Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ben A. Minteer's "The Fall of the Wild"

Ben A. Minteer holds the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair at Arizona State University, where he is a professor of environmental ethics and conservation in the School of Life Sciences. He has authored or edited many books, including The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America (2006) and The Ark and Beyond: The Evolution of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation (2018).

Minteer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fall of the Wild: Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation, and reported the following:
Page 99 in The Fall of the Wild is mostly taken up by a single photograph. It’s one of the most depressing images in the history of wildlife conservation.

On the left side of the frame is a dead Tasmanian tiger (aka thylacine), a large, carnivorous marsupial with a distinctive striped back. The animal is strung up by its hind quarters with such a thin line that it almost seems to float in the frame. Seated and facing the animal on the right side of the image is the hunter who took the fatal shot, a man identified only as “Mr. Weaver.” A bearded, burly man with high cheekbones, he’s equipped with a rifle, a hunting coat, and a blank stare.

Thought to be taken in 1869, “Mr. Weaver Bags a Tiger” is one of the very few 19th century photographs of the thylacine known to history. The animal was persecuted by sheep farmers and bush hunters under private and government bounties in Australia’s rugged island state in the 19th century (even though the failure of the Tasmanian sheep industry owed more to human incompetence than to marauding marsupials). “Benjy,” the last of the species, died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936.

In The Fall of the Wild, I discuss some of our more iconic lost animals that had the misfortune of either being highly attractive to rapacious market hunters and specimen collectors, or, like the thylacine, were viewed as threats requiring annihilation. I also mention some harrowing “close calls” where forward-thinking conservationists were able to pull species out of the fire, including the game-changing efforts to breed the American bison back into viability at the Bronx Zoo in the early 20th century and more recent struggles to make sure the southwestern skies are never free of California condors.

Elegiac cases like the thylacine and the passenger pigeon loom large in the morality tales of conservations. But so do happier examples like the bison and the condor. As a result, a powerful dynamic of loss-and-recovery has gripped generations of wildlife scientists and conservation advocates who worry about species slipping into the abyss, and who commit themselves to doing everything they can to save today’s imperiled wildlife from sharing the thylacine’s fate.

But this commitment to doing “whatever it takes” to save a species can end up threatening other values, concerns that have always been an important part of the conservation movement. Chief among them is a respect for a wild nature that isn’t completely under our thumb. Some of the more aggressive attempts to reverse the march of extinction today even go so far as to suggest that we should “revive” long-lost species like the thylacine and the passenger pigeon; a kind of “de-extinction” that signals the triumph of the engineering spirit in conservation. In The Fall of the Wild, I question whether de-extinction and other strongly interventionist approaches to wildlife conservation today are part of a sound environmental ethic – or whether they might keep us from learning a deeper lesson about the wisdom of humility, self-possession, and restraint in nature. It is a lesson that was clearly lost on Mr. Weaver back in 1869, but it’s also one that we, despite all our enlightened 21st century conservation attitudes and efforts, have yet to fully learn.
Visit Ben Minteer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2018

John Strausbaugh's "Victory City"

John Strausbaugh has been writing about the culture and history of New York City for a quarter of a century. City of Sedition, his singular history of New York City’s role in and during the Civil War, won the Fletcher Pratt Award for Best Non-Fiction Book of 2016; The Village, his epic history of Greenwich Village, has been widely praised and was selected as one of Kirkus Review‘s best books of the year (2013). His books include Black Like You, a history of blackface minstrelsy; and E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith.

Strausbaugh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers during World War II, and reported the following:
Victory City is a composite portrait of New York City before, during, and after World War II, the period when the city was achieving its height of power and influence in the world, just as the world was falling apart all around it. I try to show that it was an immensely more complex, messy, turbulent place than we tend to see in the GI Joe and Rosie the Riveter nostalgia. It was also a city of gangsters and hookers and war profiteers. Of bobby soxers and juvenile delinquents. A city of more homegrown fascists and Nazis than it's comfortable to think about, and communists and anarchists as well. A city of spies and counterspies, isolationists and pacifists, patriots and traitors.

On page 99 I introduce one piece of that very large puzzle: the role that the city's trade unions played, especially in the garment district. Sidney Hillman, who ran the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, was a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, militantly leftist and pro-Soviet. Yet he was also one of Franklin Roosevelt's most faithful supporters in labor through the Depression and war years.

The war was a rough time for trade unions. Employers used the demands of wartime production as an excuse to roll back many of the gains unions won in the New Deal 1930s, and Roosevelt's government complied. There were more wildcat strikes and walk-outs during the war than in any other four-year period in American history. But as leader of the CIO, Hillman kept its two million workers voting for Roosevelt, and even started the first political action committee in American history, the CIO-PAC, to help ensure Roosevelt's re-election in 1944.

Roosevelt died in 1945, Hillman in 1946, and their combined impact on the labor movement has been debated ever since.
Visit John Strausbaugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Sophia Rosenfeld's "Democracy and Truth: A Short History"

Sophia Rosenfeld is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Common Sense: A Political History, which won the Mark Lynton History Prize.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Democracy and Truth: A Short History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Populism is, of course, much in the news these days. What it is not is an ideology or a fixed program. Rather, it is best described as a style or logic or, I’m going to suggest, narrative framework for conceptualizing and shaping political power that builds on the assumed opposition between two starkly defined camps. Typically, it begins with a (self-congratulatory) exaltation of the real people, the unjustifiably powerless. It adds a gripe about the past that often morphs into a full-blown conspiracy theory starring the unjustifiably powerful. It concludes with a fairytale-like denouement and new, mythic social role for its adherents. What is less noticed is how much it—like the Progressives’ arguments for the enhancement of expert guidance, which flourished at much the same moment in the late nineteenth century—depends upon a set of suppositions about how and whose truths to live by, or validated beliefs, are to be found in a real democracy. Only in this case, the solution involves rejecting ostensibly objective expertise and all the institutions, values, norms, procedures, and people that expertise goes with and valorizing a combination of quotidian experience and the feelings, impulses, beliefs, and institutions of ordinary people instead.
Page 99 of Democracy and Truth: A Short History actually gets at one of the central issues in the book: the longstanding tension at the heart of democracy between the supposed wisdom of the crowd, on the one hand, and the need for information to be vetted and evaluated by a learned elite made up of trusted experts, on the other. Whereas technocrats and “epistocrats” threaten to ignore the former, populists reject the latter.
Learn more about Democracy and Truth at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Common Sense: A Political History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Scott L. Cummings's "Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America’s Port"

Scott L. Cummings is Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America's Port, and reported the following:
Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America’s Port is about the monumental effort by the labor and environmental movements—the blue and the green—to transform economic and environmental conditions at the massive and economically significant port complex in Los Angeles and Long Beach. At its core, the book is about how these social movements come together to make law regulating two of the ports’ most harmful externalities—air pollution and labor precarity. Their efforts and achievements teach important lessons about what it takes to win justice for disadvantaged workers and communities that form crucial links in the global supply chain.

Page 99 illuminates one-half of the book’s central focus—detailing the policy origins of the movement to “green” the ports. That page describes the genesis of what would become the cornerstone of a decade-long campaign to address a central cause of air pollution at the ports: the short-haul trucking industry. This is an industry is that is not widely known but forms the critical transit connection between the nearly one trillion dollars in cargo containers that move through the ports each year and their destinations—regional Amazon warehouses, retailers like Walmart and Target, and ultimately to customer doorsteps. The legal puzzle the book explores is how port truck drivers, once heavily unionized, became exploited low-wage workers, treated as independent contractors responsible for all the costs of operating expensive trucks. As a result of this treatment, drivers frequently earned less than the minimum wage and were unable to purchase and maintain low-emissions vehicles. They were both victims of labor abuse and the source of significant port pollution.

Page 99 discusses the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissions’ initial step to reduce air pollution—while winning the support of logistic industry players, particularly powerful retail shippers—through a comprehensive joint policy known as the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP):
Both commissions were in a position to facilitate growth plans provided that they complied with environmental goals. It was ultimately the ports’ power to reject or delay expansion that provided the leverage needed to get industry buy-in. And although shippers and carriers had other ports they could use, those ports were generally not as attractive because of preexisting infrastructure investments in Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as access to the lucrative regional market. It was in this context that the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissions developed the outlines of CAAP….
This is a pivotal moment since it creates the essential political opportunity for a broader campaign to address the twin problems of air pollution and labor precarity in a comprehensive way. The rest of the book explores how this environmental mandate was transformed into a vehicle for challenging the drivers’ independent contractor status and the epic political and legal fight that ensued—one that ultimately winds through the United States Supreme Court and back to the front lines of port organizing, where there are now six labor contracts in an industry that previously had none in over forty years. How this occurred—and whether it can be sustained—has profound consequences for the future role of gig workers in the global economy.
Learn more about Blue and Green at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2018

Wilbur R. Miller's "A History of Private Policing in the United States"

Wilbur R. Miller is Professor of History at Stony Brook University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A History of Private Policing in the United States, and reported the following:
Opening A History of Private Policing in the United States to page 99, I find a discussion of the relationship between public law enforcement officials and private detectives during the 19th century. This discussion does point to a major argument of the book, that such cooperation is an important part of the development of private policing in the U.S. I have defined private policing very broadly to include not only the usual suspects of security guard services and private detectives (Pinkerton and Burns the most famous among many), but also control of labor unions and strikes, self-defense, vigilantism and private prisons. All these are forms of policing by private individuals to control the behavior of other people, with the tacit acceptance or open support of the state (government at all levels). Government has licensed and regulated security services and detectives, and sometimes hired them. It has in recent years broadened an individual’s ability to plead self-defense in a killing through the “stand your ground laws” in several states. It has sometimes passively, other times actively supported vigilante activity of many sorts: lynching, organized groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and ordinary neighborhood patrols. The army and police often worked with private strikebreaking agencies. The state contracts with private prison companies to manage prisoners and people detained under immigration laws. Of course, there have been conflicts between government and private agencies, especially between police and private detectives, but co-operation is an essential part of the story. This co-operation reflects the nature of the American government itself, a mix of public and private power in many areas. This inclusion of private agencies in governance reflects American political ideology, most apparent when Republicans dominate politically, that private is better than public, cheaper and more efficient. Sometimes that is true, but by no means always, especially in the case of private prisons. Guards protect property; detectives investigate, but private prisons make profit from people convicted under harsh minimum sentencing laws.
Learn more about A History of Private Policing in the United States at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Benjamin Mangrum's "Land of Tomorrow"

Benjamin Mangrum is a fellow with the Michigan Society of Fellows and an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mangrum applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Land of Tomorrow: Postwar Fiction and the Crisis of American Liberalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 features the end of one subsection in the third chapter and the beginning of another. It’s a transitional moment, and I can’t say much for it as a stand-alone entry into the argument of Land of Tomorrow. The book’s aspiration is to unpack how trends in literary history help us better understand why American liberalism after WWII turned against parts of the reform agenda that characterized the New Deal during the 1930s. If you open up Land of Tomorrow without reading anything else and turn to page 99, you won’t see that wider argument, but you would see technical terms that I explain earlier in the book. In other words, it would probably be disorienting for readers to start on this page without reading anything else.

The context of this transitional moment is that I’m discussing why writers believed a literary style called “naturalism” (think Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser) suffered a “decline” in its cultural standing during the 1940s and 1950s. There were many reasons for this perceived decline, including the cultural fad of existentialism among the American elite and the spread of psychology and professional therapy. These are parts of the history of ideas I explain earlier in the chapter. However, on page 99, I suggest there may be other reasons that writers turned against the literary naturalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
For some writers, the deficits of naturalism were not so much its politics or deterministic logic as its marginalization of women of color. (99)
What follows this passage is a discussion of Gwendolyn Brooks’s only novel Maud Martha (1953). You could say that this discussion beginning on page 99 contains a kind of self-criticism—that is, an acknowledgment of the limitations of this chapter’s argument. In other words, I am trying to acknowledge cultural work that doesn’t fit neatly into the map of American history that I’m offering in the book. Of course, I invite readers to judge for themselves whether the wider argument and such moments of self-criticism are successful. I hope this page at least gives readers a sense for the many moving parts in the argument, including parts that add further complexity to an already complex moment in American intellectual life.
Learn more about Land of Tomorrow at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shannon Withycombe's "Lost: Miscarriage in Nineteenth-Century America"

Shannon Withycombe is an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Lost: Miscarriage in Nineteenth-Century America, and reported the following:
Lost traces the miscarriage experiences of multiple women in nineteenth-century America, placing each one within the context of national reproductive policies, medical advances and authority, demographic and social changes, and personal desires and struggles. Throughout the book, I continually come back to the question: why did women begin to utilize the services of male doctors for help with miscarriage during the second half of the nineteenth century? There is nothing inherently “medical” about miscarriage, and American women had dealt with the experience for centuries with the help of female relatives and friends. This page gives some clues to why women did not seek out medical aid in the first half of the nineteenth century.

From page 99:
On January 2, 1852, Virginia physician P. Claiborne Gooch attended a thirty-year-old mother of three who had been “ailing and sore through the night.” Although she had continued her work the following day, even while suffering fatigue and dull pain in her lower body, she did not call on Gooch until the pains became “grinding and benumbing,” similar to labor pains. Gooch examined the woman and discovered her to be five to six months pregnant and passing a good deal of blood. Upon finding her cervix dilated, he determined the miscarriage would be unavoidable. In his report of this case in the Ohio Medical and Surgical Journal two months later, he wrote that upon this determination “I quietly took my bed-side seat till nature accomplished her duty – mine being merely to send the husband out of the room, and to inform the women that the accident must take place.” He continued to watch his patient, and later that night attempted to gently remove the mass once it had descended into her vagina, but when he found that such an action was impossible without a risk of violence, he “desisted, and waited till 10 o’clock on Nature.” Instead he gave her a solution of ergot, a fungus believed to induce and strengthen uterine contractions. Around midnight, the woman finally expelled the fetus, with little active aid from the doctor.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, American doctors began attempting to gain a foothold in the business of miscarriage. Viewing pregnancy loss not only as a space for potential profit, but also an avenue into the bigger business of childbirth, doctors tried to alter the meaning of miscarriage into more of a dangerous ailment, one that they were uniquely qualified to treat. However, when women did call upon them, like in the case above, doctors still had nothing new or exciting to offer them. Dr. Gooch had no special tool or medicine to prevent the miscarriage or speed it up, and instead sat patiently at the women’s bedside, waiting upon nature to take its course. This “expectant” treatment, as many critical physicians would refer to it later, did nothing to convince reproducing women and their families that doctors were any use in cases of miscarriage.

So what did shift popular sentiment? Why did more women by the end of the nineteenth century seek out medical men during miscarriages? Necessity. In the second half of the nineteenth century, millions of women found themselves physically and socially separated from family, traditional healers, and familiar reproductive aid. Due to immigration, urbanization, and industrialization in late nineteenth-century America, women began utilizing the services of male physicians because they had nowhere else to turn. The rest of Lost explores the new world of late nineteenth century America and how social, legal, demographic, and economic changes shifted how many women dealt with miscarriage, and even what a miscarriage could mean.
Learn more about Lost: Miscarriage in Nineteenth-Century America at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2018

Alan Cumyn's "North to Benjamin"

Alan Cumyn is the award-winning author of several wide-ranging and often wildly different novels. His historical novels The Sojourn and The Famished Lover chronicle the First World War and Great Depression experiences of artist Ramsay Crome. His human rights novels, Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound, follow a torture victim through survival and post-trauma. Losing It is a darkly funny and truly twisted novel about madness, while his Owen Skye books for kids–The Secret Life of Owen Skye, After Sylvia and Dear Sylvia— hilariously trace the calamitous trials of childhood and the pangs of early love. Cumyn’s young adult novel Tilt is a funny, sexy exploration of a teenaged boy’s obsessions as he lives through an impossibly absurd time of life. All Night, a literacy project, follows a young artsy couple through a stormy night of hard truths and romantic dreams. And Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend brings a touch of Kafka to the previously ordered love life of a high school senior who has no idea what might fly out of the primordial past. His latest novel, North to Benjamin, is a psychological thriller that sees a young boy, Edgar, dragged north by his unstable mother, testing his formidable survival skills.

Cumyn applied “Page 99 Test” to North to Benjamin and reported the following:
On page 99 of my new novel, North to Benjamin, young Edgar loses his regular speaking voice and begins barking like a dog. It's a pivotal moment. Edgar has been dragged north to the frontier town of Dawson City, Yukon by his unstable mother, Stephanie, who is looking for a new start after man problems in Toronto. They are housesitting and have little money, and Edgar, a quietly observant, deeply sensitive boy, has seen clearly that his mother is on the verge of embarking on yet another disastrous relationship, this time with a man who has befriended them but already has a long-time partner. Edgar has bonded with Benjamin, the old dog who came with the house, and in his anxious state has begun talking directly with Benjamin and nobody else.

In the kitchen, Edgar's mother loses patience with her eccentric son. "You could say something to me right now to indicate you know exactly what I'm telling you," she says. When all he manages is a quiet, "Woof-woof," she slams the table. "Talk! God damn you! Talk!" When he tries to write her a note – My throat feels bad – she sees right through him. "You're faking it!" she says near the end of the page.

By this point in the book it's well established that Edgar survives through his sensitivity, and through his ability to disappear, to escape notice. But the loss of his speaking voice, which coincides with his arrival at a new school, robs him of his usual survival strategies. Yet the bond with Benjamin is profound, and extends not only to some important conversations, but an unexpected ability on Edgar's part to smell with canine power, in effect to "read the news" of everything that is going on through the scents of those around him. So Edgar becomes sensitive in a different way, and the story turns in an unusual direction.

My wife and I were lucky enough to spend three months living in Dawson City, Yukon in the spring of 2014, at the Berton House residency, sponsored by the Writers' Trust of Canada. Dawson became famous as a gold rush town in 1898, and remains a delightful oddity – a vibrant small town in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness, and throbbing with stories. During my time there I was working on another novel, Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, but stayed open to the story possibilities. It was only after we got back home that Edgar entered my imagination as a possible protagonist. The place itself, Dawson, where the Klondike River meets the Yukon River, and where cultures clashed when gold-crazed prospectors overran the local indigenous tribes, is almost like an extra character in the book. I'm not sure I've had a physical location affect me so profoundly for its rugged beauty, and for the openness and generosity of the people there. We would love to go back!
Visit Alan Cumyn's website.

Writers Read: Alan Cumyn.

My Book, The Movie: North to Benjamin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sonja Thomas's "Privileged Minorities"

Sonja M. Thomas is Assistant Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Colby College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Privileged Minorities: Syrian Christianity, Gender, and Minority Rights in Postcolonial India, and reported the following:
Privileged Minorities is a feminist examination of the intersections of race, caste, class, religion, and gender in postcolonial India. I specifically focus on the Syrian Christian community of Kerala, India. “Syrian” refers not to the country of Syria, but to the Syriac language and Eastern Christian traditions of the community. The Syrian Christians are also called “St. Thomas Christians” because they believe that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus, came to Kerala in the year 52CE and converted Aryan Brahmins to Christianity. Their privileged caste status is buttressed by land ownership and class power. But as Christians, they are a minority religion in India and women in the community have to contend with the intersections of patriarchy and castesism (also known as brahmanical patriarchy).

Page 99 of Privileged Minorities sits in the middle of chapter four, “Who are the Minorities?” In this chapter, I examine differences between the Syrian Christians and other minorities through a minority rights protest that occurred in 1959. The Syrian Christians organized the protest claiming their rights under Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution were being violated by government regulations proposed in the 1957 Kerala Education Bill. Article 30(1) gives religious and linguistic minorities the right to administer and run their own schools. The purpose of this article is to ensure that minorities have an enclave where they can teach children about their minority culture and keep their minority way of life alive in the face of the dominant culture.

But what is “minority culture?”

On page 99 I state:
In all the discussion over minorities and the Kerala Education Bill, nothing is mentioned as to what is actually being protected by Article 30 (1)—only that the bill infringed upon this article. The Syrian Christian argument that minority schools were for the benefit of the minority community rested on the assumption that minority [school] managements are the authentic and legitimate authorities over what constitutes “minority culture.” The definition of “Christian culture” is evident in the concurrent debates over another bill, the [1958] Kerala Dowry Prohibition Bill. Syrian Christians asked for exemption from the Dowry Prohibition Bill on the basis of their customs enshrined in Christian personal law. As Anna Lindberg has argued, the codification of religious customs in the Christian personal law was an “identity making process” for the Syrian Christians, one in which patriarchal controls over women were strengthened. It is through the debates on this [Dowry Prohibition] Bill that we can see how gender roles and expectations act as the marker for defining minority culture rather than any numeric difference between Hindus, Muslims, and Christians.
In the late 1950s, Syrian Christian (male) politicians argued that the Syrian Christian community should be exempt from the reaches of the Dowry Prohibition Bill because dowry was their tradition. This “tradition” of dowry is an upper-caste Christian tradition that secured the community’s status in society over other minorities (Muslims, Dalit Christians, Tribals) and over Dalit Hindus. It secured the status of the community because the “tradition” of dowry mandated that Syrian Christian women needed to marry within the caste and within the faith. In turn, this ensured the literal reproduction of the caste, race, and class status of the community through endogamous unions.

This page really does reflect some of the major theoretical interventions of my book. Page 99 of Privileged Minorities looks at intersectional privilege and subordination, numerical minorities and assumptions concerning political vulnerability, and gendered and sexual controls which police bodies on everyday levels.
Learn more about Privileged Minorities at the University of Washington Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 14, 2018

Adrienne Mayor's "Gods and Robots"

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in Classics and the History of Science, and a Berggruen Fellow 2018-19, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology, and reported the following:
Who first imagined robots, intelligent machines, and replicants? Gods and Robots reveals the surprisingly ancient roots of the impulse to create artificial life and animated statues. More 2,500 years ago, ancient Greek myths envisioned robots, self-moving devices, and androids that were described as "made, not born" and programmed to carry out tasks. These ancient science fictions show that ideas about automatons could be imagined as early as the time of Homer (about 700 BC), long before technology actually made them possible.

By the fourth century BC, real inventors began to construct genuine self-moving objects and robotic servants capable of a range of activities. These synthetic marvels evoked ancient versions of the "Uncanny Valley" effect--a phrase invented in 1970 to refer to the disquieting, creepy sensation we experience when encountering hyper-realistic robots that blur the line between what is real and what is artificial.

Page 99 falls in chapter 5, "Living Statues," which explains how that eerie "Uncanny Valley" sensation occurred in antiquity, too. Classical Greek artists and sculptors developed innovations and technologies to make life-sized statues so incredibly real-looking that viewers felt shock and awe, almost expecting the figures to breathe, move, or speak. Page 99 illustrates examples of the remarkable realism that was achieved, with photographs of four splendid statues made in antiquity, two of them by the brilliant sculptor Myron of Athens, about 450 BC. The three bronze statues, an old boxer and two young athletes, had realistic hair and beards, delicate eyelashes, inlaid eyes of ivory and gems, lips, pearly teeth, inlaid fingernails, and defined musculature. The marble discus thrower's muscles, veins, and tendons are also exquisitely detailed. All of these statues were realistically painted in antiquity. It's easy to imagine how startling it would have been to come upon such a figure in a temple at night, lit only by moonlight or a flickering oil lamp.
Learn more about Gods and Robots at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Scott E. Page's "The Model Thinker"

Scott E. Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, at the University of Michigan and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for You, and reported the following:
The Model Thinker describes how we use models to be better thinkers. Models are formal abstractions written in mathematics or symbols that can be brought to data. The book has three parts. The first part describe the uses of models - to reason, explain, design, communicate, act, predict, and explore - and advocate the use of many models when confronted with complex phenomena. The middle of the book contains short, self contained chapters on a core set of the most widely used models. Finally, the third part shows how to apply ensembles of these models to real world problems - the opioid epidemic and obesity.

Page 99 puts us near the beginning of the middle. The first half of the page completes the introduction to the concept of concavity. The page begins with a tantalizing notion borrowed from Jim March: concavity can explain why people are often blissful in long distance relationships.

Allow me to explain.

An increasing concave function has a slope that decreases. In economics, ecology, and other fields, such functions capture diminishing marginal value. For example, the marginal value of each additional scoop of ice cream falls as we add scoops: One scoop of ice cream is way better than an empty cone. Way better!! Two scoops of ice cream is better than one, but by less of a margin. And three scoops of ice cream may only be a tiny bit better than two scoops.

Page 99 describe how concavity implies risk aversion: one scoop of ice cream for certain is preferred to a risky bet in which with probability 1/2 you get nothing and with probability 1/2 you get two scoops. It also describes how concavity defined over two arguments -- ice cream and time on the beach -- implies a preference for diversity. Most of us would prefer one scoop of ice cream and four hours on the beach to either two scoops of ice cream and no beach time or no ice cream and eight hours on the beach.

At the bottom of page 99, I start to describe economic growth models -- which assume that the output produced in an economy is a concave function of both labor and physical capital. The logic as to why output is concave in labor parallels the logic for why happiness is concave in scoops of ice cream. One worker at a coffee shop can serve a lot of coffees. The second worker increases output as does the third and so on. But each worker, at the margin, adds less to total output because the area behind the counter becomes crowded. Plus, the workers have to wait in line to use the espresso machine.

Let's go back to those happy long distance relationships. My wife Jenna is, for me, an ideal life partner - brilliant, kind, considerate, conscientious, other focused, and ridiculously good at cribbage. Nevertheless, my happiness is concave in Jenna. At the end of a long day, sitting with her in front of the fire reading or watching a mystery, I feel quiet joy. But, were I only to see Jenna for an hour a month, during that hour I would be ridiculously happy.

That same logic applies in other unexpected cases as well. Page 99 follows up the happy long distance relationships with an observation that concave happiness also explains why condo developers invite us for a free weekend and not for a free month. For a weekend, sitting on a secluded beach can be awesome. After a month, once you've finished reading The Model Thinker and other great new books, you may find the beach a bit dull.
Visit Scott E. Page's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2018

Ralina Joseph's "Postracial Resistance"

Ralina L. Joseph is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. She is the author of Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial.

Meshell Sturgis is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Communication at The University of Washington.

Sturgis applied the “Page 99 Test” to Joseph's new book, Postracial Resistance: Black Women, Media, and The Uses of Strategic Ambiguity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Postracial Resistance plunges readers into Shondaland, a fictive place crafted by Shonda Rhimes, a Black female show runner, across a mediascape of shows including Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. While Postracial Resistance tracks the shift in language used by Rhimes from colorblind to Black-conscious, the book critiques how “in Shondaland, the showcasing of diversity of African Americans is really about the showcasing of respectable, upper-class Black folks” (p. 99). While the book focuses on upper-class Blacks including Michelle Obama and Oprah, it also focuses on the ways in which undergraduate women of color participate in meaning making as audience members, and how less privileged professionals in the television business navigate underrepresentation alongside the politics of respectability.

Methodologically, the narrative of the book arcs from textual analysis to audience ethnography. Page 99 falls in the middle of this arc where Shonda Rhimes presents both textual evidence in her shows, and the performative aspect of postracial resistance in her own use of strategic ambiguity as a leader in the television industry. “Strategic ambiguity, whether showcasing elements of colorblindness or race-consciousness, is on Rhimes’ television shows a performance especially suited to women of color.” Although the Black characters on Rhimes’ shows are limited to stereotypical positions of respectability, the instances where Rhimes’ herself identifies as Black, bringing race to the forefront of her work, reveal the writer’s navigation of postracial times where denying the role of race, and merely winking at the Black audience, contribute to the building of a televisual empire.

While her TV shows ultimately bring some representation to TV, Rhimes’ inconsistent code-switching between colorblind rhetoric and that which acknowledges the importance of race, limit the ability for her work to bring about social justice. While Obama is noted as succeeding with her use of strategic ambiguity, Oprah is a demonstration of the failure of such tactic. Rhimes sits in the middle of these two, having some success, but in the hands of particular audiences, her work falls short of making the change that even Rhimes acknowledges is necessary.
Learn more about Postracial Resistance at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Suparna Roychoudhury's "Phantasmatic Shakespeare"

Suparna Roychoudhury is Associate Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science, and reported the following:
This page, like many others in the book, closely parses Shakespeare’s language, with a view to uncovering implicit connections with scientific knowledge. I unpack a speech by Romeo, who, confronted with the latest violent brawl between the two feuding families of Verona, feels there is something terribly wrong with the order of things:
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created,
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is—
This love feel I, that feel no love in this. (Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.170–77)
Carnage is a sign of “hate,” but hate can be the result of a too-strong “love” of something else. Nothing in creation, Romeo realizes, is what it seems. Everything carries its own opposite. Can we really tell lightness from heaviness, coldness from fire, “anything” from “nothing”? All the comparisons Romeo lists have to do with the elemental world; he is, in a way, pondering the nature of matter, like a cosmologist. Beyond the phenomena that present to our senses—coherent “well-seeming forms”—there may be an entirely different “misshapen chaos.”

This page comes from a chapter about matter theory—specifically, the Epicurean theory of atoms, revived with the rediscovery of Lucretius by Renaissance scholars. Atomism opened up a philosophical and theological can of worms, because it said that nothing can come from nothing—atoms can’t be created or destroyed, only rearranged—and therefore contradicted the metaphysics of Christian creation. Atomism also raises questions about cognition: if everything is made of matter, does that include our thoughts and dreams? What is the substance of an imagination, a mental phantasm? Romeo and Juliet points to the kinds of doubts that sixteenth-century thinkers were starting to have about the nature of the universe. Juliet and Romeo both seem strangely attuned to the material nether-reality, rushing eagerly to meet it, fantasizing of death and dissolution. The way that scientific notions disrupted conventional ideas about the mind thus deepens Shakespeare’s tragedy. What I do here with atomism I repeat with optics, zoology, anatomy, and other knowledge areas in the book’s other chapters.
Learn more about Phantasmatic Shakespeare at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2018

John Zubrzycki's "Empire of Enchantment"

John Zubrzycki is a Sydney-based author, journalist and researcher, specializing in South Asia, in particular India. He is the best-selling author of The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback (2006) and The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy (2013). His new book is Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic.

Zubrzycki applied the “Page 99 Test” to Empire of Enchantment and reported the following:
One of Harry Houdini's signature acts was being buried alive or being placed in an airtight casket that was submerged in a swimming pool. Such acts were all the rage in the 1920s and 30s and still find their way into the performances of magicians such as David Blaine. The origin of live burial can be traced back to the feats of yogis and 'fakirs' in India. Page 99 contains the final part of an account by the British resident in Ludhiana, Sir Claude Wade, who was present when a sadhu was revived after being buried alive for forty days. There are numerous descriptions of such practices in colonial records, often presented as proof of the deviousness of the 'native subjects' as in the case of a 'miracle monger' who pretended to be buried but in fact had access to a secret passage that allowed him to escape his entombment. My book tells the story of how Indian magic influenced not just the styles and performances of Western magicians but also popular culture. In his book Dracula, Bram Stoker compares the ability of the vampire to slip out of a locked tomb with the powers of India’s wonder-workers, who can be buried for months at a time and then "rise up and walk amongst them as before". This page is part of a chapter entitled "A Bed of Nails" which looks at how religious ascetics known for their austerities and sanctity, compete with the magicians whose powers are supposedly derived from the same sacred source. The overlap between magic that is both sacred and profane is a feature of India's magical traditions.
Visit John Zubrzycki's website.

Writers Read: John Zubrzycki.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Daniel T. Rodgers's "As a City on a Hill"

Daniel T. Rodgers is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His books include Age of Fracture, winner of the Bancroft Prize; Atlantic Crossings; Contested Truths; and The Work Ethic in Industrial America. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Rodgers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, As a City on a Hill: The Story of America's Most Famous Lay Sermon, and reported the following:
As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon is a story of the unexpected lives of the sermon that John Winthrop wrote out on the eve of the Puritan settlement of New England. Turn to page 99, and at first you seem far away from his famous phrase. You find yourself immersed a deeply contentious business meeting of the company that sponsored the Massachusetts project. The company was in debt. Some of its leading investors had already lost considerable sums of money; others were about to have the value of their shares radically reduced. Ministers were summoned to try to adjudicate the dispute; votes were retaken. A moral “labyrinth,” Winthrop wrote, “infolded” them all.

In fact, you are at a critical origin point of the “we shall be as a city on a hill” phrase that Winthrop was to write into his “Model of Christian Charity,” though centuries of rereading has scrubbed its anti-market sentiments from it. The ideas at its heart were injunctions to set aside love of self when the greater public good demanded it: pleas to transcend self-interest that Winthrop had first formulated at that heated business meeting. Anxiety that his fellow voyagers might not live up to these values saturated Winthrop’s “city on a hill” phrase: not predictions of a future nation’s greatness or illusion that their own modest and insular settlement would be a beacon to the world.

How that seventeenth-century document was lost, found, and radically remade between John Winthrop’s day and Ronald Reagan’s day and ours is the story of the book. Turn to p. 199 and Harvard’s leading historian is explaining why the New England Puritans were still deeply in disrepute in the 1930s. A half century later, however, they had become the nation’s “founders.” A once obscure and quickly forgotten sermon had been injected into the American past as if it had held, from the first, the nation’s deepest truth. As a City on a Hill is the story of how an invented history was fashioned and a phrase was appropriated for a Cold War and post-Cold War global order. It shows far and widely a Biblical phrase traveled from a dispute over market values to a speechwriters’ cliché. Along the way it tells a story of a radically shifting America as well.
Learn more about As a City on a Hill at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Age of Fracture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2018

Lauren E. Oakes's "In Search of the Canary Tree"

Lauren E. Oakes is a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and an adjunct professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University. She lives in Portola Valley, California and Bozeman, Montana.

Oakes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World, and reported the following:
From page 99:
My little blue Subaru was there, dusty and covered in leaves, when I arrived, and it started slowly, still choking up months of a life laid fallow… The forests had demanded all my physical strength; now the data required mental stamina.
Page 99 marks my return to California after the first summer of making thousands of plant measurements in the remote forests on the outer coast of southeast Alaska. It’s the opening to a chapter called “Thrive,” the point in my years of research when I encounter a healthy yellow-cedar forest—still flourishing across generations despite the impacts of climate change elsewhere. I’ve been paddling between locations, hiking through thick brush and dense forest to study the dead and dying trees and their surrounding community members. By page 99, I’ve survived a season in the steady rain, heavy winds, and thick fog. It’s also the point when I realize that my question of what happens after the yellow-cedar trees die is not only a search for ecological resilience but one for human resilience as well.

“Long before humans really started messing with rates of change, Charles Darwin used the term ‘adaptation’ to describe how an organism evolves to become better suited to its habitat,” I later write. “But when it came to people adapting to climate change, I wasn’t thinking about adaptation as an evolutionary process over millennia anymore. I was wondering how people decide what we can do now, today, and tomorrow. What were the traits that could lead a person to thrive in a rapidly changing world?”

In my research, I formulated hypotheses and sought answers through systematic methods like my colleagues at Stanford were doing, but as a human being living in a world that faces all kinds of threats from climate change, I was also looking for a way out of my own sense of fear and helplessness. I didn’t talk much about that part—until I wrote this book. In Search of the Canary Tree uncovers my answers to the tough questions of “What can I do?” when it comes to climate change, and “How do you live with what you know?”
Visit Lauren E. Oakes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Robin Wallace's "Hearing Beethoven"

Robin Wallace is professor of musicology at Baylor University. He is the author of Beethoven’s Critics and Take Note: An Introduction to Music through Active Listening.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery Hearing Beethoven, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, page 99 contains the idea for the book in a nutshell. As I write about the adjustments that were made to my late wife Barbara’s cochlear implant to enable her to hear better, I explain that Beethoven made similar experiments with ear trumpets, using different ones in different environments.

Barbara became profoundly deaf in 2003, the result of radiation treatment 24 years earlier to treat a brain tumor. It was the greatest shock of either of our lives—greater by far than the cancer diagnosis had been for Barbara. She never believed she would die of cancer, but deafness was a fact, coarse and unavoidable. It was the kind of Very Bad Thing that our culture has trouble acknowledging. In Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler, a Duke University theologian who studies the American prosperity gospel, writes of the utter inability of the religion she both loves and hates to assimilate her own cancer diagnosis. I learned what she meant within weeks of the onset of Barbara’s deafness. “Maybe there’s a reason this happened,” somebody told me. “Maybe this will help you understand Beethoven better.”

I had been known as a Beethoven scholar since my first book, Beethoven’s Critics, was published in 1986. I didn’t want to be told that the catastrophe that had befallen my wife was God’s way of getting me to write another book. I found the idea offensive, as though a rosy panacea could simply cancel out the deafness, the cancer, and Barbara’s whole life. Her life and her suffering hadn’t happened in order to help me or anybody else understand Beethoven. But as Barbara began to use technology to recover as much hearing as possible, I saw surprising things take place in the wiring of her brain, and I began to suspect that Beethoven must have had similar experiences.

Barbara died in 2011. I grieved, deeply, and as part of the grieving I began to realize that I did indeed have a book to write. It couldn’t be rushed; it was fifteen years after the onset of Barbara’s deafness that Hearing Beethoven was published. In it, I speak of how Barbara and Beethoven both pursued a vocation, and both lived fuller and more challenging lives than they might have otherwise. It turns out that Beethoven taught me to love Barbara better. I can live with that.
Learn more about Hearing Beethoven at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue