Monday, May 31, 2021

Karen Schrier's "We the Gamers"

Kat Schrier is an Associate Professor, Director of the Play Innovation Lab, and Director of the Games and Emerging Media program at Marist College. She is the author of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics & Civics (2021), and Knowledge Games (2016). She has previously edited two book series, Ethics and Game Design and Learning, Education, & Games. She was a Belfer Fellow with the ADL's Center for Technology & Society, and she is co-PI for a Templeton Grant on designing VR games for empathy. Prior to joining the Marist College faculty, Schrier worked as a media producer at Scholastic, Nickelodeon, BrainPOP, and ESI Design. She has a doctorate from Columbia University, a master’s from MIT, and a bachelor’s from Amherst College.

Schrier applied the “Page 99 Test” to We the Gamers and reported the following:
On page 99 of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics, I introduce chapter 7, which focuses on identity, and how people see themselves and express themselves as part of a civic community. Here is the page:
Chapter 7: How Do We Understand Ourselves and Our Emotions?

In Fortnite, players can do different dances, such as the Electro Shuffle, the Flapper Dance, or the Robot.1 They can watch performers like Travis Scott and Marshmello at virtual live concerts in the game, they can mount Black Lives Matter protests, and they can engage in conversations on race and politics.2 Yet the goal of Fortnite is not to dance, watch music performers, protest, or discuss, but to be the last character standing in a 100-person Battle Royale standoff. Players parachute down to an island and need to craft fortresses and weapons, avoid bad weather, and remain the last player (or group of players) to survive.

On the surface, it may seem like dancing and protesting in Fortnite is tangential or trivial to its gameplay. Yet players learn the dances in the game, and then perform these moves at school the next day. They post their videos of the dances on TikTok and YouTube, and share them with thousands of others. They meet friends, hang out, watch movies, and participate in events inside Fortnite. The personal and communal nature of the game, and ability to share remnants of the game with others outside of the game, helps to further engage players, establish its cultural norms, and enable personal expression. Fortnite becomes a sphere through which people can express themselves publicly. It also helps players leave their mark on a game that evaporates after each play session.

Game worlds function as their own public spaces, communities, and cultures, which intersect and interact with broader culture, as well as the identities and previous experiences of the player. Players bring in their own preconceived notions of what a game is; what their friends, an esports celebrity or a Twitch streamer, think of the game; and what they expect from a particular genre, game company, or famous designer. They also bring in their own identities and emotional responses to the game, which furthers how it is personally experienced and socially shared. For instance, when I was a kid playing the Super Mario Brothers series, I had names for characters that related to what I was experiencing at that time: the Boo Diddleys became Boo Radleys because I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird; the Lakitu’s Cloud became the name of a sixth-grade teacher, which sounded just like Lakitu. I continue to use these names today. Now, whenever I play newer versions of Mario games with my kids, they call the characters these names, too. My kids have also created their own personal connections with the game, with my daughter always choosing the purple…
This is a fantastic page to start on! Page 99 shares useful anecdotes about how games serve as civic communities where players can express their ideas, opinions, and identities. I relay the specific example of Fortnite, and describe how playing this game can become a form of civics—through protest, conversation, and debate in the game. I also show how even dancing in Fortnite can become a type of civics, where we are able to share, respond to, and communicate parts of ourselves through digital dance moves. And, I even talk about my own personal interactions with games—such as when I called the Boo Diddleys “Boo Radleys” in a classic Super Mario Game because I was inspired by a character in To Kill a Mockingbird—the book I was reading in school at the time. I also share some of my kids’ unique interactions with their favorite games, and how that helps me to learn more about their interests, identities, and needs.

The page 99 test reveals what games (and my book) do best—help to connect us more personally with civics and ethics. Often we feel like civics is done outside of our everyday. It feels very inaccessible, onerous, or off-limits. In our minds, it’s voting, going to town hall meetings, or maybe something that politicians do. But this page reminds us that we can all practice civics everyday, and even with something (and especially with something!) that “kids do”--games!! It also further shows us how both the “me” and the “we” part of civics matters. We all individually need to be able to express our true and whole selves to be able to participate fully in civics. We also need to encourage equity in civics, and enable people with all different types of identities to participate in our civic communities—whether it's our local communities, or in the games that we play. Sharing our unique identities helps us to better design a world where we all belong.
Visit Karen Schrier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Samuel Clark's "Good Lives"

Samuel Clark is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion at Lancaster University..

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Good Lives: Autobiography, Self-Knowledge, Narrative, and Self-Realization, and reported the following:
A reader who opened my book at page 99 would find herself in the middle of a discussion of how to divide the huge range of theories of the good life into families. I argue that there’s no one right way to do this: we should instead think of taxonomies as sometimes useful ways of lumping and splitting, to be tailored to particular interests. This conveys one of my major topics: what it is for someone’s life to go well for her. It also gives some of the flavour of my writing: my love of lists and conceptual maps, my general geekiness about philosophy. But if the reader stopped there, she would have glanced at the cellars without exploring the main house.

Good Lives is about self-knowledge: our attempts to gain it; the powers and limits of telling and hearing stories in doing so; what we can learn about what we are and about how best to live. I argue that reasoning with autobiography is a way to this self-knowledge. We can learn about ourselves, as human beings and as individuals, by reading, thinking through, and arguing about this distinctive kind of text. Reasoning with Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son is a way of learning about the nature of the good life and the roles that pleasure and self-expression play in it. Reasoning with Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs is a way of learning about transformative experience, self-alienation, and therefore the nature of the self. My book develops and defends this claim, by answering a series of questions. What is an autobiography? How can we learn about ourselves from reading one? On what subjects does autobiography teach? What should we learn about them? In particular, should we learn something about the importance of stories in human life: could our storytelling about our own lives make sense of them as wholes, unify them over time, or make them good for us? Could storytelling make the self? The overall aim of the book is a critique of stories and a defence of a self-realization account of the self and its good. I investigate the wide range of extant accounts of the self and of the good life, and argue for my own account, by reading and reasoning with autobiographies of self-discovery, martial life, and solitude. I conclude: autobiography can be reasoning in pursuit of self-knowledge; each of us is an unchosen, initially opaque, seedlike self; our good is the development and expression of our latent capacities, which is our individual self-realization; stories play much less role in our lives than some thinkers have supposed, and the development and expression of potential much more.
Learn more about Good Lives at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 28, 2021

Theodora Dragostinova's "The Cold War from the Margins"

Theodora K. Dragostinova is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University. She is coeditor of Beyond Mosque, Church, and State and author of Between Two Motherlands.

Dragostinova applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Cold War from the Margins: A Small Socialist State on the Global Cultural Scene, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book goes to the heart of my argument: that, as seen in Bulgaria, there was a specific state socialist idea of culture during the Cold War that spotlights communist Eastern Europe as the site of alternative modernity. To quote: “The way West and East interpreted the role of culture reflected their competing ideas of state, society, and human rights. … Bulgarian experts used the phrase ‘true arts’ (istinsko izkustvo) to promote their vision of culture, which was essentially seen as high culture aimed at the masses, as opposed to culture in the West, which they saw as split between elite culture reserved for the rich, and cheap, vulgar mass culture.” There is still much value to think what exactly culture is, who gets to define it, and who has the chance to participate in it!

In the rest of my book, I explore how Bulgaria’s communist elites organized a staggering number of cultural events across the globe—from the Balkans to Western Europe and the United States to India, Mexico, and Nigeria. In all of these case—and as stated on Page 99 “there was a dynamic interplay between culture, ideology, and propaganda in the way Bulgaria staged its cultural presence.” In some cases, the Bulgarians emphasized their national uniqueness, as they did in the Balkans. In others, they wanted to be seen as important contributors to European civilization, as they did in the West. And in still others, they showcased their universal contributions to humanity, as they did in India and Mexico.

All in all, the idea was that culture allows a small state to exert global influence and chart an independent path outside of political, military, or economic frameworks. Judging by some of the events and their resonance, the Bulgarians were quite successful!

Yet, we should remember: communist elites largely controlled cultural expression. To return to Page 99, “distrust and vigilance in regard to Western cultural events remained the norm. … At the same time that Bulgaria sought access to the best exhibition spaces and performance halls in the West, requested more publicity in the media, and expected political recognition of its cultural efforts at the highest levels, officials zealously policed what type of Western culture could be shown in Bulgaria.” This quotation captures perfectly the contradictions of the global Bulgarian cultural extravaganza that my book explores!
Follow Theodora Dragostinova on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Alison Peck's "The Accidental History of the U.S. Immigration Courts"

Alison Peck is Professor of Law and Codirector of the Immigration Law Clinic at West Virginia University College of Law.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Accidental History of the U.S. Immigration Courts: War, Fear, and the Roots of Dysfunction, and reported the following:
Fascinating! From the first line, page 99 portrays the very event that provoked the central question of this book: Why are the immigration courts not really “courts” at all, but actually an office of the Department of Justice, a law enforcement agency?

On page 99, we meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt in May 1940, just after the Nazis had invaded France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In this press conference, FDR oh-so-casually announces a decision that, eighty years later, has turned out to be momentous (and increasingly disastrous):
“No, there is only one thing coming up,” Roosevelt began, then stopped. “Oh, I suppose it is all right to mention it now, though you should all wait until the thing actually goes to Congress.” The following day, he announced, he would submit Reorganization Plan No. V for congressional approval.

“I held off last winter because there were very definitely two sides to the case,” Roosevelt said. The new plan, only one page, would transfer [the Immigration and Naturalization Service] from Labor to Justice. “Today the situation has changed, and it is necessary for us, for obvious national defense reasons, to make that change at this time.” He said he hoped Congress would approve it before it recessed for the summer.

“Mr. President, does that fit in with the general measure to prevent espionage and sabotage?” one reporter asked.


“Are you contemplating any other measures of a similar nature?”

“No comments on that at the present time.”
Fast forward eighty-one years. As an immigration lawyer, I’ve been witnessing firsthand how the location of the immigration courts in DOJ has enabled the executive branch to manipulate case outcomes to serve political goals. Part One of the book explains what’s happening to people in the immigration courts today as a result of the attorney general’s control over case outcomes and court procedures. Part Two looks backward, taking you inside the White House to find out what FDR meant when he said he “held off” for a while because there were “definitely two sides to the case.” I uncovered the events that led him to fear that a “fifth column” of Nazis spies who looked like locals would sabotage the country from within – a rumor that turned out to be mostly Nazi propaganda. Part Three brings us back to today, analyzing what we can do about a system that was set up in response to a hoax eight decades ago and continues to distort immigration justice today.
Learn more about The Accidental History of the U.S. Immigration Courts at the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Eric Wolfson's "Elvis Presley's From Elvis In Memphis"

Eric Wolfson worked as an artist and musician in Boston and New York City, before settling in Washington, D.C. He works at the Performing Arts Division of the United States Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. He is the only employee in the agency whose desk has a shrine to Elvis.

Wolfson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Elvis Presley's "From Elvis in Memphis", and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book falls on the seventh page of the seventh chapter, which in turn explores the seventh song on Elvis Presley’s seventh studio album, From Elvis in Memphis (excluding soundtracks, compilations, holiday, and gospel albums): “Power of My Love.” It is a sexy, lurching rocker that finds Elvis opening the second side of the record with an insatiable lust.

But seven pages in, we shift beyond the song itself to its deep roots. Its central use of the word “shaking” ties it back beyond ’50s R&B classics like “Shake a Hand,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”—all of which Elvis would cover over the course of his career—to Delta blues musician Charley Patton, whose 1929 recording of “Shake It and Break It” plays like its blueprint.

Much of the page establishes the surprising amount that Elvis and Patton have in common: Both were born into poverty in rural Mississippi and stood at the pioneering forefront of their respective genre; both were also legendary performers who pushed the boundaries of their communities’ acceptance.

The key sentence is this:

“But most of all, both men were masters of the entire realm of American music—hot blues, country tunes, folk songs, slow ballads, and spirituals.”

Patton and Elvis are two true American stylists, whose finest music borrowed from all genres without being confined to any. (Other artists in this category might include Lead Belly, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin, among many more.)

As a tangent off of a song off an album, page 99 fails to establish the scope of my book about a major performer’s masterpiece album. And yet, it is arguably the page of the book that digs the deepest into the collective past—tying the biggest American rock icon to the most influential country blues icon.

Such connections transcend time, race, and genre to represent American music at its finest—which, on another level, is entirely what my book is all about.
Visit the From Elvis In Memphis website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Jim Cullen's "From Memory to History"

Jim Cullen is the author of numerous books, including The American Dream and Those Were the Days: Why All in the Family Still Matters. He has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is a member of the faculty of the newly established Greenwich Country Day High School in Greenwich, Connecticut.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Memory to History: Television Versions of the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
I think the Page 99 test captures the spirit of my book very well, if from a somewhat different angle than typical for the project as a whole. From Memory to History explores -- as many of my books do -- how history resonates in popular culture, not only in what is presumably depicted, but in the way history is itself an artifact of the moment of its creation. So it is, for example, that I discuss the television series Mad Men as an early 21st-century version of the 1960s--one which, for example, foregrounds issues of gender that implicitly comment on events from the perspective of a half-century later. In this passage, however, my analysis looks back rather than forward, connecting Mad Men protagonist Don Draper to one of the most famous characters in American literature:
In many respects, Draper’s character is reminiscent of an earlier incarnation of the American Dream: Jay Gatsby. Like Gatsby, Draper is a charismatic man with a secret past. That past includes military service in a dubious war (the First World War for Gatsby; the Korean War for Draper), the details of which are murky. Both lived much of their youth among seedy characters that respectable people tend to avoid, yet both had mentors (Dan Cody, Roger Sterling) whose lessons they learned—and successes they surpassed. Both attain riches scarcely imaginable in their youth, and both engender curiosity on the part of strangers as well as those who know them—or think they do. They elicit admiration and resentment from the elite into whose ranks they have managed to enter, where there is room for them in an economically dynamic society marked by explosive economic growth. Both are workaholics for whom business is constantly intruding into their private lives.

There are differences, too. Draper is a family man—his wife, Betty (January Jones) is a Daisy figure of the kind Gatsby cannot attain—and he’s the father of three children. Don is a scrupulous businessman and a disgraceful adulterer, while Gatsby is a racketeer whose devotion to Daisy is unshakeable. And while, like Gatsby, a fatalistic air hovers over Draper for the length of the series, their secrets always on the cusp of revelation and self-destruction, Draper’s fate is neither as decisive or spectacular of that of Gatsby, whose ambivalent admirer, Nick Carraway, finally decides is great. And yet Nick could be speaking for Draper no less than Gatsby when he famously says, “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.”

One key difference is that Gatsby isn’t really that bright (“Can’t repeat the past? Of course you can!”), which is why he needs an interlocutor who can frame his behavior and endow it with a dignity he could not confer on himself. Don Draper needs no such mediation. We see him vividly, if never quite transparently, through a small screen, where he—and the imperial republic for which he stands—loom larger than life.
Visit Jim Cullen's website.

The Page 99 Test: Sensing the Past.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 24, 2021

Amanda M. Fairbanks's "The Lost Boys of Montauk"

Amanda M. Fairbanks is a journalist and author who has worked in the editorial department of the New York Times, as a higher education reporter at HuffPost, and as a staff writer at the East Hampton Star. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Newsweek, the Atlantic, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. A graduate of Smith College and a former Teach for America corps member, she has two master’s degrees from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. The California native lives in Sag Harbor, New York with her husband and two children.

Fairbanks applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lost Boys of Montauk: The True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind, and reported the following:
Ooh! I love this test. And since this is my first book, I will pay particular attention to page 99 of my future books!

So, if you open The Lost Boys of Montauk: A True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind and turn to page 99, you will find yourself immersed in the world of David Connick, one of the four young fishermen at the heart of my book. I’m thrilled to report that, in my highly subjective opinion at least, I have indeed passed this test.

On page 99, the reader comes to learn more about Dave, who had grown up in a Fifth Avenue penthouse and whose parents had a summer home in East Hampton. On the eastern end of Long Island, most Montauk commercial fishermen come from working-class backgrounds. Few attend boarding schools. Blue-blooded pedigrees are rarer still. Given his privileged upbringing, Dave was not only an outlier, but a rebel (in the best sense of the word). Working aboard the Wind Blown alongside the young captain and his two mates, Dave wasn’t just catching tilefish: He was going in search of himself.
Dave was fearless. He’d travel the world—whether Hawaii, Mexico, or El Salvador—with little more than a few dollars in his pocket. After Dave returned from a trip to El Salvador, Morgan recalled that his friend claimed to have survived on a bananas-only diet. Seamus also remembered Dave’s trademark daredevil sensibility. When they met up in the city, Dave headed out on his skateboard. Courting danger (or worse), he’d grab on to the rear of a city bus and ride his skateboard southbound, city blocks whizzing past. “Something was definitely wrong there,” Seamus said of Dave’s natural-born impulsiveness.

There’s a photograph of Dave that hangs in Seamus’s house in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the picture, Dave stands bare-chested, wearing a rubber fishing bib. Tilefish surround his feet. “He was radiant,” Seamus told me. “He was in his prime.”
Page 99 also falls at the tail end of a chapter about Mahoneyville, an epicenter for East Coast surfing. As a teenager, Dave became a regular fixture at Mahoneyville, which came to life from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Inside the shingled barn, located within walking distance of Georgica Beach in East Hampton, Dave was among a generation of young surfers who came of age.

During the 1970s, young men and their female companions experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, smoked pot, listened to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, and foraged for dinner in the surrounding potato fields. Mahoneyville was a bit like living inside a commune while the rest of preppy, buttoned-up East Hampton went about its business.

But for the generation of young men who came of age there, Mahoneyville also had a darker and more sinister side. Dave Connick, who, at the age of twenty-two, disappeared aboard the Wind Blown when the crew confronted a fierce nor’easter in March of 1984, wasn’t the only casualty. Once adulthood beckoned and the golden-hued light of their youth had evaporated, many of his peers later struggled with addiction and alcoholism. Afterwards, nothing again was quite the same.
Visit Amanda M. Fairbanks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Martin Halliwell's "American Health Crisis"

Martin Halliwell is Professor of American Studies at the University of Leicester. He has authored and edited fourteen books, including Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945–1970; Voices of Mental Health: Medicine, Politics, and American Culture, 1970–2000; and The Edinburgh Companion to the Politics of American Health.

Halliwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Health Crisis: One Hundred Years of Panic, Planning, and Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the penultimate page of Chapter 2 of American Health Crisis, which focuses on the intersection of poverty and poor health via three historical case studies. The chapter’s final case study discusses the health challenges faced by the Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota in the late 1990s. The page opens by completing a discussion of Sioux educator Adrian Lewis’s 1995 novel Skins, particularly the role of the Pine Ridge Hospital which fades in and out of focus as the novel’s lead character Rudy Yellow Shirt teeters on the brink of ill health and psychosis. Rudy leads a ghostly, alienated existence for much of the story, but towards the end of the novel he finds new agency in an act of protest at the site of the Mount Rushmore presidential monument which scars stolen Sioux land. I then develop this theme of ghostliness with reference to the ritual of the Ghost Dance that was popularized on the Great Plains in the 1880s and has since been used as a metaphor for collective resistance (following the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890), as well as a channel for ancestral spirits. The final paragraph takes the theme of ghostliness further as a symbol of deep economic disparities, especially in regions where health services are scarce or inadequate.

This theme of ghostliness is prominent in Chapter 2, but page 100 is arguably more representative of American Health Crisis as a whole. Page 100 concludes the chapter by thinking of ghostliness not simply as a trope of loss or neglect, but also as a channel for voices from the past and a resource for the present and future, aligned with what Danielle Raudenbush calls “strategies for survival”. The focus of my book on historical health crises and the vulnerabilities they uncover is evoked in the discussion on pages 99–100, as well as the possibility of a more active form of health citizenship at the local level (“citizenship” is a problematic term when thinking about American Indian tribes). This focus on community contrasts with the often failed commitment of the federal government to level-up health services across the country – linked, in this instance, to the economic opportunities that President Clinton promised the Oglala Sioux when he visited Pine Ridge in July 1999. If the reader wants a snapshot of the book’s central themes and how its case studies interleave historical, cultural, political and medical material, then pages 99 and 100, taken together, are a very good starting point.
Learn more about American Health Crisis at the University of California Press website, and read Halliwell's essay, "Breaking the Cycle of Health Crises."

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 21, 2021

Rebecca Hamlin's "Crossing: How We Label and React to People on the Move"

Rebecca Hamlin is Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Let Me Be a Refugee (2014).

Hamlin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crossing: How We Label and React to People on the Move, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Crossing: How We Label and React to People on the Move reveals a lot about the book’s overall message. The page discusses the process through which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supplemented the basic framework of international refugee law laid out in the 1951 Convention by adding a Protocol to the Convention in 1967. During the process of drafting the Protocol, representatives from many states in the Global South, some of which were newly independent former colonies, spoke out against it. These states objected for procedural reasons (their perspectives were not included in the drafting of the Protocol) and substantive reasons (the Protocol did not go anywhere near far enough to address the limitations of the 1951 Convention).

On page 99 I call these objections “troubling,” particularly because similar objections had been raised in 1951, and it seems that “despite sixteen years of decolonial struggle and its professed desire to draw newly postcolonial states into the fold, UNHCR, led by European states, repeated its mistakes almost exactly.” Drawing on the excellent archival work of a scholar named Sara Davies, I conclude that just as in 1951, Global South states were not consulted or respected, but were expected to adopt these instruments of international law once they were written.

My account of UNHCR’s blindness to Global South concerns is designed to counteract the dominant narrative about the 1967 Protocol, which is that it fixed the problems of the 1951 Convention by opening up the definition of a refugee to the entire world, instead of limiting it just to people who had been displaced in Europe in WWII. I argue that such assessments of the Protocol ignore the fact that it leaves the 1951 definition of a refugee untouched. That definition is highly individualistic, liberal, has no conception of decolonization, and excludes many of the most common reasons for displacement in the Global South, then and now.

One of the central messages of my book is that the migrant/refugee binary is used to privilege particular forms of suffering, and particular reasons for border crossing, over others. Another core argument is that the sovereignty of people in wealthy Northern states has always been given more weight than the sovereignty of people in the Global South. Page 99 provides just one example of these key points.
Follow Rebecca Hamlin on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Let Me Be a Refugee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Mary K. Bercaw Edwards's "Sailor Talk"

Mary K. Bercaw Edwards is Associate Professor of English and Director of Maritime Studies, University of Connecticut.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sailor Talk: Labor, Utterance, and Meaning in the Works of Melville, Conrad, and London, and reported the following:
Page 99 explores the divisions aboard a man-of-war, the largest of the American fighting sailing ships, in Herman Melville’s White-Jacket (1850). For Melville, the topmen are the true sailors. Billy Budd in Melville’s posthumously published Billy Budd, Sailor (1924) is also a topman: a true sailor, who “does not scrub animal excrement from the deck, as the waisters, who are little more than landsmen, must.” Melville writes:
Each of these divisions, and of the many other designations within a man-of-war, talk of different things. With its many voices, the Neversink [the ship in White-Jacket] has become a heteroglossia. As Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian linguist who introduced the term, explains—and the following quotation from White-Jacket illustrates—”Authorial speech, the speeches of narrators, inserted genres, the speech of characters are merely those fundamental compositional unities with whose help heteroglossia can enter the novel; each of them permits a multiplicity of social voices and a wide variety of their links and interrelationships.”
The page 99 test works much better than expected. Sailor Talk is about the oral shipboard world in which seafarers were immersed. Sailors were global travelers who had to be multilingually adept in order to function effectively aboard technically and linguistically complex sailing vessels, within racially and ethnically diverse crews, and in interactions ashore with indigenous people, missionaries, and traders—all of whom had their own spoken languages. Even within a single ship, as page 99 illustrates, there were multiple forms of sailor talk. Page 99 also concerns Herman Melville, one of the three major sea-writers whose work I investigate; the other two are Joseph Conrad and Jack London.

I was raised in a world rich with sailor talk. My father was a masterful storyteller who had sailed twice around the world as First Mate on a square-rigged vessel. He dreamt of someday doing the same with his own family. My parents saved throughout their married lives, then sold everything, and the five of us set off on a circumnavigation aboard a 38-foot sailboat when I was sixteen, my sister fifteen, and my brother ten. My years at sea—I now have 58,000 miles at sea, all under sail—and my many years working aloft on the square-rigged ships at Mystic Seaport Museum have given me a visceral understanding of seafaring that was also experienced by Melville, Conrad, and London. The knowledge of the sea and seafaring that these sailor-authors gained kinesthetically, and often unconsciously, is reflected in their writing, but in a shorthand rooted in their familiarity with the spoken world of sailors. Sailor Talk looks at how Melville, Conrad, and London transformed that spoken language into their texts.
Learn more about Sailor Talk at the Liverpool University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Patricia Fara's "Life after Gravity"

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. Her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (2009), has been translated into nine languages. In addition to many academic publications, her popular works include Newton: The Making of Genius (2002), An Entertainment for Angels (2002), Sex, Botany and Empire (2003), Pandora's Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment (2004), and A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War (2018). An experienced public lecturer, Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programs such as In Our Time. She also contributes articles and reviews to many journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature, and the TLS.

Fara applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career, and reported the following:
When Isaac Newton was writing the Principia, his famous book about gravity, a new word came into use: refugee. It was coined to describe French Huguenots who fled across the Channel to avoid religious persecution and helped to revive the British economy. My page 99 is about one of them, John Theophilus Desaguliers, who was supposedly smuggled over in a barrel as a baby, but grew up to become one of London’s leading engineers. Handpicked by Newton as his experimental assistant at the Royal Society, Desaguliers quashed French opposition to English science and was Grand Master of the Freemasons.

Although I would not have chosen page 99 to represent my book, it does illustrate that Life after Gravity is not about falling apples and complicated equations. Instead, it analyses Newton’s three decades as a cosmopolitan man-about-town who mingled with royalty and was so rich that he owned the ultimate in Georgian luxury – two silver chamber-pots. Only five pages earlier, I explain how Newton lost a small fortune in the South Sea Bubble, making the beginner’s mistake of buying, selling, and then buying in again at a still higher price, only to watch the share value suddenly plummet. And three pages after page 99, I feature Desaguliers’s wife Joanna Pudsey: unlike conventional accounts of Newtonian science, mine includes contributions made by women.

As Master of the Royal Mint, Newton enjoyed a role roughly equivalent to being Governor of the Bank of England today. He was responsible not only for ensuring the integrity of the nation’s currency, but also for making economic decisions that permanently affected Britian’s commercial and imperial ambitions. To secure his personal wealth, Newton invested in companies shipping enslaved Africans across the Atlantic and collected a bonus for every coin that was minted from gold imported as cheaply as possible.

Newton also benefited scientifically from his influential position. In order to finetune his Principia, Newton solicited observations from traders stationed around the world. So what is now revered as the greatest book on physics incorporates information that had been gleaned from British colonizers who were both exploring and exploiting the globe.
Learn more about Life after Gravity at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Erasmus Darwin.

The Page 99 Test: A Lab of One's Own.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 17, 2021

Charles Seife's "Hawking Hawking"

Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, has been writing about physics and mathematics for two decades. He is the author of seven books, including Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (2000), which won the 2000 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction; Alpha & Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe (2003); Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, From Our Brains to Black Holes (2005); Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking (2008), which won the 2009 Davis Prize from the History of Science Society; Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (2010); and Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You So, How Do You Know It's True? (2014).

Seife applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity, and reported the following:
Hawking Hawking's reversed chronology starts at Stephen Hawking's death in 2018 and wends its way back to his birth in 1942; page 99 comes right at the end of the chapter entitled "Concessions" that covers the years 2004-2007. The title of the chapter has a double meaning: Hawking concedes an important wager at the center of his life's work, and at the same time, refers to Hawking's selling himself. Page 99 finishes a description of how he was used by -- and used -- billionaires he struck up relationships with: oligarch Yuri Milner, fracking innovator George Mitchell, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and others. The chapter then ends:
In the last decade of his life, Hawking did little science of note — certainly none considered to be of high import—and very little science communication. He was neither scientist nor communicator as much as he was a brand.

The authentic Hawking, the man who had devoted his life to physics, and who had a passion to be understood not just by his peers but also by the public, is barely visible behind the image, the commercial product that he had become. It’s a vexing, almost paradoxical situation: Hawking’s celebrity had almost completely obscured the very elements of Hawking that had made him a celebrity in the first place.
On one level, the page 99 test gives a decent sense of the book's narrative arc because it lands on a signpost I left for the reader to mark the trail ahead before entering into the next big section about Hawking's rise to celebrity and the collapse of his first marriage. But the test doesn't do a great job at giving a feeling for the prose of the book. Hawking Hawking relies heavily on interviews and archival research to draw an intimate portrait of the physicist. By the luck of the draw, page 99 had none of that on display. In other words, page 99 provides a good map of the forest, but it doesn't display any the beautiful detail of the trees.

Page 99 also marks a turning point in the book. Not only is it the last page in a chapter, that chapter happens to mark the end of the first of three large sections of the book. Before page 99, I discuss the celebrity Hawking that everyone is already familiar with: the most famous scientist in the world, "world's smartest man" in his wheelchair and with his robotic voice. After page 99, the narrative turns to showing Hawking evolve from an important but obscure physicist to the mega-celebrity.

And by its nature, the page-99 test can't give any sense of the bizarre -- almost mesmerizing -- effect of running the chronology backwards. As you read through the narrative, you get the sense of a well-crafted image falling to pieces and revealing the raw material underneath -- an unbuilding of a person. That's an effect you can only get by getting into the flow of the book, rather than looking at a single page.
Visit Charles Seife's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Joshua D. Rothman's "The Ledger and the Chain"

Joshua D. Rothman is professor of history and chair of the department of history at the University of Alabama. He is the author of two prize-winning books, Flush Times and Fever Dreams and Notorious in the Neighborhood. He lives in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Rothman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Ledger and the Chain, readers will find themselves amidst a description of the townhouse and the attached compound/jail in Alexandria, Virginia, where domestic slave trader John Armfield did business and imprisoned enslaved captives. It draws particular attention to the contrast between the “well-furnished” parlor in which Armfield received customers and the padlocked iron doors behind which visitors would find enslaved people Armfield was accumulating for shipment to his partners in the Deep South.

The page does in fact give readers a sense of some of the significant themes of the book. It alludes to the efforts of John Armfield and his partners in the slave trade to present themselves as respectable businessmen. It draws attention to the brutal realities of the trade that underpinned that respectability. And it demonstrates how neither slave traders nor their clients made any particular effort to disguise the exchange of cash for bodies in which they were engaged, in a facility that stood in what was then part of the District of Columbia.

One of the important ideas of the book, in fact, is that there was no need to. The domestic slave trade, for all its horrors and cruelties, was perfectly legal in the United States before the Civil War: sanctioned by the federal government, seen by bankers and merchants as working to their advantage, demanded by slaveholders seeking to expand their labor forces and find reliable assets in which to store their money, and carried out by traders anxious to reap a profit. The house and compound in Alexandria operated by the slave trading company known as Franklin and Armfield, was a particularly visible and important site of the trade. But it was hardly the only one, and every place the trade was conducted advanced the growth of slavery, circulated capital throughout the country, and ravaged the lives of the enslaved who were trafficked by men antislavery activists knew as “soul-drivers.”
Follow Joshua D. Rothman on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 14, 2021

Steven Casey's "The War Beat, Pacific"

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His books include Cautious Crusade (2001), Selling the Korean War (2008), which won the Harry S. Truman Book Award, When Soldiers Fall (2014), which won the Neustadt Prize, and The War Beat Europe (2017) which won the American Journalism Historians Association Book of the Year Award.

Casey applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan, and reported the following:
For more than a year after Pearl Harbor, the fighting in the Pacific remained shrouded from the American home front. Super-strict censorship at a time of defeat and retreat was one reason, for both the navy and the army were desperate to deny Japan any information that would give it operational advantage. The difficulty of getting to distant battlefields, as well as the heat, insects, and disease that awaited in the jungle, were another, for logistical obstacles and grueling living conditions meant that few war correspondents survived at the front for long, even without the danger posed by the marauding enemy.

Page 99 of The War Beat, Pacific shows how these second set of difficulties hampered reporting on Guadalcanal in September 1942. Only five correspondents had made it on to the island by the time of the fighting along Bloody Ridge, when the Marines repulsed a major Japanese attack, and two of them left as soon as this battle was over. The three reporters who remained exhibited all the telltale signs that afflicted almost everyone on Guadalcanal: a torn and grubby uniform, black rings around the eyes, and a semi-emaciated frame. Small wonder that they, too, soon decided to depart. Richard Tregaskis, who had landed with the Marines on invasion day, left in late September suffering from a bad bout of dysentery. On making it safely to Pearl Harbor, Tregaskis compiled a diary of his time on Guadalcanal, which, on the back of a Book-of-the-Month Club deal and a Hollywood film contract, became the way that many Americans first learned what had happened during this campaign, but neither appeared until 1943. While the battle raged, so little news made it back to the home front that some reporters began referring to the fighting in the Pacific as “the unknown war.”

Page 99 highlights this aspect of war reporting in the Pacific theater in 1942, but a browser who looked no further would miss many of the book’s other themes, from the attempts made by Douglas MacArthur to dominate the headlines, even at a time of setback, to the navy’s efforts to publicize their campaigns more effectively from 1943, which set off a dynamic interaction with the army that, in turn, ensured a much fuller coverage of the fighting by 1944 and 1945.
Learn more about The War Beat, Pacific at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: When Soldiers Fall.

The Page 99 Test: The War Beat, Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 13, 2021

David B. Williams's "Homewaters"

David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound, and reported the following:
About halfway into my chapter on kelp, page 99 features a long and playful description of the diverse animals that make their home in the kelp forests of Puget Sound. Located in Washington state between the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Puget Sound has an average depth more than ten times that of San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay, clams that can live for up to 175 years, and more than 250 species of fish. It also home to more species of kelp than almost any other location in the country.

Marine nursery, safe harbor, home, and carbon source, these underwater ecosystems are as essential to the health of Puget Sound as the far better known terrestrial rainforests. Sadly, kelp forests have long been overlooked, as well as suffered from habitat degradation, climate change, and pollution. But in recent years, scientists have begun to study them and to focus on protecting and restoring these beautiful communities.

In that sense, page 99 exemplifies what I was trying to do in Homewaters. I wanted to focus on overlooked stories of people, plants, and animals and their histories in order to help modern residents understand the present and think about how to pursue a future that was healthier for the waterway’s human and more-than-human inhabitants. My chapter on the kelp forests takes me out in the field with kelp expert Tom Mumford, who gave me a Kelp 101 class on kelp ecology and cultural use. The chapter ends at a project examining how kelp might help mitigate climate change in the Sound.

As with the story of kelp, Puget Sound is at a turning point. The waterway is in better shape than it has been for decades because of our better understanding of the science and culture of all its species. We now have the opportunity to work together to create a thriving Puget Sound hospitable and accommodating to all forms of life. My hope is that Homewaters can inspire others to do so.
Visit David B. Williams's website.

The Page 99 Test: Stories in Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mikiya Koyagi's "Iran in Motion"

Mikiya Koyagi is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Iran in Motion: Mobility, Space, and the Trans-Iranian Railway, and reported the following:
Iran in Motion is a social history of the Trans-Iranian Railway project from its conception to early years of operation, weaving together interrelated stories of mobilities among imperial officials, Iranian diplomats, agriculturalists, tribes, technocrats, workers, and passengers. Page 99 of my book discusses the organization of tribal labor on railway construction sites in the western province of Lorestan during the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, the page details various problems that the railway consortium faced in retaining tribal laborers, who often hopped from one construction site to another in search of higher wages. They also frequently deserted construction jobs to prioritize the needs of their primary livelihood, be it animal husbandry or settled agriculture.

Is page 99 a page that I would normally use in my talks to grab the audience’s attention? Probably not. The page contains detailed descriptions of tribal labor, but it doesn’t include any of my favorite catchy anecdotes. Furthermore, because each chapter of the book focuses on a particular group/phase of the project, page 99 can introduce only one of the many primary actors in the book to readers.

Nevertheless, I do think that page 99 captures an important component of my argument: the Trans-Iranian Railway project was an attempt at transforming mobilities not only spatially but also qualitatively. My book illustrates that the railway project spatially redirected mobilities, and in so doing, it conjoined and separated multiple geographies locally, nationally, and transnationally. It also shows that the project embodied the Iranian state’s attempt at taming undesirable mobilities and transforming them qualitatively. For example, viewing the visibility of Shi‘i Islam in railway spaces as a sign of Iran’s backwardness, official discourse encouraged Iranians to travel to the provinces to visit important monuments of national history for vacation while lamenting the presence of misbehaving pilgrims in traditional garments. Thus, pilgrim mobility was expected to be transformed into tourist mobility, and the process entailed all sorts of expected cultural transformations such as sartorial Europeanization, the internalization of new conceptions of time, and the adoption of new standards of respectable behavior (in reality, the two categories of pilgrims and tourists were never separate as I discuss in the book). By the same token, seeing unpredictable tribal mobility as an obstacle to economic development, the state and the railway consortium attempted to transform tribesmen into reliable laborers who would come back to construction sites every day for an extended period of time. Page 99 gives readers a glimpse of these efforts, which ultimately failed as illustrated by the return to nomadic tribalism following the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in 1941 and the subsequent collapse of the Iranian state.
Learn more about Iran in Motion at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 10, 2021

Stephen V. Bittner's "Whites and Reds"

Stephen V. Bittner is Professor of History at Sonoma State University. He is the author of The Many Lives of Khrushchev's Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow's Arbat and the editor of Dmitrii Shepilov's memoir, The Kremlin's Scholar: A Memoir of Soviet Politics under Stalin and Khrushchev.

Bittner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Whites and Reds: A History of Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commissar, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Falsified wines were so ubiquitous in the monopoly marketplace that there were widely disseminated recipes for them. Some bore more than a passing resemblance to Venedikt Erofeev’s famously drunken directions, a century later, for concocting ‘Canaan Balsam’ and ‘Tear of a Komsomol Girl.’ An 1885 guidebook to winemaking and distilling described, without irony or shame, how to create various ‘Russian wine treasures,’ including a sherry that bore no compositional resemblance to anything that was made in Jerez, and a Málaga Alicante that comprised a mixture of communion wine, rum, a cypress-flavored liquor, prunes, Chinese cinnamon, and the seeds of a marshmallow plant, among other things.
My book passed the page 99 test! The test turned up a passage that illustrates the central dilemma confronting ambitious tsarist- and Soviet-era winemakers. By the late 1800s, vintners in Bessarabia (present-day Moldova), southern Ukraine, the Caucasus, and especially on the southern shore of Crimea had become quite good at making fine wine in the European fashion. A sparkling wine from Crimea’s Novyi svet winery even won the grand prix at a competition in Bordeaux that coincided with the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. That event remains, to this day, the unquestioned acme of Russian and Soviet winemaking. Yet Russian consumers tended to prefer something different: concoctions fortified with sugar and grain alcohol that licensed wine merchants—who enjoyed a monopoly on wine sales—blended in their cellars. This was at the root of a “crisis in winemaking” that bedeviled the fledgling Russian wine industry in the years before war and revolution decimated the empire’s vinicultural territories.

Despite Stalin’s 1936 embrace of champagne as part of the good life of socialism, and despite growing popular interest in Georgian foodways, in which wine was a central component, the Russian palate for wine proved very hard to reform. Even in the 1970s, the vast majority of wine sold to Soviet consumers went by the slang bormotukha—something makes one mumble. Like the falsified wines of the tsarist era, bormotukha was sweetened with beet sugar and strengthened with grain distillate to about 19-20 percent alcohol by volume. It was never as dangerous to life and sobriety as Erofeev’s “Canaan Balsam” (which was a blend of ethanol, furniture polish, and beer). Nonetheless, many Soviet-era vintners, who were knowledgable about wine economies and cultures elsewhere in Europe, saw bormotukha’s enduring appeal as a failure of acculturation. Soviet wine drinkers deserved better, even if they did not know it.
Learn more about Whites and Reds at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Damon B. Akins and William J. Bauer's "We Are the Land"

William J. Bauer Jr. is an enrolled citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Damon B. Akins is Associate Professor of History at Guilford College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a former high school teacher in Los Angeles.

Akins applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, We Are the Land: A History of Native California, and reported the following:
The book is a history of Native California from the time before memory to the present. We organized it chronologically, so page 99 is a glimpse into a specific moment in time—in this case, 1810-1811. The page describes the settlement of the Undersea People at Métini among the Kashaya Pomo and Coast Miwoks. The Undersea People (the Kashaya term for Russian and Aleut traders working for the Russian American Company, so-called because they believed the boats brought the sailors up from under the water where they lived) were major players in the global fur trade and had expanded their territorial control east from Siberia, along the Aleutian Islands and down the coast of present-day Alaska. At that time, Spanish imperial weakness and disinterest in extending its territorial possession north of the San Francisco Bay area left an opening for the Undersea People to push south. In 1811, they founded Fort Ross, approximately 75 miles north of San Francisco. The presence of two European colonial powers in competition and close proximity provided Kashaya Pomo and Coast Miwok peoples with both challenges and opportunities. Encroachment on Native land was a familiar challenge. But the presence of the Undersea People, interested primarily in trade rather than spiritual conversion or large-scale settlement, gave the Kashaya and Miwok Peoples opportunities to leverage trade and labor relations to support their resistance to the Spanish missionaries.

While this story is only a small one in the larger colonial history of California, and an even smaller bit of California Indian history, it is a fairly effective glimpse into the book for a number of reasons. For one, the terminology we use illustrates an important goal of the book. Scholars have long accepted Spanish names for Indigenous People derived from the name of the mission to which Spanish missionaries forcibly removed them. By framing the encounter here as the Undersea People arriving at Métini, rather than the Russians establishing Fort Ross, we resisted the ways that language can naturalize colonialism. We did the same with other Peoples and encounters. We did something similar with the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, who gave the name Ishi to the Yahi man who was captured in Oroville in 1911. He described the name as “not genuine, [but] singularly appropriate.” In the book, we often use Big Cheap to refer to Kroeber—the name that Ishi gave him and preferred. Elevating the terminology that Indigenous Californians used to an equal or preferred status compared to the standard terms deployed by scholars is a small but important step toward dismantling settler colonial narratives and their ongoing power to shape our knowledge.

Additionally, the brief excerpt points to the diversity and multivalent nature of California’s colonial history. In this instance, the actors are Kashaya Pomo, Coast Miwok, Undersea People, and Spanish. The fact that the Kashaya and Miwok played the Undersea People and Spanish off each other, and used the resources that the traders provided for their own purposes illustrates one of our fundamental arguments in the book: that Native Californians persisted by selectively adapting, and creatively engaging with a steady stream of colonizers and settlers who sought to impose destructive policies or practices on them. They formed relationships with Russians and Aleuts, they cooperated when that was in their best interests, or resisted when that proved more effective. They demonstrated a particularly fierce kind of cultural resistance that bent rather than broke. They hid but did not disappear. On page 99, they did this with the Undersea People, but opening the book to other pages, the reader would find the pattern repeating itself with the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Americans, and later, California, violent settlers, powerful corporate entities bent on controlling the land, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, heavy-handed progressive Friends of the Indians, the court system, Congress, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Learn more about We Are the Land at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 7, 2021

Anthony Aveni's "Creation Stories"

Anthony Aveni, the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Anthropology and Native American Studies at Colgate University, helped develop the field of archaeoastronomy and is widely considered one of the founders of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy. He is the author of Star Stories: Constellations and People and In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses.

Aveni applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Creation Stories: Landscapes and the Human Imagination, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Creation Stories readers find are immersed in the exciting tale of Tlingit origins. Raven, the traveling transformer, is the hero- trickster who performs magical feats as he paddles his canoe along the northwest Pacific coast of a yet unformed world. He has just befriended Kan’ugu, guardian of sweet water, who greedily hoards his treasure in a tank in the middle of his house, doling it out sparingly to the coastal inhabitants. Kan’ugu invites him to live with him and perform some household chores. One day, while his host is napping, Raven collects a bit of animal excrement and smears it on Kan’ugu’s robe. “Brother, you have soiled yourself”, he exclaims. You must run off to the woods and wash yourself with fresh urine or you will have bad luck for the rest of your life. Meanwhile Raven dashes back to the house, pierces the tank and drinks all the sweet water his belly can hold, with the intent of bringing it back to the coastal people. (You’ll need to turn the page to find out what happens next.)

Creation Stories examines ways cultures around the world have attempted to explain their origins and what roles the natural environment plays in shaping these narratives. I intend it as a celebration of the human imagination. Nature’s varied backdrops comprise sections of the book: Mountains (including chapters on Creation Battles in the Inca Highlands and Power Politics on Mount Olympus); Waterways (Tlingit Origins and The Mande and the River Niger); Caves (An Underworld Battle and the Maya Dawn of Life and A Dreamtime Creation from South Australia): Islands(How Maui Dredged Up the Hawaiian Islands and a Shinto Story: How Our Islands Were Made), and Extremes (Norse Creation: Murder on Ice and Tierra del Fuego: Where the Seas Clash).

Creation stories, well told, are not mere myths waiting for science to debunk; rather they capture valid essential truths about the human experience. One of my generous endorsers commented that The Secret of Life is not only found in the biological sciences. Creation Stories offers another sort of code breaker: It compels us to share how people live.

By opening to page 99--or indeed any other page of Creation Stories--readers should get a very good idea of what the book is about. The segment of the story told there is one of many from around the world that showcases the role of landscape in telling stories with legs.
Visit Anthony Aveni's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Colin Jerolmack's "Up to Heaven and Down to Hell"

Colin Jerolmack is Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at New York University and the author of The Global Pigeon.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book begins a new section of the chapter called “My Land.” It begins, “Private land leasing, as it turned out, routinely violated the Lockean proviso by creating spillover effects that worsened the well-being of others in the community and infringed on their freedom to benefit from their own property. Just ask Scott McClain, who created a Facebook page to document how his ‘beautiful parcel of land’ was being damaged by petroleum companies operating on land leased by Poor Shot Hunting Camp.” The rest of the page details how Scott granted his neighbors up the mountain an easement to use his driveway, seeing it as the neighborly thing to do, but how this led to major problems when his neighbors leased their land for gas drilling: all the heavy truck traffic servicing the mountaintop gas wells rumbled right by his house, cracking its foundation and crumbling its chimney.

Page 99 is a strong candidate for one of the better pages to introduce readers to what the book is about. At the center of my book is the peculiar fact that America is the only country in the world where property rights commonly extend “up to heaven and down to hell.” I detail how American property law was influenced by John Locke, who believed that property rights should be unrestricted. The only caveat, in Locke’s perspective, is if exercising property rights undermines others’ ability to enjoy their own property. This is the so-called Lockean proviso. Landowners are granted the liberty to lease their mineral estate for fracking without seeking permission from neighbors, but I argue they should not be because leasing violates the Lockean proviso by producing spillover effects that harm neighbors’ ability to enjoy their own property. Readers of page 99 alone would not know what the Lockean proviso is, so context would be missing. But it is the moment where I link this central idea of the Lockean proviso to the argument of why mineral rights should be restricted, which is a central moment of the book. And the book tries to situate big ideas in narrative stories of people’s everyday experiences. This page does that.
Learn more about Up to Heaven and Down to Hell at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Thomas Nail's "Theory of the Earth"

Thomas Nail is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver. He is the author of The Figure of the Migrant (2015) and Being and Motion (2018).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Theory of the Earth, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Energy continually flows into a region from the periphery and then releases a portion of that energy outward. It then re-accumulates enough energy to repeat the process. This is what I am calling kinetic reproduction. In physics, it is called a “self-organized” or “dissipative” system.
Page 99 of Theory of the Earth is about how earth systems are “metastable” systems.

I think Page 99 is a better than average synthesis of the book compared to more than half the pages in the book.

Page 99 gives a general description of how metastable states emerge and reproduce. The focus of page 99 is on atmospheric systems, but its definition is also broad enough to describe how all Earth systems work. A metastable system absorbs energy and releases it at a relatively steady rate to maintain its existence. A whirlpool is a metastable state that persists as long as energy moves through it at a specific rate. The Earth is a metastable system composed of metastable systems. This is one of the critical interpretive ideas of Theory of the Earth. The book uses dynamic systems theory, new materialist philosophy, and thermodynamics to think about the origins of the cosmos, Earth’s history, the origin of life, evolution, and the ethics of climate change.
Visit Thomas Nail's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Steven Feldstein's "The Rise of Digital Repression"

Steven Feldstein is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the Democracy, Conflict and Governance Program. Previously, he was the holder of the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs and an associate professor at Boise State University. He served in the Obama administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor with responsibility for Africa policy, international labor affairs, and international religious freedom, and as Director of Policy at the US Agency for International Development. He has also served as Counsel on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee under former chairmen Joe Biden and John Kerry. He received his B.A. from Princeton and his J.D. from Berkeley Law.

Feldstein applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance, and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 99:
than the result of a concerted Chinese program to proliferate advanced authoritarian technology.

My research in Thailand led to some unexpected insights.

First, the government is both lenient and harsh in how it chooses to deploy digital repression. The vast majority of Thais have access to a wide variety of information— particularly juxtaposed with comparable regimes in the region. While the government blocks certain websites that contain prohibited content— largely related to the monarchy or to gambling/ pornography— and monitors what people say (particularly Thai “influencers”), the Thai state generally leaves the bulk of its citizens alone. I repeatedly heard both civil society activists and government officials insist that “we are not China,” and that they have no desire to go in China’s direction. However, for a special category of people whom the regime views as a threat, it is adopting increasingly hardline tactics. In the past year, Thai pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm “Tar” Satsaksit, a fierce critic of the military and monarchy, was abducted by unidentified gunmen in Cambodia, three more activists “vanished” during a trip to Vietnam, and a prominent academic critic, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, was attacked with chemical spray at his home in Japan. This troubling behavior is also occurring within Thailand. Another well- known activist, Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanicha, was assaulted by pipe-wielding pro-government thugs for publishing Facebook posts about planned protests. Likewise, Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat was sent to the hospital after being beaten with baseball bats by four men the evening before a planned pro-democracy rally. From time to time, the government also makes examples of ordinary citizens as a pointed reminder of the costs of defying the state.

The government complements its digital repression tools with an extensive set of repressive laws and directives that provide wide discretion to suppress dissent and tamp down challenges to the state. Since 2017, the government has enacted a range of new provisions (supplementing existing lèse-majesté and defamation laws) that criminalize actions that violate public morals or run afoul of national security or public order. These laws represent a transition from an informal system of “door knocking”— used by government agents to carry out surveillance or censorship goals— to more formalized legal repression.

Second, key partners in the government’s program of repression are royalist and conservative civil society organizations. Groups such as Social Sanction and the Rubbish Collection Organization have created group pages on Facebook and other social media sites where they “share the personal profiles of alleged lèse majesté offenders” for public bullying. They also report suspected offenders to the police. Among those who are targeted are political opponents (particularly Future Forward members), scholars, journalists, and human rights activists. Reports indicate that the government has trained over one hundred thousand students as part of a “cyber scouts” program intended not only to surveil fellow
The “page 99 test” works well for my book. On page 99, I lay out several main findings from my Thailand case-study — one of the book’s three chapters about what digital repression looks like on the ground (the other chapters feature the Philippines and Ethiopia). The case-studies took months to prepare and represented the culmination of several years of desk research. Thailand was the first country I visited and I really wasn’t sure what to expect — both in terms of whether my expectations for digital repression would bear out, but also how responsive interviewees would be to answering my questions. In fact, I remember being nervous enough about the trip that I planned a back-up field visit to the Philippines in case the Thailand research didn’t pan out. As it turned out, the Thailand research went exceptionally well (as did the Philippines visit; so I included both countries in the book). Once I landed in Bangkok, I was able to secure most of the meetings I sought, including audiences with senior Thai policymakers and intelligence officials who discussed sensitive issues at length — from the Thai state’s motivations for deploying digital tech tools against perceived threats, to Thailand’s sensitive relationship with China. Another interesting fact about the Thailand chapter is that it was the first chapter I wrote. Rather than write the book in consecutive order from introduction to conclusion, I jumped straight to writing the Thailand chapter — I wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose any of the details from that research trip! In that sense, page 99 has a higher degree of relevance than I would’ve anticipated.

Overall, my book makes the argument that governments are leveraging technology against challenges to their rule in new and unexpected ways. From China’s techno-repression campaign in Xinjiang and internet shutdowns in Myanmar and India, to Russia’s struggles to contain protestors who turn to YouTube to outflank the government, activists are in a cat-and-mouse struggle with governments for political control. Even in liberal democracies like the United States, there are disturbing examples of law enforcement agencies abusing facial recognition and surveillance technology for dubious purposes. As the book documents, the digital repression trend is not just relevant to authoritarian states, it also represents a growing threat to democracies.
Learn more about The Rise of Digital Repression at the Oxford University Press website, and follow Steven Feldstein on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 3, 2021

Gail Crowther's "Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz"

Gail Crowther is a freelance writer, researcher, and academic. She is the author of The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath and the coauthor of Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning and These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Crowther divides her time between the North of England with her dog, George, and London. As a feminist vegan she engages with politics concerning gender, power, and animal rights.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz discusses the tensions and challenges for Sylvia Plath trying to negotiate her way through the world being a wife, a mother, and a writer. It also explores the crippling panic bird of her writer’s block and how this was linked to location and circumstances. Certain aspects of her marriage to Ted Hughes were unorthodox, but as page 99 highlights: “For all the unconventional aspects of their marriage, and for all of Plath’s ambivalence about which of society’s norms she would reject or accept, there were still elements of tradition that stuck.”

A reader turning to this page would get a good idea of some of the main themes of the book; the difficulties facing women in the 1950s who wanted to succeed in a male-dominated literary discipline, and how difficult that was if combined with marriage and motherhood. But equally the book fails the page 99 test because Anne Sexton is missing (she reappears on page 100). So thematically, the test works, but in terms of subject matter, half is absent. Perhaps this is rather inevitable with a dual biography.

Although the book moves between the two women, the main aim is to weave their stories together and show all the ways in which Plath and Sexton led both parallel but often wildly divergent lives. Having met for the first time in a poetry workshop run by Robert Lowell at Boston University, just for a short period of time, the two women’s lives collided. On a Tuesday after class Sexton would drive them to The Ritz in her old Ford to drink three martinis and talk intensely about life, poetry, suicide, and death. Over dishes of free potato chips they would balance their books and papers on the table, hoping to be mistaken for Hollywood types. Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz uses these confessional drinking afternoons as the launching point to explore the lives of Plath and Sexton who, back then in 1959, were aspiring poets. But they were aspiring poets in a cultural moment that did not like ambitious women, or really know what to do with them. Sexton wrote in a letter that she felt as though she was “kicking at the door of fame” which men owned the password for and would not share. This book argues that both women kicked that door down anyway paving a bold and progressive path that the rest of us can follow.
Visit Gail Crowther's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Jo Napolitano's "The School I Deserve"

Jo Napolitano, a journalist for more than 20 years, has written extensively for The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsday. A Northwestern University graduate and Columbia University Fellow, hers was an unusual path: Napolitano was born in Bogota, Colombia, abandoned at birth, placed in an orphanage and nearly died of starvation before she was adopted to the States. Her book, The School I Deserve: Six Young Refugees and Their Fight for Equality in America, chronicles the civil rights battle waged across the country on behalf of immigrant children turned away from the nation’s public schools.

Napolitano applied the “Page 99 Test” to The School I Deserve and reported the following:
The book tells the story of a young Sudanese refugee named Khadidja Issa who was forced to sue her local school district for the right to enroll. The case went to trial in the summer of 2016 in the swing state of Pennsylvania on the eve of the most contentious presidential election in modern American history, one in which immigrants, particularly young Muslim refugees like Khadidja, were openly derided. In this passage, found on page 99, one of her attorneys calls into question the school district’s decision to send Khadidja and other young refugees to a for-profit alternative school called Phoenix Academy. Aimed at credit recovery, Phoenix offered a no-frills education to students looking to speed up their education to graduate quickly:
The notion that these newcomer students, who spoke almost no English, would somehow gain something by starting their education with sped-up instruction—the only type offered at the alternative campus—made no sense, he said.

Rothschild’s argument was solid and he appeared to be gaining ground. In what seemed like an early breakthrough, Judge Smith started to question the value of graduating a student who might not have the education or skills they needed to succeed in life. “I’m also curious as to the relationship between getting that piece of paper known as a diploma, and actually, truly, educating someone, such that they could be a productive member of our society,” the judge said.

Here was the opening Rothschild had been looking for all morning. It was his chance to plant the seed that Phoenix wasn’t living up to its promise.

Rothschild said that in order to judge the merits of the alternative program, the court must consider the Castañeda v. Pickard court case. Filed against the Raymondville Independent School District in Texas by Roy Castañeda, a father of two Mexican American children, the case was tried in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1978. Castañeda, through his attorneys, argued that the district grouped children in such a way that those with Mexican heritage received a sub-standard education.

A major outcome was a three-pronged test to determine whether schools were taking “appropriate action” to address the needs of English language learners as required by the Equal Education Opportunities Act. According to the Castañeda standard, educational programs for non-English–speaking students must be based on a sound educational theory, implemented effectively with sufficient resources and personnel, and evaluated to determine whether they are effective in helping students overcome language barriers.

Phoenix failed by every measure, Rothschild told the court. And the diploma its graduates received at the end of their time there was dubious because many could not read or write English and had not advanced in their other coursework because of it, leaving them unprepared for the future, whether they wanted to attend college or join the workforce.
Page 99 reflects the central aspect of the book: what do we owe immigrant kids in terms of their education? If a child arrives to the States in their late teens unable to speak English, what can we expect of them as their eligibility for a free education winds down? It gives a glimpse into the courtroom drama of this entire matter.
Visit Jo Napolitano's website.

--Marshal Zeringue