that followed a philosophy of “culture for spiritual uplift” and targeted neighborhoods across the city. As the 1970s progressed, Carroll and her company needed to adapt to new municipal philosophies. Page 99 highlights one of the book’s overall conclusions: as part of the cultural and economic transformations occurring during the municipal crisis, a “dollar approach to culture” became the strategy for arts advocates—like philanthropist and businessman Martin E. Segal-- to argue for the city’s arts and cultural life during the crisis.

This happened on a local level, as well as on a national level, as I describe on page 99:
A similar trend played out in Washington, as once-symbolic aspects of urban culture became conceived as ‘material’ shapers of cities…. The Carter administration (1977-81) decided to locate their special assistant to the secretary for cultural affairs, Louise Wiener, within the Commerce Department, a placement that underscored the strategy of looking foremost at the arts in economic life—as a philosophy but also as a legitimization of the arts as a contributor to the nation.

The relative health and productivity of arts institutions—however the city chose to define them—became both a harbinger and an engine of the fiscal crisis rebound.
I include in my study the development of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Times Square TKTS discount ticketing initiative, Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, Ellen Stewart’s La Mama E.T.C., and many individual playwrights and theater artists. My chapter 3 analysis of Vinnette Carroll’s path-blazing Urban Arts Corps attests to a changing approach from the state-sponsored “Ghetto Arts” programs to the city-supported 1960s “cool streets” initiatives of Mayor John Lindsay, culminating in an abandonment of comparable support for the company’s core activities by the late 1970s. The “dollar approach to culture” that is explicated on page 99 changed the relationship between the city government and its arts organizations, and contributed to the emergence of today's "creative city" paradigm.
Visit Hillary Miller's website, and learn more about Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis: 1970s New York at the Northwestern University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Gergely Baics's "Feeding Gotham"

Gergely Baics is assistant professor of history and urban studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes the reader to the seasonal rhythms of public market trade and household provisioning in early nineteenth-century New York City. The main paragraph of the page concludes: “In the peak seasons for food shopping, from around late spring through early fall, the public markets were beating faster: they pulled together all imaginable foodstuffs, attracting crowds of vendors and customers twice as large as during the winter, filling New York’s teeming neighborhoods with a cacophony of sounds and smells while also clogging the surrounding streets with increased traffic and waste.”

Indeed, time, or rather, the different rhythms of market trade and food shopping, including seasonal cycles, weekly and daily schedules, are the focus of chapter 3 in which page 99 is located. The chapter reconstructs how the public market model of the Early Republic determined the temporal dimensions of residents’ access to food supplies. Even more significant than time was the markets’ grip over the spatial dimensions of provisioning. Functioning as the privileged sites of the food trade, municipally managed and owned marketplaces supplied neighborhood dwellers across New York’s still compact geography. As an institutional setting and municipal infrastructure, they served to ensure fairness and equity in life’s necessities—at least, in theory. The underlying principle was that access to food was a public good to be sustained by the city government. Feeding Gotham presents a comprehensive economic, social and geographic history of how the public market system was developed and regulated, and how it functioned to provision New Yorkers.

Yet this is only the book’s first half, for the second half, in fact, the book’s main narrative, explores the subsequent era of deregulation. In the antebellum decades, access to food was redefined as a private good, left to free and unregulated markets. With liberalization, the public market system declined, private provision shops and street vendors of all kinds proliferated, and in general, food markets differentiated depending on the local customer base served. Further, with the city’s surrender of all regulatory oversight, food quality generally deteriorated, hurting especially the tenement poor who could only afford the cheapest provisions. In the emerging immigrant working-class metropolis of the 1850s, access to food became another source of structural inequality—part of the city’s increasingly stratified built and social environment, much like the better-studied resources of housing and sanitary provisions. Feeding Gotham reveals how the first iteration of an unequal geography of food access came about by the mid-nineteenth century to become a defining and enduring feature of the American city.
Learn more about Feeding Gotham at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 11, 2016

David Grinspoon's "Earth in Human Hands"

David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist, award-winning science communicator, and prize-winning author. He is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and Adjunct Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado. His research focuses on climate evolution on Earth-like planets and potential conditions for life elsewhere in the universe. He is involved with several interplanetary spacecraft missions for NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency. In 2013 he was appointed as the inaugural Chair of Astrobiology at the U.S. Library of Congress where he studied the human impact on Earth systems and organized a public symposium on the Longevity of Human Civilization.

Grinspoon applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Earth in Human Hands is in the section I call “The Worst Thing that Ever Happened”. This is part of my description of the different kinds of catastrophes that have befallen life on Earth. On this page I’m describing “the great dying”- the horrible mass extinction event 250 million years ago when all life was nearly completely wiped out, and our efforts to understand what it is that caused this disaster. I’m using this to put into perspective the changes happening right now on Earth, due to the combined actions of human beings. We have now become a geological force and we need to come to grips with that fact and learn how to conduct ourselves accordingly. I think it can help to see this in context with the other major changes our planet has gone through over the ages. That allows us to ask what is really new and different about this new age of human modification of the Earth, and this can inform the way we conduct ourselves on this planet in order to find a way to live sustainably. These are the central questions of my book.
Visit David Grinspoon's website.

Writers Read: David Grinspoon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 10, 2016

John Powers's "The Buddha Party"

John Powers is a Research Professor of Religious Studies in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and author of seventeen books including The Buddha Party: How China Works to Control Tibetan Buddhism and History As Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles Versus the People's Republic of China, and more than ninety articles.

Powers applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Buddha Party and reported the following:
The Buddha Party is a book about propaganda: its strategies, the worldview it tries to impose, and the ways in which it attempts to alter the way people think and believe. It’s also a book about how propaganda can successfully be resisted, even when it emanates from the world’s largest and best-funded propaganda apparatus, supported by the full coercive force of a totalitarian party-state. It focuses on the core aspects of how the People’s Republic of China attempts to surround the Tibetan people with a monolithic regime of truth. This regime is designed to fundamentally alter the content of their beliefs, but it has been strikingly unsuccessful despite more than sixty years of relentless pressure to conform.

Page 99 is part of a larger discussion of one of the more bizarre aspects of this program. The Chinese Communist Party—which is officially atheist and is dedicated to the eradication of religion—claims sole authority to appoint and recognize reincarnate lamas (tülku), despite an official rejection of the very possibility of rebirth. China claims a historical right to certify any reincarnation, and its laws are so comprehensive that they assert authority over tülkus in other countries. Only reincarnations born in China and given official recognition by Communist Party authorities are authentic. In a recent published list of tülkus, many who escaped China and now live overseas—most prominently the Dalai Lama—are excluded.

Page 99 discusses the strange case of the tenth Shamar Rinpoche, Chödrup Gyatso (1741/2–1792) who plotted with an invading army, hoping to gain a larger share of the estate of his deceased half-brother, the sixth Panchen Lama. The invaders sacked and looted Tashilhunpo Monastery, seat of the Panchen lamas, but Shamar was not cut in on the loot, and he was imprisoned. After he died in suspicious circumstances, recognition of his reincarnation was banned by government decree.

This incident, which was part of a pattern of abuse of the system by powerful families and factions, prompted reforms by the government, as well as interference from the Qianlong emperor (1711–1799). The emperor issued his own decrees, including one that ordered Tibetans to henceforth use lots placed in a golden urn to choose tülkus. One of the major debates between Tibetan exiles and the Chinese government concerns whether or not the urn was really ever the final determining factor in choosing reincarnations. China claims that it immediately became the sole legitimating factor, and Tibetan exiles deny that it was ever definitive and characterize it as a feeble attempt to influence Tibetan religion. To find out how the story ends, you’ll have to read the book.
Learn more about The Buddha Party at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Larrie D. Ferreiro's "Brothers at Arms"

Larrie D. Ferreiro received his PhD in the History of Science and Technology from Imperial College London. He teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over thirty-five years in the US Navy, US Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and was an exchange engineer in the French Navy. He is the author of Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World and Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800.

Ferreiro applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It, and reported the following:
In Brothers at Arms, I treat France and Spain as the inseparable alliance they truly were, and describe from their points of view the full extent and depth of their involvement in the American Cause. France and Spain, together, supported the War of American Independence before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, even before the Americans themselves knew that their revolution would lead to war. By the time that war had ended and America had secured its independence, France and Spain together had supplied over 90% of the guns used by the Americans, over $30 billion equivalent in aid and over 200,000 soldiers and sailors. In actual fact, the United States could never have won the war without France, and France could never have succeeded without Spain.

But the most important thing to remember is that France and Spain, although they helped the Americans in their war against Britain, were always acting in their own national interests. That’s true of any nation at any time, but Americans often lose sight of this when considering the Revolution. Page 99 clearly demonstrates this when describing the events shortly after France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance in February 1778, which brought France directly into the war with Britain:
A few weeks [after the signing of the treaty between France and America], Gérard invited the American commissioners to be presented before the king, in a short ceremony that nevertheless had enormous significance — when the Swiss Guards opened the doors at noon of March 20, they announced them as “the ambassadors of the Thirteen United Provinces,” the first official reference by a foreign power to America as a sovereign nation. Louis XVI assured them of his friendship with their government, while Vergennes praised their “wisest, most reserved conduct.”

Franklin and his delegation were justifiably proud of what they had achieved to date— first, an agreement to provide their new nation with arms and munitions, and second, a treaty allying their nation with France— but in actual fact they had had little influence over the course of those events. Vergennes’s initial decision to secretly arm the American insurgents was not due to Deane’s entreaties or Beaumarchais’s silver tongue, but instead to prevent Portugal from expanding its war with Spain onto the European continent. The French- American alliance was agreed to not so much because Saratoga was a great American victory, but rather because Vergennes had decided that their more numerous defeats, such as those at Long Island and Brandywine, demonstrated that despite their growing abilities, the insurgents were still likely to lose the war without direct intervention, and a reunited Britain was simply too dangerous to contemplate.
France’s foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, had been the driving force behind every major initiative taken by France during the war, but like any state leader worthy of the title, he would not commit his country to a war in support of a foreign power except when it furthered France’s own interests. France’s aims, first and foremost, were to use the war of American Independence as the means to weaken Britain politically and militarily, in order for France to regain its prominence in the European balance of power. By the same token, Spain would soon enter the war because it wanted to regain the territories, like Florida and Gibraltar, which it had lost to Britain in previous wars. Brothers at Arms shows that, from 1775 to 1783, the interests of France, Spain and America had converged against Britain, which allowed the United States to emerge victorious, not simply by its own deeds but rather as the centerpiece of an international coalition united against a common adversary.
Learn more about Brothers at Arms at the Knopf website.

My Book, The Movie: Brothers at Arms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Meghan K. Roberts's "Sentimental Savants"

Meghan K. Roberts is assistant professor of history at Bowdoin College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sentimental Savants: Philosophical Families in Enlightenment France, and reported the following:
If you open Sentimental Savants to page 99, you land smack in the dispute between Charles-Marie de La Condamine and M. Gaullard. La Condamine had long supported the practice of smallpox inoculation, which entailed taking live smallpox matter — that is, the pus from someone else’s pox — and inserting it into an otherwise healthy body, leading to a mild case of smallpox and lifelong immunity from the disease. La Condamine advocated this practice, which he reasoned would save thousands of lives. His critics, represented on this page by M. Gaullard, felt decidedly less sanguine. Gaullard worried that inoculation constituted a risk with no reward: he did not believe inoculated individuals would be immune from the disease. Eager to prove his case, Gaullard challenged La Condamine to submit to a public inoculation. This was an audacious request. As I write,
If La Condamine had chosen to experiment on his body of his own accord, that decision would speak to his confidence in inoculation and would also orient him within the collective group of thinkers who drew on their embodied experience as scientific evidence. Gaullard’s suggestion, however, had the air of a gauntlet thrown. If La Condamine did not experiment on himself, he would look like a charlatan and a coward.
What does this exchange reveal about the book as a whole? Well, you certainly get a sense of how heated and personal debates could be. These weren’t abstract intellectual issues; lives and reputations were on the line. But page 99 is missing a key element of the book: families. Because my book is shorter than the average academic tome, by the time you get to my page 99, you’re just a few pages away from the end of the third chapter and you’re more than halfway through the book. To really get to the heart of the chapter, and the book, you’ll need to go to pages 85-97, when I discuss philosophes inoculating their own children — sometimes with their own hands — so that they could write about their experience and provide public proof that inoculation was a safe and sound choice for parents to make. These intimate experiments represented a dramatic new way of engaging with the public. I sum up this discussion on page 97:
That thinkers would use their families in this way, rather than staging public demonstrations with unrelated individuals, was a bold expansion of intellectual authority into the realm of the domestic. Savants turned the tools of natural inquiry onto the domestic sphere — their domestic sphere— for the first time. They argued that scientific reasoning could and should influence parents’ decisions (as it did theirs). They turned both themselves and their children into ‘living proof’ that validated their ideas.
And that, I would say, nicely encapsulates what the book is about. But hey, page 97 is a pretty close to page 99!
Learn more about Sentimental Savants at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 5, 2016

Andrew Harding's "The Mayor of Mogadishu"

Andrew Harding is a British journalist and author. He has been living and working abroad as a foreign correspondent for the past 25 years. Since 1994 he has been working for BBC News.

Harding has been visiting Somalia since 2000, and was in Mogadishu during the height of the battle against the Islamist militants of Al Shabab and during the famine of 2011. He is one of the very few foreign journalists to have traveled into territory controlled by Al Shabab and met their commanders, or to have visited (twice) the pirate town of Eyl.

Harding applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia, and reported the following:
Perfect. Page 99 in the UK edition of The Mayor of Mogadishu is about a wonderful old black and white photograph [inset below; click to enlarge] showing seven young Somalis standing in a field somewhere in the countryside south of the capital city in 1974.

It’s one of those images that reveals itself slowly. The first time I saw it I simply registered the fact that the girl in the back row on the right was obviously Shamis, a key figure in the story I was trying to tell about the life of a Somali family caught up in their country’s spectacular unraveling.

But a few weeks later I looked again at the picture and noticed the girl sitting in front of Shamis. Like the key to a lock, the significance of the photograph was suddenly revealed.

The picture shows five schoolgirls (accompanied by two unidentified young men) on their first trip outside Mogadishu. They were part of a youth “army” dispatched by Somalia’s military dictator Siad Barre, to teach the country’s brand new script to nomads and villagers – a bold, ambitious attempt to drag the nation into the modern era.
.... kneeling in the front row is a girl who seems to have wandered in from another era altogether. Her black curly hair cascades – yes, that’s the right word – down past her right shoulder. She’s wearing a tunic over an elegant long-sleeved shirt and the most enormous, glamorous sunglasses that reflect the sun, the horizon, and a smudge that must be the photographer.

The girl with the curls is Samiya, and as she breaks into a half pout, half smile, the figures around her suddenly seem to catch a glint of that same city swagger. It’s as though everyone in the picture has just woken up, and my eye flits from languidly folded arms, to another fashionable pair of sunglasses, to a hint of flared trousers, to something in Shamis’s casual poise.

They’re “Beizani,” of course. The offspring of Mogadishu’s cosmopolitan elite might have been roughing it on their very first adventure, but they could still flaunt their Italian clothes and urban sophistication.
The photo captures what I hope is the spirit of my book – an attempt to look beyond the clichés about Somalia, and its wretched recent past, to explore the sort of country it once was, and still hopes to be. A while later, I Tweeted the photo with the caption “Meet the Kardashians.... of Somalia. Mogadishu’s bright young things back in 1974.”
Visit Andrew Harding's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Mayor of Mogadishu.

Writers Read: Andrew Harding.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Coll Thrush's "Indigenous London"

Coll Thrush is associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia, where he is also affiliated with UBC’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. Originally from the Seattle area, he lives in Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish territories.

Thrush applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire, and reported the following:
I like to think that every book has a soul. Mine has six, and one of them just happens to start on page 99. That page opens an account of an eleven-year-old boy from the Odawa nation of the Great Lakes who was taken to London as a war captive in 1761. There, his captor General George Townshend held the boy in his Craven Street home and used him as entertainment at evening affairs that included guests such as the famed poet Thomas Gray. Indeed, an account of one such soiree by Gray is the only archival evidence that the unnamed boy ever existed. What makes his story one of the souls of Indigenous London is its form: a free-verse poem built out of archival fragments.

Like the rest of the book, the poem aims to tell a story about Indigenous people who travelled to London, willingly or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Australia. Showing how the city has been bound up in Indigenous history from its very earliest efforts at colonialism, Indigenous London focuses on six “domains of entanglement”: knowledge, disorder, reason, ritual, discipline, and memory. In between the chapters sit six interludes, each focused on a different object: an obsidian mirror, a debtor’s petition, a lost museum, a hat factory, a notebook. In the Odawa boy’s case, the object is a pair of atlantes (human figures) holding up a memorial to Townshend’s brother Roger, both of which were modeled on the boy’s body. It is one of many instances in which London is marked by Indigenous presence and the workings of settler colonialism.

To be sure, though, Indigenous London is not solely the story of captives. It is also the story of Mohawk diplomats, Hawaiian royalty, Inuit medicine people, Aboriginal Australian cricketers, Mohegan missionaries, Maori sailors, and many others who came to the city for their own reasons and with surprisingly varied results. Unlike so many other narratives of the vanishing Indigenous, these are stories of survivance - even when the travellers never made it home, many are still remembered in descendant communities today. But for all its emphasis on Indigenous agency, Indigenous London also speaks to the trauma of empire. Written in a way that attempts to circumvent the detached prose of the academic, “Atlantes, 1761” suggests one answer to the question that closes the book: When did we become real human beings?
Learn more about Indigenous London at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 3, 2016

David Welky's "A Wretched and Precarious Situation"

David Welky is the author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, and other books. He is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas.

Welky applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier, and reported the following:
The early twentieth-century Crocker Land expedition is an oddity. Incredibly famous at the time, it has since been forgotten by all but a few specialists in Arctic history or in the history of exploration. That’s a shame, because it’s a great, twisty story with an incredible cast of characters.

The expedition revolved around the search for Crocker Land, a previously unknown continent that explorer Robert E. Peary spotted in the polar sea in 1906. Two of his disciples, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, organized a mission to determine the extent of Crocker Land. Becoming the first men to tread on a new continent – the last continent – would no doubt bring them eternal fame and glory. “It would be a fine thing for America if the discovery of Crocker Land could be placed to our credit as a nation,” Theodore Roosevelt said.

As is usually the case with such stories, nothing about the Crocker Land expedition worked out exactly as anticipated. A bid to solve “the last great geographical problem” devolved into a nightmare of shipwrecks, backstabbing, treachery, and even murder. These setbacks, along with the party’s long fight to survive in one of the world’s harshest environments, help drive A Wretched and Precarious Situation.

As luck would have it, page 99 of A Wretched and Precarious Situation catches the narrative at a pivotal moment. It is 9:00 a.m. on November 11, 1912. The party has not yet gone north. Donald MacMillan enters New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, which is sponsoring the expedition, to meet two new members of the team. Museum curator E. O. Hovey introduces geologist Elmer Ekblaw and Navy ensign Fitzhugh Green to both MacMillan and the reader.

There’s a lot happening on this page, and careful readers should sense some foreshadowing. Hovey has made an impulsive, imperious move by hiring two men with no Arctic experience without first consulting MacMillan, the supposed leader of the expedition. MacMillan himself struggles to appraise these new teammates, performing a poor imitation of his mentor Peary, who had a gift for capturing a person’s essence with a single glance. Ekblaw is stolid yet uninspiring. He hardly resembles the classic explorer-hero, indicating that he might face difficulties once the party heads north. Green, on the other hand, is handsome and witty, intelligent and inquisitive. Surely nothing could go wrong with this fine specimen, MacMillan concludes.

Sometimes first impressions can be misleading. As it turns out, none of these men are exactly as they seem, and all of them are in for some rough times. To find out more, read page 100 and beyond!
The Page 99 Test: The Thousand-Year Flood.

My Book, The Movie: A Wretched and Precarious Situation.

Writers Read: David Welky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 2, 2016

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix's "Beyond Earth"

Charles Wohlforth is a life-long Alaska resident and prize-winning author of more than ten books. He has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Sci­ence and Technology, among many other awards. Amanda R. Hendrix is a planetary scientist, worked for twelve years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She has been a scientific investigator on the Galileo and Lunar Reconnaissance missions, a principal investigator on NASA research and Hubble Space Telescope observing programs, and is the author of many scientific papers. As an investigator on the Cas­sini mission to Saturn, she has focused her research on the moons of Saturn.

Wohlforth applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Intelligence also evolved in numerous lineages on Earth, in animals as unrelated as the elephant, crow, and octopus, creatures with environments and needs that may be as different as those found on different planets. Intelligence would probably arise wherever life has a chance to bloom. As Vermeij said in an e-mail, “Intelligence, like many other traits, is a ‘basin of attraction,’ something so useful under so many circumstances that it is virtually certain to evolve, eventually.”

Musk has thought about all this and repeats Fermi’s disturbing question about it: Why haven’t we heard from anyone? If inhabited planets are all around us in the galaxy, then where are the spacefaring travelers, or even just the radio broadcasts, from all those planets? A habitable planet is probably less than nine light years away, where they would just be discovering Taylor Swift on radio waves from Earth about now.
The exercise of thinking about moving to another planet opens a vast intellectual territory for exploration. As I found with my co-author, planetary scientist Amanda Hendrix, the topic leads beyond space science and technology to politics, culture, evolution, ecology and even big questions about the fundamental nature of humanity.

In Beyond Earth, we created a thought experiment for readers, presenting our scenario for how a space colony could come to pass. Anyone can evaluate the scenario with the evidence we present to agree or disagree with the outcome we reach.

That’s the fun part. But the topic can also be spooky, as this page 99 passage suggests.

Geerat Vermeij of the University of California Davis, studied the machinery of evolution through organisms of the distant past (an amazing feat considering he has been blind since childhood). His conclusion about the likely ubiquity of intelligence suggests species as smart as ourselves should be present on a good number of the millions of habitable planets that we now know are orbiting other stars.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk is famously seeking to put a colony on Mars. Part of his drive comes from an observation Enrico Fermi made decades ago, that if intelligence is everywhere, then it is odd that we haven’t yet heard from anyone living out there. Musk suspects that the reason no aliens have called or visited is because they perished long ago. Perhaps, the reasoning goes, evolution inevitably leads civilizations to destroy themselves before they can move beyond their home planets. Musk hopes to give our species an escape hatch.

But Amanda and I came to another conclusion. To us, it seems equally likely that intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe are too different from us to communicate. They may not want to be in touch. In fact, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, an organization that has been scanning the skies for decades, still isn’t powerful enough to detect radio waves from a world just like ours.

One of the key lessons of our research informing Beyond Earth is the necessity for humility. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that also means we have a lot of interesting discoveries ahead of us.
Visit Charles Wohlforth's website and Facebook page, and learn more about Amanda R. Hendrix.

The Page 99 Test: The Fate of Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Philippe Girard's "Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life"

Philippe Girard is a professor of history at McNeese State in Louisiana and the author of four books on Haitian history. A native of the Caribbean, he studied in France and the United States. In 2014, he was a research fellow at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University.

Girard applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life, and reported the following:
Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life retraces the life of the leader of the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave revolt in world history. He was possibly the most significant person of African descent ever, yet there has been no modern scholarly biography of him in English until now. The reason is simple: he was an incredibly complicated figure who obscured his innermost thoughts.

When opening the book at page 99, I was taken aback at first: this happens to be one of a handful of pages in the book that doesn’t mention Toussaint Louverture by name! The chapter covers the early months of the French Revolution in 1789, when some white planters toyed with the idea of declaring Haiti’s independence from France. Louverture was still unknown at the time: he had obtained his freedom but he remained on the plantation of his former master, where he worked as a muleteer and a coachman. None of the leading white colonists of Haiti mentioned him in the debates raging in 1789, and so he is barely mentioned in the chapter.

On second thought, however, page 99 does say a lot about Toussaint Louverture, a man who often hid his agenda and preferred to act behind the scenes. Though he did not take part in the political disputes described in the chapter, he must have followed them closely since he lived a couple miles outside Haiti’s main city and often traveled there for work. Louverture was doing what the reader does: he was following the course of events while wondering how long it would take for Haiti’s slaves to revolt. He was in the shadows, taking note of the growing political instability and educating himself on the ideals of the French Revolution, while plotting his next move. This was a key moment in his life, when he had to decide whether to put behind his past as an obedient plantation worker and start a new life as a revolutionary leader.

We learn of his decision ten pages later, when Louverture reappears in the narrative as the mastermind of the great Haitian slave revolt of August 1791. This carefully organized revolt eventually involved 500,000 slaves, one thousand times more than the largest slave revolt in US history. On page 99, Toussaint Louverture was on the cusp of altering the course of history.
Learn more about Toussaint Louverture at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: Toussaint Louverture.

--Marshal Zeringue