Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Helene Stapinski's "Murder in Matera"

Helene Stapinski began her career at her hometown newspaper, The Jersey Journal. She is the author of the memoirs Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music. Her essays have appeared in several anthologies, most recently, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up. Stapinski has also written extensively for The New York Times, for Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Salon, Real Simple, New York magazine and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and blogs. She’s been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show and as a performer with The Moth main stage.

Stapinski applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Murder In Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a turning point in the book. After ten years, I finally decide to return to Southern Italy and take another stab at finding the family murder, the first crime we know of from the 1800s. I had gone ten years earlier, but couldn't find the story, primarily because I had my four year old and one year old with me. Doing serious research with small children is impossible. Once the children were grown, I decided to go back. Alone. For a month. And this passage describes everything I had to do to prepare for re-entry.

The page starts mid sentence. As if getting ready to give birth, for the next eight months "...I prepped and researched and hunkered down for the blessed event." This is a perfect line to hit on, since much of the book deals with motherhood and genetics: Whether or not crime is passed down through genes (my family has a long history of crime). What a mother will do to protect her children and escape a place like Bernalda (like my great great grandmother, Vita did after the murder). Even the name of the book (and the province in which it takes place) is derived from the word Mater -- which means mother.

The page ends with me telling my mother I'm going back to Southern Italy. "I could hear the disapproval and worry in her voice. What kind of Italian mother left her kids behind for a month? Now I was slightly sickened by the thought. I didn't eat on the day of my departure, though the refrigerator and freezer were crammed..."

Whenever I leave home, whether it's for a weekend or several weeks, I feel compelled to cook large vats of sauce and meatballs, bake lasagnas and freeze stews, soups and various family favorites. My family makes fun of me, but whenever I come back home, everything is eaten. Everything.
Visit Helene Stapinski's website.

Writers Read: Helene Stapinski.

My Book, The Movie: Murder In Matera.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Steven Weitzman's "The Origin of the Jews"

Steven Weitzman is the Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures and Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom and Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity.

Weitzman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 registers an important transition point in the book. To explain, let me offer a few words about the book’s larger goals.

Many Jews—and Christians too— assume they know how the Jews originated. The story of the Jews, we are taught, begins with the story of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Over the last 3 centuries or so, however, scholars have come to challenge that narrative, just as scientists challenged the biblical account of creation. I realized that no one had pulled all the research together into a single account, and bringing the reader into all that research was my main objective in this book.

But I had another goal too. One reason it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the Jews is that it isn’t exactly clear what an origin is, and that fascinated me. Origins are like time—the more one thinks about them, the more puzzling they become. I saw this project as a chance to think about what origins are and how scholars go about finding them.

Page 99 comes at the end of a chapter called “Roots and Rootlessness” which explores how scholars have tried to use linguistics—and more specifically the root letters of the word “Hebrew”—to retrieve the pre-biblical ancestors from which the Israelites are thought to have originated. Scholars would go on to use other methods to investigate the origin of the Jews—archaeology, psychology, genetics—but etymology, the search for the origin of names, was one of the first to be applied to the question.

If the use of “linguistic paleontology” to understand the origin of the Jews wasn’t entirely successful in the end, it is not just because there was so little evidence to work with but also because many scholars have turned away from the concept of origin that informed this kind of research, a kind of genealogical thinking that aims to explain the characteristics of a living people by tracing it back to a distant ancestor who is thought to have bequeathed his qualities to all his descendants. Page 99 is part of a description of how this method has fallen into disfavor, and what it illustrates is how earlier scholars’ optimism about their ability to recover origins—linguistic and ethnological—has given way to skepticism about origins and about the kind of scholarship that claims to be able to retrieve it.
Learn more about The Origin of the Jews at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 29, 2017

Benjamin Heber Johnson's "Escaping the Dark, Gray City"

Benjamin Heber Johnson is Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago and the co-editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. His books include Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans (2003) and Bordertown: Odyssey of an American Place (2008).

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Escaping the Dark, Gray City: Fear and Hope in Progressive-Era Conservation, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Dana Bartlett’s Los Angeles, like most American cities, and perhaps even more so, did not follow his advice. Private property, not a municipal plan or government, determined the metropolis’s explosive growth in subsequent decades. City fathers set aside very little park space. Later generations of the very Angelenos on whose behalf Bartlett labored so much—its recently arrived immigrants, congregating in the urban core, out of easy reach of the beach and mountain retreats—ended up the most deprived of regular contact with the larger rhythms of nature. The Los Angeles River, which Bartlett and other conservationists envisioned as a key public space and environmental amenity became, in the nature writer Jennifer Price’s words, “an outsize open sewer that carved a no-man’s-land through many of the city’s most fragmented and park-starved areas.”
The burying of a once vibrant vision of urban environmental reform is the subject of page 99 of my book. In the late twentieth century, the city of Los Angeles had become the epitome of many of the nation’s environmental ills. Chained to their cars and highways, Angelenos drowned in smog, with the city’s poor out of reach of the beach and mountain retreats available to the wealthy.

It wasn’t always so. Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test works for my book, more or less, because one of its main ambitions is to show how powerful urban conservation was in early twentieth century cities, including Los Angeles. Page 99 is the downbeat to a more optimistic take on the conservation movement. Many of us remember Gifford Pinchot and John Muir as the apostles of environmental enlightenment in this period, but who has heard of Dana Bartlett or Mira Lloyd Dock? The Reverend Dana Bartlett, a prominent civic leader in the Los Angeles of the 1910s and 20s, was a remarkable environmental thinker and activist who urged the city’s leaders to mandate extensive parks and playgrounds so that that all of the city’s residents had access to nature. He wanted the Los Angeles river to be a ribbon connecting the city and giving citizens a sense of a shared place and purpose.

Bartlett’s plans, like many Progressive measures, ran headlong into the power of real estate interests, as described on this page. Looking at what L.A. became decades later, it was easy to forget that it had been a seedbed of innovative environmental ideas. But decades later, as health and environmental conditions became intolerable – and the Los Angeles river became a huge open sewer whose only purpose seemed to be the filming of iconic chase scenes from Greased Lightning and Terminator -- local environmental activists began proposing many of the same measures.

Today, as efforts to meet such environmental challenges as climate change are again stymied by vested economic interests, perhaps excavating this past can help us understand our current predicament.
Learn more about Escaping the Dark, Gray City at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pierre-André Chiappori's "Matching with Transfers"

Pierre-André Chiappori is the E. Rowan and Barbara Steinschneider Professor of Economics at Columbia University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Matching with Transfers: The Economics of Love and Marriage, and reported the following:
From page 99:
A striking feature of historical matching patterns is that even when traditional households are the dominant form of household organization, we do not observe strong negative assortative matching patterns. One possible explanation is that domestic production includes not only simple chores, but also raising children, and the parents’ human capital stocks are important inputs in the latter process. Such a feature may actually restore positive assortative matching; I will come back later to this very important issue.
This excerpt from page 99 of the book summarizes one of the main issues I discuss, namely the links between the economic role of the family and the matching patterns observed on what economists call the ‘marriage market’. Back in the 70s, the dominant model of family organization was based on strict specialization, one spouse (usually the husband) being the breadwinner and working full time on the labor market while the other specializes in domestic work. The explosion of this ‘traditional’ model is due to several causes, from technological progress in domestic production (what some economists have called ‘engines of liberation’, from the dishwasher to the microwave) to the spectacular increase in female education (in the recent generations, more women than men receive a university degree). In the book, I argue that another factor plays a crucial role in explaining recent evolutions – namely, the increased importance of education and human capital in modern societies. While fertility has always been a major motivation for family formation, the level of time, effort and resources spent on children’s education, especially at the top of the income distribution, is unprecedented.

Our models predict that this evolution should result in a higher tendency to marry ‘assortatively’ (i.e., a spouse with a similar level of human capital), particularly for educated people. This prediction is well supported by the data, although the empirical evaluation of these effects is technically challenging; actually, a significant part of the book is devoted to such methodological issues. Importantly, it raises the risk of an ‘inequality spiral’, whereby children from a privileged background receive more and better education, intermarry, and invest massively in their own children’s human capital, generating even more inequality (in income, in human capital, and more importantly in opportunities) for the next generation. It also points to the importance of early interventions: a policy aimed at reducing inequality should primarily provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds with better support during the first years of their life.
Learn more about Matching with Transfers at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Claire D. Clark's "The Recovery Revolution"

Claire D. Clark is an assistant professor of Behavioral Science in the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky, secondarily appointed in the Department of History, and associated with the Program for Bioethics. Dual trained as an historian of medicine (PhD) and behavioral scientist (MPH), today she spends most of her time integrating these disciplinary perspectives into health professions education.

Clark's research explores the contested medicalization of socially unacceptable behaviors over time. Her first book, The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States, traces therapeutic community activists' influence on addiction treatment since the 1960s.

Clark applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Recovery Revolution and reported the following:
The Recovery Revolution describes how a group of self-described "ex-addicts" helped build the addiction treatment industry beginning in the 1960s. Before the treatment revolution, therapeutic options for drug addiction were limited to a few hospitals and correctional facilities. Revolutionaries helped create a controversial peer-led treatment model called the "therapeutic community." They attracted powerful supporters in both business and government, and their moral treatment philosophy had an outsized influence on the treatment system that developed in the decades that followed.

Essentially, the book argues that although a radical change in addiction treatment was necessary in the 1960s, these ex-addict revolutionaries made a kind of Faustian bargain in order to accomplish their goal: their successful campaigns for new treatment options reinforced dehumanizing stereotypes about people who used drugs- stereotypes that recovery activists today are still struggling to transcend.

Page 99 of the book describes a schism that occurred at the therapeutic community Daytop in 1968. Some of the organization's members wanted to expand the community's mission from drug treatment to leftist social revolution, and the organization split along political lines. The upheaval was historically significant for a couple reasons. First, many of the ex-addicts who left Daytop founded other therapeutic communities and contributed to the spread of the therapeutic model. Second, the way Daytop reigned in leftist radicalism in 1968 foreshadows how the politics of the therapeutic community model would come to be associated with social conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s.
Visit Claire D. Clark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Christopher J. Fuller's "See It/Shoot It"

Christopher J. Fuller is lecturer in modern American history in the faculty of humanities at the University of Southampton.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program, and reported the following:
Opening up to page 99 drops the reader straight into one of the many controversial debates around U.S. counterterrorism policy covered in the book. It explores the aftermath of Operation El Dorado Canyon, an American bombing raid launched against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in retaliation for his connection to the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin frequented by U.S. service personnel in 1986.

The Reagan administration’s use of a large-scale bombing raid was controversial for a number of reasons. First, despite his tough rhetoric, the bombing marked the first time Reagan had directly authorized the use of military force in retaliation for a terrorist attack. This decision is still significant today as it marks the first time the United States shifted from treating terrorism as a criminal offense to a matter of national security.

Second, as the page reveals, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later uncovered evidence that members of Reagan’s National Security Council (NSC) had ordered the U.S. Air Force bombers to target Gaddafi’s personal residence in an attempt to kill the Libyan dictator. In targeting a head of state, the Reagan administration had technically acted in breach of international law, and Reagan’s own Executive Order 12333 (EO12333). A restatement of Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 11905, signed in the aftermath of the Church Committee’s investigations into CIA wrongdoing, Reagan’s order barred U.S. forces from engaging in any act that could be construed as political assassination. EO12333 is still in place today, although the United States’ counterterrorism efforts have long since evolved legally, with the U.S. authorizing targeted killings of members of terrorist groups based upon the state of non-international armed conflict America now argues it is in. This reveals that while the counterterrorism objective has very much remained the same – the elimination of terrorist leaders and their sponsors – the legal language and approach to this has become significantly more nuanced.

The final point of continued relevance covered on page 99 is the reason Gaddafi survived. Despite the aggression of launching a bombing raid on Libya’s capital, the United States went to significant lengths to try to limit civilian casualties. The bombers were fitted with state of the art laser-guidance systems — a precursor to the precision strike technology utilized for today’s drone strikes. On the night of the raid, these systems malfunctioned on four of the nine aircraft tasked with attacking Gaddafi’s compound. As the Rules of Engagement — written to limit collateral damage — stated any aircraft that was not 100 percent functional was to be withdrawn, these bombers never dropped their payloads, and Gaddafi’s compound was spared the sixteen two-thousand pound bombs they carried. Post-strike photography revealed a line of craters leading right to his home. Had the additional munitions been employed it is unlikely the dictator would have survived. In the end, the very technology designed to allow the U.S. to more accurately eliminate its foes saved Gaddafi’s life. Furthermore, despite these efforts the raid still killed dozens of Libyan civilians, revealing the enduring problem of utilizing military tools against terrorists who hide among innocent citizens.

It is apt that page 99 discusses the Gadaffi raid. As this book goes on to reveal, the failure of this raid, and the high collateral damage it incurred played a key role in inspiring the CIA to seek a more precise method of eliminating those responsible for prosecuting terrorism against the United States. That pursuit would eventually inspire the very technology that would evolve into the armed drones that have become so integral to the United States continued pursuit of security against terrorist threats.
Learn more about See It/Shoot It at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wayne Franklin's "James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years"

Wayne Franklin is professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His biography James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title in 2008 by the AAUP and Choice magazine.

Franklin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years, and reported the following:
This page in James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years concerns an episode during Cooper’s European sojourn (1826-1833). After producing six books in as many years in New York, Cooper had gone abroad as the first internationally famous American novelist. Almost against his better judgment, he soon became entangled in the tumultuous politics of post-Napoleonic Europe. At this particular moment in the story (December 1830), he has just arranged a “grand dinner” among his fellow ex-pats in Paris to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette’s seemingly triumphant role in a political uprising that began late the previous July and promised welcome liberal reforms for France. Cooper’s toast to Lafayette was unusually warm. Having specified the services Lafayette had performed not only for France but also for the U.S. during its own Revolution, the novelist proclaimed that his countrymen of course had deep respect and admiration for the idealistic nobleman. But their feelings went deeper. “Gentlemen,” Cooper added with an unusual show of public affection, “we love him.” Almost immediately, as Cooper’s report to a New York newspaper continued, the eighty Americans present jumped to their feet as if they “had but one soul and delivered nine such cheers as have rarely been heard within the walls of Paris.” When the uproar subsided, Cooper said, “Yes, gentlemen, and we have reasons to love him,” and once more the assembly burst into loud applause. The elation, though, was to be short-lived. Within a few days, the new monarch whom Lafayette had helped place at the head of a hopeful new republican state, the seemingly liberal Louis Philippe, dismissed the old statesman from his role as head of the National Guard and cynically tightened his own hands on the reins of power. The latest French revolution thus came to an ignominious end.
Learn more about James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years at the Yale University Press website.

Writers Read: Wayne Franklin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Daniel Brückenhaus's "Policing Transnational Protest"

Daniel Brückenhaus is Assistant Professor of History at Beloit College. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe, 1905-1945, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of how, in 1919 and 1920, French officials decided to send secret agents into Germany, to observe the political activities of Cameroonian immigrants living there. The French were especially worried about one of these Cameroonians, Martin Dibobe. As an informant had told them, Dibobe had agreed to a deal with the German government to carry out an anti-French campaign in his African home country. A former German colony, most of Cameroon had just been given to France as a League of Nations mandate after the German defeat in World War I.

This story brings together several main themes of my book. First, it shows the high level of pro-colonial surveillance in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Second, it illustrates the fact that much of this surveillance was carried out across inner-European borders, often as a result of anti-colonial activists moving from one European country to the next.

Third, the events described on page 99 also illuminate the importance of French fears of Germans (and communists) secretly steering the growing anti-colonial movements directed against the Western empires. However, as becomes clear in the book, French officials severely under-estimated the agency of activists such as Dibobe. It was true that Dibobe had been in touch with the German government. However, it was in fact him who had initiated contact with the German authorities; and in return for his offer of carrying out pro-German propaganda he had made wide-ranging demands. These included the promise of reforms in Cameroon if it were to return to German rule, which would have given Africans a status much more equal to that of Europeans living in the colony, including them being accepted as Germans. Far from mere German puppets, Dibobe and other African activists therefore negotiated their national allegiances in independent and strategic ways.

Over time, the Cameroonians, disappointed with the German authorities’ unwillingness to acknowledge them as Germans, increasingly turned to a more radical, left-wing form of anti-colonialism. As described in later chapters of the book, they sometimes cooperated with organizations such as the League Against Imperialism, founded in 1927, which had its headquarters in Berlin. In the German capital, they worked together with local Indian and Egyptian activists in developing an inherently cosmopolitan vision of fighting colonialism on a global scale, and thus helped lay the foundations for the world-wide wave of decolonization after 1945.
Learn more about Policing Transnational Protest at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Peter S. Ungar's "Evolution’s Bite"

Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Cerling was an undergraduate majoring in geology and chemistry at Iowa State University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The geology department there at the time was on the rise, with a fresh infusion of creative and energetic young scholars like Carl Vondra, who studied the accumulation of sediments at fossil hominin sites. And the chemistry department was keen on students double majoring. Harry Svec, an alumnus of the Manhattan Project, was at the time pioneering new approaches to combining chemistry and geology. Cerling took full advantage of the opportunities that Iowa State had to offer and managed to score an invitation to help map sediments on the eastern shore of Kenya’s Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana). The hominin fossil rush in eastern Africa was starting to heat up, and there was much to do to understand the geology of the new sites. What he learned in those early years about geochemistry and tracing deposits across the landscape would serve him well into the future.

Cerling continued to work in Kenya through the 1970s during his graduate school years at Berkeley. His passion was the chemistry of sediments, and he began to collect the popcorn-like calcium carbonate nodules that accumulated over time at the sites. He spent months each year walking the deposits, gathering samples from each of the layers that had produced fossil hominins. It was blistering work, tracing layers of rock and sediment mile after mile, day after day, across the hot and dusty badlands on the eastern edge of the lake. The search took him up, down, and around erosional gullies and barren hills broken only by the occasional bush or acacia tree. I’ve always been jealous of geologists who can look out over a desolate landscape and see the past. Rocks and dirt become ancient streambeds, river deltas, and lake shorelines in their mind’s eye. Cerling knew exactly where to sample.
Page 99 of Evolution’s Bite presents the story of Thure Cerling, an important figure in paleoclimate research. He is a founding father of the use of chemical signatures in soils to reconstruct past environments. And his work provided pivotal evidence used to trace the spread of savannas across eastern Africa millions of years ago. This helps us understand the conditions under which our hominin ancestors evolved, those that triggered human origins.

Is page 99 representative of Evolution’s Bite as a whole? Yes and no. The book starts with the premise that we hold in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. The basic idea is that we can use teeth, living and fossil, along with an understanding of climate variation over deep time and how animals earn a living from their surroundings, to understand how a changing world made us human. It begins with the earliest mammals, during the age of the dinosaurs, and takes the reader from milestone to milestone -- our early, apish ancestors, the first humans, the origins of agriculture.

The text on page 99 has nothing to do with teeth and it has nothing to do with human evolution per se. But it does provide a piece to the puzzle. Evolution’s Bite builds the case, bit by bit, bringing together evidence from paleontology, primatology, climate research, archaeology, and myriad other disciplines. And it brings the tale to life through the stories of the scientists, and by peering over their shoulders as they made the discoveries that gave us the knowledge we have today.
Learn more about Evolution's Bite at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

James Mark Shields's "Against Harmony"

James Mark Shields is Associate Professor of Comparative Humanities and Asian Thought at Bucknell University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against Harmony: Progressive and Radical Buddhism in Modern Japan, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Against Harmony begins mid-quote, as follows: “[If] these things make up what is called ‘Buddhism’, then it is an ‘old Buddhism’ that is on the verge of death.” This, very succinctly, catches the critical and rhetorical spirit of the New Buddhist Fellowship, one of the early twentieth-century progressive Buddhist movements discussed in my book. However, it also points to the fact that the so-called New Buddhists were actually recapitulating a discourse about Buddhist “decadence” that had been around in Japan for several centuries, and was increasingly wielded against Buddhism by secular modernist and Shinto nationalist critics alike.

This line of argument, in turn, has clear roots in the Protestant Reformation: the New Buddhists self-consciously styled themselves after Luther and Calvin in their protest against the “abuses” and “mystifications” of the Buddhist clergy and still-powerful monastic institutions. And yet, while largely content with a moderate, liberal, even “bourgeois” reformism, New Buddhist rhetoric opened up more radical possibilities—some of which would come to fruition in later, revolutionary movements such as the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism of the early 1930s. Here the language of “protest” bleeds into Marxist critiques of not only institutional religion, but of all forms of transcendental, otherworldly aspiration. This is where Buddhism becomes thoroughly secularized, and fixed onto what are clearly materialist premises.

What are the implications of this attempt to merge the Buddha and Marx (or Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy)? It certainly raises the value of poverty and injustice as key aspects of “suffering” (duhkha)—the liberation from which must always be the end game for Buddhism, in all its many forms. More particularly, I suggest it may help contemporary Buddhists (or contemporary Westerners interested in Buddhism) resist the creeping impact of neoliberalism, with its pernicious assumptions regarding the “self,” “rights” and “autonomy”—assumptions that may superficially resonate with Buddhist concerns. On the other hand, Buddhist insights into the danger of too-rigid adherence to “ideas,” coupled with a near-absolute commitment to compassionate action, may provide new ways of looking at Marxist and anarchist strategies for individual and social liberation. Perhaps we can find new resonance between Marx’s dictum about the necessity of philosophers “changing the world” and the reputed final words of the Buddha, to recognize change, while remaining “vigilant.”
Learn more about Against Harmony at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jon Lewis's "Hard-Boiled Hollywood"

Jon Lewis is the Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at Oregon State University. He is the author of twelve books and the former editor Cinema Journal.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles, and reported the following:
Page 99 attends one of the many scandals discussed in the book -- the doomed romance between the movie star Lana Turner and the mobster Johnny Stompanato. At this point in the story, we see how the gossip columnists Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, and Louella Parsons and fellow celebrities like Gloria Swanson viewed the story. Hard-Boiled Hollywood tracks how, accompanying the demise of the studio system, paths crossed in postwar Hollywood -- how various subcultures; here, actors and mobsters, overlapped and intermingled, frequently with tragic results. At this point in that narrative, we see how the gossip industry exploited the complex and fraught relationships between various types or styles of media celebrities. Key and apparent on this page is the complex role of gossip in this era as a policing discourse, as a way to not only reign in celebrity excess but as well to cast such excess as un-American at a moment when that term was rather loaded with meaning and consequence.
Learn more about Hard-Boiled Hollywood at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Richard E. Ocejo's "Masters of Craft"

Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork and author of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.

Ocejo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, and reported the following:
My book is about traditionally low-status manual labor jobs that have been transformed into “cool” taste-making occupations that many young people want to do as careers. I studied cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers. I structured the book into two parts with four chapters each. Each chapter in Part I discusses a different job, workplace, and industry, while the chapters in Part II combine them under different themes. Page 99 is from Chapter 3, which is the chapter on barbers. This particular page is part of a longer episode at the barbershop, and it is certainly an important part of the chapter. And interestingly, the more I think about it, the more I can see how it is somewhat representative of a specific argument of the book.

Out of context, the action on page 99 is very simple: a barber greets his regular client, they start talking about food and restaurants, other barbers join in, and the conversation shifts to movies, while the barber regularly stops cutting hair to chat face-to-face with his client. It sounds like a typical scene in a barbershop, specifically one that serves as a social gathering place of some sort. African American and ethnic barbershops come to mind.

But what makes this episode interesting is how rare it is for the shops I studied. Upscale men’s barbershops have opened in hip, gentrifying neighborhoods for culturally savvy and professional men to achieve a cool style. They deliberately model themselves on traditional barbershops, like black barbershops, to be havens for men to be men. They want community and socializing, but they rarely get it. Most of the clients travel from outside the neighborhood and are in and out. The barbers, however, provide the social atmosphere: they regularly have loud group conversations with each other, which entertain clients, who do not participate. In this episode, the client happens to be African American, and, for whatever reason, whenever he comes in to get his hair cut, the shop becomes the communal place the owners originally intended it to be.

I think these shops are fascinating examples of how young, well-to-do urbanites consume examples of traditional working-class and “lowbrow” culture, which is an important theme in my book. This episode really shows it in action.
Learn more about Masters of Craft at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Upscaling Downtown.

My Book, The Movie: Masters of Craft.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jenna Weissman Joselit's "Set in Stone"

Jenna Weissman Joselit is the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History as well as the former Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at The George Washington University; she now directs two graduate programs in Jewish cultural arts. She holds a B.A. from Barnard College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Weissman Joselit is a frequent contributor to several publications including The New Republic and Gastronomica. Her column for the Forward ran for sixteen years. She now contributes a monthly column to Tablet.

Her books include The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History in 1995, and she has authored more than 70 articles and reviews.

Weissman Joselit applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Set in Stone: America's Embrace of the Ten Commandments, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford would be pleased. Page 99 of my brand new book does reflect one of its central themes: the ways in which the Ten Commandments once unified the nation. Today they’re a source of dissension and internal conflict. But for much of American history, they brought people together. The ancient biblical code, I write, was a “symbol of commonality,” especially in the wake of World War II. At a time when the notion of the Judeo-Christian tradition began to take flight, the Ten Commandments “served handily as its visual companion.”

In his 1955 manifesto of America’s “cultural oneness,” Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in Religious Sociology, Will Herberg argued that each of the three faith traditions cherished the same ‘spiritual values, the spiritual values American democracy is presumed to stand for.’ That Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism valued the Ten Commandments proved his point, highlighting what they had in common and bringing them closer to one another – and into the fold.

Their widespread use by American Jews of the 1950s and early 1960s was no accident. In affixing the two tablets to the synagogue’s exterior, where they functioned much like an oversized mezuzah, or better yet, as a giant exclamation point – we belong! – the synagogue declared itself as much an American institution as the meetinghouse or the parish church, a place where Judaism and Americanism came together as a unified whole. A deliberate visual strategy, the prominent positioning of the Ten Commandments defined Jewish space in familiar American terms, even as it celebrated, once again, the transformation of this age-old covenant into the stuff of common ground.
Learn more about Set in Stone at the Oxford University Press website and at Jenna Weissman Joselit's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Carol Dyhouse's "Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire"

Carol Dyhouse is Professor (Emeritus) of History at the University of Sussex. She has written extensively about the social history of women, gender, and education. Her recent publications include Glamour: Women, History, Feminism (2011) and Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (2013). She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and in 2004 she was awarded an honorary D.Litt from the University of Winchester in recognition of her work on history and education.

Dyhouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, and reported the following:
Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire looks at men through the eyes of women. It has a lot to say about the influence of fairy-tale romance and fantasy, particularly the story of Cinderella. Walt Disney’s animated cartoon version of Cinderella premiered in 1950 and was a big hit in the postwar world. In England, young girls’ dreams of meeting Prince Charming were amplified by the glittery spectacle of a royal wedding and the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth, who, though hardly Cinderella, wore a dress to die for and arrived at the abbey in a golden coach. In the United States, a romantic comic book series launched with the title Cinderella Love. Cosmetics manufacturers introduced lipstick in a ‘Cinderella’s pumpkin’ shade of orange. In such and so many ways, culture patterns our dreams.

By the 1980s, social change and the rise of feminism had diluted the appeal of the Cinderella story and a new kind of irony crept into representations of her Prince. On page 99 of Heartthrobs I describe British pop star Adam Ant’s performance as Prince Charming in his hugely successful music video of 1981. He poses first as a masculine Cinderella, vulnerable in a grubby singlet, before being transformed by his fairy godmother into a sexily trussed-up and dandified Hussar. Arriving at the ball in a sleek, low-bodied sports car, he struts towards a mirror wearing tight, silver-leather breeches. There’s a hypnotic drumbeat. He dashes the mirror to pieces. Shots of the star posing as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper and Rudolph Valentino’s Sheik represent the shards from which this picture of desirable maleness was composed. The performance unpicks cultural representations of gender, showing masculinity as both cocky and vulnerable, as haunted by a fear of female voraciousness (the ugly sisters chomp on heart-shaped chocolates), and as needing to overcome ridicule. It is oddly profound, and both men and women found it appealing.

My page 99, then, suggests changing templates of desirable masculinity, reflected through a cultural hall of mirrors: a fair clue, I think, to what this book is about.
Learn more about Heartthrobs at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Naomi Haynes's "Moving by the Spirit"

Naomi Haynes is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She is coeditor of the Current Anthropology special issue The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions and of the Social Analysis special issue Hierarchy, Values, and the Value of Hierarchy. She is also co-curator of the Anthropology of Christianity Bibliographic Blog.

Haynes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…Bana Mfuwe had persevered despite these difficulties, she explained, and had ultimately experienced a breakthrough. The women listened attentively as she spoke of how her husband had welcomed her back into the home and no longer stood in the way of her religious practice, but instead allowed her to host meetings at their house. And not only that; he also gave her money for household expenses, bought her gifts, and—notably—called her ‘Sweetie’.
This bit of ethnographic detail, excerpted from a larger testimony-cum-sermon that I recorded during my fieldwork with Pentecostal believers on the Zambian Copperbelt, speaks to the broader argument of my book, Moving by the Spirit. My primary claim in this monograph is that Pentecostal Christianity offers a set of social and cultural frames that make life in urban Zambia possible. More specifically, Pentecostalism allows believers to “move,” as people on the Copperbelt put it – to advance according to multiple, overlapping metrics of achievement, whether socioeconomic status, professional development, or through lifecycle milestones like marriage or parenthood. To this list, Pentecostalism also adds spiritual achievement, perhaps in an improved capacity to pray, sing, or prophesy. Pentecostal adherence does this because it embeds believers in networks of relationships that propel them forward along these various axes. Of these various relationships, the most important is unquestionably a layperson’s connection to her pastor, whose superior spiritual (and in some cases economic and social) status means that he or she is able to help a believer move by pulling her up. This is why the testimony that Bana Mfuwe gave, including the details of her happy marriage, was so important. By sharing how she had “moved” on to enjoy, among other things, such a good relationship with her husband, Bana Mfuwe presented herself as someone capable of effecting similar transformations for others. By building relationships with church leaders like Bana Mfuwe, then, believers “move by the Spirit,” and in so doing seek to make a good social and material life for themselves and their families.
Learn more about Moving by the Spirit at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 8, 2017

David R. Montgomery's "Growing A Revolution"

David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies how erosion shapes topography and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. An author of award-winning popular-science books, he has been featured on NPR, BBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera America, and Fox News programs, as well as in documentary films. When not writing or doing geology he plays guitar and piano in the band Big Dirt.

Montgomery applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, and reported the following:
“If tillage was good at eliminating weeds, all the weeds in the U.S. and Canada would be gone by now.”

Weeds. Farmers hate them. Gardeners do too. But that’s what page 99 of Growing A Revolution is all about.

The book tells the story of how a growing movement in which farmers are forgoing conventional practices and ditching the plow, planting cover crops and diversifying their crop rotations. Why are they doing this? To rebuild fertile soil on their farms. These are not back to the land types. They are, or were, conventional farmers who found a better way to do things. This new system works for them because they make more money by growing as much and paying for less diesel, fertilizer, and pesticides.

Page 99 finds us in South Dakota talking with Dwayne Beck about weeds. Plowing them up is the time-honored, conventional way to suppress weeds. But that’s something Beck won’t do. He’s seen what tillage does to the soil. When the 1930s drought hit freshly plowed fields in the region the native prairie no longer held the soil and high winds lofted great clouds of black earth skyward. Beck led a decades-long effort to adopt no-till farming and stop the soil from blowing.

Beck didn’t stop innovating after adopting no-till methods. He experimented with cover crops and diversifying crop rotations and found that by so doing he improved his soil and could control weeds and pests and thereby reduce fertilizer and pesticide use. Beck’s farm was my first stop on a journey to visit soil-building farms in Ghana, Costa Rica, and across North America. The farmers I met showed me how reshaping agriculture around practices that build healthy fertile soil would be one of the best investments that society could make in the future of humanity—and that farmers can make in their own farms.
Visit David R. Montgomery's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Hidden Half of Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Alexis L. Boylan's "Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man"

Alexis L. Boylan is an Associate Professor of Art History with a joint appointment in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Program at the University of Connecticut.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man, and reported the following:
I’ll start by saying this is a lot of pressure to put on one page. I worried for my page 99—could it take the scrutiny?

As it turns out, a major point of my book is summed up there:
Race, ethnicity, productivity, and potential could all be seen—it was repeatedly argued—if the viewer could properly read the body. Yet, Ashcan paintings disable these associations and logics of sight by painting obscurity and bodies that attempted to deny the possibility of categorization, beyond the categorization of white manhood.
Basically, I start the book with a question: why do Ashcan artists paint so many images of men in New York City not doing anything? They paint men mostly standing around, not working, not looking good, not saving the day. It struck me as odd that a group of white male artists would break with the conventions of the period (turn-of-the-twentieth-century) and paint white men as being supremely average and unspectacular. If other kinds of visual media (photography, movies, and illustrations, for example) were being used to code bodies in terms of race and gender, why make these painted white men so forgettable and interchangeable?

My answer, as noted on page 99, is that Ashcan artists tried to create a white male body that would stand outside of regimes of sight. The power of whiteness and maleness is the power not to be anything, not to represent anything but the authority of whiteness and maleness. In other words, while visual arts are coding and quantifying other bodies, Ashcan white men get to be nothing, which is a pretty diabolical power. Also, on page 99 I mention Blue Morning, by George Bellows which is on the cover of the book and might be my favorite Ashcan painting.

All-in-all page 99 did right for the team.
Learn more about Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.

My Book, The Movie: Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Allan J. Lichtman's "The Case for Impeachment"

Allan J. Lichtman is Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, DC, and formerly Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of History. His books include FDR and the Jews (with Richard Breitman), which won the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish History, and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History. He has also been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Lichtman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Case for Impeachment, and reported the following:
I wrote the case for impeachment because every American should be concerned about our constitutional order, our liberties, and our national security under President Donald J. Trump. The book transcends politics and punditry to provide an analysis of past impeachments, the process of impeachment, the prior history of Donald Trump, and the record of his early administration. It is our responsibility to arms ourselves with the knowledge to protect our great nation and keep alive its most precious traditions.

Already millions of Americans have risen in protest against the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump. These many robust demonstrations will be like smoke through a chimney unless, like the protests that led to the Revolutionary War, they are put to a purposeful end. If investigations uncover traitorous collusion with the Russians or Trump continues to clash with the law, the Constitution, the environment, and the nation’s traditions and its security, the American people must demand his impeachment. In addition to mass protests, they should engage their representatives through petitions, e-mails, letters to newspaper editors, tweets, town hall gatherings, and face-to-face meetings, directed to the goal of impeachment. If Republicans in Congress remain recalcitrant, voters should be swift to dismiss them from office in 2018. Justice will be realized in today’s America not through revolution, but by the Constitution’s peaceful remedy of impeachment, but only if the people demand it.

Page 99 refers to Trump’s unique, inveterate proclivity for lying, which could lead to his impeachment if he lies under oath in one of the civil lawsuits pending against him or lies us into a national crisis. Donald Trump has insisted that President George W. Bush should have been impeached for lying America into the war in Iraq. Lying will also destroy his credibility if Trump faces impeachment on one of the seven other grounds that I detail in the book. The page reads in part:
In just six months, Trump’s many falsehoods earned him the independent fact-checker PolitiFact’s annual “Lie of the Year” award for 2015. “In considering our annual Lie of the Year, we found our only real contenders were Trump’s,” the PolitiFact staff wrote of his misstatements. “But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.” In evaluating all presidential candidates of both parties at the end of the nominating process, PolitiFact found that Trump had more Pants on Fire ratings than all 21 other candidates combined. Pants on Fire is the fact-checker’s rock bottom designation, reserved for the most outrageous of calls.

These findings show that Trump is an outlier, that his lying far exceeds the normal tendency of politicians to stretch and sometimes even break the truth. It is this extreme, nearly automatic propensity to lie that shreds his credibility and makes him more vulnerable to impeachment and removal than any American president since Richard Nixon.
Visit Allan J. Lichtman's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman.

The Page 99 Test: White Protestant Nation by Allan J. Lichtman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tobin Miller Shearer's "Two Weeks Every Summer"

Tobin Miller Shearer is Associate Professor of History and African-American Studies Director at the University of Montana.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Some programs allowed children who had developed an especially close relationship with their host family to be re-invited until they turned sixteen. Children could be placed with new hosts until the turned twelve, but after that point Fresh Air Staff no longer arranged new hosting sites. Only a re-invitation from a prior host could bring a teenager to the country.
Age was everything for the Fresh Air programs. Page 99 of my book gets to the heart of that story.

My book explores the racially transformative years between 1939 and 1979 when administrators and boosters from the Fresh Air movement switched from sending white children from the city to the country for summer vacations to sending black and brown children from the city to the country for summer vacations. Key to the success of the hosting initiatives was the practice of cutting children off from further visits once they became adolescents.

I provide evidence of the hosts’ preference for younger children, program-wide distrust of teenagers by both hosts and administrators, and the problems of homesickness resulting from this drive to send out ever-younger children. Encapsulated in the second theme of the chapter’s title, “Sex, Seven, Sick,” the text on this page also connects to the theme of innocence that I address more specifically in the book’s final chapter. I contend that the Fresh Air programs tried to market an opportunity where everyone could be innocent of the complex burdens foisted on those attempting to address this country’s history of race relations.

This 99th page does exemplify the book as a whole in that it emphasizes archival evidence, critically engages its topic, and sweeps aside publicity claims in favor of insider information. For 140 years the Fresh Air Fund and its imitators ran their programs free of scholarly criticism. Seldom did they have to deal with public criticism of any kind. This page, and the book as a whole, also show how I have sought to examine Fresh Air initiatives with a balanced but critical eye.

A program dependent upon cutting children off once they became teenagers requires no less careful scrutiny.
Learn more about Two Weeks Every Summer at the Cornell University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Two Weeks Every Summer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Carol Berkin's "A Sovereign People"

Carol Berkin is the Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her many books include The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties, Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, and A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution.

Berkin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 details the beginning of what came to be know as the Genet Affair. In 1793, President Washington issue a Proclamation of Neutrality in the war raging in Europe. But the new French minister, the zealous and highly undiplomatic Edmund Genet, quickly revealed that he had no intention of respecting this policy. His mission was clear: to turn the US into a satellite of France. In his long and bombastic letters to both Washington and Secretary of State Jefferson, the young Genet insisted on America’s moral and treaty obligations to advance French interests. He demanded that the federal government immediately make full payment of all loans incurred during the American Revolution. He then ran roughshod over American sovereignty, outfitting French privateers in American ports and setting up French admiralty courts in those ports to rule in favor of the refitting of any captured English vessels and the sale of their cargoes. Without Washington’s approval, he recruited American citizens to serve on those privateers and attempted to build an army of western Americans to invade Spanish Louisiana under the flag of France. His final insult to American sovereignty, to the Constitution, and to the President himself was to threaten to go over Washington's head with a direct appeal to the “people” if the administration did not accede to his every demand and approve his every action. Before the year was out, George Washington would issue his own demand; he called on the French government to immediately recall Edmund Genet.
My Book, The Movie: Wondrous Beauty.

The Page 99 Test: The Bill of Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue