Sunday, May 31, 2020

Andre M. Perry's "Know Your Price"

Andre M. Perry is a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution, a scholar-in-residence at American University, and a columnist for the Hechinger Report.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities discusses the Ensley neighbor of Birmingham, AL, and efforts to revitalize this once economically thriving area gutted by racist social policies of the past, “In 2018, the city began working with the Brookings Institution to create a strategy that would revive unused facilities in Ensley, including the former U.S. Steel industrial park. [Mayor] Woodfin also seeks to help landowners develop a retail corridor, extending transit lines to the area and relocating city departmental services in the section of town.”

Page 99 gives only a slight taste to the various issues, i.e. education, school reform, and the importance of black teachers, pitfalls of data and testing, the need for more black politicians-especially black women politicians, importance and value of black-owned businesses in a city’s economy, incubation firms, racism in research, in the cities discussed in Know Your Price, such as Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Wilkinsburg, PA in addition to Birmingham, AL.

As Henry Louis Gates, Jr., notes, “In this groundbreaking and important volume, Andre Perry brilliantly addresses the importance of fixing the racist governmental policies that have ‘created housing, education, and wealth disparities,’ especially in Black communities. Not only a rigorous analysis of the dynamics of devaluation, Perry has written a powerful personal narrative that will captivate his readers.”
Learn more about Know Your Price.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Elizabeth Shackelford's "The Dissent Channel"

Elizabeth Shackelford was a career diplomat in the U.S. State Department until December 2017, when she resigned in protest of the Trump administration. During her tenure with the Foreign Service, Shackelford served in the U.S. embassies in Warsaw, Poland, South Sudan, Somalia, and Washington, D.C. For her work in South Sudan during the outbreak of civil war, Shackelford received the Barbara Watson Award for Consular Excellence, the State Department’s highest honor for consular work.

Her resignation letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, first shared by Foreign Policy, went viral. Since her departure, Shackelford has continued to raise awareness about the consequences of our troubled diplomacy in the press, in academic and community groups, and through other public commentary.

As an independent consultant, Shackelford focuses on human rights advocacy, conflict mitigation, political affairs, and democratic processes. Born and raised in Mississippi, she now lives in Rochester, VT.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Ambassador Page was on another call, Blackberry to her ear. She nodded me inside, so I walked past her, took a seat at the formal dining-room table – part of the State Department’s standard-issue Drexel Heritage Queen Anne collection – and exhaled. A matching china cabinet stood on the other side of the room. In contrast to the formality of the furniture were piles of paper, books, a purse – things anyone would drop on a table when coming through the door. This was the first time I thought of the place as the ambassador’s private home, though it wouldn’t be for much longer. During that night, her residence would transform into mission control for all embassy operations.

I connected the ambassador with Riek at about 2:45 a.m. Over the next half hour or so, most of the core embassy personnel responsible for managing a crisis – the emergency action committee – gathered around the ambassador’s dining-room table to compare what we’d heard and plan our next steps in the uncertainty of an unfolding crisis. At this stage, information was still sketchy, trickling in in dribs and drabs. We were in the dark, struggling to separate truth from rumor. The ambassador and Bob, our security chief, agreed to keep the embassy closed and the residence on lockdown until 10 a.m., by which point we hoped to have more information. With little else we could do at that moment, someone mentioned everyone ought to get some sleep before morning, so we adjourned and agreed to meet up again at 7 a.m.

The city was dark as I limped back to my container. I had one more task before I could lie down. Since we’d changed our security protocols, we owed it to the American people in the area to let them know. The “no double standard” rule required it. I called the Operations Center, or “Ops,” the State Department’s twenty-four-hour communications and crisis-management center back in Washington. The jingle was burned into my memory during Foreign Service orientation three years back: “When a crisis hits, and you don’t know what to do, call 647-1512.” I was our consular officer, and we needed Washington’s clearance to send a security message to American citizens here.
This is page 99 from start to finish, and it teases the tension and urgency of the book’s underlying narrative story remarkably well. This passage is from the night South Sudan’s civil war began. I might have directed a reader to page 96 instead, the start to the chapter “A War Begins.” I’d been fielding late night phone calls, including from the ousted vice president of South Sudan, Riek Machar, who would the next day be accused by the president of attempting a coup (spoiler alert: he had not attempted a coup).

The tragedy and suspense of the war story and how U.S. Embassy staff responded to it make up the core of the book, and this page puts the reader right in the thick of it. What this page fails to capture is the overarching message the book offers about U.S. foreign policy. Interspersed throughout the book are chapters that pull back from the main narrative storyline to put the foreign policy failures I was witnessing in South Sudan into the bigger context of U.S. foreign policy tendencies and history. For me, U.S. mistakes in South Sudan were emblematic of the shortcomings of a foreign policy driven by inertia and short-term political goals rather than principles and long-term strategies. I use the book to make that case, though anyone drawn in by the suspenseful story previewed on page 99 would not be disappointed by the rest.
Follow Elizabeth Shackelford on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2020

Leslie Woodcock Tentler's "American Catholics"

Leslie Woodcock Tentler is professor emerita in the department of history at the Catholic University of America and the author of Catholics and Contraception: An American History.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Catholics: A History, and reported the following:
Page 99 in just about any book will give you a sense of the author’s voice. That is certainly true of page 99 in American Catholics: A History. In terms of the book’s contents, however, page 99 might in this instance be a bit misleading. The first half of the page deals with the career of New York’s Archbishop John Hughes, who governed the Catholic Church in New York during the first wave of massive immigration to the United States. Himself an Irish immigrant, Hughes embodied the aspirations and resentments of his mostly poor and socially marginalized flock, providing a sometimes startling contrast to the conciliatory public style embraced by most of the nation’s early Catholic leaders. He was an especially aggressive presence in New York’s tumultuous politics, fielding his own slate of candidates at one juncture to defend what he regarded as Catholics’ right to public funds for their separate schools. Hughes was also a formidable builder, presiding over the construction of over 100 churches in his archdiocese, including the early stages of the monumental St. Patrick’s Cathedral that still graces New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Hughes was a significant figure in American Catholic history and deserves his place in American Catholics, as do the other bishops who make brief appearances. But my intent in the book was to give pride of place to lay Catholics, along with the parish clergy and the vowed religious who made it possible for Catholics, or at least the urbanites among them, to inhabit a separate religious world for many generations. Dipping into the book at page 99 might cause a potential reader to think otherwise. The latter portion of the page, however, reminds the discerning reader that American Catholics is history written “from below” as well as from above. It inaugurates a discussion, continued on subsequent pages, of lay religious practice in a heavily immigrant population and the communal ethos to which the gothic fortress that is St. Patrick’s Cathedral bears eloquent testimony. (The church, begun in 1858, was not completed until 1888.) Embodying immigrant pride and sacrifice, St. Patrick’s stood for a popular Catholicism that was simultaneously defensive and triumphal—an ethos far removed from the genteel interiority of colonial Maryland’s Catholic elite.
Learn more about American Catholics at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Noeleen McIlvenna's "Early American Rebels"

Noeleen McIlvenna is professor of history at Wright State University and author of A Very Mutinous People and The Short Life of Free Georgia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Early American Rebels: Pursuing Democracy from Maryland to Carolina, 1640–1700, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Officers of Crown or corporation were empowered to show no mercy; the savage brutality that accompanied England’s theft of the world’s people and commodities over the next two centuries was unleashed in full now. Tens of thousands of Africans in the 1680s and 1690s suffered the Middle Passage, to die from overwork and malnutrition on Caribbean sugar, Chesapeake tobacco and South Carolinian rice plantations. Millions would follow in the eighteenth century.

All of this was made possible by the investment in and development of the British navy, both merchant and military, and as the empire expanded, the financial sector, which shifted from Antwerp in the Netherlands to London in the late seventeenth century. The Royal Greenwich Observatory opened in 1675, to pinpoint longitude for better navigation. The Royal Navy blurred the line between private and public, protecting English merchants as it simultaneously protected the royal treasury’s interests through customs enforcement. Manned increasingly by impressed sailors, the ships themselves were a microcosm of the brutal hierarchical empire. Marcus Rediker describes the grim reality of Britannia’s glory: “For sailors, the press-gang represented slavery and death: three out of four pressed men died within two years, with only one in five of the dead expiring in battle. Those lucky enough to survive could not expect to be paid.”

The early 1680s also witnessed attempts by colonial governors to flush away all democratic ideology in the English-speaking world through a reassertion of hierarchical right, tight judicial discipline, and direct rule from London.
Page 99 gives the reader the larger, Atlantic context of the second half of the book. The work as a whole covers the years 1640-1700 and looks closely at people living in the Chesapeake. It features a network of democratically-minded families and neighbors trying to find ways to gain a say in their own governance. Page 99 describes how the Stuart kings attempted to expand globally while stamping out such revolutionary ideas. I think the test works well: here is the background for 1670-1700; now read to see how these changes affected our protagonists.

Until page 99, you will read about how the Leveler ideas of the English Revolution and the overthrow of monarchy, aristocracy and censorship spread across the Atlantic to Maryland and from there spread into Virginia and North Carolina, through the activities of these protagonists. Colonies usually studied separately are revealed to be very connected by this network of neighbors, who tried to achieve their goals through appeal to power in London, but were not averse to creating new multi-racial communities outside the reach of local governments nor to taking up arms when that seemed the only means possible. The introduction of mass slavery, however, brought a new dimension into the region. Will our protagonists continue to embrace egalitarian ideals, or will the temptation of enormous wealth lure them to abandon democracy?
Learn more about Early American Rebels at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Barton Gellman's "Dark Mirror"

Barton Gellman, a critically honored author and journalist, is a staff writer at The Atlantic and senior fellow at the Century Foundation in New York. He is the author, most recently, of Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State and Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy for documentary filmmaking, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Gellman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Dark Mirror and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dark Mirror begins at a crucial moment in the narrative. I have been communicating privately for weeks with Edward Snowden, but this is the first time he sends me a classified document— at first a single file, describing an NSA program code-named PRISM, and then an archive, which he calls Pandora, that contains tens of thousands. Now I begin to ask myself what to do with it.
The PRISM slides arrived the next day, Pandora the day after that. I quickly became uneasy about losing them. Spinning magnetic platters in a cheap plastic case were no vessel for irreplaceable data. I pictured the drive shattered on the floor or fumble-fingered into the coffeepot. I imagined a subway snatch-and-grab, a black bag search of my home or office, a predawn visit from men and women with badges.

Was it a crime to make backup copies? Maybe so, by a black-and-white reading of the Espionage Act of 1917. The statute was notoriously broad…. Receiving, possessing, or communicating what I had learned, none of which was optional in my line of work, could theoretically lead to felony charges. If I took the statute literally, there was no lawful course for me at all: I could not keep the NSA documents, give them to someone else, or destroy them. Making copies might add another few counts to the list.

To hell with that. There was evidence here of domestic espionage that the government had dissembled and sometimes flat-out lied about. Game-changing rules had been written in secret, concealed from the public and even from judges with active cases before them. I took for granted that secrecy was inherent in spycraft. Intelligence operations could not be run by plebiscite. But powers so enormous called for free debate at least about their limits and principles. No one in a democracy got to assume new authority and hide it, least of all when it came to surveillance of the sovereign public….

My decision was visceral, but I knew what it meant. I would not willingly comply with an order to hand over these documents….
Much to my surprise, the Page 99 test provides a vivid and representative impression of what I tried to do with this book. Dark Mirror is above all a narrative, and one of its recurring story lines is about the risks and dilemmas of national security journalism itself. This passage offers a glimpse of my anxiety at the moment of my first encounter with the Snowden documents.

There are three intertwining story lines in Dark Mirror. One is about Ed Snowden himself, with a great deal of new information about who he is, what drove him to rebel against the NSA, and how exactly he made off with the patrimony of a global surveillance giant. The second is about the secrets he revealed, a kind of insider’s tour of the surveillance Leviathan and the people who run it, featuring interviews with leading players like James Clapper, Jim Comey, and some powerful people whose names you haven’t heard. The third and last story line is my own, an honest and sometimes embarrassing account of doing journalism while under attack from hackers, foreign intelligence services and elements of my own government.
Visit Barton Gellman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Jill Watts's "The Black Cabinet"

Jill Watts is a Professor of History at California State University San Marcos and is also the author of Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood which has been optioned for film. She is the Brakebill Distinguished Professor of 2017-2018 and is also the coordinator of the History Department’s graduate program.

Watts applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt, and reported the following:
The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt explores the struggles of the black advisors who served in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. An unofficial group, the Black Cabinet fought for equal treatment for African Americans in depression-era relief programs as well as society-at-large. While never acknowledged by FDR, these Black Brain Trusters won major victories—among them were the establishment of anti-discrimination clauses in federal contracts (which would lay groundwork for later civil rights legislation) and the inclusion of African Americans in much needed educational, agricultural, health, public housing, and job programs. They also succeeded breaking down segregation in the federal workplace in Washington D.C., a battle that was hard fought and is captured on page 99:
[Robert Weaver and William Hastie] headed to the Department of Interior’s segregated cafeteria. On their way, they flipped a coin. Weaver lost. It meant he not only had to pay for lunch but had to be the one to request to be seated.

“Do you work here?” the hostess asked as Weaver and Hastie arrived.

“Yes,” Weaver replied.

“Would you mind giving me your name?” She responded.

“No. This is William Hastie and I am Robert Weaver. Now would you mind giving me your name?” Weaver asked.

“She looked as if she were about to have a stroke [but] she gave her name,” Weaver recalled. He wrote it down and she showed the pair to their seats.

They had broken a barrier by being seated in the whites-only dining room. Now protest rested on a single African American woman, waitress Dorothy Roane. The cafeteria’s rules prohibited her from serving Weaver and Hastie. To do so, could mean she would lose her job.

What can I get you? she bravely asked.

While Weaver and Hastie ate their lunch, a delegation of white female cafeteria workers made their way to Ickes’s office.

Without looking up from his work, Ickes huffed: “Good afternoon ladies. What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Secretary, do you know that Negroes are eating in the lunchroom?” they asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“What are you going to do about it?” they demanded.

“Not a damned thing, ladies,” he responded.

Shortly afterward Ickes issued a formal order directing that all of Interior’s dining facilities be fully integrated. It was a victory for Weaver and Hastie and the first step in ending the discrimination that had spread throughout federal buildings since the Wilson years.
Page 99 does reflect much of the spirit of The Black Cabinet. When African American advisors came to Washington to take federal posts, they found themselves subjected to hostility and discrimination at the very seat of American democracy. Bathrooms and some elevators were separated by race. When first hired, black administrators found they often had no office space or that their white bosses cold shouldered them. In many divisions, the white secretarial pool refused to work for African American administrators. And many of D.C.’s federal cafeterias would not serve black federal employees. The episode on page 99 recounts how the brilliant economist, Robert Weaver, and stellar legal mind, William Hastie, successfully challenged Jim Crow segregation in the Department of Interior’s cafeteria.

The story of the Black Cabinet is driven by its members and is told through the experiences of its five major leaders which, in addition to Weaver and Hastie, also included the savvy political operative and newspaper owner Robert Vann, the clever journalist Alfred Edgar Smith, and the celebrated educator (and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt) Mary McLeod Bethune. Page 99 exemplifies how this diverse group, some only one generation removed from slavery, pressured the federal government to expand New Deal philosophy and to embrace its responsibility to protect all citizens regardless of race. Although the Black Cabinet failed to completely achieve all of its goals, which included full integration, equal voting rights, and the end of racial violence, it did provide a bridge to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It was through the individual actions like those of Weaver and Hastie that Jim Crow slowly began to unravel—a struggle that continues today.
Visit Jill Watts's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2020

Phuc Tran's "Sigh, Gone"

Phuc Tran has been a high school Latin teacher for more than twenty years while also simultaneously establishing himself as a highly sought-after tattooer in the Northeast. Tran graduated Bard College in 1995 with a BA in Classics and received the Callanan Classics Prize. He taught Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit in New York at the Collegiate School and was an instructor at Brooklyn College’s Summer Latin Institute. Most recently, he taught Latin, Greek, and German at the Waynflete School in Portland, Maine.

His 2012 TEDx talk “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive” was featured on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour. He has also been an occasional guest on Maine Public Radio, discussing grammar; the Classics; and Strunk and White’s legacy. He currently tattoos at and owns Tsunami Tattoo in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his family.

Tran applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new memoir, Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sigh, Gone is a scene where my brother and I (ages 7 and 9 at the time) are ignoring my parents’ demands that we go to sleep. We are jumping on our beds and wrestling, and my father is incredibly exasperated. He comes into the bedroom, screams at us, and we ignore him (which leads to some unforeseen consequences on page 100).

I would say that page 99 is as good a page as any to illustrate the central bonds and fissures of the book. My father, stern and exacting, yells at us, and my brother and I are thick as thieves, co-conspirators for all manner of tomfoolery. (My brother was my steadfast yes-man, and in Freudian parlance, we were both ids with nary a superego in sight.)

There is humor (in the telling of the story) and familial tension on page 99, and those are key elements throughout the book. I would say that a missing element would be the lens of classic literature. As a framing device, each chapter’s stories are told through the lens of a classic work of western literature (The Scarlet Letter, Madame Bovary, The Iliad, The Metamorphosis, etc.). It’s a fair sample page of the book (I’d give it a 7 on a scale of 10).

Sigh, Gone begins with my earliest memories as the only Vietnamese refugee family in a small Pennsylvania town in the ‘70s and ‘80s; it’s a coming-of-age story about finding my place in the world with the help of great books and punk rock. How do we make sense of who we are and where we live, sense of what our place is in it? How do we make sense of the contradictions and complexities of who we are/were and who we want to be? I wrangle with these questions, especially as they are affected by immigration, race, class, and cultural divides. There’s a healthy dose of Star Wars and ‘80s pop culture thrown in there, too.

I hope that Sigh, Gone is an invitation to readers to consider their own complexities and not to ignore them. We are paradoxical, and those tensions are not hypocrisies but depth of character and richness of experience, and they should be told and celebrated.
Visit Phuc Tran's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Andrew B. Liu's "Tea War"

Andrew B. Liu is assistant professor of history at Villanova University, where his research focuses on China, transnational Asia, and the history of capitalism.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tea War: A History of Capitalism in China and India, and reported the following:
Page 99 features a debate in the late 1840s among the board members of the Assam Company. The first company to grow tea in India for export, the Assam Company was established by British colonial officials in India (Calcutta and Assam) and shared an office in London. The Company had attempted to launch an Indian tea industry for years, but even as their techniques improved, they found few local people in upper Assam, on the border with Burma, willing to work for them. In this debate, the London board accused its India counterparts of not trying hard enough to find willing employees, to which the latter replied that paying more money for workers was out of the question. “We can procure any number of unsuitable people if expense is no object," the India board wrote back.

I argue that this debate highlighted the economic reasoning behind the eventual deployment of unfree penal labor contracts to recruit workers to Assam, widespread during the late nineteenth century. Labor shortages were not self-evident and natural phenomena but dependent upon historically-specific conditions such as “how much employers are willing to pay to lure farmers away from their property and work for someone else?” I conclude by suggesting: “The Assam Company’s problem was not the physical absence of labor but rather the absence of social conditions that would compel locals to sign up for low-paying jobs.”

This debate provides a useful entry-point into one of the larger themes of my work: that many labor arrangements in Asia that may have appeared irrational and ‘precapitalist’ were in fact animated by very modern dynamics bound up with the accumulation of capital.

Some context: for a long time, economic writing has assumed that capitalism is distinguished by a unique kind of employment relationship. Under capitalism, workers freely pursue their own interest without duress or coercion but are also dependent upon the marketplace for survival. The modern worker is an atomized, urban individual: neither slave, serf, nor peasant, as may be found in the putatively ‘backwards’ parts of the world, for instance, the rural tea-growing hinterlands of Asia.

This ideal-type, however, is belied by the experience of the export tea trades of China and India during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which were unquestionably bound up with the circuit of other classic goods central to capitalism’s history, such as British cotton, Caribbean sugar, and Indian opium. Tea earned staggering sums of profits for the Chinese, British, and Indian business classes, and it employed more workers than any urban industrial sector in each Asian society. Such workers were employed under arrangements that have long been seen as backwards and precapitalist, such as independent Chinese farmers and indentured Indian labor. As the page 99 passage indicates, however, such arrangements were not relics of the past but actively reinforced by the dynamic global division of labor, including European participants.

The debate on page 99 highlighted why the colonial Indian government empowered British planters to immobilize peasants from eastern and central India through penal contract legislation modeled after centuries-old "master and servant" laws. In their mind, unfree labor, though controversial, was more economically rational for a fluctuating global market. Capitalism’s history was not founded upon abstract principles like “freedom” but by taking the path of least resistance.

My book is both about Asian the tea trade, then, but also a contribution to a more flexible and globally-oriented account of capitalism’s history. These insights into China and India’s past, I conclude, can also help us understand developments behind the “rise of Asia” in recent decades.
Learn more about Tea War at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Pablo Palomino's "The Invention of Latin American Music"

Pablo Palomino is Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Mellon Faculty Fellow at Oxford College of Emory University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invention of Latin American Music: A Transnational History, and reported the following:
On page 99 the reader will find a variety of examples of what I call “transnational regionalism” in the thinking about music, arts, and culture in general in the first decades of the 20th century. Intellectuals all over Latin America joined a global trend of reflecting and writing about regions of varied size—some sub-national, like Argentina’s provincial folklore or Brazilian Southern and Northeastern regionalisms; others connecting several countries, like pan-Andean indigenismo or the idea of “Arab music”; others being continentally ambitious, with plans to connect music education “from the Gulf of Mexico to the Cape Horn.” Regional music traditions were to be unearthed from the past or invented and concocted toward a future aesthetic. In all cases, music was an arena for state programs aimed at modernizing people’s aesthetics. Page 99 suggests, interestingly, that this global concern about music and modernization, source of policies enacted by national bureaucracies, was elaborated in regional terms. A sort of intermediate, mediating dimension between the nation and the globe.

Page 99 advances thus one of the key arguments of the book: that “Latin America” is not a region in an objective sense. We take it for granted, we assume it automatically, by default, following the conventions of academic fields, as if it were out there waiting to be studied and as if the mere addition of national cases produced a region. But in this history of musical practices I show that Latin America is in fact the result of regionalist projects that “invented” it. Through specifically musical projects, the region became since the 1930s not only an elite diplomatic framework inherited from the 19th century, but a wider cultural history, an unfinished but growing market, and an aesthetic rhetoric. The idea of “Latin American music” also provided other Latin Americanist projects with aesthetic materials and legitimacy.

The rest of the book (pages 1-98 and 100-272) simply expands on the multiple consequences of this regionalist approach: tango musical diasporas, exiled Jewish singers, and Mexican broadcasters crisscrossing and connecting Latin America; state policies and markets that formed this region in dialogue with the wider process of musical globalization; pioneer musicologists who crucially articulated (and policed the boundaries of) what “Latin American” means in music; the use of this category by United States cultural diplomats during and after World War Two; and the consolidation, since the 1960s, of a regional musical idea in Latin American sciences, culture, and politics, including the “Latino” musical discourse in the United States. This is not a music analysis book, but a cultural history. However, its ultimate goal is to make the reader curious about what “Latin America” means and to invite her to figure out the answer by putting the book aside and listening to good “Latin American” music.
Learn more about The Invention of Latin American Music at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2020

Allison Margaret Bigelow's "Mining Language"

Allison Margaret Bigelow is assistant professor of colonial Latin American literature at the University of Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Mining Language begins mid-sentence: “agencies in the gold industry, and we have largely overlooked storytelling traditions as archives of knowledge.” The paragraph goes on to outline major interpretations of Taíno demographic collapse, an Indigenous community of the Caribbean who represent the first Native people in the Americas to encounter Columbus in his invasion of the Americas. In the next paragraph, I suggest why the conclusions reached by this older historiographical model may require serious reassessment. As scholars like Kathleen Deagan have shown, Taíno communities were matrilineal, but studies of big, public spaces, rather than household-unit analysis, have dominated the literature of Taíno life in the colonial period, and thus distorted our sense of continuity rather than change.

This page concludes a chapter that juxtaposed colonial petitions from Santo Domingo, imperial ordinances declared in Spain, and a Taíno creation narrative. As if this combination were not complex enough, Taínos explained their cosmovision in Classic Taíno to a Catalán priest who had studied Macorís, a different Taíno language spoken in the northeast region of Quisqueya, one of the Taíno names for the island that is now called the Dominican Republic. The narrative was recounted in father Ramón Pané’s Relación de las antigüedades de los indios, which was first published in an Italian-language biography of Christopher Columbus, authored by the Admiral’s son, Fernando, in 1571.

Using literary methods to analyze these layers of translation and mistranslation, alongside historical work in Spanish archives, I provide evidence of Indigenous influences in the timing and methods of gold processing on the island in the 1520s-1550s. Many of the policies that regulated goldwork, such as the Spanish Crown’s decision to move the season of refining from the dry months of November and December to the rainy months of June and July, make little sense from the perspective of an extractive empire. But the decision makes a lot of sense in a worldview that relates rain, gold metals, and the emergence of Taíno life. I therefore suggest that Taínos told their stories to colonists as part of a broader process of narrative reframing, or telling stories to bring meaning-making coherence to a world turned upside down. These colonists, in turn, incorporated Indigenous ideas about plants, metals, and seasons into their petitions to the Crown. By approaching old texts in new ways, the chapter shows how imperial archives can become sources that document Indigenous knowledge production.

In an annoyingly professorial fashion, I’d say that page 99 is both a good indicator of the book as a whole and not useful at all for understanding the book. On the one hand, most of the book is not dedicated to a critique of earlier scholarly approaches. I build from them, and my own thinking is deeply indebted to them. On the other hand, the kind of methodological creativity that page 99 summarizes is reflective of the approaches that I develop in Mining Language. Each part of the book – Gold, Iron, Copper, Silver – unfolds in a different world region and historical moment, and these local differences force me to use different kinds of scholarly methods to tell about Indigenous, African, and South Asian histories in mining and metalwork.
Learn more about Mining Language at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Rebekah Farrugia & Kellie D. Hay's "Women Rapping Revolution"

Rebekah Farrugia is Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations at Oakland University. She is the author of Beyond the Dance Floor: Female DJs, Technology, and Electronic Dance Music Culture.

Kellie D. Hay is Professor of Cultural Studies in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations at Oakland University. She has authored many articles about music, politics, and cultural identity, and specializes in critical qualitative methodologies.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Women Rapping Revolution: Hip Hop and Community Building in Detroit, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Women Rapping Revolution features emcee Mahogany Jones’s track “Skin Deep” from her album Pure. Ronald “iRonic” Lee Jr. produced the track that features fellow Detroit emcee Insite the Riot and vocalist Ozara Ode.' In our analysis, we contend that “Skin Deep’s” music and lyrics invite listeners to reflect on the history of whiteness and colonization in the United States. Specifically, the track zeroes in on the privileging of light skin and emphasizes the need for Black girls and women to love themselves in a country where they continue to be exoticized and treated as less than white women.

Upon receiving the call to participate in the Page 99 Test we eagerly flipped through our book to see whether or not this one page would give readers an accurate sense of the project as a whole. To our amazement, page 99 is an uncannily accurate snapshot of the subject matter we engage in Women Rapping Revolution. Specifically, it is a page from the chapter where we expand upon the concept of the “Vulnerable Maverick,” a construct we introduce and use as a framework for analyzing Black women’s subjectivity in their roles as artists and cultural citizens. The pairing of vulnerability with a maverick’s attitude and power rescues vulnerability from weakness. It is a response and contrast to the controlling image known as the Strong Black Woman, which forecloses the possibility of vulnerability.

In reference to “Skin Deep,” Insite the Riot explains on page 99 that the song expresses her belief that “vulnerability is a strength, self-confidence is a necessity, and recognizing our own beauty is vital.” iRonic Lee adds that “these issues are frequently experienced and seldom dealt with or even expressed artistically.” We argue that together these artists create fresh texture, where colorism and institutionalized racism brush up against perseverance and the joy of self-love in melodic rhythms, a jazzy hook, and soft and steady voices.

Women Rapping Revolution is an ethnographic study about a women-centered collective called The Foundation (2009-2016) that had a dynamic presence in Detroit’s hip hop underground at a time when the city was undergoing immense transition as it fell into and emerged from bankruptcy. Throughout, we employ an interdisciplinary framework to showcase how women and some men in the city embody hip hop’s roots as a community-building enterprise to create spaces and places for themselves in an increasingly neoliberal environment. While in many ways diverse, a common set of ethics, aesthetics, and an overarching commitment to social justice binds these artists together.
Learn more about Women Rapping Revolution at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Matthew C. Klein & Michael Pettis's "Trade Wars Are Class Wars"

Matthew C. Klein is the economics commentator at Barron’s. Michael Pettis is professor of finance at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Klein applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace, and reported the following:
Page 99 is at the very end of chapter 3, near the center of the entire book. The first three chapters are all about giving the reader a multi-century perspective on the history of trade, cross-border financial flows, economic development, and imbalances between production and consumption. The second half of the book, by contrast, is focused on detailed case studies of China, Germany, and the United States over the past few decades.

Taken out of context, I suspect that page 99 would be confusing to the general reader. It represents the culmination of an argument about the implications of the U.S. trade balance with Mexico and why many people misunderstand the economic relationship between Mexico and the U.S. People who hadn't read the preceding pages would probably have trouble following the concepts and the discussion. But many of the points we make are core to our overall understanding about what matters when it comes to thinking about international trade. So while I don't think it's the best page for a browser to pick to get a sense of whether they would like our book, it is fairly representative of the ideas in our book -- especially the idea that misconceptions about trade can lead to needless conflicts between countries with common interests.

Our basic thesis is that trade disputes between countries aren't caused by geopolitics or incompatible national interests, but by class conflicts within them. Unfortunately, many people don't understand this, such as those we criticize on page 99 who believe Mexico's prosperity comes at the expense of the U.S. Income inequality is the underlying problem in the global economy. It deprives consumers of the money they need to buy what they should be able to afford, which means they either will spend less than they should, or borrow to make up the difference. Under-spending depresses the economy, while borrowing breeds instability and crises. To end the trade wars, we must end the class wars.
Learn more about Trade Wars Are Class Wars at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Anya P. Foxen's "Inhaling Spirit"

Anya Foxen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2015.

Foxen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Inhaling Spirit: Harmonialism, Orientalism, and the Western Roots of Modern Yoga, and reported the following:
I have to admit, I was kind of excited to see what the “Page 99” test would reveal. I mean, I know I wrote the book, but when I finally got to hold a paper copy in my hands, I had little idea of even the chapter that this seemingly random page would land me in. Upon actually flipping the thing open, I was first confused, then annoyed, then perplexed, and then finally fascinated.

Page 99 contains the only passage in the book dedicated to a fairly major 19th-century historical figure—specifically one whom I had originally excluded, but was forced to reexamine by one of my readers during peer review. This figure is Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), the “Poughkeepsie seer” who synthesized much of the ad-hoc theology for American Spiritualism out of an eclectic mix of Mesmerism and Swedenborgianism and authored an entire six-volume encyclopedic work called The Great Harmonia (1850–1861).

Now, given that my book is about “Harmonialism,” it seems like Davis should have been a shoo-in, which of course is precisely what my reader pointed out. I had originally chosen to ignore Davis because I found him a little overrated. Davis, who was so prolific a writer that one finds it difficult to believe he ever had a thought he didn’t see fit to publish, authored over thirty books over his lifetime. These books, all on more or less related themes, were simultaneously masterful syntheses of contemporary metaphysical thought, but for this same reason not particularly novel or unique. The book I spend quite a bit of this page describing was titled The Harbinger of Health (1861). It’s lengthy and consists largely of home remedies—some magnetic, though the majority herbal—for nearly every condition known to man, from hemorrhoids to being struck by lightning. One aspect of it, however, was particularly relevant for my purposes. As part of his discussion of magnetic healing, Davis describes something that he refers to as the “Pneumogastric Treatment,” through which one may receive “spiritual strength” from the air by means of deep and steady breathing performed in a supine position while directing the will to the various parts of one’s body. This, of course, is precisely what is meant by my book’s title—“Inhaling Spirit.”

Ultimately, I begrudgingly incorporated Davis because, harmonial jack-of-all-trades that he was, he represented the most perfect little microcosm for the diffuse yet consistent idea I was working to establish under the label of “harmonialism.” Down to the fact that he grounds his personal origin story in an astral double-team visitation by Galen and Swedenborg. So, in the end (and as evidenced by my whirlwind of emotions as I once more processed Davis’s relevance), I think the “Page 99” test worked.
Visit Anya P. Foxen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2020

Paul Matzko's "The Radio Right"

Paul Matzko is a historian who specializes in the intersection of politics, religion, and mass media in modern America. He currently works at the Cato Institute as the Assistant Editor for Tech and Innovation for and is the host of the weekly podcast Building Tomorrow.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement, and reported the following:
To summarize, page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] drops the reader into the middle of President John F. Kennedy’s preparations to censor those conservative radio broadcasters who criticized his administration. This particular page discusses his working relationship with his brother, US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy--who kept track of the day to day operations of the censorship campaign--and their plan to target the offending broadcasters with audits by the Internal Revenue Service.

Page 99 is not the best place to start reading because understanding what’s going on requires significant information from the previous chapter, namely, this thing called the “Reuther Memorandum” referenced in the chapter title. It’s also not the worst place to start because it doesn’t take a professional historian to be able to tell from reading just this page that some kind of political skullduggery is involved.

If the idea that President Kennedy targeted his political opponents with IRS audits surprises you, then buckle in for the rest of the book! The Kennedy administration also leaned on the Federal Communications Commission to selectively enforce its regulations (known as the “Fairness Doctrine”) against radio stations airing conservative programming; the threat was that either stations stop doing so or they would face problems when it came time to renew their station licenses. To aid in that effort, the administration and its allies at the Democratic National Committee also secretly created two front organizations to launder money and administration talking points and to lodge Fairness Doctrine complaints against recalcitrant stations. The pressure campaign outlived Kennedy and continued into the late-1960s, by which time hundreds of station owners had dropped conservative broadcasting. It was the most successful episode of government censorship of the past half century, and, until now, the most successfully concealed.
Visit Paul Matzko's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Jeffrey Alan Erbig Jr.'s "Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met"

Jeffrey Erbig Jr. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Erbig applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met: Border Making in Eighteenth-Century South America, and reported the following:
There are few words on page 99 of Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met, as a 1758 map by Italian cosmographer Miguel Antonio Ciera covers approximately eighty percent of the page. The map depicts the Río de la Plata estuary (near Buenos Aires, Argentina) and adjacent lands, and the only text is a brief caption in which I explain a significant contradiction in Ciera’s and others’ works. Ciera includes two ethnic labels on this map – Charrúas and Pampas – yet in textual accounts, he and his colleagues deny that such people actually lived in those lands. This page is part of a sixteen-page section in which I analyze the use of ethnic labels in regional maps alongside the writings of the mapmakers who drew them.

The page 99 test would give browsers an accurate, yet incomplete idea of what this book is about. That the page would include a historic map is unsurprising, as the book includes twenty-two in total, alongside another thirteen that I made using geographic information systems (GIS). Moreover, a critical reading of ethnographic content in colonial cartography is a centerpiece of this work. Yet, if a reader were to only consult this page, they would miss the book’s most important aspect: its focus on the spatial practices of Indigenous Americans. Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met is not simply a book about colonial representations of Native peoples, but one about the on-the-ground socio-spatial relations.

Ciera was one of dozens of mapmakers commissioned by the Portuguese crown in the first of two collaborative efforts with Spain to partition South America during the late eighteenth century. These boundary commissions were the largest ever sent to the Americas, and they collectively traveled the entire length of the border and cosigned maps that remain the earliest legal precedents to present-day international boundaries. These were the same commissions that formed the backdrop to the 1986 film The Mission, yet historical records reveal that rather than bit players in colonial conflicts, Indigenous peoples engaged mapmakers with their own visions and aims. Much has been written, albeit little in English, about the handful of officials who led the boundary commissions, yet few studies address the thousands of local laborers who made them possible and hardly any consider the border’s meaning to Indigenous peoples whose lands it bisected. That final consideration is the crux of the book.
Visit Jeffrey Erbig Jr.'s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tanya Kant's "Making It Personal"

Tanya Kant is Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies (Digital Media) at the University of Sussex, UK. She is Co-Managing Editor of the open access, multimedia publishing platform REFRAME.

Kant applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making it Personal: Algorithmic Personalization, Identity, and Everyday Life, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The odd thing is that I work in [data analytics] so I’m fairly well aware of what’s out there, but I don’t have the feeling I’m on top of it, and I find that very, that bothers me and a tool like [Ghostery] probably gives you a false sense of security that you are on top of it.

--Robkifi (machine learn­ing researcher, UK).
This quote from Making It Personal is taken from a research interview with data specialist Robkifi [the interview participant’s chosen pseudonym] on his use of online privacy tool and data tracker blocker, Ghostery. The page explores Robikfi’s statement that online privacy tools give him ‘a false sense of security’ when it comes to being monitored by commercial data trackers such as Google, Facebook and third party profilers. Despite being an analytics expert – comfortably fitting the computer sciences definition of a ‘power user’ – Robikifi feels that when it comes to controlling his own online data trail (his browsing history, social media ‘likes’, click-throughs, location data, and other traceable digital movements), it is not possible to wholly prevent commercial platforms from surveilling his online movements. Taking into account similar interview responses from other ‘power users’, I argue on this page that – somewhat counter-intuitively – the more web users know about data tracking, the less powerful they feel in understanding and controlling their own data profiles. Power users feel anxious that they can never ‘be on top’ of commercial data tracking because there is no ‘top’: data trackers don’t just collect data about us in order to offer us ‘personalized’ advertising, they use data profiling to create new knowledge in order to monetize and shape our identities, individual preferences and our everyday digital movements.

I’m pleased that the Page 99 Test works well with Making It Personal. The fact that the page features an interview excerpt from a research participant really reflects the book’s central aim: to critically analyse how web users themselves understand and negotiate the algorithmic personalization practices (such as online data profiling) that intervene in their daily web trajectories. Page 99 highlights that algorithmic personalization does not only pose a threat to user privacy – it also creates anxieties around knowledge production and users’ own sense of self. That said, the page only reflects one of the book’s themes; arguments about online identity performance, algorithmic capital and trust in personalization systems aren’t featured. Still, I hope that Page 99 provokes reflections in readers that even so-called ‘power users’ of data tracking technologies can be considered powerless in the face of contemporary ubiquitous, sprawling and unknowable algorithmic personalization practices.
Visit Tanya Kant's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2020

Amy Klein's "The Trying Game"

Amy Klein wrote the “Fertility Diary” column for The New York Times’s Motherlode blog for three years. She writes frequently about health and fertility for publications such as Newsweek, Slate, The Washington Post, and others.

Klein applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Trying Game Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant without Losing Your Mind, and reported the following:
On page 99 there is one paragraph that really summarizes my thoughts about infertility, if not about the whole book itself.

Page 99 comes at the end of a chapter on how to find a doctor. There is one paragraph that really summarizes my thoughts about infertility, if not about the whole book itself.
In the end, I don’t think there’s one doctor or clinic for everyone. (Thank God, because that doc would be even busier than she is today!) For my friend at the end of her rope who has been to four clinics and tried every protocol, I’ll recommend the most experimental clinic. And for the woman who’s been trying for a year but never had a basic workup done, I’ll suggest a small practice run by a cautious RE who I know won’t force her into invasive treatment too soon.
So that summarizes my thinking about a lot of the field and also how I make recommendations but isn't the whole book.

My book is really compartmentalized - each chapter can almost be its own book. So page 99 is a wonderful window into the technical parts of my book --what is IVF, how do you find a doctor, how do you pay for it, etc.

But since section III of my book is about the emotional journey, I think that's a more apt window of what the book is about or what's special about this book over other infertility books.

So this is a book I wish I had when I was going through infertility. I made so many mistakes along the way – starting with the wrong doctor, staying too long – and I had so many questions not answered in medical literature or online at the time, like how to deal with my boss, or feeling like I hated everyone who was pregnant or how to deal with insurance and when to give up. I wanted this to be a book you can skip to the chapter you’re up to or just skip the chapters you’re not interested in.
Visit Amy Klein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Siobhan Keenan's "The Progresses, Processions, and Royal Entries of King Charles I, 1625-1642"

Siobhan Keenan is Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at De Montfort University, Leicester, where she is also Associate Dean Research and Innovation for the Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities. Her research focuses on early modern theatre history, regional performance culture, and royal progress entertainments. She is the author of several books, including Travelling Players in Shakespeare's England (2002) and Acting Companies and Their Plays in Shakespeare's London (2014), as well as the editor of two politically topical seventeenth-century manuscript plays, The Emperor's Favourite (2011) and The Twice Chang'd Friar (2017).

Keenan applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Progresses, Processions, and Royal Entries of King Charles I, 1625-1642, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Progresses, Processions, and Royal Entries of King Charles I, 1625-1642 introduces a case study of a royal progress visit Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, paid to Welbeck Abbey, the home of William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle during the 1634 royal summer progress into the North Midlands of England.

Dipping into the book at page 99 gives you a taste of the political and cultural significance of the royal progress visits that Charles paid to members of his nobility during his annual summer travels, including how the unique access these visits offered to the monarch, gave hosts the chance not only to impress and flatter the king, but an opportunity to petition and counsel Charles. William Cavendish, for example, was thought to be keen to secure a court appointment in 1634, but was also known to believe in the role of the nobility as advisers to the monarch. His keenness to impress Charles and to win royal favour is reflected in the fact that he reportedly spent between fourteen and fifteen thousand pounds on the visit – more than any other Caroline host spent on such a visit – the hospitality including a lavish feast to which Cavendish invited the local nobles and gentry, and a specially commissioned show by renowned playwright and poet, Ben Jonson, Love’s Welcome at Bolsover. In sparing no expense, Cavendish was clearly hoping to impress the king. But he also appears to have used the visit to offer coded advice to Charles, modelling the kind of reciprocal generosity and local engagement that he believed the king should practice more visibly.

What page 99 does not fully reveal is the scale and variety of the Caroline royal progresses explored in the book, which ranged from small-scale ‘hunting’ progresses to wider-ranging public progresses, such as Charles’s 1633 ‘great’ journey to Scotland for his belated coronation as king which involved stops at multiple towns, cities, and country houses. Similarly, page 99 only gestures towards one of the key questions explored in Progresses which is the extent to which Charles was accessible to his subjects and receptive to their petitions and counsel. It has often been claimed that Charles was a remote and inaccessible monarch and that this this contributed to the eventual outbreak of the English Civil Wars (1642) and Charles’s overthrow and execution. Although not stated explicitly on page 99, Progresses tests these assertions about Charles’s rule by offering the first extended study of his interactions with his subjects outside London during his summer travels.

Hopefully, the glimpse page 99 offers into one of these encounters between monarch and subject would have encouraged Ford to read on and to learn more about Charles’s travels and his relationship with his people!
Learn more about The Progresses, Processions, and Royal Entries of King Charles I, 1625-1642 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Howard Steven Friedman's "Ultimate Price"

Howard Steven Friedman, a leading statistician and health economist, is an expert in data science and applications of cost-benefit analysis. He teaches at Columbia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ultimate Price: The Value We Place on Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ultimate Price focuses on different ways that we can value our own lives. It explains the survivor needs method and compares it to the replacement income needs calculation. The page concludes by referring back to the Value of a Statistical Life and describing the differences in both the amounts (Value of a Statistics Life is much larger than the typical life insurance policy) and the difference in purpose.

This test works reasonably well for my book so I would say it gets a solid passing grade though not an A. As we would expect, there are many other pages in the book that would give a better understanding of the book itself since, on page 99, I am right in the middle of a detailed discussion. Readers will get some understanding that I am looking at how life is valued from different points of view by the discussion of the life insurance methods and the comparison with the Value of a Statistical Life. The reader will likely fail to understand the breadth that my book covers and potentially get the false impression that it is narrow in scope. Readers will also immediately recognize that the text is clearly written for a lay audience but provides a substantial amount of scientific rigor to allow readers to understand the details underneath the calculation.

Ultimate Price examines the different ways that human life is valued from civil courts to criminal courts to for-profit companies to health insurance and life insurance and even discussing victims compensation funds. The key principles in the book are that price tags are put on human life all the time, usually using calculations that we can all understand. These price tags are often unfair resulting in some lives being less valued and consequently less protected. We need to ensure that life is priced fairly, so that human rights and human lives are always protected.
Visit Howard Steven Friedman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Liam Vaughan's "Flash Crash"

Liam Vaughan is an investigative journalist for Bloomberg and Bloomberg Businessweek. He has been awarded the Gerald Loeb prize for excellence in business journalism and the Harold Wincott prize for financial journalism. He is coauthor of The Fix: How Bankers Lied, Cheated, and Colluded to Rig the World’s Most Important Number. He lives in London.

Vaughan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Flash Crash: A Trading Savant, a Global Manhunt, and the Most Mysterious Market Crash in History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Dressed in bespoke suits and statement watches, they pitched their prospects in the lobbies of five-star hotels. After hours they networked at charity events and clubs like the Worshipful Company of International Bankers. MacKinnon’s style was high energy and relentless. Dupont was a social chameleon.
Page 99 of Flash Crash introduces readers to a pair of financiers who enriched themselves by introducing the book’s protagonist, a naïve but brilliant financial trader named Navinder Sarao, to a string of disastrous investments.

A browser who opened Flash Crash on page 99 would get a good sense of the journalistic narrative style and the somewhat unseemly milieu in which the action occurs. They wouldn’t, however, get any indication of the book’s central story, or its themes. Overall, I’d say the test is moderately successful, since readers get enough of a taste for the tenor of the book to make an informed decision as to whether they might enjoy it.

Flash Crash tells the remarkable true story of Navinder Singh Sarao, a working class savant from the outskirts of London who taught himself to trade, made $70 million which he didn't tell anyone about, and was ultimately blamed by the American government with causing a $1 trillion market crash from his bedroom. One of the book’s strengths, I hope, is that it takes readers into a world beyond the big investment banks and hedge funds: a world of strivers, like Nav, and chancers, like the pair introduced on page 99, who helped relieve him of his money. For many readers, Flash Crash will be an eye-opening journey into the underbelly of global finance: the tax dodgers, the markets cheats, the offshore bankers and the fraudsters. Page 99 provides a glimpse of that.
Visit Liam Vaughan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 11, 2020

Maggie Downs's "Braver Than You Think"

Maggie Downs is an award-winning writer based in Palm Springs, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Palm Springs Life, and McSweeney’s, and has been anthologized in Lonely Planet’s True Stories From the World’s Best Writers and Best Women’s Travel Writing.

Downs applied the “Page 99 Test” to Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother's) Lifetime, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings the reader along with me to explore an Argentinian building inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. The Palacio Barolo is a marvel — once the tallest building in South America — and the design elements create distinct layers of hell, purgatory, and paradise. And it happened to be across the street from my $8 a night hostel.
The building is one hundred meters high, one for each of the poem's cantos, and the twenty-two floors represent twenty-two stanzas. On a clear day, they say you can see all the way to Uruguay from one of the tiny cupola windows, though when I climb to the top, I can't see beyond the wide, sparkling expanse of the city. I don't want to anyway.

I take the English-language tour of Palacio Barolo twice. Then I return a few more times, just to sit in hell, which is lined with attorney offices, and read books. It's quieter than my hostel, and I am comfortable among the Latin inscriptions, a smattering of dragon sculptures, and the fire-patterned floor.
My initial thought was that page 99 isn't a good representation of my book. But then I reconsidered.

The scenes on this page take place in Buenos Aires, a city that first intimidated me, then won me over. It is stately, elegant, sophisticated. It's a place that could easily overwhelm if it weren't for all the charm.

Most of all, it's a city that reminded me of my mom. It didn't take long for BA to feel as comfortable as home.

And that's the essence of my book, after all. Braver Than You Think is about the backpacking trip I took to honor and grieve my mother as she was dying. So the story is both a love letter to travel and a love letter to the woman who raised me, but it's also about discovering the nature of family and learning what it means to make a home.

The Palacio Barolo page is actually a decent reflection of that. It shows what I learned through this journey: The agitation of fear and grief can push you to the brink, but it can also lead you to the most spectacular places.
Visit Maggie Downs's website and follow her on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Lauren Frances Turek's "To Bring the Good News to All Nations"

Lauren Frances Turek is an assistant professor of history at Trinity University. A diplomatic historian by training, she has research interests in the history of U.S. foreign relations, religion, and the international human rights movement. At Trinity, she teaches courses on modern United States history, U.S. diplomatic history, and public history. She is also the director of the Museum Studies Minor.

Turek applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations, and reported the following:
I was quite interested to see what might happen when I applied the “Page 99 Test” to my book, and ended up feeling pleased and relieved with the results. My book argues that global political and economic changes in the 1960s and 1970s, such as decolonization, globalization, and Cold War competition, coupled with a renewed concern about overseas missionary work, shaped the foreign policy opinions of politically conservative U.S. evangelical Christians and led them to engage in foreign policy lobbying. A range of factors made their lobbying more effective by time Ronald Reagan came into office.

From page 99:
In speeches and public statements, Reagan often merged this biblical notion of human dignity with “eternal” U.S. values, including the freedom of conscience. He reviled Soviet communism for its atheism as well as its statist repression. Throughout his career as a public speaker and politician, Reagan counterposed the United States as the “shining city upon a hill” against the bleak, totalitarian Soviet Union. He saw the United States as the world’s beacon of freedom and expressed confidence in the broad appeal of U.S. democratic values.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan drew on these core religious and ideological beliefs to mount an attack on President Carter’s approach to international relations and human rights. He railed against détente and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, advocating for a more muscular foreign policy that would bolster U.S. strength and negotiating power vis-à-vis its major adversary. On human rights , Reagan alleged that Carter had applied foreign policy pressure inconsistently, targeting authoritarian
regimes for their violations yet ignoring abuses in the Soviet Union. In his campaign speeches, he called for a reappraisal of how human rights issues fit into U.S. policymaking—though not for their wholesale removal from the decision-making process.

During his first term as president, Reagan and his advisers advanced a human rights vision that distinguished between and emphasized human rights violations in totalitarian as opposed to authoritarian regimes, and sought change through quiet diplomacy rather than congressional pressure. In an interview with Walter Cronkite on CBS News in March 1981, Reagan explained his position: “I think human rights is very much a part of our American idealism.... My criticism of them, in the last few years, was that we were selective with regard to human rights. We took countries that were pro-Western, that were maybe authoritarian in government, but not totalitarian ... and we punished them at the same time that we were claiming détente with countries where there are no human rights. The Soviet Union is the greatest violator today of human rights in all the world.” In downplaying the abuses of authoritarian regimes, this distinction troubled many liberal human rights activists. For evangelical groups such as CREED, however, Reagan’s statements aligned with their policy objectives and seemed to indicate that he planned to champion religious liberty abroad while in office.

Eager to protect their brethren behind the Iron Curtain, evangelicals rallied during the first months of Reagan’s presidency to defend his administration’s stated plan to prioritize human rights abuses in totalitarian rather than authoritarian regimes.
Page 99 captures the themes and argument of the book well. The book explores how conservative evangelicals grappled with issues related to human rights and human rights abuses. I found that the groups I wrote about often used human rights language when writing about foreign policy issues such as trade or military aid. They tended to define human rights narrowly, emphasizing the freedom of religion or freedom of conscience as a primary human right from which all others would stem. I make the case that their definition of human rights reflected their missionary agenda: they believed that it was their spiritual duty to spread the Christian gospel, and thus they wanted a foreign policy that would protect their freedom to evangelize (and the freedom of the “unreached” to hear that gospel). For evangelicals, no earthly privation compared to the loss of the potential for salvation through Jesus Christ, and as such they advocated primarily for religious liberty rather than for the more expansive human rights that secular and politically-liberal organizations such as Amnesty International promoted.

U.S. evangelicals expressed considerable concern about Christian suffering in communist nations, and lobbied policymakers to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on those countries that persecuted Christians, such as the Soviet Union. Similarly, when evangelicals identified anti-communist or pro-evangelical leaders in other parts of the world, they pushed the United States to implement policies that would benefit those regimes—even when they were extremely authoritarian and repressive, such as in Guatemala.

Page 99 shows the intersection of these evangelical ideas about human rights and foreign relations with Reagan administration foreign policy priorities. I think readers that turned to this page would find it provided a good hint as to the historical argument I build over the course of the book.
Visit Lauren Frances Turek's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Willemien Otten's "Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking"

Willemien Otten is Professor of the History of Christianity and Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where she serves as the Director of the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Otten applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking: From Eriugena to Emerson, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes the reader to my chapter on Augustine. More than anyone else in Christianity Augustine stands accused of devaluing nature, seeing it as corrupt, a fall from paradise to which we can never return. I illustrate this common view through my critical analysis of a book on Augustine by Andrea Nightingale called Once out of Nature. Here is a passage from page 99:
As sketched above, Nightingale’s is a harsh indictment of Augustine’s take on natural life as a constrictive negative spiral of time, body, distended mind, and mortality. For Nightingale, God as acting, as presented in Genesis, may be the deeper source of Augustine’s thought, but this makes Augustine no less culpable for subjugating Western civilization to the yoke of this essentially negative Christian paradigm for earthly life…."
The next paragraph continues: “The question is whether Nightingale’s analysis is correct.”

The reader gets an indirect view of the book when opening it at page 99. The page criticizes the view that Augustine devalues nature before launching into my correction. But the correction is visible in my criticism, as I disagree that Augustine divorces nature from paradise or that paradise represents a state of transhumanism. As the chapter develops, I lay out paradise as a view of temporal nature that sees it with maximum clarity in all its beauty. That clarity is the privilege of God who created nature but it can also be grasped, in flashes rather than as a constant awareness, in our natural lives outside paradise.

I find in Augustine a respect for the independence of nature that accords with his wider respect for earthly life and human nature. Yet Augustine writes on nature only through biblical commentaries on Genesis, which marks a break with the speculative Eastern tradition of early Christianity. Building on that observation, I conclude that Eriugena —my medieval protagonist in the book alongside Emerson as my modern one— gives us the natural theology that Augustine never wrote, since he pushes his analysis beyond biblical interpretation. This assessment captures Eriugena’s practice of “thinking nature” much better than the traditional label pantheism does. In a similar move I analyze Emerson’s practice of "thinking nature" through comparisons with Schleiermacher and William James.
Learn more about Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 8, 2020

Edward A. Purcell, Jr.'s "Antonin Scalia and American Constitutionalism"

Edward A. Purcell, Jr. is the Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor at New York Law School and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the history of the United States Supreme Court and the federal judicial system.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Antonin Scalia and American Constitutionalism: The Historical Significance of a Judicial Icon, and reported the following:
Page 99 provides only a limited idea of the book’s content and argument. The page comes in the middle of a long chapter surveying Justice Antonin Scalia’s jurisprudence on a wide range of constitutional issues. Specifically, it is part of a four-page discussion arguing that Scalia’s treatment of the Fourth Amendment was inconsistent and contradictory, and page 99 contributes to this argument by detailing an inconsistency in Scalia’s opinions involving the role of property rights in determining the amendment’s reach. The section shows that his opinions had little to do with any truly “originalist” analysis, and that they actually exemplified a non-originalist version of “living” constitutionalism. Indeed this short section concludes by pointing out that Scalia did not even attempt to use originalist reasoning in more than 80 percent of his Fourth Amendment opinions. The discussion on page 99 is representative only insofar as it exemplifies one of the book’s principal theses about Scalia’s constitutional jurisprudence. His opinions frequently ignored, twisted, contradicted, or flatly rejected the originalist and textualist methodologies that he promoted so vigorously and tirelessly.

The page is not representative insofar as it does not directly contribute to any of the books’ other principle theses. Page 99 does not develop the book’s general argument that Scalia’s jurisprudence was shaped not by his theoretical proclamations but by his personal political and ideological goals. He sought to defend corporate power, private property, gun rights, the death penalty, and the institutional interests of the Republican Party, and he worked methodically to defeat affirmative action and other civil rights claims, abolish rights to abortion and gay marriage, deny the equal protection claims of women, and defeat the claims of consumers, employees, environmentalists, minorities, and tort victims. The consistency and coherence of his jurisprudence lay in the ways he used constitutional reasoning to advance those partisan goals, not in any consistent or disciplined application of originalist or textualist methodologies. Scalia was important primarily because he was, in fact, a leader–and the primary judicial spokesperson--for a distinctive and time-bound late twentieth-century political and ideological movement.

Most important, page 99 does not relate directly to any of the three general conclusions the book draws about Scalia’s overall significance in the history of American constitutionalism. First, the page does not advance the book’s argument that his originalist jurisprudence not only failed but that it also demonstrates that originalist methodologies are intrinsically incapable to producing the kind of “objective” conclusions he claimed. Second, it does not bear on the book’s argument that his jurisprudence illustrates–to an unusual and extreme extent–a fundamental characteristic of American constitutionalism, the fact that political and ideological values have necessarily shaped its course. Third, page 99 does not contribute to the book’s argument that, contrary to Scalia’s claim that originalism has largely and properly controlled constitutional law, the nation’s history shows that American constitutionalism has been intrinsically dynamic and that constitutional law has evolved over the centuries to adapt itself to new conditions and challenges. Scalia’s most important historical significance, the book concludes, is one of irony. His career and jurisprudence demonstrate–despite his impassioned insistence to the contrary–that American constitutionalism is a truly “living” enterprise.
Learn more about Antonin Scalia and American Constitutionalism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue