Tuesday, March 31, 2020

John M. Marzluff's "In Search of Meadowlarks"

John M. Marzluff is professor of environmental and forest sciences at the University of Washington and is the author or coauthor of several books, including In the Company of Crows and Ravens; Dog Days, Raven Nights; and Welcome to Subirdia.

Marzluff applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In Search of Meadowlarks: Birds, Farms, and Food in Harmony with the Land, and reported the following:
On page 99 of In Search of Meadowlarks I discuss how nesting success of birds varied among agricultural and reserved areas on a small organic farm in western Washington. These observations come from a study conducted by my colleagues and myself in which we found quite high nesting success by birds in both forest reserves and agricultural field borders. We found no nests within the active agricultural fields themselves. I went on to describe some of the birds we found nesting, which were mostly also those that inhabit nearby suburbs. However, the farm provided habitats for some different birds than did the suburbs, namely Rufous rather than Anna’s Hummingbirds, Tree rather than Violet-green Swallows, and a bird new to my study, the Common Yellowthroat. I used the remainder of page 99 to introduce the reader to the Yellowthroat, a migratory warbler, that becomes an important player throughout the remainder of the chapter.

One gets a poor idea of the whole book by reading page 99. While we learn a bit about how birds fare in agricultural settings on page 99, we learn nothing about what farmers can and are doing to make their farms more appealing to birds. We learn only about one farm on page 99 and nothing about the wide diversity of farms—each with particular issues and problems that are solved—I report from throughout the entire book. Nothing is learned about Costa Rica, Montana, Nebraska, or California on page 99. No knowledge is gained concerning the responses of birds and other wildlife to ranching, raising grain, or viticulture. Missing from page 99 are interesting discussions about how barn owls, bluebirds, and sparrows help farmers control pests on their crops. Also not mentioned on page 99 is a consideration of whether it is better for nature to reserve natural lands and intensively farm other lands or crop more land in a wildlife-friendly manner. The history of farming and its occurrence outside of human society is missing from page 99, yet provides an important introduction to the book. The evolutionary responses of organisms—weeds, viruses, domestic species, birds, and people to agriculture puts my book into broader context, but again this discussion is missing from page 99. Finally, the important discussion concerning how as a society we will meet the food needs of a growing and increasingly affluent human population while also conserving some of the natural habitats that other species require is completely absent from page 99. This discussion leads to the conclusion of the book wherein I emphasize the actions that we all—farmers, consumers, restaurateurs, and others—can do to assure future food security and a vibrant natural world.

I always enjoy assessing my books from page 99. I find it interesting that my reading of page 99 provides detailed and general information that might pique a reader’s interest in the rest of my story. As we learn about one type of bird, we might begin to wonder about other species and how they respond to agriculture. As we read about reproduction on one farm, perhaps we become curious about other aspects of a bird’s life, such as lifespan or migration. I discuss these aspects of bird life in other parts of the book. Lastly, I hope readers of page 99 will wonder what they can do to keep Common Yellowthroats common on farms. By continuing to read my book these questions are answered, quenching the thirst for more information that page 99 instills.
Learn more about In Search of Meadowlarks at the Yale University Press website.

See: Coffee with a Canine: Colleen and John Marzluff & Reese, Digit and Bellatrix.

The Page 99 Test: Dog Days, Raven Nights.

The Page 99 Test: In the Company of Crows and Ravens.

The Page 99 Test: Gifts of the Crow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2020

Elizabeth Kadetsky's "The Memory Eaters"

Elizabeth Kadetsky is author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain, the short story collection The Poison that Purifies You, and the novella On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. A professor of creative writing at Penn State and nonfiction editor at the New England Review, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

Kadetsky applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Memory Eaters, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Bombing the Ghost

The girls from Harlem used to corn-row Freddi’s long, silky hair for him in class. Once he left a note for me in marker on the mailbox outside our building, his script white on the blue box: to liz♥freddi. Then he gave me an LP tagged and pieced up on the liner sleeve with cartoon images of himself and me gazing in amazement at the beauty and large size and bright colors of his lettering.

Freddi took me bombing with his crew one night, Darkside Artists (DSA), with Anthem and Shark, some other girls too—Psyche, I think, and a few who didn’t tag. We entered the tunnel at the north end of the Eighty-sixth and Broadway station and walked on a thin ledge, at platform level, a block or so to the southern edge of the ghost station: “91,” read the old mosaic letter work. The guys were dressed alike in long wool army coats and carried messenger bags heavy
Brilliant. This test located a page that does not offer a synopsis per se, but, by mimesis, captures the essence of my memoir. It landed on the opening for the essay “Bombing the Ghost,” which tells a nostalgia-tinged story from thirty years in the past. The essay’s purpose in the book, and purpose for me when I wrote it, was to offer an escape from the present-moment reality of my mother’s fast and spectacular decline toward Alzheimer’s and death. Later in the essay, the fourteen-year-old me comes home from an all-night graffiti outing with the Darkside crew to find her mother still dressed in the previous day’s elegant work outfit and engaged in an intense, wordless dialogue with the cat. Mother is clearly tripping on acid. The darkly humorous twin anecdotes of the essay—the mother tripping, and the daughter perilously walking inside a subway tunnel while a train passes—show the disconnect between memory and reality that is at the heart of the book. In fact, the events of this essay are disturbing, terrifying even. I remember feeling rootless and lost then, and how a pervasive, druggy atmosphere accentuated a kind of bottomless fear that followed me everywhere. And yet when I wrote the essay, my memory played tricks on me. It attached a sepia-toned veneer to that time. My mother’s beauty, the gritty shine of New York City in the early 1980s—these took over. I was in a mental state where I wanted time to stop moving forward. In writing this essay, I allowed it to move backwards into an almost imaginary past. At the same time, the “I” who narrates this essay knows that the actual events were not so pretty. My hope is that this essay evokes that nostalgic paradox—that tension between the positive cast of certain memories and their far grimmer reality.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Kadetsky's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Poison that Purifies You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Paul Cairney & Emily St Denny's "Why Isn’t Government Policy More Preventive?"

Paul Cairney is Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling. His publications include Understanding Public Policy (2019), Making Policy in a Complex World (with Tanya Heikkila and Matthew Wood 2019), The Politics of Evidence-based Policymaking (2016), and The Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy (2015).

Emily St Denny is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Stirling. Her expertise lies in prevention policy, policymaking in the devolved UK, and public sector reform.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Why Isn't Government Policy More Preventive?, and reported the following:
Page 99 focuses on the UK Government’s public health policy and policymaking during a Labour government led by Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010). Labour’s election in 1997 had signalled a major shift in commitment to public health policies designed to reduce health inequalities. It saw smoking as the biggest cause of the health inequalities associated with ‘non-communicable diseases’ such as cancer and heart disease. It sought to boost the role of primary care in detecting illness more quickly, and to address the relationship between contributing factors such as obesity and ‘worklessness in deprived areas’. It sought to intervene early in the lives of children under three years old, to address likely inequalities in health, educational attainment, and ‘behavioural problems’. It also described new forms of policymaking, built on the idea of ‘evidence based policymaking’ and ‘joined up government’. The page ends by suggesting that key public health policymaking initiatives failed.

Page 99 is representative of one key time and place in the book. The Labour government era was sandwiched between (1) the Conservative governments of 1979-97, led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major, which had minimal interest in state action to reduce health inequalities, and (2) the Conservative-led governments from 2010, which inherited Labour’s commitment to reduce inequalities but also delivered an ‘austerity’ programme that exacerbated its cause (socio-economic inequalities). Labour’s election was clearly a turning point in policy, but its defeat in 2010 had a less clear effect. UK government policy from 2010 was marked by a focus on individual behaviour – smoking, drinking alcohol, eating high salt and sugar foods, and low exercise – rather than the ‘structural’ and environmental factors – income and wealth, housing, green space, pollution – associated with the ‘social determinants’ of health. Yet, Labour had also been moving in this direction, and its policies were closer to the government in 2010 than the one it replaced in 1997. The book also compares UK and Scottish government policy, showing that they faced similar problems in similar ways, with similar levels of success.

Page 99 ‘zooms in’ to the details of a recurrent problem in policy and policymaking. Governments in many countries seek to prevent the rise of (a) inequalities and (b) the costs of public services by intervening as early as possible in people’s lives. To do so, they describe an evidence-based and joined-up approach. However, governments do not keep up this commitment or solve the problems they describe.
Learn more about Why Isn't Government Policy More Preventive? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2020

Edwin L. Battistella's "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels"

Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. His books include Bad Language: Are Some Words Better than Others? and Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology. He writes a monthly column, "Between the Lines with Edwin Battistella," for the Oxford University Press blog.

Battistella applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels picks up with William Howard Taft, who served from 1909-1913, and later was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Readers get a bit of his background, learning that the affable Taft was known as “Smiling Bill” and was Teddy Roosevelt’s chosen successor. But the two had a falling out as Taft reined in a good deal of Teddy’s progressive reforms. By 1912, Smiling Bill and Teddy were running against each other and the Bull Moose Party was born. Things got ugly.

Page 99 gives readers a good feel for the descriptions of presidents and the challenges they face, and Taft’s single term is a perfect illustration of this, sandwiched between Teddy and Woodrow Wilson and roughly midway between Washington and Trump. What readers won’t find on page 99 are the insults themselves, which occur nearby on pages 98 (for Teddy) and 100 (for Taft). On those pages, readers learn, among other things, that Taft called Teddy Roosevelt a “honeyfuggler”—an old term for a swindler or conman—and that that Teddy considered Taft to be “a flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and common in him.” Page 99 is the set up, the necessary background to appreciate the insults.

Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels has an alternating structure with chapters covering key periods in US history and with sections on each of the nation’s forty-five presidents detailing how they were dissed. The introductions to the chapters provide context to the historical periods, from the Founders (Chapter Two) to the Culture Wars (Chapter Seven), and the book is adorned with caricatures by artist Morgan Pielli and with Etymological Explorations—sidebars that give the history of terms like copperhead and wimp, among others.

The message beyond the insults themselves is twofold: how consistent the categories of insults have been over time even as the words themselves change, and the power and importance of the First Amendment—the right of Americans to insult the president, whoever that is.
Visit Edwin L. Battistella's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Jeremy Arnold's "Across the Great Divide"

Jeremy Arnold is a political theorist and, most recently, was Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of State Violence and Moral Horror (2017).

Arnold applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory, and reported the following:
Page 99 summarizes my reconstruction of Hannah Arendt’s theory of freedom and moves on to a further discussion of the value and importance of freedom as understood by Arendt. Very little on page 99 would seem to summarize or reveal the book as a whole. I end my discussion of Arendt’s novel and singular theory of freedom by reminding the reader that freedom for Arendt requires an act of genuine spontaneity, not fully determined by any condition, context, intention, or prior event. However, free actions are not undetermined; they are importantly limited by the need to be (at least barely) intelligible. I write:
The initiation of the new is a moment of freedom because what emerges is not fully determined by what came before. Although limited by the need to be intelligible, initiating the new is not determined by the limits of the intelligible, or by anything else. The intelligible is not fully determined, not static, and not fully determining. Modernism depends upon the relative stability, and permanent possibility of the change of, the limits of the intelligible. So does significant change in our own lives.
Page 99 does reveal a bit about how I understand Arendtian freedom, but little about Across the Great Divide as a whole.

My discussion of Arendt’s theory of freedom, and her claims about why freedom is valuable, is just a part of Across the Great Divide; but it is, perhaps, the most salient given current trends in contemporary Euro-American politics. Recent developments in right-wing politics have brought words and possibilities like “fascism”, “authoritarianism”, and “totalitarianism” back into public discourse. Before and after the 2016 American presidential election, Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was often referred to by those seeking to understand contemporary political tendencies. However, Arendt provides us not only with an analysis of totalitarianism, but a political response that challenges one of the most important causes of the desire for totalitarian politics: nihilism. As we learn in books like Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies, new forms of communication allow racist, sexist, and fascist discursive tropes to circulate in an ironic, nihilistic, “doing it for the lolz” guise, while nonetheless fueling movements deeply committed to racist, sexist, and fascistic politics. A recent case of anti-semitism in a New Jersey school provides a useful recent example. Nihilism, alienation, loneliness, and resentment are all causes of totalitarianism on Arendt’s account. Challenging contemporary fascistic politics—whether from the left, the center, or right—requires beliefs, practices, and experiences that reaffirm and rejuvenate the meaningfulness and joyfulness of the shared human condition (as Arendt calls it): to pluralism, individuality, and difference; to ecologically sustainable forms of existence; to what is shared; to public goods and public life. Freedom as initiating newness—especially the freedom that comes through speaking and acting with others in public spaces—is one of those experiences. In freedom, Arendt argues, we can find a joy and meaning in shared forms of life that makes human life, with all of its suffering, not only bearable, but affirmable.

That being said, Across the Great Divide is committed to what I call—I wish it were less of a garbled mess—“aporetic cross-tradition theorizing”. In short, Arendt’s theory of freedom, however important and attractive, is still deeply problematic. In the book, I compare Arendt with the philosopher Philip Pettit, whose work on republicanism (the political form, not the party), is an equally challenging, powerful, and persuasive, if also equally problematic, theory of freedom. It is through such comparative work, I claim, that we can better understand both political theories and political phenomena.
Learn more about Across the Great Divide at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Eric Nusbaum's "Stealing Home"

Eric Nusbaum is a writer and former editor at Vice. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, The Daily Beast, Deadspin, and the Best American Sports Writing anthology. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has also lived and worked in Mexico City, New York, and Seattle. He now lives in Tacoma, Washington with his family.

Nusbaum applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Stealing Home is the first page of a short chapter about one of the book's central characters: a young man named Frank Wilkinson, who was raised conservative and Methodist, but found himself, in his twenties, becoming a radical atheist. The year is 1942. The city is Los Angeles. Here's the opening paragraph:
There was something about the Communist Party: The big ideas, the being on the right side of history, even the danger of it. In the early 1940s becoming a Communist wasn't so crazy. The party had been growing in America for a decade. Communists were deeply involved in labor and activism. They were freedom fighters and intellectuals in a city that was dominated by elite oil and real-estate magnates. Also, the United States and Soviet Union were now allies in Europe. To Frank Wilkinson, joining up made a certain level of sense. At heart, he was an institutionalist. He liked to feel like he belonged to something bigger. The Methodist Church wasn't cutting it anymore."
Soon, Frank will be recruited to join the party at the home of architect Richard Neutra and his wife Dione. Frank and Jean will then move into the upstairs of the Neutra's home.

I actually think you get a decent idea of the book, which is alternatively sweeping and intimate in the way it treats the city and the lives involved in this story. Frank's radicalization is an important development. You miss out on some of the other stuff: the principal family involved, the Aréchigas of Palo Verde, and, of course, baseball -- but the test more or less works.

An interesting thing about the Page 99 test in this instance: Frank Wilkinson was actually my initial way into this story as a high school student. He went on to live a long and fascinating life, which I will not spoil here (pick up the book!) , and ended up speaking to my class about the Red Scare many years after the action of Stealing Home takes place. The story he told, about his life, about Los Angeles, and about Dodger Stadium, was enthralling and moving to me. It led me on the path to writing this very answer.
Visit Eric Nusbaum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Kari Weil's "Precarious Partners"

Kari Weil is University Professor of Letters at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now and Androgyny and the Denial of Difference.

Weil applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Precarious Partners: Horses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France, and reported the following:
As fate would have it, page 99 does bring readers to one of the central questions of Precarious Partners and which gets to the very precarity of human-horse relations in the nineteenth-century: why is it that at the very moment when the popularity and presence of the horse as worker, prized possession, and even pampered pet were at their height, horsemeat was legalized for human consumption. To answer that question, I refer to Derrida’s essay on “Eating Well,” in order to raise the idea and desirability of “carnivorous virility.” But meat was expensive and the prevalence of horse carcasses in the city made it a far less expensive meat than beef. Hence, I suggest, the legalization of horsemeat could be regarded as a generous extension of such virility to the working classes, if of a distinctly lesser order signaled by the mandatory horse head above all horse butcheries.

To complicate even further the importance of eating animals for virile subjectivity, the page then moves to Walter Benjamin’s essay on “Gloves,” and his suggestion that eating animals may be a way of overcoming the fear of being like them, of sensing our animality. In contrast to feminist thinkers who have celebrated the reciprocity of touch, Benjamin adds that disgust for the animal-other begins with touch and ends with a reaction whereby “may not deny his bestial relationship with animals… He must make himself its master.” Benjamin thus adds a new perspective on the postcard image with which the chapter opens, where a man in full equestrian attire is seen standing in line at the chevaline or horse butcher shop. Might it be, I ask “that in nineteenth-century France, the horse was that animal who most revealed man’s intimate and bestial relationship with animals, such that activities like pleasure-riding required subsequently a drastic means of separation, sending our post-card equestrian immediately to the “Chevaline” in order to eat his disgusting mate and so prove himself its master?”

To be sure, eating and virile mastery over the horse is not the whole story, nor are Benjamin and Derrida the only theorists considered to help understand horse-human relations at the time. Other chapters of the book move between literature, painting, writings in natural history and sport manuals to examine the rise of the woman rider or “amazone,” conflicts between animal protection and worker’s rights, ideas behind domesticaion along with connections between race and the breeding of horses, and the various aesthetic, cultural, physical and affective pleasures and power achieved through partnerships with horses whether on the streets, in the parks, in the hippodromes or circuses, and, unfortunately, at the slaughter yards.
Learn more about Precarious Partners at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2020

Christopher Houston's "Istanbul, City of the Fearless"

Christopher Houston is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is the author of Kurdistan: Crafting of National Selves and Islam, Kurds and the Turkish Nation-State.

Houston applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Istanbul, City of the Fearless: Urban Activism, Coup d'Etat, and Memory in Turkey, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Istanbul, City of the Fearless comes near the end of a chapter describing the rich and interlocking repertoire of leftist and rightist activists' protest tactics in Istanbul in the late 1970s. The chapter is titled 'Inscription, Sound, and Violence', and it explores political groups' graffiti, posters, slogans, songs, guerilla speeches, the occupying of space, and the violent breaking of other groups' occupying of those places. One sobering aspect of these activities was that conflict over the affordances of the city sometimes led to violence unto death, and the chapter concludes by exploring certain perceptions of death and dying expressed by the revolutionary movements in obituaries and family statements.

The page 99 'test' works exceptionally well for Istanbul, City of the Fearless. However there is a poignancy to its relevance. On it readers will find examples of the death notices written by comrades for slain activists and published in factions' newspapers and journals. In one obituary the text reads: 'While fighting militantly and sacrificially against the oligarchy, our heroic brother KEMAL KARACA was treacherously and deceitfully struck down. Let your memory lead our struggle, let your life be our honor! Once again, in your execution: we saw ‘treason and fire.’ Once again, a thousand times again, we condemn provocation.' In the obituaries we see how the city is constituted as a political crucible for for a struggle against fascism and imperialism, and the revolutionary cause as demanding sacrifice.

Page 99's concern to describe the meaning and description of violence and death as given by political actors themselves is illustrative of the book in another way. Istanbul, City of the Fearless is a phenomenological exploration of activism, a study whose first concern is the perception and experience of urban activists in the city. The book describes and analyzes phenomena such as the built environment, militant bodies, movement around the city, places, moods, ethics, violence, ideologies and factions as perceived and remembered by participants. Thus page 99 reveals in miniature what it was like for militants to dwell in Istanbul in the years 1974-1983, years ruptured by the 1980 military coup that brought a terrible new meaning to urban phenomena.
Learn more about Istanbul, City of the Fearless at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Erin Hatton's "Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment"

Erin Hatton is an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research is centered in the sociology of work, while also extending into the fields of race and gender, social inequality, culture, labor, law, and social policy. Her first book, The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America (2011), weaves together gender, race, class, and work in a cultural analysis of the temporary help industry and the rise of the new economy.

Hatton applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment is the last page of the central substantive chapter of this book, which examines coercion, compliance, and resistance across four very different groups of workers: prisoners working behind bars, welfare recipients required to work for public assistance, Division I football and basketball players, and graduate students in the sciences. This page (along with the previous page) does a pretty good job of summarizing the book’s main argument: that the supervisors in these labor relations wield expansive punitive power over these workers, and that this power is a previously unrecognized form of labor coercion that I call “status coercion.” Through such coercion, I argue, the supervisors in these labor relations have far-reaching power over these workers’ lives, families, and futures. As I write on page 99,
The coercion in these labor regimes has a far-reaching effect, producing compliant yet productive workers not only for the regimes themselves but also for the low-wage “precariat.” … For as we have seen, these labor regimes not only produce actions of compliance; they produce ideologies of compliance. Although these workers hold both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic ideologies of work, they generally accept, and often embrace, the importance of being coachable, teachable, and compliant: hardworking, unquestioning, and acquiescent. Perhaps this is not surprising given the severity of the consequences they face if they do otherwise.
(Though, later in the book, I also analyze the many ways in which these workers resist the coercion and subjugation that pervade their labor.)

In short, the ”Page 99 Test” works! This page gives the reader a great synopsis of the book’s main argument, as well as a strong sense of the book’s tenor.

Of course, one has to read more than just page 99 to get a full understanding of the book, particularly if the reader needs to be convinced that it is even reasonable to compare such seemingly incomparable groups. (Spoiler alert: I do not argue that these groups are the same. Graduate students are not prisoners! But I do argue that they experience the same type of labor coercion, in kind but not degree, just as day laborers and managers both experience economic coercion to varying degrees.) Ultimately I argue such unusual comparisons can yield new and surprising insight into social dynamics.
Visit Erin Hatton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Philip Mark Plotch's "Last Subway"

Philip Mark Plotch is an associate professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration program at Saint Peter's University. He has served as Director of World Trade Center Redevelopment and Special Projects at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and manager of planning and policy at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Plotch is the award-winning author of Politics Across the Hudson.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Last Subway: The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test describes conditions that should not be forgotten and reveals a timeless lesson. Elected officials like sexy projects and are willing to ignore basic infrastructure needs to pursue them.

Page 99 describes how New York’s governor in the 1970s promoted building a new covered highway along the West Side of Manhattan that would add more than two hundred acres of landfill in the Hudson River for parks and apartments.

Many environmental and transit advocates, however, opposed the new highway and preferred that New York take the $800 million allocated for it and use the funds for transit improvements, instead. To generate support for his pet project, the governor did something that numerous elected officials have done before and after him – he overestimated the project’s benefits and underestimated its costs.

Even though the environmentalists won, the city's transit system still lost. Because elected officials prioritized grand new projects over basic maintenance work in the 1970s, New York’s subway system rapidly deteriorated. One-third of all the subway cars pulling into stations had broken doors, and nearly as many had lighting problems. Because of cutbacks in maintenance and cleaning, a subway car caught fire nearly seven times a day.

New York’s graffiti-covered trains from the 1970s and 1980s should serve as a reminder of the need to maintain existing resources before embarking on unaffordable endeavors.

The Page 99 test worked! The page reflects the entire book -- tension and drama between powerful players, written in an engaging, accessible, and informative way.
Visit Philip Mark Plotch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 20, 2020

Peter Levine's "Defense Management Reform"

Peter Levine is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses and a former Senate staffer. He has served as the Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense—the senior Pentagon official responsible for defense management reform.

Levine applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defense Management Reform: How to Make the Pentagon Work Better and Cost Less, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins a description of how published “horror stories” about defense acquisition drove reformers in Congress and the Pentagon in unhelpful directions in the 1980s. A quote from a 1981 article on the acquisition of C-5 aircraft captures the spirit of the time, saying: “If the Edsel had been built to military specifications, it probably would be with us today; generals would be photographed with it, contractors would be promising third-generation, rocket-assisted, amphibious Edsels, and congressmen from the contractors’ districts would be warning of an Edsel gap.” As this narrative built through the decade, the Pentagon “was left in a protective crouch, trying to fend off unneeded, unwanted, and – in many cases – counterproductive reform proposals.”

This page captures one of the key take-aways of the book: public concerns and press attention are a vital catalyst for reform initiatives, but do not always drive reform in a positive direction. In this case, the government focused so much attention on “spare parts scandals” – $436 hammers, $649 toilet seats and the like – that it neglected needed reforms for billion dollar expenditures on major weapon systems. By the late 1980s, the Department of Defense had hired almost 6,000 new personnel to handle the added spare parts workload at a cost of close to half a billion dollars a year. Spare parts prices leveled off for a few years, but the trend was not enduring – and the prices of big ticket items continued to skyrocket. As the conclusion to the section explains, dedicating disproportionate resources to a narrow set of initiatives may hurt more than it helps if it means neglecting other, more important causes.

Of course, the book discusses other time periods, examines other case studies, and includes other key take-aways. For example, would-be reformers who fail to understand the existing system and how it works may unwittingly make management problems worse; one-size-fits-all approaches rarely work in an enterprise as large and complex as the Department of Defense; bipartisan management reform efforts are more likely to last than narrow partisan victories; without a strong executive branch partner to implement it, reform legislation will not bring about lasting change; and leaders who try to take on too much often end up accomplishing nothing.

Page 99 gives an accurate feel for the quality of writing and the analytic approach of the book, but no single-page snapshot can capture the tangled history of defense management reform or provide a full recipe for future success.
Learn more about Defense Management Reform at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Alexander Bukh's "These Islands Are Ours"

Alexander Bukh is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Japan's Identity and Foreign Policy: Russia as Japan's 'Other' (2009) and the producer and co-director of the documentary This Island Is Ours: Defending Dokdo/Retrieving Takeshima (2016).

Bukh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia is in a chapter that discusses the South Korean grassroots movement to protect Dokdo- two tiny islets in the Sea of Japan, administered by South Korea since early 1950s but claimed by Japan as its territory. Most of page 99 discusses the nature of Korean post-war national identity as one of the factors that shaped the “protect Dokdo” movement.

The Page 99 Test works only to a certain extent for These Islands Are Ours. The discussion of Korean national identity on this page shows that the book establishes a relationship between various movements that seek to protect or recover disputed territory and national identity. However, it is not clear from this page that the book as a whole is mostly interested in economic, political and social crises as factors that shaped the emergence of such movements.

These Islands Are Ours focuses on three territorial disputes in Northeast Asia which are one of the main sources of tension in the region. Escalation in such conflicts often stems from a widely shared public perception that the territory in question is of the utmost importance to the nation. While that's frequently not true in economic, military, or political terms, citizens' groups and other domestic actors throughout the region have mounted sustained campaigns to protect or recover disputed islands. Quite often, these campaigns have wide-ranging domestic and international consequences.

The main question These Islands Are Ours seeks to answer is why and how do territorial disputes that at one point mattered little, become salient? Focusing on non-state actors rather than political elites, it explains how and why apparently inconsequential territories become central to national discourse in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Islands Are Ours challenges the conventional wisdom that disputes-related campaigns originate in the desire to protect national territory and traces their roots to times of crisis in the respective societies. This book gives us a new way to understand the nature of territorial disputes and how they inform national identities by exploring the processes of their social construction, and amplification.
Learn more about These Islands Are Ours at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

William A. Callahan's "Sensible Politics"

William A. Callahan is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His recent books include China Dreams: 20 Visions of the Future (2015) and China: The Pessoptimist Nation (2010). Callahan also makes documentary films: "China Dreams" was broadcast on KCET (Los Angeles) in 2015, "Toilet Adventures" (2015) was shortlisted for a major award by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and "Great Walls" (2019) juxtaposes Trump's wall with the Great Wall of China.

Callahan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations considers how Seth Rogen’s bromance comedy The Interview (2014), which includes a scene where American journalists kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, became embroiled in geopolitics. Many critics assumed that this film is an example of Hollywood slavishly following Washington’s elite-driven security propaganda to frame politics in terms of a “good” America vs. an “evil” North Korea. But page 99 explains that
it’s more complicated than that, and these complications undermine the logic of securitization theory. Firstly, it shows how people from outside the political elite can be sucked into national security politics. The film was co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who are not known for serious or artistic filmmaking. Rather, they are famous for making movies that appeal to the male teenage demographic’s interest in casual sex and gross bodily functions. Rogen was bewildered at North Korea’s threats, posting on Twitter that ‘People don’t usually wanna kill me for one of my movies until after they’ve paid 12 bucks for it.’ If we see the film as a political satire, the targets are American journalism and U.S. foreign policy as much as North Korea’s dictator. Progressive elites like George Clooney tried to organize actors and directors to defend The Interview as a matter of freedom of expression; but he was unsuccessful, perhaps because many saw it as a bromance movie rather than as a serious political film worthy of political activism.

Moreover, neither Rogen nor Goldberg is American: they are both proudly Canadian, and much of the movie was filmed in their hometown of Vancouver. While based in Los Angeles, Sony Pictures Entertainment is part of the larger Japanese multinational corporation Sony, and the Tokyo headquarters weighed in to tone down the excesses of the film after North Korean complaints in Summer 2014. How then can we say that the film is part of securitization [of America vs. North Korea] if neither the filmmakers nor the company are clearly ‘American’? Certainly, some would point to Sony’s discussions with RAND Corporation and the U.S. State Department to argue that The Interview was part of U.S. foreign policy and propaganda. But since Sony ultimately didn’t follow their advice, to me it suggests that something else is going on.
Page 99 thus starts the argument that we need to understand the visual politics of film in more nuanced and complex ways than simply political and cultural elites using popular culture as propaganda to manipulate the general public. Indeed, The Interview is a great example of a low-brow film made by relatively apolitical directors can provoke international politics in unexpected ways: it pushed political leaders to pursue new cybersecurity, anti-terrorism, and artistic freedom policies.

Page 99 thus gives readers a good sense of Sensible Politics as a whole. The main argument of the book is that we need to understand politics (and specifically visual politics) in two interrelated ways. First, we need to recognize that images shape our view of the world: in our post-literate age, most people get their information about international affairs from visual media. As the photograph of the dead toddler Alan Kurdi during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 graphically showed, photographs can put issues on the global agenda, even provoking Angela Merkel to allow over one million refugees into Germany. The book thus argues that we need to understand how visuals are important not just because of the content of their meaning, but also to understand how their meaning is constructed by the “who, when, where, and how” issues of their production, distribution, and viewership. Who directed The Interview, which studio produced it, how was it re-edited after North Korea complained, who could watch it—and who couldn’t.

Page 99, however, also hints at Sensible Politics’s other key message: visual images matter, but in different ways beyond their rational meaning. Because images can viscerally move us in unexpected ways, they need to be appreciated not just in terms of what they mean, but also how they make us feel, both as individuals and as groups. The horrible photo of Alan Kurdi did not simply provide information for a greater understanding of the plight of migrants; it viscerally moved and connected people in ways that mobilized new political communities that did things. Sensible Politics explores this thinking/feeling dynamic through an analysis of the visual politics of photographs, films, art, maps, fashion, walls, gardens and cyberspace, with examples from Asia, the Middle East, and the West. It hopes to reach people who are interested in international affairs, visual culture, and/or Asian politics.
Learn more about Sensible Politics at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: China: The Pessoptimist Nation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Peter Fritzsche's "Hitler's First Hundred Days"

Peter Fritzsche is the W. D. & Sarah E. Trowbridge professor of history at the University of Illinois. His books include An Iron Wind: Europe Under Hitler and the award-winning Life and Death in the Third Reich.

Fritzsche applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hitler's First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich, and reported the following:
On page 99, we find ourselves in the very first days of the Third Reich, right after Hitler has been appointed Germany’s youngest chancellor on Monday morning, January 30, 1933. The page summarizes the basic conundrum of the Nazis and of any understanding of the Nazis. On the one hand, Hitler had the enthusiastic support of about forty percent of the population, a large percentage in a parliamentary system. And on the other hand, he found it difficult to move well beyond forty percent, as the elections of March 5 would confirm. This meant that the Nazis could rely on substantial consent, but also would have to use coercive measures to intimidate opponents from rising up. What made reading the signs of who was for the Nazis, who was against (and who was wavering) difficult was the fact that life still moved in accustomed rhythms. As we read on, page 99 pans out: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were the days of the big white sales in which department stores decked themselves out as luscious fantasy worlds in order to attract hesitant shoppers. The fabulously popular sport of skiing was the favored theme of one department store, “winter paradise on the fourth floor,” a reminder that not all Germans were unemployed or anxious. In a few weeks, the department store would be “Aryanized.” And lots of people were sick in bed. The former chancellor Brüning felt terrible; Goebbels, the Nazi chief in Berlin, “collapsed” with a fever of 104°. Years later, the novelist Heinrich Böll, who as fifteen-year-old himself had the flu back then, wondered whether historians had neglected to consider the epidemic as the cause of the political delirium in the year 1933. For or against, the ski report and the fever chart–page 99 poses the question of how to read the early signs of the public mood in the Third Reich.

Scholars still hotly debate the measure of consent and coercion in the foundations of the Third Reich. Some think I completely exaggerate the degree of support for the Nazis. In any case, the most popular dictatorship in the twentieth century was also one of the most violent. What connected the two parts, the consensual and the coercive, was the steady movement of converts from the opposition camp to the Nazi camp, something which confounded determined anti-Nazis. Since radio broadcasts of the excited rallies of the Nazis in the streets–today we say “social media”--seemed to suggest quick growing support, more and more people stepped across the threshold and quickly, gingerly made their peace with the Third Reich. In so doing, they made the illusions of the media a reality. Hitler’s First Hundred Days explores why so many Germans crowded into the Nazi assemblies despite all the signs that many, many Catholics and socialists remained opponents. Given the signs of national acclamation, I argue that critics found themselves marginalized and branded as traitors. By making so public both the excitement for Hitler and the determination of his regime to crush opponents, the Third Reich forced a decision--us or them, peace or war, the people’s community or the concentration camp–which pushed Germans into line, or at least so it seemed. The first story in Hitler’s One Hundred Days is how quickly the Nazis seemed to be cast as national saviors, a casting they manipulated with a savvy media operation. But the second story is how difficult it was to know who was for and who was against the Nazis and who acted out of idealism or out of opportunism or out of fear. The book asserts that “everything changed!” but also asks “how much?” In the end, the bloated Nazi forty percent made the non-Nazi forty percent look haggard, a trick of mirrors, to be sure, but one that depended on the dynamic energy of the big part that marched and marched, and hailed, and screamed, and kicked.

Ford Madox Ford’s observation works well for me. On page 99, we see the tension between one side and the other, but also the ability of one side to adjust the optics for just about everyone. We see people falling into line, although we are unsure of motive, which is something all the shopping trips, ski vacations, and bed rest remind us to consider. The fact is that all the big debates historians have about the depth of support for the Nazis were the very topics Germans talked about among themselves at the time. What was the responsibility of the individual to justice and civil rights, to the constitution, to the claims of community, nation, and “race”? What was the direction of history? Who was with “us” and who was with “them,” and why did so many Germans appear to become Nazis in just one hundred days? These are the elemental questions of any political science and any historical analysis–of our own times as well as of the times of our grandparents. The “first one hundred days” are by-words for revolution. Do they end in Napoleon’s Waterloo, or with FDR forever on our dimes? In any case, we still talk and talk about Hitler and his murderous men and how they came to be and who they were and what they mean to us. We are always back on page 99.
Learn more about Hitler's First Hundred Days at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 16, 2020

Alex Beam's "Broken Glass"

Alex Beam has been a columnist for The Boston Globe since 1987. He previously served as the Moscow bureau chief for Business Week. His nonfiction books include American Crucifixion, Gracefully Insane, A Great Idea at the Time, and The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship.

Beam applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modernist Masterpiece, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes in some detail Mies van der Rohe's precise and innovative attention to detail in designing and building the Farnsworth House.

The test works! There are three characters in Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, his client, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, and the elegant, modernist Farnsworth House itself. Page 99 tells us quite a bit about Mies's obsession with materials, and his meticulous attention to detail. The page describes the granular obsession with quality workmanship that Mies inherited from his stonemason father, who plied his trade in the shadow of the magnificent, medieval cathedral in Aachen. Local lore had it that if anyone questioned why the masons worked so hard on small details, invisible to the naked eye atop the cathedral's Gothic spires, they answered: "God can see them." Page 99 shows Mies fulfilling this inheritance.

Page 99 occurs in Chapter Four, the only purely "architectural" chapter in the book. The chapter title comes from an observation in Edith Farnsworth's diary. She often visited Mies's office while the "boys" -- his young associates -- clustered around their drawing boards, parsing out details of her soon to be famous home. "In the big drafting room, the boys sat their tables, transfigured," she wrote, 'This is the most important house in the world,' they crowed."

It turned out to be a very important house indeed.
Visit Alex Beam's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Paul M. Farber's "A Wall of Our Own"

Paul M. Farber is a curator, historian, and educator from Philadelphia. He is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Monument Lab and Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Public Art and Space at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Farber applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Wall of Our Own: An American History of the Berlin Wall, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The [revision of the Berlin Wall’s] most prominent feature, its outer western wall, consisted of a repeated sequence of prefabricated concrete horizontal slabs stacked into interlocked steel-supporting frames. The result was a wall that approached full standardization only after nearly a decade of existence.

From the perspective of Tajiri and others, the so-called wall was an amalgam of many intersecting structures of border control, on both sides of the divide. For Tajiri, an American expatriate of Japanese descent and veteran who had left his home country twenty years earlier, moving through divided Berlin brought him in contact with traces of U.S.military occupation. As he prepared to begin a teaching post at West Berlin's Hochschule der Künste, the border, in its state of partial construction, was too monumental to ignore. At the time of his first trip to divided Berlin, Tajiri was already an internationally recognized sculptor and multimedia artist who incorporated a wide vocabulary of surrealist strategies into his work. Fashioning small models by hand, he made many of his large-scale sculptural works in his own foundry, located within a rehabilitated castle in which he and his family resided in the Netherlands. His works included intricate bronze fortresses and towers poured into carved brick molds, large metal war machines with giant legs and protruding weaponry, assemblages from metal drippings, and oversized hardened fiberglass and polyester knots. Many of his sculptures from this period constituted reflections on the relationship between violence, militarism, and technological advancement during the Cold War. As an artist in what he deemed a "self-imposed exile" from the United States, he viewed his country of origin from afar, with a posture of engaged and wary critique.”

Specters of American war and division followed Tajiri throughout his life. The son of Japanese immigrants, with Samurai ancestral traditions on both his mother's and father's sides, Taiiri was born in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles on December 7,1923. He turned eighteen on December 7, 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Less than a year later, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 calling for the removal of 117,000 Americans of Japanese descent from their homes, the Tajiri tamily were living in San Diego within a designated civilian “exclusion zone.” With the executive order, the Taiiris were subject to forced relocation and criminal charges if they refused.
Page 99 of A Wall of Our Own: An American History of the Berlin Wall is the second page of a chapter focused on Shinkichi Tajiri, a Japanese American sculptor who taught as a professor in West Berlin from 1969 through the end of the Cold War. Tajiri is world renowned for his monumental sculptures. In West Berlin, he used photography to document the reconstruction and revamping of the Berlin Wall, his own way of grappling with both the physical and social divides he found throughout Berlin.

Tajiri’s work coincided with a period in which international visitors, especially Americans, found divided Berlin as a space of haunt and home, political trauma and of artistic possibility. There were state-driven resources – like those offered by the DAAD and programs at the Amerika Haus. Others went to Berlin through detours, to seek refuge in a city outside of the scripts of official control.

For Tajiri, whose family’s home was stolen during the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and who gained his own freedom from an internment camp by fighting for the American military as a Nisei solider, divided Berlin and its allied American Sector was many things – but it certainly signified a confrontation with American geopolitical power and presence. As he documented the revised boundaries of Berlin, he often included signage of the American Sector amidst other building blocks of division.

The Page 99 test works, in that it offers a vantage on Tajiri’s approaches and life experiences leading him to divided Berlin. One goal of the book was to expand the American story of the Berlin Wall beyond the well-known echoes of “Ich Bin ein Berliner” and “Tear Down this Wall,” to include other voices and figures who dealt with division in American culture while in Berlin.

This page sets up some of the reasons Tajiri was there, how encountering the Wall impacted his artistic process, and what it meant for his own personal history in ways that signified on other points of division in America. Tajiri, like dozens of others, including photographer Leonard Freed, activist/writer Angela Davis, and poet Audre Lorde, are among the “American Berliners” featured in this book. Divided Berlin, for each of these figures, and others who made a pilgrimage to the divided city, spent time in Cold War Berlin to better understand and represent social division in America.
Visit Paul M. Farber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sean Cubitt's "Anecdotal Evidence"

Sean Cubitt is Professor of Screen Studies at the University of Melbourne. His publications include The Cinema Effect (2004), EcoMedia (2005), The Practice of Light (2014), and Finite Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technologies (2017). He is a co-editor of The Ecocinema Reader: Theory and Practice (2012) and of Ecomedia: Key Issues (2015).

Cubitt applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Anecdotal Evidence: Ecocritiqe from Hollywood to the Mass Image, and reported the following:
There is one way page 99 of Anecdotal Evidence is unusual: it has a picture, in this case a screen-grab form Iron Man 2 of Tony Stark at work in his laboratory. The page is one of a good few that explains some of the narrative in the films I look at in the central part of the book. All the films were chosen because they did not have obvious ecological themes. Iron Man 2 is about a man who lives in a suit completely cut off from his environment. It seemed like a good challenge: can the eco-critical approach say anything relevant and illuminating about a man in an iron suit?

This page is specifically about the heads-up display (HUD) in Iron Man’s helmet. There are two overlaid systems of vision in the sequences we see from his point of view: the familiar perspectival image of photography, and data visualisations. There’s a familiar argument that perspective sets up the renaissance Man, the individual spectator, as the ‘subject’, the privileged viewer of the image. But who or what is the subject of data visualisation? Obviously that’s Tony Stark, the man inside the suit. Except that Stark is a weird combination of egotist (an extreme form of individuality) and a corporation. Ultimately the argument goes: the conflicting interests of ecologies and humans can only be worked out through technologies, but not as long as technologies are shaped and controlled by corporations. This film, like so many others, weaves its narratives along a Faultline in contemporary culture. Here it is between corporate tech and the natural man.

In retrospect, I wish I had written more clearly and with less jargon. I had to write in technical prose because I was working my way through complicated ideas. But by the end of the book, those ideas were in place, and (like a mathematician hiding her workings) I could have hidden the laborious task of producing the ideas. Except that thinking in real time, rather than what has been thought in the past, is a major part of the job of criticism I was trying to describe. There will have to be another, slimmer, better written book in the future.
Learn more about Anecdotal Evidence at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 13, 2020

Trais Pearson's "Sovereign Necropolis"

Trais Pearson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Boston College. His work has appeared in journals including Modern Asian Studies and Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Pearson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sovereign Necropolis: The Politics of Death in Semi-Colonial Siam, and reported the following:
Opening to page 99 of Sovereign Necropolis, readers will find a full-page black and white picture of a distinguished Siamese (Thai) gentleman in his civil servants’ uniform. His impeccable posture gives him a commanding air, but his eyes reveal a certain world-weariness. He is flanked to his immediate right by a young woman, his daughter, whose arms are gingerly draped across her father’s, her cheek resting affectionately against his right shoulder.

The image on page 99 is the final image in the book, which contains only eight images in total. The book is based primarily on archival documents including inquest files, or records of police investigations into unnatural death in the Siamese capital, Bangkok, in the 1890s. Image criticism is not at all central to the research methodologies or arguments in the book. My first inclination is therefore to conclude that the page-99 test does not work for Sovereign Necropolis.

On second thought, however, the image of the Siamese government minister and his daughter presents a rather striking combination of eminence and intimacy. That dynamic is actually quite a useful one for thinking about the central subject matter of the book, which is the ways in which the Siamese state began to take an interest in the dead and injured bodies of its subjects in the final decades of the nineteenth century.

Here eminence refers to the ways in which representatives of the Siamese state, including Prince Naret Worarit, (the subject of the photograph, who was the government minister in charge of municipal governance for the capital city), worked to adopt new medical, legal, and institutional practices and procedures for dealing with death and injury. These reforms were part of a broader effort to perform good governance and statecraft at a time when Siamese sovereignty was under threat by expansionist European imperial powers with designs on mainland Southeast Asia. These new legal and medico-legal forms of concern, however, intruded on the intimate social and cultural practices surrounding ‘bad’ or ‘inauspicious’ death (Thai: tai hong) as observed by the cosmopolitan classes of people who inhabited the capital.

In the most abstract sense, this performance of eminence through a concern for the intimate is not so different from the workings of European imperial projects in places like the Dutch East Indies (as Anne Stoler’s work has revealed). But the peculiar performance of eminence in the intimate realm of death was perhaps more exceptional, and it would reconfigure Siamese political life in troubling and enduring ways.
Learn more about Sovereign Necropolis at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Abram C. Van Engen's "City on a Hill"

Abram C. Van Engen is associate professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is also a Faculty Affiliate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism, and reported the following:
How did Ford Madox Ford know?

Page 99 of my book is just a section break. It reads, “Part III: Myths.” That’s it.

Whether this gets at the quality of my prose (concise!), I do not know. But it does open up the book as a whole. My book is a story about myths—a history of how national tales acquire an almost mythic quality in American culture. In particular, I explain how a lost and unknown text (John Winthrop’s 1630 “city on a hill” sermon) became the canonical origin of American literature, history, and politics in the twentieth century. That part of the story is centered on Perry Miller, Sacvan Bercovitch, and Ronald Reagan. But more broadly, I tell the tale of the Pilgrims themselves and how they journeyed through American cultural memory to shape conceptions of American exceptionalism from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Part III focuses on the early republic. With widespread divisions marking the early states, it was not clear how a new nation could bring such varied people together. Multiple efforts began to construct a national culture. Political leaders launched Fourth of July rites and rituals from state to state. Maps tried to visually ingrain the idea of one nation for all people. Then, in the 1820s, historical narratives suddenly tried to tie the nation together through a shared sense of the past. Bicentennial celebrations of Pilgrim Landing in 1820 marked this turn toward history, and as more and more schools started required the teaching of history, more and more textbooks flowed from writers and printers in New England. In the process, the Pilgrims became the new origin point of the nation, the beginning that could give the United States a clear identity and purpose.

In many ways, the Pilgrims were always an odd beginning. They were not the first people in America. They were not the first colonists. They were not the first English. They were not the first permanent settlement of any kind. In a hundred different ways, they were never the “first.” But in self-consciously presenting them as an origin point, early historians crafted a national tale of liberty that ignored whole swaths of the American population—a tale of freedom that still bolsters American exceptionalism today. “Myths” gets at this central idea throughout my book. In a story running from 1630 to the present day, I uncover and examine the different meanings of America that emerge from rediscoveries, reinventions, and reinterpretations of its past.
Learn more about City on a Hill at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Michael L. Peterson's "C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview"

Michael L. Peterson is Professor of Philosophy at Asbury Theological Seminary. His books include Science, Evolution, and Religion, God and Evil, and With All Your Mind. He is managing editor of the scholarly journal Faith and Philosophy.

Peterson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview, and reported the following:
If you open C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview to page 99, you will find yourself squarely in a discussion of the heart of the Christian view of reality. Most centrally, historical orthodox Christianity asserts that God, who is intrinsically personal and relational, willed that there would be finite human persons to be in relationship with him. In light of this, page 99 addresses the problem of the rational free creature’s essential choice—indeed its central struggle—regarding whether or not to enter relationship with God. Beginning the page is a quote from Lewis’s The Problem of Pain assessing the primeval human reaction to the choice:
They wanted, as we say, to “call their souls their own.” But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner.... This act of self-will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall.
The human “fall” caused relational damage, such that we are no longer in right relation to God, others, or ourselves.

All of this means that human persons living apart from relation to God are not their “true selves,” not in proper contact with God, their Ultimate Source. Yet the human purpose or telos is life in God—and living into our true purpose is authentic human happiness and flourishing. The Christian drama, then, which plays out Christian doctrine in the actual world, regards the gracious activity of God to repair the relational damage, the relational breach, caused by wayward human choice.

Page 99 is important as a kind of hinge of the book. It presents what Lewis calls the essential problem of human life, a major theme in his fantasy, fiction, and philosophical writings. As hinge, it follows prior chapters discussing Lewis’s twenty-year long intellectual and existential journey to God—from atheistic materialist to philosophical idealist to basic theist to Christian. The page is prelude to chapters interacting with Lewis’s explanations of central Christian doctrines and their implications for important philosophical problems.

Before page 99, we find treatments of Lewis’s reasons why he came to believe in the Christian God—his arguments from joy, reason, and morality as well as his deep personal longing for meaning and fulfillment. Yet, despite rational and personal elements that were drawing Lewis to God, he felt the same understandable human hesitation, and almost fear, of surrendering to God. Lewis had “wanted to call his soul his own” and had “wanted not to be interfered with.” After his conversion, he began to flourish and became the most influential Christian author in the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century.

Following page 99 are chapters discussing Lewis’s elucidation of central Christian doctrines whose implications are explored through the remaining chapters. Lewis is eloquent on the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity—explaining that Christ the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became bonded forever with a historical human being, Jesus of first-century Nazareth, in order to show how close relationally he wants to be with us. The book evaluates Lewis’s defense of Jesus’s claims to divinity. Subsequent chapters then trace out implications of Christian ideas for major issues—like the problem of evil and suffering, the impact of science on Christian belief, the problem of salvation for people outside the faith, and the puzzles involving prayer and providence.
Learn more about C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Andrew Whitehead & Samuel L. Perry's "Taking America Back for God"

Andrew L. Whitehead is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Clemson University and Assistant Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives. He is the author of numerous articles on Christian nationalism and religion in the modern world.

Samuel L. Perry is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of over 70 peer-reviewed journal articles and two books, Addicted to Lust and Growing God's Family.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, and reported the following:
Our book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States seeks to understand, as comprehensively as possible, a particular cultural framework that conflates Christian identity (along with other implied identities) with American civic belonging and participation. More specifically, we want to understand the ideological and demographic sources of this cultural framework, and, perhaps even more importantly, its powerful consequences. We find over and over again that once we know where you stand on various Christian nationalist views―whether you reject them, resist them, accommodate them, or serve as an enthusiastic ambassador of them―we can predict a lot about your views toward a host of issues: Trump, racism, immigration, abortion, gender roles, gay marriage, Muslims, and gun control.

Page 99 gives us a taste of what you’ll see throughout our book. At the top of the page we find most of the last paragraph of a section devoted to Americans’ attitudes toward immigration. We report that Americans who believe being Christian is an essential marker of national belonging are much more likely to resist the idea that immigrants can ever be “truly American.” Rather, anyone who comes to the United States is “indelibly ‘them,’ not ‘us.’” This is a central theme throughout: Christian nationalism―particularly when it is endorsed by white Americans―provides ideological support for xenophobic and racist views. It strengthens the symbolic border walls that ultimately lead to the physical border walls separating “us” from “them.”

The rest of page 99 begins the next section focusing on how Christian nationalism has historically and continues to undergird strong symbolic racial boundaries around national identity. While the payoff of our findings comes on a later page, this section begins with us introducing the historical relationship between Christianity, racism, and national identity. This is something we do throughout Taking America Back for God. Our survey research and interviews are situated in the historical record, helping readers make sense of not only where we are today, but what led us here.

So, on Page 99 readers get a taste of how we examined Christian nationalism in the United States and its relationship with racial boundaries and hierarchies. With an eye on our history, we provide the first sustained examination of Christian nationalism’s causes and consequences within American society. We’re able to show how much of the polarization in the media, around our kitchen tables, and even in our congregations is due to the power of Christian nationalism.
Learn more about Taking America Back for God at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 9, 2020

Melissa R. Klapper's "Ballet Class: An American History"

Melissa R. Klapper is Professor of History and Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Rowan University. She is the author of Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920, Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in the United States, 1880-1925, and Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism,1890-1940, winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies.

Klapper applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ballet Class: An American History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ballet Class: An American History is in a chapter about ballet teachers, studios, and the business of ballet. Most of Page 99 is about the role parents historically played in finding ballet teachers and studios for their children and the difficulties faced by those who did not know much about ballet and had trouble recognizing good—or poor—teaching when they saw it.

The Page 99 Test does not work especially well for Ballet Class: An American History. While the discussion of finding quality ballet classes for children remains relevant, it is not really clear from this particular page that the book as a whole is interested in the way ballet class became part of American childhood over the course of the twentieth century. This page also does not draw directly on gender, class, race, and sexuality as analytical themes as the book as a whole does.

The pages right around Page 99 do discuss issues like the preponderance of female ballet teachers in most recreational ballet classes throughout American history, an important point to note given that so many of the most famous ballet choreographers and artistic directors have been men. Since most American children who take ballet class had neither the talent nor the aspiration to become professional dancers, this means that the women who taught recreational classes were the point of contact between most children and ballet. They were role models not only as ballet teachers but also as professionals and entrepreneurs with their own businesses.

Moving further away from Page 99, there are entire chapters in Ballet Class: An American History on race and ballet, boys and ballet, ballet and girl culture, and critiques of ballet class from artistic, medical, and feminist perspectives, among other chapters. There are also more than two dozen illustrations. So while Page 99 is informative—and contains a fun story about an ignorant mother who told a teacher not to bother with any more barre exercises because her daughter already knew how to do them—it is perhaps not the best page to illustrate the full richness of the book.
Learn more about Ballet Class: An American History at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Carl Rollyson's "The Last Days of Sylvia Plath"

Carl Rollyson is professor emeritus of journalism at Baruch College, CUNY. He is author of many biographies, including American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath; Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography; A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan; Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews; and Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated. He is also coauthor (with Lisa Paddock) of Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, Revised and Updated.

Rollyson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new biography, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, and reported the following:
Page 99 in The Last Days of Sylvia Plath occurs near the middle of my biography and begins by describing a letter that the poet’s therapist wrote to her, asking what kind of help her patient needed: “Am I being consulted as a woman (mother) (witch) (earth goddess) or as a mere psychiatrist?” The very question suggests that Barnhouse was all of these and more to Sylvia Plath, struggling with the demise of her marriage, a shaken confidence in herself, and coping with the burden of single motherhood. Barnhouse had been the only doctor at McLean Hospital who had effectively been able to help Plath recover from a suicide attempt in 1953. Now, ten years later, Barnhouse attempted to minister to Plath’s psychic anguish from afar, since the poet remained in England and unable to return to Barnhouse’s U. S. practice.

I used the word “minister” advisedly, since Barnhouse brought a spiritual dimension to psychiatry that her friend and fellow psychiatrist Robert Coles thought was missing from contemporary therapy. What ailed people, Coles and Barnhouse believed, went beyond some technical definition of a psychological disorder. In fact, after Plath’s death, Barnhouse became an ordained Episcopal priest, and one reason why she had been successful with Plath is that Barnhouse knew that “mere” psychiatry could not heal people. Plath, who had worked in a mental hospital and had read a textbook on abnormal psychology, expressed her own skepticism of psychiatry in her story, “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.” She needed a therapist who understood the limitations of therapy, and was prepared, because of her own wide ranging experience, to treat a poet. Indeed, Barnhouse wrote poetry which Robert Coles praised as “touching”: “I’m amazed at your control over words and the intricacy of your phrasing,” he wrote Barnhouse.

All this you will learn on page 99, as you realize how limited previous versions of Plath’s life have been, treating her and Barnhouse in isolation, so to speak, and not realizing that both were involved in investigating the way the world itself confined and categorized individuals. Both Plath and Barnhouse wanted to break out of an imprisonment that often led to the institutionalization of brilliant women.
Visit Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue