Thursday, July 30, 2020

Ricardo Padrón's "The Indies of the Setting Sun"

Ricardo Padrón is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West, and reported the following:
Page 99 includes the following complete paragraphs (as well as partial paragraphs before and after):
Like the other imperial historians, Oviedo manages the story of the crossing so as to control the implications of this discovery. He does not fictionalize the encounter with the Unfortunate Isles, the way von Sevenborgen does, but he nevertheless imitates the secretary in remaining silent about the suffering of the men, saying nothing about hunger, thirst, sickness, or death along the way, yet making sure to mention the strong, favorable winds that bore the ships across the ocean, with no storms to trouble them along the way. He says nothing about distances or longitudes, leaving the reader with the impression that the South Sea is broad, but providing none of the information that he or she would need to map it. One is left with the same impression one gets from reading von Sevenborgen, that the first European crossing of the Pacific Ocean presented no real difficulty, that it was smooth sailing all the way. Like the other narratives by authors closely connected to the court of Charles V, Oviedo’s account of the crossing is a tale of the successful conquest of the Ocean Sea.

The next two chapters provide a second account of the same events explicitly drawn from Pigafetta. This often happens in the Historia general, creating the impression that we are dealing with a diligent historian who does not want to get in the way of his eyewitness sources, and eagerly provides different versions of events so that the reader can make up his or her own mind about whom or what to believe. In keeping with this practice, Oviedo dutifully notes that the Venetian was an eyewitness to the events he describes and should therefore be believed. Nevertheless, he then goes on to undermine Pigafetta’s authority. The chapter becomes an act of discursive violence, a direct assault on the single source that posed the most difficulty for the imperial account of the Pacific crossing and its imperial cartography of the South Sea.
This passage does a fairly good job of giving the reader a sense of what the book is like. The Indies of the Setting Sun is about Spanish attempts to imagine the Pacific Ocean as a relatively narrow expanse that integrated rather than separated America and Asia, as part of larger effort to claim East and Southeast Asia as a western extension of the Spanish empire in the New World. This passage from page 99 summarizes of a key section of chapter three, which compares the way that different accounts of the Magellan expedition told the story of the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean by Europeans. The reader might be familiar with Antonio Pigafetta, a member of the Magellan expedition who wrote the most complete and extensive eye-witness account of the voyage. In this passage, he or she learns that there were other historians of the expedition as well, among them von Sevenborgen and Oviedo, and that unlike Pigafetta, they were “imperial historians,” that is, writers who exhibited a strong bias in favor of the Spanish empire and its interests. The reader learns that the imperial historians came up with a template for telling the story of the Pacific crossing that supported Spanish efforts to present the Pacific as a large but manageable oceanic expanse across which Spain could effectively project power and that Oviedo not only repeated this template, but did what he could to control the damage to Spain’s interest presented by Pigafetta’s frank and shocking version of the story.

From this passage, the reader learns that the Indies of the Setting Sun is not about exploration and discovery, but about the ways that voyages of exploration were narrated, packaged, and presented to the reading public in the service of various agendas. He or she learns about the influence of ideology in the making of early modern texts that claim to be truthful, even scientific, and perhaps suspects that this is a book about the role of power in the making of geographical and historical knowledge. Not bad for a couple of paragraphs from page 99.
Learn more about The Indies of the Setting Sun at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Christine Leuenberger & Izhak Schnell's "The Politics of Maps"

Christine Leuenberger is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. She has published various edited volumes and books and her work has also appeared in a number of academic journals, edited volumes and popular news outlets. She was a Fulbright Scholar, a Fulbright Specialist, and an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow (STPF). Leuenberger was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Scholar’s award to investigate the history and sociology of mapping practices in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. She is currently conducting research on issues of migration and borders, and is engaged in peace and educational initiatives in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Izhak Schnell is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography and Human Environment at Tel Aviv University and former President of the Israeli Association of Geographers. His works focus on the analysis of social space under globalization and socio-spatial integration and segregation of social groups in globalized realities, interpretations of the meanings of spaces and places including the representations of spaces and places like art and cartographic pieces and the monitoring of urban environments as risks for health and urban parks as restorative environments.

Leuenberger applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Politics of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of Israel/Palestine, and reported the following:
Page 99 in The Politics of Maps might as well have been the core of our book. At the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the Green Line – the internationally recognized 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and the West Bank. Adhering to it for delineating Israeli and Palestinian territories is seen as fundamental to the long-favored two-state-solution. Yet the story of the Green Line starts with a badly delineated blue line by the military general Moshe Dayan. He was, according to an eyewitness, not much of a map-reader, when, with a thick blue pencil, he drew a line onto a map. However, “the width of the line of the pencil was nearly 2 millimeters”. At the time, the eyewitness asked, “what are you doing?” pointing out that this line on the ground is 300 meters wide, cutting through villages, separating farmers from their land, and leaving a strip of no-man’s land ill-defined. His objection was dismissed. To this day, the delineation of the Green Line, its meaning in international law, and its consequences for territorial sovereignty, is under dispute.

The story of the Green Line is emblematic of what this book is about. In the 9 chapters we focus on how maps have helped make the Israeli state in 1948, and how in the early 1990s, Palestinians surveyed and mapped the territory allocated to a future State of Palestine. In both cases, maps had geopolitical functions to help build envisioned nation-states, yet they also became weapons in map wars, that are being waged by various stakeholders over whether to delineate the Green Line and how to demarcate contested territories. Such map wars in Israel/Palestine exemplify processes underway in other states across the globe, whether in South Africa or Ukraine, which are engaged in disputes over the territorial integrity of nation-states.

We cannot refer to page 99 without mentioning a book cited there published in 1999 by the sociologist Michael Feige. He was an analyst of Israeli-Palestinian spatial arrangement – a fighter for reason, tolerance and peace – and a jolly fellow who liked his coffee. I last saw him at Ben-Gurion University getting a coffee. I told him at the time that I admire his work. In 2016 he was killed in a terror attack in an upscale café in Tel Aviv. A man who tried to understand and analyze why Israelis and Palestinians found themselves in such an entrenched conflict become its victim.

There are too many victims of this conflict – too many on the Palestinian side, and, while far fewer, also too many on the Israeli side. The conflict is also corrosive for both societies. Badly delineated territories and thoughtless policies that fail to respect the human and spatial rights of two people in the same land come with dire consequences. Thus, we need to analyze the predicaments we are in and find solutions that are sustainable and just to the people who share the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley. And one thing is clear – more maps – such as the Vision for Peace Conceptual Map proposed by the US Administration in 2020 - that do not attend to the realities on the ground are not the solution.
Learn more about The Politics of Maps at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Adrian Brettle's "Colossal Ambitions"

Adrian Brettle is Lecturer and Associate Director of the Political History and Leadership Program in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Colossal Ambitions: Confederate Planning for a Post-Civil War World, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Colossal Ambitions places the reader in May 1862 and a debate in the Confederacy about the potential building of an ironclad saltwater navy. Discussions in the Confederate Congress, in newspapers and private correspondence covered such topics as the resources needed, the impact the navy’s construction would have on the economy, and the uses these ships would be put to after the war, or even during wartime, if hostilities with the United States dragged on, inconclusively, long enough for the ships to be completed and put to sea. Politicians and businesspeople talked at the micro level about how such a plan would boost local economies around the shipyards. At the same time, these individuals considered the broader implications if such a scheme was realized, from breaking the Union’s blockade to protecting the expansion of Confederate exports and the acquisition of vital supplies from abroad.

Page 99 is a snapshot of a point of time, which reveals how Colossal Ambitions is a work that deconstructs Confederate long-range planning for peace as an independent country over the course of the Civil War virtually on a month by month, certainly season by season, basis. The recent fall of New Orleans to a Union flotilla, as well as military setbacks in Virginia and Tennessee, concentrated the minds of planners both in government and the private sector about military, especially naval vulnerability. While Union hostility and the refusal of European powers to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation added a sense of isolationism to this unease. Above all, peace seemed remote and the prospects of a fleet therefore the expression of a defiant vision of economic self-sufficiency, territorial expansion, and projection of power abroad that the survival of the Confederacy in a hostile world seemed to demand. The topic of the navy is a leitmotif of the book. Its existence and strength (1864 would be when naval plans recurred with even greater gusto) was needed most when the future world seemed less than ideal for Confederates. The world as it was, rather than what they wished it to be. At the same time, the navy supported objectives in peacetime that were consistently important for Confederates: increased exports arising from growing staple-crop production (especially cotton) in turn contingent on the recovery and then expansion of slavery. However, as the debates on page 99 show, the navy plans add nuance to this picture. The lumber industry (which did indeed flourish in the South after the war) was expected to grow, especially in North Carolina, while shipbuilding would necessitate a degree of industrialization and technical development that would surely be at odds with the preservation of a predominantly agricultural economy based on the labor of enslaved people.
Learn more about Colossal Ambitions at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 27, 2020

Jeremy Withers's "Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles"

Jeremy Withers is Associate Professor of English at Iowa State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles: Contesting the Road in American Science Fiction, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles consists of part of the introduction to chapter three, a chapter devoted to analyzing how some science fiction texts of the New Wave Era (c. 1960-1975) depicted automobiles and bicycles. This page primarily sketches out some of the important historical background to this era, such as how it was a time when the United States experienced yet another surge in annual road and highway deaths and how it saw the beginnings of a cohesive environmental movement.

At first glance, page 99 feels related to this particular chapter, but not to the book as a whole, given that it makes quite specific historical references to New Wave era figures such as President Lyndon B. Johnson and legislation such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. However, this page gestures toward the book’s overall interest in historicizing the science fiction texts on which it focuses. That is, each chapter foregrounds how science fiction has engaged with larger cultural and political events related to transportation, events that shaped these texts during their creation and helped them find readers upon publication. More importantly, page 99 references two related, important points that the overall book makes: that the automobile’s deadly nature frequently alarmed American science fiction writers, as did the unsustainability of cars in their conventional form. Page 99 ends with the line: “More often than not, New Wave writers portray automobiles as murderous, pollution-belching monsters, and look instead to alternatives such as electric cars and human-powered bicycles.” Change “New Wave writers” in that line to “American science fiction writers” and you have a serviceable thesis statement for the entirety of Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles.
Learn more about Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Matthew Van Meter's "Deep Delta Justice"

Matthew Van Meter, raised a Quaker, has written for The Atlantic, The New Republic, Longreads, The Awl and others. A graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University, he reports on criminal justice, teaches at College for Creative Studies and works as assistant director of Shakespeare in Prison. He lives in Detroit, Michigan.

Van Meter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Deep Delta Justice is the finale of a pivotal courtroom scene--Gary Duncan, the main character, a 19-year-old black shrimper, is on trial for touching a white boy on the shoulder in order to break up a fight. His lawyer, Richard Sobol, has rested his case, and the judge is about to render a verdict.

Page 99 opens with Gary feeling hopeful. Richard, a brilliant lawyer who would go on to become one of the luminaries of his generation, has picked apart the prosecutor's arguments effectively. I write of Gary: "[The] tension that had built up inside him, taut and wound tighter by each new injustice from when he touched the Landry boy until this moment, began to slacken."

At first, the judge seems to go Gary's way. But suddenly he changes course and announces a guilty verdict. The page ends with Gary's sense of betrayal and the pain of maturing into his "place" in Jim Crow society: "Gary felt himself fall through the floor even as he mechanically stood tall to comply with [the judge's] request. He was short of breath, as if his body were constricted by thick lines or pressed under weights. His family was behind him, and he turned slightly to look back at his mother. She was weeping, and the sight of her face fractured something behind his ribs. 'I know what this is,' he thought. Gary saw how people could just take and do things to you, and he understood that his family had known that truth for a long time and protected him. He felt naive, and he felt foolish. 'I know what this is,' he repeated to himself as he turned back to the judge."

Page 99 is uncannily representative of the entirety of Deep Delta Justice to me in several specific ways.

First, in terms of technique, it is the culmination of a dramatic scene that was sourced using the tools of a journalist and historian, then recounted using the tools of a novelist: emphasis on character development, storytelling through dialogue and accumulation of details, and "interiority" (the inner lives of characters). I work hard to earn these scenes; page 99 reflects dozens of hours of reporting and research--all hopefully invisible to the reader!

Second, in terms of my process, page 99 showcases two of the things that bring me the most joy as a reporter and writer. I got my start in writing through theatre, and I love the process of taking hundreds (or thousands!) of pages of trial transcript and editing them down to a scene's worth of snappy, propulsive dialogue. And the interiority--Gary's emotional world--was acquired by allowing him to tell me about this incredibly painful experience over and over again over the course of several years. The deep truth of it--that this was the moment when Gary first understood the traumatic reality of being black in America--only became clear to me on the tenth or twentieth telling.

Third, and most importantly, page 99 is poignant for me in terms of my duty as a storyteller who lives in a society that values me and my words far more than it has ever valued Gary Duncan or his words. Both as a reporter and someone who works with incarcerated people, I am constantly reminded of how little I have done to earn my outsize megaphone. But I have that megaphone, and it is my responsibility to use it to use it well. Telling Gary's story from his perspective does not absolve me of my participation in the system that oppresses him, but it is what I know how to do, and failing to tell that story would be a waste of the power I have inherited. So, rereading page 99, I am struck by how many of these words are Gary's. I am reminded of how, when I first read that passage aloud to him, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Yes. That's just how it was." He could not have said anything that would make me feel better.
Learn more about Deep Delta Justice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Virginia Wright Wexman's "Hollywood's Artists"

Virginia Wright Wexman is professor emerita of English and art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her books include Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance (1993) and A History of Film (seventh edition, 2010).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hollywood's Artists: The Directors Guild of America and the Construction of Authorship, and reported the following:
Hollywood’s Artists: The Directors Guild of America and the Construction of Authorship examines the way in which the DGA has helped to shape the belief that directors are the singular authors responsible for the artistry of Hollywood movies. Page 99 is part of a chapter that elucidates a corollary of this thesis by exploring the way in which the DGA’s mission was elaborated during the years in which the House UnAmerican Activities Committee directed its gaze on Hollywood. During a famous meeting in 1950 that had been sparked by a proposal to have every DGA member sign an oath of loyalty to the US government, Guild members asserted their claim to be the kind of artists who were also manly patriots.

Taken as a whole, Hollywood’s Artists traces the way in which the DGA has placed its creative rights mission at the center of its agenda in order to further the ambitions of its members to make themselves into artists. Throughout its history, the Guild has gained ever-greater creative control over production and credits, building on trends within the film industry and in the larger culture to achieve its goals. The group faced special challenges to this mission when television and newer media platforms posed different models of authorship. Another challenge emerged when the Guild attempted to assert ownership rights for directors as they exist in continental Europe, a project that was destined for failure in the USA.
Learn more about Hollywood's Artists at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2020

Andrew R. Hom's "International Relations and the Problem of Time"

Andrew Hom is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh and an Associate Editor of the journal, International Relations. He is the co-editor of Moral Victories: The Ethics of Winning Wars (2017) and Time, Temporality, and Global Politics (2016).

Hom applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, International Relations and the Problem of Time, and reported the following:
Had I known I would have the opportunity to take the page 99 test for International Relations and the Problem of Time, I would have made sure that something dramatic happened on that page, as when scientists invented the Doomsday Clock – the ticking symbol of dread – to reckon with the nuclear revolution and other forms of apocalypse (it is 100 seconds to midnight, by the way). Or at least that someone would deliver a memorable quote – like ancient references to “Time the Destroyer”, or when a Minister in the UK Parliament accused the Conservative government of “using time as a weapon” in debates about foreign policy.

Alas, while earlier and later portions of the book cover such episodes, page 99 is invested in the less striking but equally important work of carefully building up conceptual tools to help us see just why and how time matters in world politics. It discusses mechanistic, historical, and structural-rationalist explanations in the study of International Relations (IR), comparing them based on how (and how much) they filter experience into a manageable amount of evidence or data; how they “cleave” or establish the bookends of the explanatory sequence; and how they turn surprising or discordant moments into those turning points, tragic flaws, and twists of fate that lead political processes in puzzling directions. This discussion comes near the end of chapter three, which introduces temporal concepts from narrative theory to IR.

Hold on a second (you may object), history – ok, but mechanisms, structures, and rationality don’t sound very much like “timey wimey” issues?

Yet these ways of explaining political phenomena are central to IR, which would be unrecognizable without references to history, the “structure of international anarchy”, assumptions about rational state behaviour, or accounts of how certain inputs mechanically produce reliable outpus. And one of the main goals of the book is to show that while many discussions may not appear temporal, and most scholars have not concerned themselves with time, IR concepts and modes of knowledge depend very much on hidden ideas about time. Following on from this, the book also shows just how IR theories and methods perpetuate particular ways of imagining and relating to time.

To accomplish this, Part One of the book develops a novel account of time as not just having political consequences but as a social and political phenomenon all the way down. Departing from other philosophical and theoretical treatments, which tend to assume some metaphysical or natural content to time, my book argues that all concepts of time and temporal symbols refer to underlying timing practices. Here timing means not just ‘when’ something happens but to much larger and more creative efforts to stitch together social relations and complex processes so that life unfolds in one way rather than others, and produces this outcome instead of that. References to time and temporality, then, refer not to objective features of the universe but to human efforts to time – a basic, pervasive, and widely overlooked aspect of social and political life.

Because it begins from such a different starting point, Part One also defends timing theory against prominent alternatives, before developing more precise analytical tools (as on page 99) to help us identify and unpack IR’s temporal foundations. Part Two then demonstrates this and discusses the consequences for how we think about world politics, covering disciplinary history, philosophies of social science, quantitative methods, studies of international institutions, and critical theory. It concludes by arguing that once we fully grasp the importance of timing and time for international politics, IR looks very different from conventional wisdoms about quantitative-qualitative, theory-narrative, general-particular, empirical-interpretive, or scientific-critical divides.
Learn more about International Relations and the Problem of Time at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2020

LaFleur Stephens-Dougan's "Race to the Bottom"

LaFleur Stephens-Dougan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Her research interests include public opinion, racial attitudes and voting behavior.

Stephens-Dougan applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work In American Politics, discusses the results of an survey experiment that was fielded on a nationally representative sample of 515 White respondents. Participants in the experiment were randomly assigned to read about a Black Democratic politician who had recently given a speech that encouraged people to get out and vote. There were three versions of the article, a deracialized version, an implicitly racial version, and an explicitly racial version. The aim here was to see whether some White voters would evaluate a Black candidate who did not mention race (deracialized message) more positively than a virtually identical Black Democratic candidate who did mention race, either implicitly or explicitly.

There is a long line of research that suggests that Black candidates should avoid the topic of race to allay the fears of White voters. This strategy, which is referred to as “deracialization,” presumes that if a Black politician is talking about race, then they are assuming a posture of racial liberalism that will turn off White voters. Less explored, is whether Black politicians are advantaged when they indicate that they are not “too liberal” on matters of race, by invoking negative stereotypes about other Black people—a strategy that I refer to as “racial distancing.”

The page 99 test works for Race to the Bottom because this page illuminates the central argument of the book, which is that racially moderate and racially conservative White Americans have a preference for politicians who distance themselves from the interests of Black people. The discussion on page 99 indicates that White voters in the sample were more likely to vote for the Black Democratic candidate in either the implicit or explicit versions of the article, relative to the Black Democratic candidate with the deracialized message. They also rated the racialized versions of the speech more positively. In other words, a message from a Black Democratic candidate that emphasized unity and universalism was actually less popular than messages that invoked stereotypes of Blacks as complaining and not taking personal responsibility. Since most White Americans are moderate to conservative on matters of race, this has troubling normative implications for the representation of Black interests in the American political system.
Visit LaFleur Stephens-Dougan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Nicolas Bommarito's "Seeing Clearly"

Nicolas Bommarito is an Assistant Professor of philosophy at University at Buffalo. Before that, he was a Bersoff Fellow in the philosophy department at NYU. He has also studied at Brown University, Tibet University, and University of Michigan. His research focuses on questions in virtue ethics, moral psychology, and Buddhist philosophy.

Bommarito applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Seeing Clearly: A Buddhist Guide to Life, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is a wonderful illustration of an important Buddhist idea. Page 99 of my book Seeing Clearly is about the Buddhist idea of the Two Truths. The basic idea is that some things are true within a system of conventions or assumptions, while others are true full stop. So it’s true within our conventional mythology that Santa wears a red suit since we've all agreed that is how the story goes. But it’s not ultimately true since there is no Santa (sorry, Virginia!) and so no suit at all.

Page 99 talks about a particular view of the Two Truths that sees them as identical, different aspects of the same reality. They are different aspects of the same thing the way a lemon is both yellow and sour. It then talks about the practical importance of thinking about the conventions and assumptions in place when we listen to what others say. This means reflecting on whether it would be wise in that situation to work within those conventions or break out of them. Do you insist that Santa does not have a red suit or sit back and have fun participating in the Christmas dinner conversation?

Buddhists who talk about the Two Truths often do so because they say that everything is empty. By that they mean empty of an independent essence. This means that everything depends on everything else to be what it is. The Page 99 Test itself is actually a wonderful illustration of this. To really explain what is happening on page 99, you have to explain what happened before and what happens after in the book. Understanding the significance of the page means understanding its place in the rest of the book.

Think about a melody you like. If you just take a single note from the middle of that melody on its own and ask, “Is this a good note?” it’s hard to say. This is because the note’s significance depends on the notes that come before and after and the timing of those notes. The same is true of page 99 or any other page of a book – trying to figure out what it says and how good it is means reflecting on what came before and what follows.

Reflecting on the relational nature of things is a central part of what the Page 99 Test forces you to do and it’s also of central importance in the Buddhist idea of emptiness. It might seem like you can pick out a single musical note or a page of a book and evaluate it as an isolated, stand-alone thing, but you can’t. In the same way, it can be tempting to think of events, people, and even ourselves in ways that abstract away from all of the relations and conditions that make these things what they are. For many Buddhists this view of things as independent and isolated things is the fundamental mistake that causes misery in life. The rest of my book is about how Buddhists take on the task of fixing that mistake, particular ideas and techniques they use to see clearly how the world really is and so become more compassionate and understanding.
Visit Nic Bommarito's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz's "Asian Place, Filipino Nation"

Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz is a research fellow at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, and is executive director of the Toynbee Prize Foundation. She holds a PhD in Southeast Asian and international history from Yale University.

CuUnjieng Aboitiz applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887-1912, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Phan Bội Châu did not believe in a racial hierarchy. He saw in Social Darwinism not an essentialist trap but a positive theory that explained a nation’s strength as the result of its historical development, thereby opening to any nation the opportunity to advance by developing itself... To Châu, a nation’s survival depended upon its struggle. This struggle needed not be borne alone. Kōtoku Shūsui and other Japanese thinkers as well as Liu Shipei—a Chinese intellectual with whom Châu was in contact—all drew upon Peter Kropotkin’s Social Darwinist theories of intra-species behavior. Kropotkin emphasized ‘mutual help’ among members of a species and argued for it as crucial to the species’ survival in nature’s harsh living conditions. For the Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese intellectuals who had internalized Social Darwinism as an explanation of the difference among nations (rather than as inequality existing within a single nation, as it was originally theorized in Europe), Kropotkin’s argument served to bridge Social Darwinism and Pan-Asianism. Phan Bội Châu wrote further in ‘Letter from Abroad Written in Blood’: ‘In this age when strong powers are competing against each other and the world is engaged in a struggle for survival, we would be a loser unless we absorb civilization from abroad, acquire sympathy from a strong neighbour, and pit our small nation against a big enemy.’
My book is a global intellectual history of the Philippine Revolution, and deals centrally with the emplotment of place in the political thought and actions of the Philippine ilustrados (educated elite) and revolutionaries as they constructed the idea of the Philippine nation. To understand this history I examined the Filipinos’ constructions of ‘place,’ ‘Asia,’ the Malay race, and civilization. While my book centers on the Philippines, it has an eye toward Vietnam throughout. It examines East-East or intra-Global South relations and exchange within a period of history that is too often apprehended through bilateral accounts privileging relations between the West and an Asian country. It is in this light that the contemporaneous Vietnamese engagement with Pan-Asianism and Social Darwinism becomes relevant. It is also through the Vietnamese and Philippine histories taken together that I recover and distinguish the Pan-Asianism of the colonized “periphery” as distinct from that of the “center” of Northeast Asia. I incorporate the “periphery” into our understanding of Pan-Asianism and focus on its affective and material dimensions, which the traditional intellectual and Northeast Asia-centric scholarship tends to miss.

The diverse islands of Filipinas* are riven with ethno-linguistic variety and the contours of what would become the Philippine nation-state were in no way presumed. It seemed to me that a thorough investigation of the geographies of political affinity and constructions of place at work in the history of the revolution remained sorely missing. What is Southeast Asia? For that matter, what is Asia? Existing at the “periphery” of both, the Philippines is a singularly rich site to explore such questions. Beyond merely the Philippines, I wondered, how do anti-colonial and proto-nationalist constructions of ‘place’ relate theoretically and genealogically to empire and its claims to space? Further, how did they relate to the multivalent discourses on race?

Indeed, observers around the globe at the turn of the twentieth century—from Spain, to India, and Japan—were convinced that they were on the precipice of a coming race war. Social Darwinist frameworks only worked to naturalize that idea of international racial struggle, and, as a result, could portray Asian racial solidarity as both necessary and existential to the anti-colonial nationalist struggles then brewing and ablaze in the region.

*I use the contemporary name of the Spanish colony when discussing the archipelago prior to the idea of the Filipino nation and when discussing the colony as distinct from the imagination of that nation.
Learn more about Asian Place, Filipino Nation at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 20, 2020

Seyward Darby's "Sisters in Hate"

Seyward Darby is the editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine. She previously served as the deputy editor of Foreign Policy and the online editor and assistant managing editor of The New Republic. As a writer, she has contributed to The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Elle, and Vanity Fair, among other publications.

Darby applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Sisters in Hate, you'll find the following lines.
By the time Unite the Right was on the horizon, Ayla was staging an increasingly exaggerated performance of good white womanhood.... [I]f being vocally nostalgic for the past was a sin, Ayla wasn’t about to repent. Invoking ideals of femininity rooted in whiteness—Beyoncé need not apply—Ayla compared the America she yearned for to the world of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the twin teenage protagonists created by young-adult author Francine Pascal.
Page 99 is a good representation of the book overall, hitting on the key topics of whiteness and womanhood and on their intersection, which as the text implies is often weaponized in the service of white supremacy. The page also shows what I hope is among the book’s strongest qualities: the interweaving of personal stories with historical and cultural analysis.

Coded language is a hallmark of the hate movement. Today, there’s a veritable dictionary of strange digital lingo, from “cuckservative” to “libtard,” “kangz” to “roastie,” that is used to insult people who don’t support the far right or live up to its racist, misogynistic, and ant-Semitic standards. I’m more interested, however, in words like “heritage” and “the West” and even “American,” which when used by hate’s acolytes contain multitudes far uglier than a surface-level reading suggests. This kind of coding is one way that the hate movement’s supporters and ideas seep into the mainstream, because it allows them to present what they believe and do as palatable, defensible, and familiar.

Page 99 of my book points to the ways in which women are uniquely positioned to use coding as both a shield and a weapon. In performing or invoking “womanhood” and “motherhood,” women in the hate movement seek to deflect criticism and invite sympathy. Simultaneously, they judge and exclude, because the concepts in question are, to their minds, defined by whiteness—a measure of power, normative behavior, and aesthetics at odds with progressive ideals like racial justice.
Visit Seyward Darby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Miles Harvey's "The King of Confidence"

Miles Harvey is the author of the national and international bestseller The Island of Lost Maps and the recipient of a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan. His book Painter in a Savage Land was named a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year and a Booklist Editors’ Choice. He teaches creative writing at DePaul University in Chicago, where he is a founding editor of Big Shoulders Books.

Harvey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch, and reported the following:
The King of Confidence tells the stranger-than-fiction story of James J. Strang, a self-declared prophet who convinced hundreds of mid-19th-century Americans to move with him to a remote island in northernmost Lake Michigan, where he declared himself King of Earth and Heaven. Page 99 describes an anguishing moment in the troubled existence of his wife, Mary Perce Strang.

In the fall of 1849, the prophet dropped off Mary and the couple’s three young children at his parents’ farm in Western New York. He then proceeded to go on a months-long recruiting and fundraising tour of the East Coast, accompanied by someone named Charles J. Douglass, whom Strang introduced to anyone he came in contact with as his 16-year-old nephew and private secretary. But in fact, Charley wasn’t a man at all. His real name was Elvira Field, and she was Strang’s 19-year-old second wife in men’s clothing—a secret the prophet hoped to keep from Mary, who did not yet know that her husband had become a polygamist. By the time of his murder by disaffected followers in 1856, Strang would have a total of five wives.

Page 99 describes the miserable conditions most married women faced in the antebellum era, that tumultuous period of American history leading up to the Civil War. The page starts with a frustrated Mary writing her husband, who had largely ignored her earlier letters. “If I had money,” she angrily declared, “I would take the children and go home” to Wisconsin, where the family was then living. The text on page 99 then continues: “But Mary Strang couldn’t go home. Like most women of her generation, she had almost no real power in her marriage, much less anything resembling autonomy. Although a few states such as New York had passed laws that granted limited economic rights to married women, most jurisdictions still held that a husband owned his wife’s body, her property, her earnings, and her offspring. ... If Strang’s intention had been to cut her off from the outside world, he could hardly have devised a better prison than his parents’ house, where Mary could neither get news of his travels nor be exposed to gossip.”

It’s hard to say that this passage gets a perfect score on The Page 99 Test, since readers don’t get a direct glimpse of Strang. But even though the prophet is absent from this particular page, readers get a very clear sense of one of his defining character traits: duplicity. The term “confidence man” came into the American lexicon that very same year of 1849, and Strang certainly fit the bill. Readers also get a feel for the upheavals of the mid-19th century, a time that gave rise to many feverish religious enthusiasms and powerful political movements. The final paragraph of page 99, for instance, explores the strikingly prescient ideas of the noted antebellum essayist and journalist Margaret Fuller, whose 1845 book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century was described by one later historian as “the boldest and, in a real sense, the first statement of American feminism.” Fuller argued that the place women of the era occupied was “so narrow” that any attempt to break out would cause them to “become outlaws.” Men, too, were stunted by the rigid gender divisions of the antebellum period, which, in Fuller’s view, imprisoned members of both sexes and suppressed their true selves from soaring free. She looked forward to a time when false borders between the two genders faded away. “Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism,” she wrote. “But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”

The surprisingly complex gender politics of the antebellum era—and of Strang’s utopian colony, where women were wearing pantaloons almost a year before women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer famously adopted the fashion—were among the most fascinating aspects of researching and writing The King of Confidence.
Visit Miles Harvey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 17, 2020

Roger Moorhouse's "Poland 1939"

Roger Moorhouse studied history at the University of London and is a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Warsaw. He is the author of several books on World War II history, including Berlin at War (shortlisted for the Hessell-Tiltman Prize) and The Devils’ Alliance. He lives in the United Kingdom.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II, and reported the following:
I love the premise of the Page 99 Test, and the idea that a single page – any page – might serve as a microcosm of the whole book. In this case, I think it works quite well.

My new book Poland 1939 is about the brutal German and Soviet invasions of Poland in September 1939, which ignited World War Two in Europe and showed so many of the hideous features that would become so commonplace in the war – the targeting of civilians, indiscriminate bombing and the application of murderous ideologies.

Page 99 of the book gives a rather different aspect, but one which is nonetheless significant. As it happens, half of the page contains a picture, showing jubilant Poles celebrating in the streets of Warsaw after the British and French had declared war on Germany, in their defence, on September 3 1939.

The accompanying text tells the story of the British Ambassador to Poland, Sir Howard Kennard, meeting the Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck, at the British Embassy. It explains that the jubilant crowd was so thick that Beck had to fight his way through, and that the two men then addressed the throng from the balcony, with Kennard proudly proclaiming that Britain would “fight side by side” with Poland against aggression and injustice.

Those that understand something of the story already, will know that those earnest promises of assistance on the part of London and Paris amounted to very little indeed. Despite the warm words of encouragement and the exhortations to resist, Poland was pretty much left to its fate by its western Allies, and was defeated, partitioned and destroyed by its totalitarian neighbours after 5 weeks of warfare.

This, then, is the story of Page 99. The test doesn’t work perfectly, as the page isn’t really indicative of the main body of the book, but it does nonetheless explain an aspect that – while slightly tangential – is an important part of the wider story; the story of the British and French abandonment, and betrayal, of their Polish ally.
©Roger Moorhouse 2020
Visit Roger Moorhouse's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Devils' Alliance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Zachary Dorner's "Merchants of Medicines"

Zachary Dorner is the Patrick Henry Postdoctoral Fellow in history at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Merchants of Medicines: The Commerce and Coercion of Health in Britain’s Long Eighteenth Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Merchants of Medicines comes at an important point in chapter three where I reinforce the argument, made earlier in the chapter, that imperial institutions incentivized the transformation of mobile populations of unfree laborers (namely soldiers, slaves, and servants) into patients who could be treated, willingly or unwillingly, with manufactured medicines. More specifically, page 99 details the complexity of healthcare in the eighteenth-century Caribbean where local and imported medicinal products coexisted in an iterative marketplace of treatment options closely tied to the transatlantic sugar economy.

Take the following quotations as examples:
Merchants of medicines provided treatments theoretically convenient and useful for disparate populations of willing or unwilling patients, but actual application varied according to the hierarchies of race and gender that structured eighteenth-century slave societies and often remain concealed in the business archive. Such records rarely capture the daily intricacies of healthcare in the plantations, households, and urban areas of the West Indies. Merchants, apothecaries, and practitioners sold local medicines and imported ones prepared in Britain, often in large quantities, for a variety of purposes…

…Therapeutic practices of folk healers and nurses most likely surpassed other forms of plantation healthcare in effectiveness, though this did not prevent practitioners, planters, manufacturers, and authors from recommending British medicines in large quantities as part of the plantation health regime. If a planter was willing to pay for imported medicines, little incentive existed for practitioners to curtail their ordering, even if enslaved people refused them.
Browsers opening Merchants of Medicines to page 99 would find the book’s themes of medicine, capitalism, difference-making, and empire, as well as its approach to business records well-represented on the page. What the test would fail to entirely convey, however, is the book’s broad scope spanning South Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Atlantic colonies in tracing the production, distribution, and consumption of medicinal commodities. Page 99 comes at a point in chapter three where I focus on the impact of an imperial system of healthcare in the Caribbean and the consequences for emergent ideas of inherent bodily difference. As a result, the book’s attention to distance, motion, and transformation embodied in European laboratories, long-distance trade, trading companies, and colonial wars can only be glimpsed on the page in favor of the ongoing deeper dive into the complexities of death and dying in the Caribbean. Readers will be able to follow analytical threads established elsewhere, but a browser would not necessarily have all the context required to see the themes and arguments reflected on the page.

As I noted above, chapter three really is a crucial chapter for Merchants of Medicines. Analytically, it elaborates on key arguments and, narratively, it transitions the book to focus more on non-European spaces moving forward. It shows that imperial institutions, such as the slave trade, East India Company, and armed forces drove the overseas medicine trade, a trade that was increasing exponentially by the mid-eighteenth century. The Atlantic colonies, and Caribbean specifically, were the engine of this growth. The needs and proceeds of a large-scale sugar economy drove the trade in medicines seen as useful in plantation management and middle passage. Consequences of this growth included: turning people into interchangeable patients, closer ties between London apothecaries and Caribbean planters, and new expectations of what medicines could and should do.

Though perhaps not directly, page 99 reflects that Merchants of Medicines is a history of medicine, of commerce, and of empire, concerned with how the long-distance trade of medicinal commodities affected not only the form of early modern empire but also people’s understandings of self and the world around them.
Visit Zachary Dorner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods's "Survival of the Friendliest"

Brian Hare is a professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, where he founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center. Vanessa Woods is a research scientist, journalist, and author of children’s books. A member of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group, she works with Duke University as well as Lola Ya Bonobo in the Congo. Their books include The Genius of Dogs.

Hare and Woods applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Our species was not doing much better. Mega droughts, erupting volcanoes, and advancing glaciers threatened our survival, and we may have neared extinction.
We love the page 99 test for our book! It was so fun to actually open to page 99 and see what we had written. This quote is behind our favorite ideas because especially right now, it feels like things have never been worse. Seriously, we don’t want to curse ourselves but how could 2020 possibly get any worse??

But this is not the only moment our species has been in crisis. And as we see in the quote above, we were plagued with challenges that eclipse what we are experiencing now.

We (obviously) made it through. And understanding how we survived will help us survive again - - and it wasn’t being the strongest or meanest or even the smartest. A little known fact is that for most of the 300,000 years that Homo sapiens have existed, we shared the planet with at least four other types of humans. They had brains as big or bigger than ours. For millennia their technology rivaled our own.

But around 50,000 years ago, we made a cognitive leap that gave us an edge over the other human species. What happened? In Survival of the Friendliest, we propose that like dogs, we unintentionally domesticated ourselves. This process of ‘self domestication’ altered our bodies and minds. An increase in friendliness super-charged our ability to innovate and our technology exploded. While others have proposed our species grew friendlier or smarter, self domestication links the two; becoming friendlier caused the critical increase in our social intelligence that allowed us to thrive while the other humans died out.

Self-domestication also uncovers the neurobiological link that makes us the most tolerant and cruelest species on the planet. Just as a mother bear is most dangerous around her cubs, we are at our most dangerous when a group we love is threatened. The same brain network that allows for our friendliness, becomes dampened. We do not see people in a group threatening ours as fully human. Cruelty follows.

This new understanding has major implications for our modern world, including how we govern ourselves, educate our children, and build cities. We can develop actionable solutions based on the knowledge that to survive and flourish, we must expand our definition of who belongs.
Visit Brian Hare's website and Vanessa Woods's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Genius of Dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 13, 2020

Mark Galeotti's "A Short History of Russia"

Mark Galeotti is one of the most respected and provocative writers on Russia today. A historian and expert on modern Russia, he was educated at Cambridge University and the LSE, has taught and held academic leadership roles in the USA and UK, and worked as an adviser for the British Foreign Office. He is a prolific author with more than twenty books to his name, and briefs everyone from the State Department to Fortune 100 companies on understanding Russia.

Galeotti applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Short History of Russia: How the World’s Largest Country Invented Itself, from the Pagans to Putin, and reported the following:
Is Russia European, and if so does that mean it has to surrender its claims to cultural exceptionalism? Does a self-conscious appeal to tradition mean a revival of historical ways, or a reinvention of a mythologised past? Page 99 of A Short History of Russia starts with the irony that Tsar Alexei (ruled 1645-76), while resenting the growing influence of foreigners, nonetheless made Patrick Gordon, a Roman Catholic Scottish mercenary, a tutor for his son and heir, Peter – later to be known as Peter the Great. A similar tension was all too evident within the Church, and the eloquent, forceful and unbending Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow and All the Rus’, sought to purify a faith that he felt had deviated from its Greek Byzantine origins.

Icons of new style were banned and burned, and contemporary Greek rites and liturgies were introduced, on pain of fines, excommunication and the lynch mob. Yet here is the irony: the ways of the Greek church had evolved over the centuries, just like the Russian. One could question whether the new rites were any closer to the old Byzantine ones that the Russian ones they replaced. But if one were wise, one would not ask that in Nikon’s presence.

A central theme of the book is, after all, about myths, about the stories Russians tell others and themselves about Russia, and the extent to which these are often wishful fantasies or cynical fabrications. Words make worlds, and our understanding of our place in the world is framed by them. In Russia’s case, that often means addressing the tension between its claims to being a unique civilisation and its relationship with Europe. Time and again, it would oscillate between a desperate desire to demonstrate that it was, indeed, a European and not a Eurasian or Asia power, and a stubborn determination to reject European values.

The “page 99 test” thus works rather well, although you’d need to read the other 215 pages to see how these processes fit the larger patterns of Russian history. The tsar who confined foreigners in Moscow into a ghetto of their own to avoid cultural contagion yet hired one to teach his son. The priest who thought he could reaffirm Russian uniqueness by copying a European church’s ways rites. Both were trying to reinvent Russia in their own ways, creating something new by thinking they could return it to their mythologised sense of something old.
Follow Mark Galeotti on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Heather Houser's "Infowhelm"

Heather Houser writes on contemporary culture, the environment, and science and is an associate professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin. Her books include Infowhelm: Environmental Art & Literature in an Age of Data (2020) and Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect (2014).

Houser applied the “Page 99 Test” to Infowhelm and reported the following:
From page 99:
In short, the new naturalist arts manage environmental data to manage loss. Yet, as the next chapters insist, writers and visual artists revive natural history not out of nostalgic yearning or to unleash a zombie Enlightenment. Rather, they rework naturalist epistemologies and cultural forms to salvage a future out of the past; they produce ways of knowing that variously accommodate, contain, or diminish emotions of loss.... Their questions chime with another that I paraphrase from Paul Farber’s history of natural history: What responsibilities do our knowledge and our knowledge systems confer on us?
At page 99, readers are one-third of the way through Infowhelm: Environmental Art and Literature in an Age of Data. More specifically, they're in the preface to part 2, "The New Natural History." Each of the book's three parts—the others being "Cultural Climate Knowledge" and "Aerial Environmentalisms"—opens with a preface in which the poetry of Juliana Spahr inspires the questions driving the next two chapters. One of those questions—"What responsibilities do our knowledge and our knowledge systems confer on us?"—appears on page 99 but pulses through the entire book. With this question and a central point about the affective dimensions of scientific information, page 99 gives someone browsing the book an accurate taste of the whole.

Infowhelm explains how the environmental arts take up scientific information—data as well as methods and explanations—to relay consensus facts about crises like climate change and species extinction but also to reflect on how environmental knowledge comes to be. Certainly, eco-knowledge arises from Eurowestern science, but it also arises from traditional ecological knowledge practices; it arises from emotions and embodied understanding; it arises from speculation and uncertainty. The question on page 99 gets at these varieties of knowledge while acknowledging that certain knowledge systems are bound up in practices of domination, extraction, and exploitation, while others promote cohabitation, reciprocity, renewal, and resilience to ongoing crises (Kyle Powys Whyte's "Indigenous climate change studies" is an inspiration here). The positivist epistemologies of classical natural history, which I'm referencing on this page, are often aligned with practices of domination and mastery. Contemporary artists challenge the colonial and exploitative currents of science by repurposing naturalist methods into a new natural history. They reimagine natural history to feel the losses of environmental crises and to envision alternative relations between humans and the more-than-human.
Learn more about Infowhelm at the Columbia University Press website and visit Heather Houser's website.

The Page 99 Test: Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Rebecca Earle's "Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato"

Rebecca Earle is Head of the Department of History at the University of Warwick. Her publications include The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492–1700 (2012) and The Return of the Native: Indians and Mythmaking in Spanish America, 1810–1930 (2007). She has also edited a cookery book.

Earle applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses soup kitchens. As today, in eighteenth-century Europe ordinary people often found it difficult to feed themselves and their families. In response individuals and organisations in a number of countries set up soup kitchens, dispensing ‘poor soups’, usually based on potatoes mixed with barley or other grains, some vegetables, and a small amount of meat. Surprisingly, the organisers of these soup kitchens were at pains to stress that their soups were not only economical and nourishing, but also tasty. They tested their recipes on likely recipients, and adapted them in light of the responses. These adaptations reflect local culinary traditions. In Germany soups often included a hefty dose of vinegar, whereas in France they were seasoned with fines herbes. In Spain charitable organisations added cumin, paprika and olive oil. The resultant soups, they reported confidently, pleased local tastes, and were consumed with pleasure by the poor. Whether the beneficiaries of these charitable initiatives shared the enthusiasm of the organisers is another matter. ‘This is washy stuff, that affords no nourishment’, was the assessment of poor people in the south of England when offered charity soups.

Page 99 captures some recurrent themes in Feeding the People. Specifically, it touches on the ways in which the rhetoric of individual choice has become central to how we talk about freedom. Even the organisers of soup kitchens felt it was important to stress that poor people were ‘choosing’ to eat their soups. This is why they put some effort into testing their recipes and (so they alleged) adapting them to local tastes. Given these efforts, they felt able to dismiss any criticisms.

Being able to make one’s own choices is a cornerstone of liberal definitions of freedom, and it is interesting to see how these ideas, born in the Enlightenment, shaped even the ways in which the organisers of soup kitchens thought about their activities. Of course, many factors, including poverty, constrain our actual ability to choose what we eat and how we live our lives. Beyond this, not everyone would agree that individual choice should lie at the centre of how we organise society. These debates, and their links to eating, emerged in the eighteenth century, which is why a small history of eighteenth-century soup kitchens can reveal how the rhetoric of individualism became entangled with how we talk about eating.
Learn more about Feeding the People at  the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Larry Tye's "Demagogue"

Larry Tye is the best-selling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel, as well as Superman, The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and co-author, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. Previously an award-winning reporter and national writer at the Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship.

Tye applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, and reported the following:
Page 99 is an ideal teaser for my book, and for understanding where Joe McCarthy stood early in a Senate career that would make him the most controversial man in America.

It opens by talking about McCarthy’s personal and political friendship with the all-powerful head of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover realized McCarthy could be an ally in his battle to root out Reds and pinkos, and he told his agents to play nice with the senator. As I write, “the affection was mutual. Joe called the FBI ‘the only bureau in Washington that gets the highest praise from everyone,’ adding that ‘many of us feel you should have more men in the FBI at this time.

I continue by noting what such schmoozing with kingmakers meant to the one-time poultry farmer and grocery clerk from rural Wisconsin:
Joe acted as if such relationships were the most natural thing in the world, but he hadn’t lost sight of how far he had come. In 1947, at an especially swank cocktail party in the Capitol, the freshman lawmaker stood in the corner with a friend reflecting on the big shots whose hands he’d been shaking: “I wonder what these people would think if they knew I once raised chickens.” Whether or not they would have cared about that, some might have been shocked at how, rather than finding a place of his own in Washington, he was camping out college-style in a small room he was renting from his office manager, Ray Kiermas. Underwear was piled up under the bed, and pants were wedged under the mattress in hopes of removing the wrinkles. “Whenever we move to a new home we tell him the address on moving day,” said Kiermas. “He comes there that night instead of going to the old place.” While Joe didn’t mean to be insensitive, he was to Ray and even more to his wife, Dolores. On the eve of one of their moves, he told her he’d invited a few people to dinner, and persisted although she explained that the dishes were packed. That night eighteen journalists turned up. She unpacked, then repacked, everything that was needed. Joe thought nothing of it: “Everyone sat around on crates and had a fine time.” [His best friend Urban] Van Susteren compared him to “a stray dog. He’d stay three days at one place, three at another, and four at another. He’d sleep on the couch, on the floor, on the porch — it didn’t matter at all to him.”
My book seeks to balance the human and public sides of Joe McCarthy, and looks for the kind of nuance we can get only now that I was given first and exclusive access to the senator’s personal and professional papers, which were under lock and key for sixty years.

It’s not often that a man’s name becomes an ism, in this case a synonym for reckless accusation, guilt by association, and fear-mongering. In the early 1950s, the senator from Wisconsin promised America a holy war against a Communist “conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” While the conspiracy and infamy claims were a stretch, the body count was measurable: a government engineer, current and former US senators, and incalculable others who committed suicide to escape McCarthy and his warriors; hundreds more whose careers and reputations he crushed; and the hundreds of thousands he browbeat into a tongue-tied silence. His targets all learned the futility of taking on a tyrant who recognized no restraints and would do anything — anything — to win.

Examining all the fresh evidence of McCarthy’s official excesses and his behind-the-scenes humanity makes him more authentic, if also more confounding. Today, every schoolchild in America is introduced to Joe McCarthy, but generally as a caricature, and parents and grandparents recall the senator mainly with catchphrases like witch-hunter or with a single word: evil. The new records let us shave away the myths and understand how the junior senator from Grand Chute rose to become powerful enough not just to intimidate Dwight Eisenhower, our most popular postwar president, but to drive legislators and others to take their own lives. Pulling open the curtain, we find Senator McCarthy revealed as neither the Genghis Khan his enemies depicted nor the Joan of Arc rendered by friends. Somewhere between that saint and that sinner lies the real man. He was in fact more insecure than we imagined, more undone by his boozing, more embracing of friends and vengeful toward foes, and more sinister.

Before today’s era of unprecedented political brawling and bile, even a groundbreaking biography of Joe McCarthy might have seemed like a chapter of American history too painful to revisit, one with little relevance to a republic that had outgrown his appeals to xenophobia. An autocratically inclined Russia might unite behind the ironfisted Vladimir Putin, but surely this would never happen in the judicious, eternally fair-minded United States. After the 2016 election, nobody needs reminding that this is the story of today and of us.
Visit Larry Tye's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 6, 2020

Jason Blakely's "We Built Reality"

Jason Blakely is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pepperdine University. He is the author of Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and the Demise of Naturalism and, with Mark Bevir, of Interpretive Social Science.

Blakely applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We Built Reality: How Social Science Infiltrated Culture, Politics, and Power, and reported the following:
Page 99 of We Built Reality captures in fragmented form not only a part of the whole work but also anticipates a tiny bit of the American political scene in the summer of 2020—a time of pandemic, massive unrest, and scenes of highly militarized police forces in the streets. A short excerpt from page 99 reads: “with super predators supposedly wandering open, hostile urban environments … foot soldiers would need to be deployed with the latest military technologies. What the futuristic Robocop aesthetic communicated was a technocratic fantasy of scientifically inflicted violence.” This chapter analyzes how a complex of social scientific theories from the late twentieth century developed by scholars like James Q. Wilson and Charles Murray played an important role in generating a pseudoscientific notion of race that was linked to increasingly militarized policing practices. Today we see these very same pseudo-sciences of race and crime reaching a climax in the atrocious murder of George Floyd (one in a seemingly endless cycle of killings of unarmed black citizens by police).

Page 99’s image of dystopian, futuristic policemen not only resonates with today’s newspapers but also captures in snapshot form a much broader transformation that I argue in my book has seized our society—one in which technocratic forms of scientism dominate an enormous range of phenomena in our everyday lives. The central thesis of my book is that counterfeit claims to a science of human behavior while failing to predict the political world we now live in, did play a central role in creating it. Throughout the course of the book I argue that supposedly scientific theories helped generate the 2008 financial crisis; yawning inequalities; overly medicalized notions of love and happiness; managerial and top-down notions of democracy; abstract and anesthetized forms of global drone warfare; and much more.
Follow Jason Blakeley on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Francine Hirsch's "Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg"

Francine Hirsch is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches Soviet and Modern European history. Her first book, Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (2005), received several prizes, including the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association.

Hirsch applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us in Berlin, in October 1945, about six weeks before the start of the Nuremberg Trials. Representatives from all four countries of the prosecution (the U.S., Britain, France, and the USSR) are in the midst of deliberations that will fundamentally affect the course of the trials.

Tensions are high among the four chief prosecutors about the Indictment—a jointly authored document that lays out the charges against the former Nazi leaders and their organizations. The American, British, and French chief prosecutors have signed off on the Indictment. Soviet chief prosecutor Roman Rudenko is stalling for time; he is under strict orders “not to sign off on the final document—under any circumstances” until he gets approval from Moscow.

Meanwhile the four main Nuremberg judges work through other issues. Some are matters of pomp and circumstance. The French judge, Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, insists that the judges wear “black robes as befitting the Tribunal’s dignity.” But Soviet chief judge Iona Nikitchenko dismisses such attire as “medieval.” A compromise is reached: each judge could wear whatever he considered appropriate—leaving the Soviet judges free to wear their military uniforms.

Other more significant issues remain matters of contention. On October 11, the three Western judges decide, over Nikitchenko’s objections, that the presidency of the Tribunal would not rotate during the trials at Nuremberg. A couple of days later, the judges select the British judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, as the Tribunal’s president. While the American judge Francis Biddle had coveted this post, the U.S. chief prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, had convinced him to support Lawrence “lest the Americans, who were playing host and supplying the majority of the defendants, be seen as completely running the show.” Jackson sends President Truman a letter expressing his concern that if Biddle were to preside and anything went wrong, “all of the animosities and blame would be centered upon the United States.” Nikitchenko goes along with the choice of Lawrence, mainly because he, in turn, is selected to preside over the Tribunal during its public sessions in Berlin.

Back in Moscow, the Soviet deputy foreign minister Andrei Vyshinsky—who had been appointed by Stalin to head a secret commission to oversee the Soviet delegation for the Nuremberg Trials—is focusing his attention on the Indictment. Nikitchenko has surreptitiously sent him a copy for review and approval. Vyshinsky is well aware that the October 15 deadline for lodging the document with the Tribunal is approaching quickly. He sends copies (hastily translated into Russian) to the other members of the secret commission asking them “to send their comments that afternoon.” Matters are complicated for Vyshinsky and others in Moscow because Stalin is incommunicado. Stalin had left Moscow on October 9 for his villa in Sochi, near the Black Sea in the Caucasus, for his first vacation in nine years. Rumors abound that he had suffered two heart attacks during the Potsdam Conference in August and is gravely ill.

The page 99 test works beautifully for my book. Although the prosecutors and judges have not yet arrived in Nuremberg—and the start of the trials is still over a month away—page 99 illustrates a number of key dynamics that are at the heart of the story.

First of all, it shows that Nuremberg was a four-power affair—and it captures the difficult relationships among the wartime allies who were cooperating to bring the Nazis to justice. The Americans, the British, the French, and the Soviets came to Germany with different ideas about the meaning of justice and with competing visions of what Nuremberg should look like. They all made compromises to make Nuremberg happen and to keep the trials moving forward. Some of those compromises (over matters of wardrobe, for example) were small ones; others, involving questions of procedure and evidence, would threaten the very legitimacy of the trials.

Page 99 also shows how the particularities of Stalinism undermined the Soviets in Nuremberg—another key theme of the book. It reveals the tensions between the Soviet delegation in Germany and Soviet leaders in Moscow who were determined to shape the trials from afar. Soviet deputy foreign minister Andrei Vyshinsky and his secret Nuremberg commission play a key role throughout the trials. Vyshinsky (who had gained infamy in the 1930s as the prosecutor of the Moscow show trials) answered directly to Stalin. Moscow’s insistence on reviewing and signing off on each and every decision greatly impeded the Soviet delegation—which was continually scrambling to meet tight deadlines. Stalin’s influence over the Soviet delegation is heavily felt at all times, even when he is away from Moscow and incommunicado.

Finally, on page 99 we start to get a sense of Nuremberg as an incipient Cold War battleground—another theme that is developed more fully in the book. We see Soviet judge Iona Nikitchenko being outvoted by the other three judges on a key procedural issue; this will happen again and again. We also get a peek at U.S. chief prosecutor (and Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson’s desire to have the Americans run the show at Nuremberg without it being evident that they are doing so. (His letter to Truman is especially telling.) The Soviet-American relationship is critical to the course of the trials and also to the postwar creation of international law regarding human rights—which is a theme I explore in more depth in the final chapter of the book.
Learn more about Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 3, 2020

Sara Mayeux's "Free Justice"

Sara Mayeux is associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Free Justice: A History of the Public Defender in Twentieth-Century America, and reported the following:
Page 99 summarizes the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which held that states are constitutionally required to provide defense counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford their own legal representation. It quotes an oft-quoted line from that opinion: “The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.” Page 99 also explains that, by the time the Court issued this ruling, it would not have been surprising to lawyers; Supreme Court case law had been tending in this direction for some time and, in a related development within the legal profession, lawyers themselves had become increasingly receptive to publicly funded counsel, at least in the criminal context.

Superficially, and oddly enough, the page 99 test works perfectly for my book—perhaps because page 99 is right about halfway through. The book examines debates within the legal profession about public defenders both before Gideon (beginning in the Progressive Era) and after Gideon. So, page 99 is, coincidentally, the exact fulcrum in the book’s overall narrative arc.

In a deeper sense, though, I think the page 99 test works less well for my book than it might seem, because the book is not primarily about the Supreme Court or Gideon per se, but rather about the larger iceberg of changes and debates within American legal culture of which Gideon represented only the most visible tip. Certainly, page 99’s brief summary of Gideon’s holding will not be novel or surprising to legally trained readers, but rather familiar law school fare.

Nevertheless, I think a reader who turned to page 99 would get a pretty good capsule summary of what the book is about. On this page, the reader encounters a brief reminder of a point developed earlier in the book, that many lawyers had once considered public defenders controversial or at least puzzling. American legal culture has historically been committed both to an adversarial model of the criminal trial and to a set of vaguely free market, capitalist background assumptions about the legal profession—i.e., that the default scenario is that people hire their own lawyers as needed to help them pursue their private interests. So, how would it work for the government to underwrite its own adversary in criminal cases? But by the early 1960s, lawyers had developed a set of arguments that made sense of the public defender as a means of extending the benefits of adversarial legal representation to everyone. Yet these arguments generally accepted and proceeded from the premise that the government had no general obligation to provide assistance to the poor, outside of unique contexts such as the criminal courts—a limitation of American legal culture also briefly discussed on page 99.
Learn more about Free Justice at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue