Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Theodore M. Porter's "Genetics in the Madhouse"

Theodore M. Porter, a historian of science at UCLA, has spent much of his career researching and writing on the uses of numbers, statistics, calculation, and data, especially in the human sciences. His books include The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900, Trust in Numbers, and Karl Pearson: The Scientific Life in a Statistical Age.

Porter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The insane asylum as a restful, ordered place grew up in part as the remedy for a disease linked to modern hustle and bustle. It was in a way a backward-looking remedy in an age of industry and progress. It had much in common with communitarian utopian visions of this period, and it did not seem to be working. Hence the problem had to be confronted outside the walls of the institution.
Page 99 the is the final page of part I. The section break corresponds roughly to the year 1860, by which time the rich Atlantic countries had established systems of insane asylums. Far from a panacea, the availability of free or subsidized facilities launched a dismaying, hyper-Malthusian increase of mental patients. Families with means were now fleeing the public asylums, to such an extent that the old idea of madness as a disease of civilization was giving way to madness as harbinger of a fateful degeneration.

From the beginning of this great confinement early nineteenth century, physicians had embraced a broad public-health mission. They would not merely treat and (they hoped) cure their patients, but also give advice to the community on how to prevent this scourge. Their tables of "presumed causes" of insanity, exhibited every year in reports, translated directly into advice for sane living: avoid masturbation, alcoholic excess, undue stress, disorder, and overwork. And the most crucial cause of all: choose carefully your marriage partner. From a social standpoint, heredity was not destiny. This was eugenics avant la lettre, and while sterilization was not yet an option, there already were indications of policy efforts to isolate "fatuous females" (for example) as a remedy for teeming madness.

By 1860, the effort to comprehend inherited insanity from a medical-scientific standpoint was picking up steam. Mostly it was a data project. It required the institutions to keep meticulous records on the interned patients, to track down family members, to count the mad in censuses, and to redesigning tables so they would indicate causal relationship. These research efforts, allied to the eugenic concerns, provide the principal focus of my book.

A plate from the 1880 census of insanity on the facing page, 98, was for the dust jacket by the designer, who made it hauntingly (and appropriately) weird. This table distinguishes effects of hereditary transmission on women and men as well as the degree of danger associated with mental illness of any particular relative, including father, mother, paternal and maternal grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. These inquiries into the comparative role of hereditary transmission from (and to) males vs. females were petering out by the 1880s, but institutional data from asylums maintained its hereditary significance right into the twentieth century, perpetuated, now, in the name of genetics.
Learn more about Genetics in the Madhouse at the Princeton University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Robert W. Fieseler's "Tinderbox"

Robert W. Fieseler is a journalist and nonfiction author who currently resides in Boston. He graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is a recipient of the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship and the Lynton Fellowship in Book Writing.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, and reported the following:
My book Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation is testament of a tragedy: a notoriously unsolved arson fire at a gay bar in 1973 New Orleans. This intentionally set blaze, which burned for less than 20 minutes, claimed 32 lives and is still the deadliest fire on record in city history, yet no culprit was ever charged or publicly named. Tinderbox explores themes of willful ignorance, in an era when homosexuality carried stigma, and the consequences of “closeting” the truth.

Imagine my shock when I turned to page 99 and found the start of Chapter 6, entitled “Call for Aid,” a turning point in the book—when leaders of a nascent national movement for gay rights, called Gay Liberation, are alerted to the destruction of the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans. To contrast their activism, Chapter 6 begins with a scene of officiousness, when city workers enter the burned out bar and commence with separating heaps of corpses and tagging physical evidence.

I’ve been criticized for my depictions here, because I choose to detail not just a bureaucracy’s unceremonious approach to death but also to note the stomach-churning realities of being burned alive, which is neither glamorizing nor glorifying to the deceased. I had to decide in this page what would be the greater indignity: showing the gravity of what happened or merely implying it. Essentially, do I zoom into the unspeakable, or do I blur away? And who would I be helping, if I chose either?

So often, storytellers recall the dead as if they were otherworldly while they lived and elevate them with impossible clichés: “He never told a lie,” “She always had a kind word.” These recollections build into hagiography, or heroic mythmaking, which isn’t the purpose of history.

I decided that gore matters if it’s real, that the unvarnished truth offered greater respect to men who were murdered in this way. This isn’t an action movie or a parable of saints. The desecration of a human body matters, objectively, and must matter, if we are to call ourselves a society. The graver injustice, I resolved, would be denying such desecration to appeal to the tastes of some inner censor or a prudish reader, who (if I’ve done anything close to my job) by page 99 should be more committed to the victims’ fates:
Chapter 6

Call for Aid

Night—June 24, 1973

Coroner Carl Rabin crossed the threshold of the Up Stairs Lounge. The structure had cooled enough by then for him to safely enter the second floor and pronounce those who had not been able to flee dead. His go-ahead signaled police photographers and coroner’s assistants to spring to their work. Together, the staff combed the premises to make a meticulous record of where everyone and everything was positioned. They commenced the gruesome process of finding and tagging bones beneath layers of human cremains. “The charred, still-oozing remains filled the air with a stench difficult to bear,” noted the States-Item.

Because the electricity was out, firemen shined klieg lights up from the street. As they noted, none of the bar’s supposed safety features had worked. The fire-rated front door, rigged to close on a spring, had crumpled on contact with heat, as if patently defective. Several Exit signs, supposedly connected to an emergency power system, had not functioned. While measuring the bar’s stairwell, Major Henry Morris discovered an item of interest, an empty seven-ounce can of Ronsonol lighter fluid.
Visit Robert W. Fieseler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2018

Kristján Kristjánsson's "Virtuous Emotions"

Kristján Kristjánsson is Deputy Director in the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics at the University of Birmingham.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Virtuous Emotions, and reported the following:
From page 99:
If I were asked to mention a Manchester United player, the two names that would readily come to mind are George Best and Eric Cantona. Those are not the ‘average’ Manchester United players, however. I remember them best because they stood out in terms of their larger-than-life personas. Similarly, if I were asked to mention a typical episode of shame, I would most probably think of a case of global, excessive shame, taken from a Greek tragedy or an Icelandic saga. In general, it is highly likely in an open-question phenomenological study that the elicited descriptions are biased in favour of excessive instantiations of a concept rather than typical instantiations. This is why more careful and considered research into prototypicality ratings, as a way of eliciting common conceptual intuitions, does need to follow such ratings up with a second phase of centrality ratings where the original features are taken to another group of people who are then asked to re-rank them in terms of centrality versus peripherality (see e.g. Lambert, Graham & Fincham, 2009; Morgan, Gulliford & Kristjánsson, 2014). Because of a lack of attention to excess bias in studies of shame and guilt, it will seem – to the average philosopher at least – that social scientists have engaged in ferocious generalisations about the circumscriptions of shame and guilt based on descriptions that are most likely excessive.
This paragraph is paradigmatic of a certain thread running through my book, Virtuous Emotions, namely that of juxtaposing philosophical (esp. Aristotelian) account of emotional traits (in this case shame) with social scientific accounts in order to arrive at some sort of theoretical synthesis of what is the best account of the conceptual contours of the given trait and its moral value, as virtuous or not.
Learn more about Virtuous Emotions at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Michèle Mendelssohn's "Making Oscar Wilde"

Michèle Mendelssohn is a literary critic and cultural historian. She is Associate Professor of English Literature at Oxford University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Oscar Wilde, and reported the following:
Page 99 lies roughly a third of the way through Making Oscar Wilde, my biography of Wilde’s rise, fall and resurrection as one of the Greats of English Literature.

At this point in the story, it’s early 1882. Wilde is twenty-seven years old. Nothing he has written has been successful.

He is only a few weeks into a yearlong lecture tour of the United States and Canada. He’s promoting the musical hit of the moment, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, a satirical romp about a poseur who is “anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line as a man of culture rare”. He’s also delivering an abstruse art lecture that makes him sound like the butt of G and S’s show.

Overnight, he has gone from being a virtual nobody to an international somebody. A few months earlier, when he signed up for this gig, he was merely an unemployed man about town who had gained local notoriety for his eccentric views on art. But as soon as his ship docks in New York City, he is gussied up by an American showman called Col. Morse and posed by the nineteenth century’s preeminent celebrity photographer, Napoleon Sarony. Wilde is thrilled with his makeover. He tells his friend the actress Lillie Langtry that Sarony has made him “beautiful.”

Combined with the promotional efforts of his American manager, Wilde becomes a novelty item. Without his consent, his image is used to advertise products including cigars, ice cream and something called Madame Fontaine’s Bust Beautifier.

Everything seems to be going wonderfully, until suddenly it isn’t.

On page 99, Wilde begins to suspect that the American manager who is making him famous also has the power to unmake him. Col. Morse is running his tour and ruining his reputation with underhanded tricks and racist bids for publicity.

Wilde has struck a deal with the devil.

“Aren’t you sorry for Oscar?,” Lillie Langtry gasps in a letter to a mutual friend, the painter James McNeill Whistler.

Here we watch Wilde discover that showbusiness is a bankrupt system. Worse still, he’s locked into it. The celebrity machine is going to grind him down and spit him out if he doesn’t fight back.

Meantime, the wave of publicity is growing uncontrollably. Soon it will become a tsunami of hostility and racism that will threaten to destroy him. That is all to come in the next 165 pages.

For now, on page 99, Wilde is still just a clever young man from Ireland on his way to an adventure.
Learn more about Making Oscar Wilde at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Michèle Mendelssohn's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2018

Kenneth A. Reinert's "No Small Hope"

Kenneth A. Reinert is Professor of Public Policy in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is author of An Introduction to International Economics: New Perspective on the World Economy and co-author of Globalization for Development: Meeting New Challenges.

Reinert applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book No Small Hope: Towards the Universal Provision of Basic Goods and reported the following:
With some awkwardness, page 99 of No Small Hope: Towards the Universal Provision of Basic Goods falls on an endnote page. But let’s not have that be a deterrent to the page 99 test. The endnotes correspond to Chapter 5 on the basic good water. Water is described in that chapter as the “quintessential basic good,” noting that “if a person does not consume water for a week, he or she will most likely die.” Water is part of a lager set of basic goods and services that also includes food, sanitation, health services, education services, housing, electricity, and human security services. These are all basic goods in the sense that their provision meets objective human needs.

Page 99’s endnotes are largely about technological issues in the provision of clean water, including nanotechnology, desalination, reservoirs, and portable water filtration. Technology features in No Small Hope for each basic good and service but does so in ways that differ from some other notable books. The argument is that, while technology can be important, it does not necessarily solve the widespread basic goods provisions problems that exist in the world. This cautionary approach to technological “fixes” contrasts significantly with the views of technological optimists who tend to argue that the basic goods provision problem can not only be solved, but that we can expect an era of plentitude where much more than needs are fulfilled.

For example, No Small Hope argues that renewable energy source desalination (RES-DES) holds some real promise for the provision of clean water. But some of the relevant technologies are still being debated in research journals, and the disposal of salt brine can be both problematic and expensive. Therefore, while there we some real progress in RES-DES, the problem will not be “solved.”

Page 99 of No Small Hope: Towards the Universal Provision of Basic Goods provides a glimpse into a large set of problems touching upon technology, economics, ethics, and even human rights. Given continued population growth, climate change, and increased numbers of refugees, it is a set of problems that will force itself upon the world one way or another. It therefore deserves our immediate attention.
Learn more about No Small Hope at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sheila Murnaghan and Deborah H. Roberts's "Childhood and the Classics"

Sheila Murnaghan is the Alfred Reginald Allen Memorial Professor of Greek at the University of Pennsylvania. Deborah H. Roberts is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Haverford College.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Childhood and the Classics: Britain and America, 1850-1965, and reported the following:
Page 99 is almost entirely filled with an illustration of Theseus killing the Minotaur by Willy Pogany from Padraic Colum’s The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles [below left; click to enlarge]. This vigorous image captures many important themes of our book. As countless adult reminiscences attest, illustrations play an especially influential role in children’s first encounters with the classical past, and we give a lot of attention to the distinguished illustration tradition that accompanied the development of classical mythology as children’s literature. Published in New York in 1921, Colum’s book also reflects the emergence of the US as the new center of anglophone children’s publishing in the years after World War 1, with fresh, direct retellings and freer, less formal images, often by émigré writers like Colum (from Ireland) and Pogany (from Hungary). The myth of Theseus, legendary king of Athens, is frequently retold for children both as a tale of heroism and as a coming of age story, with the version in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s pioneering Tanglewood Tales (1853) being especially notable for its complex mixture of child-friendly jocularity and moral seriousness. Theseus’ encounter with the Minotaur is a common subject for illustration over the hundred-year period with which we are concerned, with wide variations in style and in the extent to which the Minotaur’s defeat is depicted as a scene of triumph or as one of pathos. The association of the Theseus myth with ancient Crete, the site of important archaeological discoveries around the turn of the twentieth century, means that it is also often regarded as a gateway to history for children, and Theseus appears in historical novels (such as Erick Berry’s 1933 The Winged Girl of Knossos) as well as in myth collections.
Learn more about Childhood and the Classics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Amy Carney's "Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS"

Amy Carney received her PhD in modern German History from Florida State University in 2010. She is currently an Associate Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University, the Behrend College. Her research focuses on the Third Reich, specifically the SS, as well as the history of science and medicine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her first book, Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS, and reported the following:
The number 4 – that is an essential topic on page 99.

But what is so significant about 4?

To answer that question, let’s first address a stereotype about Nazi Germany: the Nazis wanted to breed blond-haired, blue-eyed babies.

Except they didn’t.

Nazi leaders embraced the tenets of a then-valid science—eugenics. Eugenics was essentially about promoting the birth of healthy offspring. For decades, scientists and physicians in many countries, Germany included, had called upon the “best” people to have these children.

But “best” is a vague word. Eugenicists, and politicians too, defined best differently from country to country, and even from one decade to the next. In the Third Reich, “best” meant encouraging the people with the right racial credentials to have healthy Aryan babies.

But wait: Aryan isn’t the right term. That’s another popular misconception. Even Nazi leaders knew that Aryan was a linguistic term, and for the most part, they used the scientific term: Nordic. (Admittedly, most people of Nordic descent did have blond hair and blue eyes).

So, Nazi leaders wanted to use eugenics establish a racial state, and within this new community, one organization in the Nazi party, the SS, sought to be the racial model for the nation.

That, in a nutshell, is what my book is about: how SS leaders selectively applied the tenets of eugenics to encourage their men to marry racially-suitable women and to have hereditary-healthy, Nordic families.

This brings us back to the number 4.

Page 99 is a just over halfway through the book, and it is about the number 4: to be precise, 4 children. If SS families were to lead the Third Reich as its new racial aristocracy, then every SS couple needed to have at least 4 racially-healthy children. But they did not have those children, not in the 1930s, nor during the Second World War. And that’s what page 99 is about: SS men not having the requisite number of children during the war.

The lack of numbers displeased the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and he made his displeasure known. Repeatedly.

From page 99:
…in a June 1942 speech before the leadership corps of a Waffen-SS division, [Himmler stated]: “the number of children [born to SS members] does not replace even half of those who had fallen … A terrible loss, much more terrible than the death of the men themselves.” Coming from Himmler, who had never served as a soldier, such a comment probably did not go over well with the division’s officers, who, along with their men, were fighting at the front.
But Himmler was not alone:
Other prominent [SS and party] officials encouraged Himmler’s quest to make sure that SS men produced children. First and foremost was Hitler himself, who on occasion spoke privately about the need for many children: “everyone should be persuaded that a family’s life is assured only when it has upwards of four children – I should even say, four sons.” Himmler knew of this four sons comment, and he sought to ensure that SS men were aware of it, too. Hitler also…proclaimed that the nascent German elite would descend from the SS because “only the SS practices racial selection.” He wanted this practice to continue, especially because he recognized that part of the job of the SS was to set an example.
How well did SS men and their wives set that example? Not very well. Why did they not have 4 children per family? Well, the answer to that question lies further in the book.
Learn more about Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS at the University of Toronto Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Christopher Grasso's "Skepticism and American Faith"

Christopher Grasso is professor of history at the College of William and Mary and was the editor of the William and Mary Quarterly. He is the author of A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut and the editor of Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso's Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, and reported the following:
Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution and the Civil War argues that the dialogue of religious skepticism and faith shaped struggles over the place of religion in politics; it produced different visions of knowledge and education in an "enlightened" society; it fueled social reform in an era of economic transformation, territorial expansion, and social change; and it molded the making and eventual unmaking of American nationalism. It has four thematic sections, arranged chronologically: “Revolutions, 1775-1815,” “Enlightenments, 1790-1840,” “Reforms, 1820-1850,” and “Sacred Causes, 1830-1865.” The chapters examine the lives of believers who come to doubt and doubters who come to believe; of faithful Christians who battle skepticism and freethinkers who battle the hegemony of faith. Page 99 is at the beginning of the third chapter, “Instituting Skepticism: The Emergence of Organized Deism,” focusing on 1790 to about 1815, when Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine and others tried to establish organizations criticizing Christianity as superstitious and anti-democratic and promoting deism as an enlightened religion of reason and nature.

From page 99 (with sentences beginning on page 98 and ending on page 100; footnotes omitted):
Together [some liberal, more enlightened forms of Christianity] applied ‘a purifying hand of reason, pruning and lopping off the decayed branches of the old theological tree, approaching still nearer to the source and principles of nature, till at length, by regular progression, the human mind discovered, that moral principle was placed upon a more solid foundation than the reveries of sectarian fanaticism.” At the same time, “the philosophical investigations of French, English, and German philanthropists” helped produce “a new era in the intellectual history of man.” Newton, Locke, d’Holbach, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hume, Bolingbroke, Paine, and many others “swept away the rubbish of ancient superstition.”

Writing at the commencement of the nineteenth century, Palmer knew that much work remained to be done. The virtuous needed to continue to spread enlightened philosophy through print, encouraging people to use their reason, become skeptical about the claims of revealed religion, and place faith, politics, and knowledge on natural, rational foundations. They needed to continue to fight for republican liberty and equality, at the ballot box or with a sword if necessary. And they needed to associate, organize, and institutionalize, replacing the old systems and institutions with new ones. Palmer and his fellow deistic reformers fought their political battles and spread their good news about the dawning Age of Reason with their printing presses. They made considerable efforts, but devoted less systematic thinking to the shape and function of the new religious institutions that would need to replace the old churches. Palmer called for scrutinizing and analyzing “the complicated association and application of the ideas of former institutions,” and of “disorganizing the system” of antiquated religious, political, literary, and moral establishments. But he seemed to think that once oppression, ignorance, and error were removed, new cultural institutions would emerge naturally, and then inevitably “harmonize and form one grand system.”

Deist reformers in the age of the American and French revolutions like Palmer and his friend Thomas Paine tried to combine a skeptical critique of revealed religion (especially Christianity) with a program for a simplified, liberated religion of reason and nature. Their ideas had a lasting legacy, but their institutions—their deist clubs, periodicals, and proposals for Temples of Reason—had a short life. Explanations for the fate of organized deism have tended to emphasize the limited popular appeal of reasoned religion in an era of evangelical enthusiasm. Organized deism, however, like other voluntary associations that sprouted up in the early republic, was a complex cultural formation with its own particular social make-up, political profile, internal structure, and precarious place in the evolving relations of early national cultural power. These facets can best be seen by comparing it to other groups that also worked to perpetuate themselves in stable institutions outside the Christian mainstream—in particular, the Universalists, the Freemasons, the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian) Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Organized deism, like these other groups, was fashioned by the ideas, attitudes, and desires of its leaders and members, but also by the power of the state, the constraints and authorizations of the law, and the bitterly contested politics of religious and political association in the 1790s.
I think the “Page 99 Test” gives a fair representation of the book.
Learn more about Skepticism and American Faith at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2018

Randi Hutter Epstein's "Aroused"

Randi Hutter Epstein is a medical writer, lecturer at Yale University, Writer in Residence at Yale Medical School, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank (2010) and the new book, Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Aroused and reported the following:
Aroused traces the history of hormones and much to my delight (but no original intention) spotlights quite a few women with moxie who were instrumental in paving new directions in endocrinology.

Page 99 of my book highlights a female pioneer in medicine, who defied the odds in a few ways.
In 1942, the team published a larger study in the Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. They also renamed the pregnancy hormone. Ascheim and Zondek called it prolan, from proles, the Latin word for offspring. Seegar called it chorionic gonadotropin.
Seegar is Georgeanna Seegar Jones. Georgeanna Jones was the first director of the department of reproductive endocrinology at Johns Hopkins in the 1940s, when the field was, well, to use a pun—just conceived. She, along with her husband, Dr. Howard W. Jones, would go on to create America’s first test tube baby. But Dr. Georgeanna, as she was called, did so much more: She also provided crucial advice to Dr. Robert Edwards enabling him to create the world’s first IVF baby. The chapter explains the science and her incredible marriage (like seriously incredible—she and her husband shared desks throughout their entire careers).

The page talks about her landmark discovery she made when she was a medical student. She proved that the so-called pregnancy hormone comes from the placenta, not the pituitary in the brain as previously thought. Her research that led to this paper was conducted when she was a medical student. She used her first initial and middle name (Emory) instead of Georgeanna because she was told by her advisor that no one would publish a study by a woman.

Here’s two more lines from page 99: “Seegar not only solved a medical riddle; she named the pregnancy hormone and became the first woman ever to dine at the Maryland Club.”

To honor her achievement, a group of doctors organized a lunch at the Maryland Club. Shortly before the afternoon event, the doctors were told that Georgeanna could not attend because women were not allowed. When the endocrinologists threatened to go elsewhere, the club reluctantly allowed one Dr. Georgeanna.

This page encapsulates the key points in my book: pioneering research depends on curious and persistent scientists. And courageous women (with chutzpah) paved the way for this burgeoning field.
Visit Randi Hutter Epstein's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Randi Hutter Epstein, Ellie and Dexter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2018

John M. Coggeshall's "Liberia, South Carolina"

John M. Coggeshall is professor of anthropology at Clemson University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, I describe a typical crossroads store in the upper part of South Carolina in the early twentieth century. Just 4 miles from the Blue Ridge, in the valley of the Oolenoy River, the store served the rural surrounding area, including an enclave of African Americans (descendants of freed slaves) living in a little side valley called “Liberia” since 1865. Imagine a few older white farmers sitting on a bench outside the store, sipping “dopes” (soft drinks) and talking about the cotton crop or the weather. Up to the porch shyly shuffles a young black child from Liberia, peddling a basket of blueberries and his mother’s chicken’s eggs. One of the whites disdainfully utters the “N” word as the little boy enters the store. After getting his money for the berries and eggs, and after buying some penny candy, the little boy leaves. Upon his return home, he tells his mother what happened. Outraged, she informs all her neighbors and friends. All Liberia residents refuse to trade at that store ever again; the store eventually closes.

This incident actually happened to the older brother of the current matriarch of the Liberia community, a woman whose family and friends I document in my book. The example illustrates the tremendous pressures on this black community by surrounding whites to humiliate, antagonize, threaten, and drive off these descendants of freed slaves from their ancestral land, especially during the Jim Crow era. At the same time, the fact that the boy’s family and friends refused to shop at this store ever again also demonstrates the resiliency of these upper South Carolina residents, to resist, to retaliate, and still to remain in a predominantly white space since before 1865. The role of the boy’s mother in leading the boycott also demonstrates the recurring theme of strong-willed matriarchs in the Liberia community, extending over generations.

This book chronicles 5 generations of blacks, primarily through the voices of strong-willed women, to present the story of this enclave community by utilizing secondary sources and first-person interviews. Ultimately, it is a story of human resilience.
Learn more about Liberia, South Carolina at The University of North Carolina Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Liberia, South Carolina.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Loka Ashwood's "For-Profit Democracy"

Loka Ashwood is an environmental and rural sociologist at Auburn University. She works with communities to research issues that pertain to agriculture, cancer clusters, land loss, and pollution.

Ashwood applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America, and reported the following:
In a book with only three maps, the Page 99 Test effectively finds one of them [below; click to enlarge]. And the map bears crucial data – it shows the racial demographics around the site where the only new nuclear reactors are currently under construction in the United States. Soon, they will join two existing reactors at the Vogtle plant that have long operated in this rural, Georgia community. This is not a simple case of environmental injustice, where risk and exposure hit black people the most acutely. In fact, within five miles of the pant, a majority of residents are white. The map is emblematic of the book’s message that the most-is-best orientation of the democratic state – most people or most money – at the end of the day comes back to make everyone, including at one time more affluent white people, a minority in some sense. No one, in fact, is completely immune.

The only full paragraph on page 99 specifically focuses on the damage rendered by profit’s rule:
In a situation of public for profit, the worth of all communities is beholden to revenue. In a sense, it is similar to the slash-and-burn orientation of rainforest cropping systems. The rich forests are harvested, the land planted hastily with crops for a few seasons until the soil has no nutrients left to give, and fixing the situation would either require an investment of inputs, or a change in production regimes. Both of those methods cost, and so the tiller moves elsewhere, leaving a barren land that was once rich in ecology, and moving elsewhere to feed its insatiable appetite. Such an analogy is symptomatic of the modern US economy. Profit extracts while there is money to be made, only moving on when there comes a better deal. Countless empty storefronts in countless communities attest to the thirst for short-term profits that drives a whip behind American society today.
Visit Loka Ashwood's website.

Writers Read: Loka Ashwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Jeff Love's "The Black Circle"

Jeff Love is Research Professor of German and Russian at Clemson University. He is the author of The Overcoming of History in “War and Peace” (2004), editor of Heidegger in Russia and Eastern Europe (2017), and translator of Kojève’s Atheism, among other works.

Love applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Black Circle: A Life of Alexandre Kojeve, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book concludes a chapter on two important Russian thinkers preceding Kojève, Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) and Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903). On that page I conclude my discussion of Fedorov’s main project, which still has the power to stun. For Fedorov sought nothing less than the complete eradication of human conflict in favor of a greater conflict, that between the human being and the “blind” nature which kills and destroys, bringing death into the world. Fedorov develops this project of overcoming nature and death as one of universal resurrection and eternal life for all human beings who have ever lived. This immense, perhaps absurd “bio-political” project provides a fine example of the pursuance of perfection that is a key issue in the book and in Kojève’s thought. Kojève seeks, ostensibly in pursuit of Hegel, to complete or “perfect” the “error” of history as understood hitherto. In a distant echo of Fedorov, Kojève insists that only by overcoming nature, and therewith the inherently selfish fear of death, may we truly correct and complete history whose final goal is the creation of a universal free state. This state is universal and free precisely because it has terminated the attachment to the individual self and self-interest that gave birth to error in the complete immersion of the individual in the state and the state in the individual. Here is at once a project of revolutionary and post-revolutionary action that sees the only way of creating a community as mutual suppression of individual self-interest rather than its cultivation (in contrast to the modern bourgeois nation state). Kojève notes tartly that the supposedly free individual of this latter state is in fact deeply in thrall to fear (the “instinct” for self-preservation, the wellspring of selfishness) and the greatest of all fears, that of death, which, as Kojève reminds us elsewhere, happens only to individuals.
Learn more about The Black Circle at the Columbia University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Black Circle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2018

Paul Thomas Chamberlin's "The Cold War’s Killing Fields"

Paul Chamberlin is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He specializes in twentieth century international history with a focus on U.S. foreign relations and the Middle East. His first book, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order, is an international history of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Chamberlin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace, and reported the following:
Page 99 does indeed prove to be surprisingly representative of many of the ideas present throughout The Cold War’s Killing Fields. In particular, the prevalence of mass violence, the interconnected nature of Cold War geopolitics, and the potential for local revolutionary conflicts to spark larger conflagrations all appear. Likewise, the three key forces of postcolonial revolution, the United States, and the Soviet Union all appear.

The section begins with a 1949 exchange between Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin in which the former brags that his army has killed over 5.5 million people in the last three years and predicts the consequent inevitability of a communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. This is very much in keeping with one broader argument of the book, which is focused on the role of mass violence in shaping post-1945 geopolitics. I maintain that the theme of body counts remains underappreciated in the history of the Cold War. Many leaders across the East-West and North-South divides were very much interested in killing large numbers of people as a means to secure and maintain political power.

Page 99 then turns to a cable from the American CIA explaining that Mao’s coming victory was a matter of grave concern. Many U.S. officials worried that China would become an “advance base for Soviet penetration” into Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. This hits on another key theme of the book, which examines the ways that Cold War leaders tended to view their adversaries as monolithic: Mao’s victory, in the eyes of many U.S. officials, represented a key setback in what was truly a global struggle against the Kremlin-backed forces of communism.

But the impending collapse of Nationalist China presented an array of dangers for Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – as the following paragraph explains. Mao would now be faced with the challenge of transforming a revolutionary party and its forces into the governing regime of a massive country. Even more worrisome was the possibility that the United States might intervene to save Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, sparking a direct confrontation between the world’s greatest superpower and the CCP, which might, in turn, lead spark World War III between Washington and Moscow.
Learn more about The Cold War's Killing Fields at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Global Offensive.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2018

John Reeves's "The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee"

John Reeves has been a teacher, editor, and writer for over twenty-five years. Recently, Reeves’s articles on Robert E. Lee have been featured in The Washington Post and the History News Network. His next book is on the Battle of the Wilderness.

Reeves applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case against an American Icon, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee, I discuss the indictment of Captain Henry Wirz, the former commandant of Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. In August 1865, just a few months after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Wirz was charged, along with several leaders of the Confederate States of America, with conspiring to “injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military services of the United States…in violation of the laws and customs of war.” Among the co-conspirators, who were charged with Wirz, was General Robert E. Lee.

After the Civil War, northerners and freedmen were outraged by what they learned about Andersonville Prison, where 13,000 Union soldiers died due to insufficient food and atrocious living conditions. There were approximately 100 black prisoners at Andersonville and they were treated even worse than the white prisoners. President Andrew Johnson was determined to punish all those who were responsible for such horrors. So, that’s why Robert E. Lee and Captain Wirz were charged with war crimes.

The prosecutors ultimately decided to focus solely on Wirz, and they removed Lee from the indictment. Wirz was eventually tried, convicted and hanged. His public execution took place near the United States Capitol. The Judge Advocate General of the Army described Wirz as more of “a demon than a man.”

In the end, Robert E. Lee was never tried for war crimes against Union soldiers. He was extremely upset that the accusations had ever been made in the first place. Many northerners were relentless in their attacks on Lee on this issue, however. An editor for The Liberator argued, “Lee had the power to prevent or mitigate the sufferings of our prisoners, the worst tyrant and tormenter, from the remotest ages of Paganism down to the cruelest instrument of the French Reign of terror, was not so wicked as he.”

Lee was also indicted for treason by a federal court in Virginia on June 7, 1865, though he ultimately escaped prosecution on those charges as well. My book provides detail on the forgotten legal and moral case that was made against Lee in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. I also try to show how an indicted rebel went on to become a hero for both southerners and northerners in the decades after Appomattox.

I believe that “The 99th Page Test” is accurate for my book. Most Americans have forgotten that Robert E. Lee was accused of mistreating Union prisoners. And even though he may not have been responsible for the day-to-day operations at Andersonville Prison, he certainly upheld, as the South’s leading general, the Confederacy’s odious policies toward African American prisoners during the Civil War. Many Americans are unaware of the mistreatment of black soldiers who fought to preserve the Union. That story has been “lost” to us over the past century and a half. By forgetting the indictments of Lee for treason and war crimes, it made it easier for Americans to deify him. That is a central theme of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee.
Learn more about The Last Indictment of Robert E. Lee at the Rowman & Littlefield website, and visit John Reeves's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Samuel Kline Cohn, Jr.'s "Epidemics"

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow, an Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Over the past sixteen years, he has focused on the history of popular unrest in late medieval and early modern Europe and on the history of disease and medicine. Cohn's recent books include Popular Protest in Late Medieval English Towns and Cultures of Plague: Medical Thinking at the End of the Renaissance.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Others refused to name it after the French or any other people and referred instead to the disease’s physical signs—‘mala pustularum’ or ‘turgentium pustularum’, as with Heidelberg physician Conrad Schellig and Ioannes Trithenmius—or just the pustules, as with the Spanish physician Marcellus Cumanus, active at Navarra in 1495, even though he described soldiers returning from war in Venice and Milan as carrying it to his home town.
Page 99 falls near the beginning of chapter 5: ‘Syphilis: Naming and Blaming?’ The page questions the long-held belief that after the explosion and spread of syphilis during Charles VIII’s siege of Naples in January 1495, countries blamed one another for the disease: a tit-for-tat verbal battle ensued: Italians calling it the French disease; the French, the mal de Naples, the Germans naming it after the Poles, and so on. Instead, on an unprecedented scale, a wide variety of names for this disease quickly developed, arising from the fact that physicians and others could not agree whether the disease was new or a form of leprosy that dated back to Biblical times, and, as they insisted, a disease needed a name.

These names, however, most often centred on the physical signs of the disease--poxes, pustules, and warts--its seeming relation to leprosy, or after its patron saint, Job. The one name after a country that did stick for a century and a half was the French disease (malfrancese or morbus Gallicus). Yet this name was lodged mainly in medical texts and not with commoners. Moreover, commentators such as Ullrich von Hutten and the famous Florentine statesman-historian Francesco Guicciardini made it clear that calling it after the French was in no way intended to blame them. In the most widely published syphilis pamphlet of the sixteenth century, von Hutten, whose text was entitled, De Morbo Gallico, countered that France was ‘the most civilized and hospitable now in existence’. Finally, no evidence has yet to emerge of any riots or even individual attacks against those perceived as carrying syphilis or against the French or any other foreigners named for the disease during the early modern period: naming was not blaming.

Page 99 reflects a trait running through this book: long-held views about the socio-psychological effects of large epidemics need to be contested. Most notably, diseases imagined as new and mysterious were not the ones most likely to spark blame or violence against the diseased ‘other’.
Learn more about Epidemics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mary Carter Bishop's "Don't You Ever"

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Mary Carter Bishop was on the Philadelphia Inquirer team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of nuclear leaks at Three Mile Island. Her Roanoke Times & World-News series on poisonings and fraud by exterminators and other pesticide users won a George Polk Award and was a Pulitzer finalist.

Bishop applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Don't You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son, and reported the following:
This is irresistible, because page 99 in my book does indeed represent one of its central themes — our family’s vulnerable status in our overwhelmingly wealthy community of Keswick, Virginia, where our parents were servants. A passage on page 99 describes my renegade older brother’s thieving and spying on the gentry:
Ronnie roamed Keswick like an undercover agent. He crept around the houses and peered in at the rich people in their dining rooms and in their bedrooms. For all its high-class charm, Keswick, to Ronnie, was a vulgar, craven place. With all his prowling and peering, he was tweaking the monster’s tail. Keswick’s servant class customarily looked the other way at wild behavior by the rich, but here was Ronnie trespassing on Keswick’s most precious commodity: the freedom of the elite to do as they pleased, safe from prying eyes.
Learn more about Don't You Ever.

My Book, The Movie: Don't You Ever.

Writers Read: Mary Carter Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2018

Emily Abrams Ansari's "The Sound of a Superpower"

Emily Abrams Ansari is a British-born musicologist who studies and teaches the history of 20th- and 21st-century music at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2010 following a Masters Degree at Oxford University and a BA in music from Durham University.

Ansari applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book describes the first stages of one American’s difficult experience of anti-communism in the early Cold War period. This man is Roy Harris, an American composer of classical music who had, until the 1950s, been revered as one of the most significant contributors in the effort to create an American-sounding music. I explore here how that nationalist loyalty began to be called in to question, both by anti-Communists in Pittsburgh, where he lived, and the FBI.

Harris had made a significant political miscalculation during World War II. Keen to write works that contributed to the war effort, he decided in 1942 to dedicate his fifth Symphony to the people of the USSR—then a vital ally of the United States in the fight against fascism. Little did he know, of course, that a decade later, the USSR would be the United States sworn enemy. In this new environment, past pro-Soviet statements—whatever their context—would risk being interpreted as celebrations of Communism.

On page 99 I describe the contents of Harris’s FBI file, where concerns about the Fifth Symphony are articulated. Investigators list descriptions of Harris from informants that were his friends and colleagues, all of whom proclaimed his patriotism and national loyalty. Some are quite amusing, even bizarre: one proclaimed him to be both a “sun cultist” and a “vegetable cultist.” But one commitment Harris had never made was to the “cult” of Communism. Harris was then as loyal to his country and everything it stood for as one could imagine.

Yet Harris’s experience of anti-Communism would sully permanently his deep commitment to his nation and to a national music. He is one of six “Americanist” composers explored in the book whose careers were significantly shaped by the Cold War: the others are Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, and Howard Hanson. Some experienced personal, aesthetic, and professional challenges because of the ideological conflict. Some experienced unanticipated—and unprecedented—professional opportunities. All were also obliged to adapt the national style they had developed to serve a new ideological age in which accessible artistic nationalism was all too easily associated with fascism and communism. Very quickly—and with their willing participation—their American-sounding music would be adapted to serve a new vision of what the United States represented on the world stage.
Visit Emily Abrams Ansari's website.

--Marshal Zeringue