Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Annelise Heinz's "Mahjong"

Annelise Heinz is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oregon, where she teaches courses on women's history, gender and sexuality, ethnicity and immigration, and consumerism. She returned to the West Coast in fall 2018, after three years as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Dallas. She earned her doctorate at Stanford University in 2015.

Heinz applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes the reader into debates over if and how mahjong players in the United States should use “flower” tiles as a kind of wild card during play, and how that debate relates to a larger key historical transformation of mahjong in America: the feminization of mahjong into a game primarily associated with women. Page 99 also covers the contentious meetings of a mahjong standardization committee led by white women and Chinese men, and how white male game experts responded.

This page surfaces some of the key concepts that the book grapples with: gender, race, authenticity, authority. In the early 1920s, the Chinese parlor game mahjong became a huge national fad as marketers emphasized its “exotic” Chinese origins. Despite the game’s mostly male background – from its masculine connotations in China, to the white businessmen who introduced it to an American public, and the mostly male game experts who helped popularize it – mahjong quickly became known as a women’s game in the United States, feminized by its clear cultural associations with China. This transformation offers a particularly clear example of the ways in which ideas of race intertwine with gender.

One of the key ways that marketers helped popularize mahjong, and also one of the major arenas they battled it out with each other, emphasized claims to authenticity. I trouble any simple meaning of authenticity, locating it in the history of Orientalism that the history of mahjong is also embedded in, while also tracing how Chinese Americans used claims on authenticity to create both economic opportunities and assert cultural authority.

Mahjong traces the story of one game to think about how, in their daily lives, individuals create and experience cultural change. Throughout the book, I follow the often-colorful characters who created an enormous international fad based on the game in the early 1920s, and who fostered diverse social patterns and cultural rituals in its wake. On page 99, a few of these individuals surface – some who run throughout the book, and others who connect to larger themes but who make only a brief appearance. It also reveals the debates that swirled around mahjong during the fad years, and how seriously game experts and marketers took the financial and cultural stakes. One of the arguments in the book is that this leisure activity – easily overlooked and dismissed – reveals much about key transformations in the twentieth century, including changing gender roles, mass consumerism, and the development of ethnic identities.
Visit Annelise Heinz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Peter Cajka's "Follow Your Conscience"

Peter Cajka is assistant teaching professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Follow Your Conscience: The Catholic Church and the Spirit of the Sixties, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test as applied to Follow Your Conscience will take readers to the heart of the matter. The reader encounters an intense defense of conscience rights offered by Father Shane MacCarthy in 1968 amidst Catholic debates about the morality of artificial contraception. This page is an explication of one of the most exciting primary sources used in the book: a handwritten sermon on conscience rights by a young and passionate Roman Catholic priest. As such, a browser will be immediately immersed in Catholic conscience discourse in the twentieth century United States. Could the browser be provoked by this page to ask why Catholics are so committed to conscience? Could this glance cause the reader of Page 99 to ask how far this idea about conscience spread in the 1960s and 1970s? This particular source works well; it’s representative of hundreds of other Catholic writings on conscience. Father MacCarthy told his flock that he will sacrifice his very priesthood to defend “the integrity of intelligently formed conscience of the individual.” This page also quotes a letter MacCarthy sent to his superior in which he stated he “could not live out my life of service of others” if the Church asked him to disrespect conscience. Modern Catholic priests like MacCarthy were profoundly committed to the defense of the individual’s sacred conscience. The Page 99 interloper will get a taste of what comes before and what appears after.

While Page 99 provides a window onto the entire book, the reader will need to examine the book’s first chapter to understand the depth of MacCarthy’s words. Catholics became committed to conscience rights in the thirteenth century and they carried this respect for internality into the modern era. Readers of page 99 will be plunged into defenses of conscience on the matter of sexuality, but the surrounding chapters will help readers to see that following conscience sparked debates about citizenship on the matter of conscription as well. Conscience rights are about morality but they also pertain to political questions.

Page 99 does provide a close look at the central intellectual problem of my book. What does it mean for the study of modern America that priests defend individuality in the realms of sexuality and war? Shane MacCarthy was a young priest who had a socially active ministry. Yet, he was still a priest in a massive institution, the Catholic Church, that had roots spanning hundreds of years. In American history we often think of Protestants and secular liberals as the prime defenders of individual rights. But in the 1960s and 1970s hundreds of priests like Shane MacCarthy stepped up to protect the rights of conscience from the intrusive rules of authorities in church and state. Page 99 gives the reader a glance of how Catholics became central to the development of modern American individualism.
Learn more about Follow Your Conscience at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 28, 2021

Paul Conrad's "The Apache Diaspora"

Paul Conrad is Associate Professor of Native American History and Literature at the University of Texas at Arlington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Apache Diaspora: Four Centuries of Displacement and Survival, and reported the following:
The enslavement of Native Americans was ubiquitous throughout the Americas, even though the practice was often illegal in colonial societies. Page 99 of my book examines this history in a particular time and place, in what is now Northern Mexico in the 18th century. Drawing from records of civil suits I found in an archive in Chihuahua, I describe area residents wrangling with each other over botched slave sales, the theft of slaves, slaves who ran away, and more. Caught in the maelstrom were Apaches like those I discuss on page 99 named Francisca and Rita. While their enslavement was in fact illegal in the Spanish empire, the fact it was widely accepted by both area residents and local courts ultimately kept them ensnared in exploitative circumstances not of their own choosing. As I explain on this page, the details of their stories, “reflect the experience of other Native people turned Apaches slaves whose lives did not make it into the archival records: lives characterized by relative powerlessness and vulnerability.”

The page 99 test works very well for my book. This is because the page examines important themes of the book as a whole. For example, it highlights the experience of displaced Native people and the colonial interests that fueled their displacement, such as demand for labor. Another key theme that runs throughout the book that is discussed on this page is the disconnect between law and governmental policy and the lived experience of people impacted by them on the ground.

If the test works well in my case overall, I do have to say that the page itself isn’t one of my favorites. My favorite pages in my book are those when I was able to present Indigenous people’s own words and perspectives, and trace out their experiences of the trauma of being uprooted from kin and homeland in detail. In this page of the book, the source material I had to work with was rich in certain respects—it showed how masters were completely unafraid to reveal they illegally owned and exploited Native people, for example. But it was also frustratingly fragmentary, as few of the suits from this archive included testimony from the enslaved Apaches themselves, though such testimony was not uncommon in other times and places I examine in the book.

In sum, the test itself is really a total success, in the sense that it reveals the analysis and arguments of the book while also revealing its limitations.
Learn more about The Apache Diaspora at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Caley Horan's "Insurance Era"

Caley Horan is associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Insurance Era: Risk, Governance, and the Privatization of Security in Postwar America, and reported the following:
Page 99 hits toward the end of Chapter 3, which traces the history of insurance industry investments in urban renewal during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The page features the conclusion of a section on Lake Meadows, a large urban housing complex built in Chicago during the early 1950s by the New York Life Insurance Company. A slum clearance project, the private development displaced large numbers of Black residents from Chicago’s South Side to make room for expensive luxury apartments with lake views. The same page features the opening lines of the concluding section of the chapter, which describes the process through which life insurance companies pulled out of urban housing in order to direct their ample investment dollars toward the rapidly expanding suburbs.

Does this page convey the primary message of the book? Not really. But it does succeed in revealing one of the many (often overlooked) ways the insurance industry shaped American life during the postwar era. It does a good job introducing some of the main claims of chapter 3, too. A browsing reader who turns to page 99 will encounter the idea that insurance industry investments shaped the course of urban renewal in the postwar United States and helped entrench discriminatory patterns of development that perpetuated and deepened residential segregation based on race.

Page 99 doesn’t offer much when it comes to one of the major themes of the book: private industry’s decades long fight to turn the tide of American sentiment against public insurance programs and collective risk sharing. The page does capture something of the book’s spirit, though. Page 99 is very much in the weeds when it comes to historical detail, but it still manages to communicate big and interesting ideas. This was my great hope for the book as a whole, and I’m glad that page 99 reflects that.
Learn more about Insurance Era at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Robert G. Parkinson's "Thirteen Clocks"

Robert G. Parkinson is associate professor of history at Binghamton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Thirteen Clocks: How Race United the Colonies and Made the Declaration of Independence, and reported the following:
It would be tough to do better than page 99 to get a sense of what Thirteen Clocks is all about. Occurring just past the halfway point of the book, it begins a recap of the previous two chapters and sets the agenda for the final two. “By the end of that unprecedented summer” of 1775, it says, “colonists were reading about unrest and potential unrest all over America.” The previous two chapters outlined how enslaved and Native peoples “greeted the news of civil war with Britain in various ways.” Those chapters documented how British officials had considered the idea of encouraging enslaved African Americans and Native peoples to assist them in putting down the burgeoning Revolutionary War. As page 99 says, “In so doing, Britain found means to accomplish what seemed impossible just a few years earlier: unite the American colonists.” The 86 pages that follow cover what will happen over the next nine months, as these stories – managed and manipulated by patriot leaders like John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson and featured in colonial newspapers – coalesced in the reasons why the Americans decided they needed to declare their independence from the British empire. Thirteen Clocks explores how stories about race overcame colonial jealousies and brought them all together as one. Those stories also featured in and influenced the Declaration of Independence. Page 99 puts you right in the middle of the story, as tales about enslaved and Native peoples acting with the British began to swirl in the summer of 1775, and how those stories made America independent and united the states the following July 4, 1776.
Learn more about Thirteen Clocks at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 25, 2021

Russell E. Martin's "The Tsar's Happy Occasion"

Russell E. Martin is Professor of History at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. His publications include A Bride for the Tsar: Bride-Shows and Marriage Politics in Early Modern Russia (winner of the W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize), and, as co-author, Konstantin Makovsky: The Tsar’s Painter in Paris and New York.

Martin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Tsar's Happy Occasion: Ritual and Dynasty in the Weddings of Russia's Rulers, 1495-1745, and reported the following:
An internet browser opening The Tsar’s Happy Occasion to page 99 would plop the reader down in the midst of a summary of chapter 3. Here she or he would read how four royal weddings in the 1680s—of tsars Fedor III (who married twice), Ivan V, Peter I (his first wedding)—were performed differently from previous weddings in the sixteenth and earlier in the seventeenth centuries. The reader’s eye might land on the lines: “Royal weddings from 1680 on were smaller affairs in comparison to those during the previous century and a half. Fedor III’s first and Ivan V’s were grander and larger weddings than Fedor III’s second or Peter I’s first, but all four appear to have been considerably smaller court happenings than any previous wedding ritual in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.” The reader’s eye might then move to the question posed in the next paragraph: “The question remains: why were the four weddings in the 1680s celebrated so differently from the ones before it?” and to my response: “A perhaps better explanation emerges when one steps back a few paces from the details and observes the larger context in which these changes occurred. Royal weddings were not the only rituals undergoing transformation in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.” And finally the reader might then be enticed to turn to page 100 to find the end of the truncated sentence expanding on that response, which reads that “underneath and responding to all these visible changes in the ritual life of the court were a number of fundamental transformations in the political culture that spanned the second half of….”

Page 99 provides a good glimpse into one of the key themes of this book: change over time. The Tsar’s Happy Occasion covers more than three centuries of early modern Russian history. It traces fundamental changes in the way Muscovite rulers married and the different symbols and meanings of nuptial rites over time. These changes reflected underlying developments in the political culture of Muscovy as it grew from being just one of the principalities of Rus’ into a significant power ruled by a tsar from an ancient dynasty, underwent a change in dynasty to the Romanovs after a bloody war of succession, and became the Russian Empire under Peter I the Great. Page 99 captures one of the key moments of transformations in this story—the end of the old Muscovite political culture and the rise of a new one to be shaped by the personality and agenda of Peter I. A reader landing on page 99 might not here see all these changes, but would certainly grasp that the book was about change, and about the relationship between that change and the underlying political culture.

There are other themes that might be missed too, if all one read was page 99. First would be the relationship between ritual and power. The Tsar’s Happy Occasion makes the case that court politics in early modern Russia was kinship politics: membership in the highest rungs of power in Muscovy was determined by kinship ties, direct or indirect, with the ruler. To be related to the tsar by marriage was both the pathway to, and a reflection of, one’s position at court—a pattern that holds, in muted form, even in Petrine Russia. Second, page 99 gives no hint about the focus in the book on royal women: the brides, to be sure, but also the other women of the court who participated variously in royal wedding rituals and the politics behind them. And page 99 does not mention the role of religious belief and liturgics in royal nuptial rites, especially when Russian royals married non-Orthodox foreigners. But page 99 includes enough of the story to entice the reader to turn the page or flip back to earlier chapters. It would not at all be a bad place to crack open The Tsar’s Happy Occasion.
Learn more about The Tsar's Happy Occasion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Michael Messner's "Unconventional Combat"

Michael A. Messner is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. He is the author of several books, including Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (2015) and Guys Like Me: Five wars, Five Veterans for Peace (2019). His honors include the Pursuit of Justice Award from the California Women's Law Center, the Feminist Mentoring Award from the Sociologists for Women in Society, and the Jessie Bernard Award, presented by the American Sociological Association in recognition of contributions to the understanding of women's lives.

Messner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unconventional Combat: Intersectional Action in the Veterans' Peace Movement, and reported the following:
On page 99, the reader will find the tail-end of a story I tell about how 4000 U.S. Military veterans gathered in the frigid November of 2016 at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, to support an Indigenous coalition of “Water Protectors” who were working to stop the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. I tell this story mostly through my interview with Army veteran Phoenix Johnson, an Indigenous Two-Spirit person who joined in this collective act of resistance against Big Oil and the U.S. government. The presence of the veterans at Standing Rock is at once an inspiring story of allyship and reconciliation. On the other hand, Phoenix Johnson laments that the vets “…were not effectively collaborating with Indigenous people…this was just another expression of white supremacy and white saviorism. They were just here to benefit themselves. To make themselves look good.” Despite this blistering criticism of the mostly white, male and non-Indigenous veterans’ leadership team, Johnson did observe that “There were veterans in the space that actually cared. There were veterans who were being activated for the first time in their lives and I got to witness that.” One of these vets told Johnson, “‘I don’t know how or why I'm out here, but I’m crying and I feel like I'm becoming a part of something important.’ And I’m like, ‘You are, and here’s how you can continue to do that.’ I mean, they were rubbing their eyes and blinking like they were just waking up.”

In some ways, a reader who lands on page 99 would get a good sense of the book’s main themes. In Unconventional Combat, I focus in on the productive possibilities, and also the strains and tensions between a young and diverse cohort of “Post 9/11” veterans as they move into veterans’ peace and justice organizations that have dominated until recently by older, white men veterans of the Vietnam War era. Earlier in the book, I examine the tensions and limits these younger vets confront—including gendered racism, homophobia and transphobia, and lingering unspoken assumptions about “what a real leader looks like” (White, male, heterosexual, combat veteran) within organizations like Veterans For Peace. The chapter of which page 99 is a part turns outward, examining the ways that this new generation forges new ways that their anti-militarism groups can form coalitions with organizations working for gender and racial justice, climate action, and migrant justice.

In some ways too, page 99’s focus on Phoenix Johnson offers insights into the story-telling heart of the book. While I did some participant observation with Veterans for Peace and with About Face: Veterans Against the War organizations, and some interviews with older white male vets who have worked for peace for decades, Unconventional Combat centers on the stories of six vets—all people of color, most of them women, some who identify as queer, or gender-non-binary. Through deep, life-history interviews that revealed their pathways into and through the military, I show how these veterans’ shared experiences of violence and oppression shapes their commitments to working for peace and social justice.
Visit Michael Messner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Guys Like Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Susan Bernofsky's "Clairvoyant of the Small"

Susan Bernofsky is a writer and a leading translator of modernist and contemporary German-language literature into English. She directs the program Literary Translation at Columbia in the MFA Writing Program at the Columbia University School of the Arts.

A Guggenheim, Cullman Center, and Berlin Prize fellow, she is currently working on a new translation of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.

Bernofsky applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser, and reported the following:
If you open my book to Page 99, you’ll find yourself in medias res at the tail end of a story set in 1903, when a twenty-five-year-old Robert Walser has moved to the tiny town of Wädenswil on the shore of Lake Zurich to take up the post of assistant to an inventor/engineer/entrepreneur named Carl Dubler. This episode in Walser’s life would later provide much of the material for his second novel, The Assistant, published in 1908. On page 99 of my book, I wrap up a discussion begun on page 98: comparing Walser’s own professional activity during the period of his life described in the novel to the activity he attributes to the novel’s protagonist, Joseph Marti—who resembles Walser in many ways. I’d say the Page 99 test works moderately well in this instance: the reader landing here may at first be confused to find themselves reading the second half of a story without explanation or setup; but at the same time, this passage is fairly typical of my book in that it combines a discussion of a literary work by Walser with my own storytelling about Walser’s life and professional development.

It’s interesting (and typical of Walser) that he elides much of his own professionalism in this fictional transformation of his life. In 1903, he had not yet published his first book—only poems and short prose works in periodicals—but he was knocking himself out trying to get a manuscript assembled and placed. His fictional alter ego, by contrast, harbors no such ambitions, though he does dabble a bit in writing: one day he sits down at the table in his room and composes a little essay because he feels bored; when he’s done, he tosses it in the trash. Here we see a relatively young Walser already contributing—without fully realizing the implications of this, I believe—to the creation of an image of himself as far more lighthearted, flighty, impulsive, and romantic than in fact he was. This image (which would have its apotheosis in the figure of the journeyman) would come to haunt him later in his career.
Visit Susan Bernofsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

John Howland's "Hearing Luxe Pop"

John Howland is Professor of Musicology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He is the author of Ellington Uptown and Duke Ellington Studies and cofounder of the journal Jazz Perspectives.

Howland applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hearing Luxe Pop: Glorification, Glamour, and the Middlebrow in American Popular Music, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Another major figure in the continued commercial expansion of the 1940s big-band-plus-strings vogue was the ex-Dorsey arranger Paul Weston. By 1944, Weston was musical director for the newly formed Capitol Records. Along with Stordahl, Weston’s arrangements for Capitol singers like Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee epitomize the pop vocal arranging conventions of the day. However, it was Weston’s instrumental albums that created the successful new genre of “mood music.” This latter development has ties to earlier trends, such as the sweet-style dance orchestras of the swing era, the rise of the Muzak corporation in the mid-1930s, and the 1930s light music repertories of certain radio orchestras. The Weston mood music model favored pre-war hit songs from the 1920s through early 1940s—that is, the repertory that we now call “standards.” Weston later described his arranging and big band performance formulas for these recordings as “underplayed,” “under-arranged,” and “on-the-melody.” This approach can be heard in Weston’s 1946 arrangement of “You Go to My Head.” Here, Weston employed the sort of subdued big-band textures that were held to have fallen out of favor with postwar audiences: slower tempos, no blaring brass, and an emphasis on lush, Glenn-Milleresque five-part, close-position sax voicings. These settings further include a restrained, piano-less rhythm section. Weston’s charts also typically involve lush introductions featuring strings, harp, and reed textures. The arrangements leave only a small amount of room for ornamental impro- visation from soloists. In contrast to the design-intensive “sophistication” of the symphonic jazz tradition, Weston’s arranging routines are regularly reduced to one or two choruses with no modulation and at most only a few additional measures for either an introduction, single interlude, or tag coda.

Making a Lady of Modern Jazz

In a postwar environment that saw both the decline of the dance-band indus- try and an increase in concert-setting performances of jazz, various bandleaders and arrangers began to experiment with new harmonic and formal devices, as well as further symphonic-leaning ensemble augmentations. In contrast to the overtly commercial intent of Weston’s “underarranged” mood music, several arrangers began to explore comparatively complex textures that emulated the music of prewar modernist composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith. By the late 1940s, this new, self-consciously complex big-band music was called “progressive jazz,” but its roots lay several years earlier. In 1946, the producer Norman Granz began to commission recordings for his landmark album, The Jazz Scene (which was released in 1949). Two of the artists to use strings in this project were the arrangers Neal Hefti and George Handy, both of whom were associated with the idiom that came to be called progressive jazz. Significantly, saxophonist Charlie Parker’s first performance with strings occurred in the 1946 recording of Hefti’s composition “Repetition.”...
One book illustration that has sparked significant praise is a diagram suggesting the "six degrees of separation" between iconic luxe-pop artists. The subjects of page 99 – Paul Weston, mood music, Capitol Records, and progressive jazz – are not overtly present on this earlier figure, but their legacy is in the mid-century center of this book roadmap. As musicologist Phil Ford aptly observed, this map suggests “a way of looking at how we listen to pop music.... Even if you don’t know [this] ... long tradition ... that capitalize[s] on the juxtaposition[s] of funky, lowdown, street American vernacular and high art style, if you jump in at any point of the network ... it will conjure the rest of the network into memory.” Weston's 1946 album Music for Memories with "You Go to My Head" clearly does this – the idea is almost built into its title! Aesthetically and culturally, Weston, etc., foreshadow Barry White's disco-sheen being viewed as "Black muzak" (listen, for example, to "Love's Theme") and point backward to Paul Whiteman "making a lady of jazz" (note the subsection header).

While the music-description concerns of page 99 are a periodic element of the book's writing style (typically, these areas are offset as musical-shoptalk sidebars), this page leads directly to the ascendant, "classy," style-and-image core behind luxe pop: the Great American Songbook sound of the Capitol recordings of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and the arranger, Nelson Riddle. Riddle and Weston were colleagues in Tommy Dorsey's 1940s symphonic swing (big-band-plus-strings) orchestra. Weston subsequently became musical director of Capitol, and he gained considerable middlebrow popularity through his mood music. The latter sparked a vogue of easy-listening "Music For ..." albums. The influential Weston formula, particularly with the advent of hi-fi, was an ideal background for classy cocktail hours in the mid-century bachelor-pad lifestyle (real or imagined). This is all illustrative of the "damnably American" (Dwight Macdonald) luxe-entertainment core of the book.

Personally, Weston also conjures to mind the circuitous research history behind this book, with many primary sources that entered my life long before I knew of their importance. I encountered Weston's music in the late 1990s when I was a private recording engineer for Mike Markkula, a co-founder of Apple Computers. Markkula loved Weston's 1940s and 1950s mood music, and I remastered some of Weston’s albums for him. Later, through other connections, Weston's son shared several arrangements from this album with me.
Learn more about Hearing Luxe Pop at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 21, 2021

Jason Vuic's "The Swamp Peddlers"

Jason Vuic is a writer and historian and author of several books, including The Swamp Peddlers: How Lot Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream (2021); The Yucks! Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History (2016); and The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History (2010).

Vuic applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Swamp Peddlers and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Swamp Peddlers, we come to Marco Island, Florida, which, as late as the early-1960s, was a mostly uninhabited, 10,000-acre stretch of pristine mangrove forests, saltwater marshes, and lagoons, and one of the last untouched parcels of coastal wilderness in Florida. It belonged, however, to the wealthy Collier family, whose patriarch Baron Gift Collier had owned over 1.3 million acres of Florida land and whose son, Baron Jr., wished to develop it.

To do so, the younger Collier turned to Miami’s famed Mackle Brothers—Elliott, Robert, and Frank—the builders of Port St. Lucie, Port Charlotte, and Key Biscayne, among others, whose sprawling Deltona Corporation had opened the community of Deltona, near Orlando, in 1962.

The Mackles were adept at selling lots on the installment plan. For $10 down and $10 a month, retiring northerners could buy a piece of the Florida dream, a graded homesite that’d be waiting for them when they were ready to build. But Marco was a bit pricier than that. It would have over 8,000 waterfront lots on more than 90 miles of canals, a huge undertaking requiring billions of pounds of fill dirt, taken from the bottom of two bays and the floor of a river, which workers would scoop up using excavators pulling buckets or suck to the surface using pumps. It was a process called dredge and fill, which, though incredibly destructive environmentally, allowed the Mackles to build hundreds of finger-like peninsulas on Marco with homes that northerners craved. They had driveways in the front and boat docks and seawalls at the back.

Here we see the opening of Marco in 1965:
While Marco was a ritzier development than, say, Deltona, its economic model was the same: big ad budgets, nationwide sales dinners, bus tours, plane tours, celebrity “spokespitches,” and sales—installment sales—of yet-to-be dredged and yet to be filled lots, not just in the Marco River area, which had been permitted, but in all five areas at once. They called it, like they did at Deltona, “coordinated growth,” with cash sales in the first area, three years of payments in the second area, and so on. But whereas the cheapest homesites in Deltona were $995, with payments of $15 a month, the cheapest in Marco were $2,495 at $30 a month. And those were inland sites. The more numerous canal-front sites were even steeper: a minimum $5,495 at $65 a month, with several high-end ocean-front sites listed for $19,000.

Marco “isn’t a low-cost retirement community for the factory foreman or the policeman,” wrote one northern newspaper. “It’s aimed at the family of the professional man or the executive who decides to retire in style, but quietly. It’s also aimed at the folks with money who want ‘a place in Florida’ to come to during the winter.” With an air exclusivity, but with installment plans and ad campaigns geared to the upper-middle-class masses, Marco attracted buyers in droves: 25,000 people toured the island on opening day.

They were directed to MIDC’s welcome center by twelve Collier County sheriff’s deputies, then herded onto tour buses (and even a boat) for carefully-staged walk-throughs at each of the development’s model homes, where the atmosphere, exclaimed one agent, was “electric.” Within six weeks, people had purchased over a thousand homesites, and by August 1966, just 18 months into the project, MIDC had sold $3.5 million in homes and apartments and $22 million in land. It had built, or was in the process of building, 125 homes, a grocery store, a hardware store, a post office, a service station, a 100-room hotel, a 48-unit condominium, a 78-unit apartment complex, a country club with an 18-hole, professional-grade golf course, a yacht club, 2 restaurants, 6 miles of seawalls, 20 miles of utility mains, and 18 miles of roads. “In the brief [period] since Marco Island opened,” said Frank Mackle, “we’ve made tremendous strides. In all respects, we’re running well ahead of schedule…. [Things are] taking shape so fast, it’s like looking at tomorrow.”
The passage above, from page 99 of The Swamp Peddlers, describes the opening of Marco in 1965, and I think encapsulates what the book is about: dredge and fill; installment land sales; high pressure sales tactics; and Madison Avenue advertising. This is how developers in the ‘60s sold the Florida dream.
Visit Jason Vuic's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Yucks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Rhiannon Graybill's "Texts after Terror"

Rhiannon Graybill is W.J. Millard Professor of Religion and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. She is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible whose work brings together biblical texts and contemporary critical and cultural theory. Her research interests include prophecy, gender and sexuality, horror theory, and psychoanalysis and ancient Near Eastern literature. Graybill's books include Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets (2016).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Texts after Terror: Rape, Sexual Violence, and the Hebrew Bible, and reported the following:
Page 99 is in the middle of chapter 4, which is focused on the story of Hagar and Sarah (Genesis 16 and 21). Here’s an excerpt:
Hagar and Sarah, Entangled

While I have described the literary dyads of Frances and Bobbi, and of Roberta and Stevie, as “friendships,” that term undernames the hostility, violence, and mutual pain that characterizes both pairs. Bobbi is deeply hurt when Frances, strapped for money, publishes a story that is clearly about her. She is also upset by Frances’s relationship with Nick. Frances, too, has her own fraught feelings toward Bobbi—jealousy, vulnerability, heartbreak, rivalry. In Supper Club, Stevie and Roberta spend much of the novel trying to sabotage each other; romantic jealousy is only a small part of the complicated mess of emotions and petty acts of violence that characterize their ongoing reactions. If these details seem “smaller” or “pettier” than the plots of Genesis 16 and 21—rape, contempt, near-death theophany, and so on—this is indeed the point. I am interested in a reading that shifts the focus away from the moment of sexual violence and onto a larger context of entangled relationships. And this way of reading is in fact in alignment with the biblical text, which presents Hagar’s rape as one facet of a larger story of violence, competition, and a relationship that can’t seem to untangle itself.

When biblical scholarship takes up the issue of entanglement in Genesis 16 and 21, it is often from the perspective of intersectionality. Intersectional critique is an important part of feminist critique more broadly; intersectionality describes the ways that categories such as gender, race and ethnicity, class, sexuality, and disability interact with and on each other. A central claim of intersectional theory is that forms of oppression are not simply additive; neither are they separable. In the case of Hagar and Sarah, this means we cannot read the story only from the perspective of gender (Hagar and Sarah are both women), of ethnicity (Hagar is Egyptian, Sarah is a [proto]-Israelite), class (Hagar is a slave, Sarah is her owner), or disability (Sarah is infertile, Hagar is not). Instead, we need to consider these questions of identity, privilege, and oppression together. In the case of Genesis 16, this means that Sarah’s class solidarity, or perhaps merely her own self-interest, overrides any gender solidarity she might feel toward Hagar as another woman in Abraham’s household. Similarly, Hagar’s status as slave and foreigner intersects in complex ways with her able-bodiedness, represented as fertility.
More than anything, page 99 gives a good sense of the style of Texts after Terror and the kind of arguments it makes. Scattered in the first full paragraph are references to Sally Rooney’s novel Conversations with Friends (the references to Frances and Bobbi) and Lara Williams’ Supper Club (Stevie and Roberta). In the chapter that page 99 is a part of, I discuss the tendency in contemporary fiction to tell stories about women with really fraught and complicated friendships, and for these stories also to include rape – but as a secondary or even unimportant narrative detail. I use this literary comparison to find a new way of reading the story of Hagar and Sarah, which is clearly a story of rape – Sarah tells her husband Abraham to have sex with Hagar and conceive a child, Hagar never consents. This doesn’t all come across on page 99, of course, but the basic critical move of juxtaposing texts and seeing what emerges is there, along with the feminist perspective I bring to interpretation.

The second paragraph on page 99 talks about intersectionality and how this helps us read Sarah and Hagar. This is a little more complicated, as I go on in the book to show the limits of intersectionality, and even to critique it. But page 99 does showcase, again, the way the book brings biblical texts together with contemporary ideas from feminist theory.

The kind of juxtapositions that are found on page 99 (and, I think, make it interesting!) are found all over Texts after Terror. In the introduction, for example, I introduce the problem of biblical sexual violence with reference to Kristen Roupenian’s viral short story “Cat Person,” which was published in the New Yorker in 2017 and remains a flashpoint in talking about bad sex, female agency, and consent. In another chapter, I read the biblical book of Lamentations together with contemporary writing by survivors of sexual violence, including Carmen Maria Machado’s recent memoir In the Dream House. My book explores a number of other ways of interpreting, including what I call “unhappy reading” – if only that term had appeared on page 99!
Learn more about Texts after Terror at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Emily Klancher Merchant's "Building the Population Bomb"

Emily Klancher Merchant is Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of California, Davis. She has published work on historical demography and environmental history in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Social Science History, International Migration Review, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Merchant applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Building the Population Bomb, and reported the following:
Remarkably, the first full paragraph on page 99 is the hinge between the first half of the book and the second:
In the second half of the 1940s, [Frank] Notestein and [Kingsley] Davis [demographers at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research] each changed their views on population growth in the Global South, moving in different directions. Notestein began to suggest that high fertility was not a symptom of stalled modernization in the Global South but its cause, and that yet-to-be-developed contraceptive technologies could, if disseminated through appropriate family planning programs, reduce aggregate birth rates and thereby stimulate modernization. Davis began to see high fertility as a threat to the global environment, contending that preservation of the Earth’s ecosystems required an immediate cessation of population growth, which could not be accomplished without more direct intervention. Histories of population thought and policy in the twentieth century have overlooked the differences between Notestein and Davis after 1945. This may be because, over the next two decades, each position generated popular support and material resources for the other, synergistically producing a global consensus that the world’s population was growing too quickly and that family planning programs could solve this new ‘population problem.’ Notestein and Davis aligned themselves with separate nongovernmental organizations—Davis with the Population Reference Bureau and Notestein with the Population Council—but these organizations worked together to shape public opinion and government policy regarding population, both in the United States and in what was coming to be known as the Third World.
For this particular book, the page 99 test works surprisingly well. The book as a whole explores how human population growth became a subject of scientific expertise and an object of governmental and philanthropic intervention in the twentieth century. The paragraph quoted above describes the key turning point in that story.

The first half of the book documents the rise of demography (the social science of human population) in the United States between the world wars and explains that, prior to World War II, American demographers were more concerned with falling fertility rates in the United States than with rising growth rates abroad. During and immediately after World War II, they began to look beyond their own national borders. Data for most of the world were sparse and unreliable, but demographic theory indicated that mortality rates were beginning a sustained decline in the Global South, which would stimulate rapid population growth unless fertility rates came down as well. Just before this paragraph, I demonstrate that Frank Notestein and Kingsley Davis — the leading American demographers of the mid-twentieth century — saw population growth in the Global South as a symptom of poverty rather than a problem in its own right, and recommended development aid as the most effective means of slowing population growth.

Page 99 summarizes how the attitudes of American demographers toward population growth in the Global South changed after 1945. As it suggests, the idea that population growth was a problem in and of itself did not originate with demographers, nor was overpopulation a singular concept. The remainder of the book documents the rise of two separate concepts of overpopulation and the ways each captured support from a different group of scientists. I argue that these two separate factions of the population control movement worked together just long enough to create a global consensus in the 1950s and 1960s that the world’s population was growing too quickly and that governments, intergovernmental agencies, and nongovernmental organizations needed to do something about it, before coming apart again in the 1970s.
Visit Emily Klancher Merchant's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jim Cullen's "Martin Scorsese and the American Dream"

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.

Cullen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Martin Scorsese and the American Dream, and reported the following:
There's been a lot of quality writing on Martin Scorsese's career -- he's produced some himself -- but my book looks at one of the most persistent and powerful tropes that runs through it: his fascination with the American Dream. Like all those who have taken it seriously, Scorsese recognizes both its complexities and the many forms it takes, from upward mobility (sometimes through criminality) to psychic fulfillment. This passage, however, discusses another side of the American Dream -- one in which it is not only unrealized, but avowedly surrended in the name of a greater good. This comes from an analysis of Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Scorsese's 1993 film The Age of Innocence, based on the 1920 Edith Wharton novel (which depicts savageries that gangsters could never imagine):
Sometimes—actually, very often in American life—the value of Dreams derives from the way we choose to sacrifice them in the name of a greater good. “Essentially, [Archer] is what they call a stand-up guy,” Scorsese later reflected, noting that he himself is not among those who actually chose that path. “It’s about making a decision and sticking to it, making do with what you have … I don’t say it’s a happy ending, but it’s a realistic and beautiful one.”
Visit Jim Cullen's website.

The Page 99 Test: Sensing the Past.

The Page 99 Test: From Memory to History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sujit Sivasundaram's "Waves Across the South"

Sujit Sivasundaram is professor of world history and fellow of Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony.

Sivasundaram applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire, and reported the following:
In writing Waves Across the South, I became engrossed in the history of Mauritius. How could a small island in the southwest Indian ocean be so central and yet so forgotten in the ‘age of revolutions’? Fittingly, page 99 takes you to Mauritius. The year is 1790 and the news of the French Revolution has just arrived. Comte de Conway, the governor of this French colony, summons the commander of the ship on which the news arrived and criticises him for creating tumult. He orders those men who had posted advertisements asking citizens to form themselves into assemblies to be taken into custody. But it is the reverse which occurs: de Conway’s power is hemmed by these so-called citizens, who insist that the governor sports the revolutionary cockade.

In the following pages, I place this upsurge of revolutionary sentiment within an Indian Ocean context, showing that it was fundamentally maritime and also that it had repercussions as far away as in South India, from where Tipu Sultan of Mysore sent an embassy to Mauritius. I also attend to the internal divisions in the revolution of Mauritius: the exclusion of free people of colour from membership of assemblies; the opposition to the abolition of slavery demonstrated by these republicans and, the division between the Jacobin Club and the Colonial Assembly. In a counter-revolutionary act, the British invaded in 1810 and saw Mauritius to be a bastion of piracy and republicanism.

Page 99 gives a good sense of what the events of the age of revolution looked like in a particular place in the global oceanic south. The book ranges across a large number of other sites which are like Mauritius. They too have been lost in the history of the age of revolutions and it is critical to make space for them now. Page 102 has this quotation from the abolitionist John Jeremie: ‘Mauritius from its isolated position, has always cherished false ideas of importance and independence; and its inhabitants succeeded … in setting at defiance the whole power of France.’ In fact he was right, but it is true not only for Mauritius. This was the case for many sea-facing and sea-faring communities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, who feature in my book and who have not featured in the historical literature of the age of revolutions until now.
Learn more about Waves Across the South at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Nina Rattner Gelbart's "Minerva’s French Sisters"

Nina Rattner Gelbart is Professor of History and Anita Johnson Wand Professor of Women’s Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She is the author of Feminine and Opposition Journalism in Old Regime France: Le Journal des Dames, and The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray. She is presently at work on yet another woman of 18th Century France, Charlotte Corday, who during the French Revolution famously murdered Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub.

Gelbart applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Minerva's French Sisters: Women of Science in Enlightenment France, and reported the following:
This Page 99 Test sounded so intriguing to me—the invitation to contribute to this blog was the first I had ever heard of it-- and in the case of my book it works very well in some important respects. I present a sextet of Frenchwomen of science in the 1700s. Page 99 comes toward the end of my second chapter, which fills pp 62-102 and deals with the astronomer and “learned calculator” Nicole Reine Lepaute. The page concerns her death and two obituaries. Because my book treats six different 18th century individuals in six different scientific fields, no one page, and in fact no one chapter, can really give a sense of the whole. Each is a mini biography of a different intrepid female who chose to devote herself to science in a period where such ambitions were considered inappropriate and even dangerous for the “fair sex.” But what page 99 does do in a hugely significant way, is show how Lepaute was encouraged by a famous man in her field, the astronomer and member of the Academy of Sciences Jérôme Lalande, and the way she was upheld as an example for other women to emulate. Because the six protagonists in my book, from another country and living over 250 years ago, did what so many women today strive to do, they can be an inspiration for those going into the STEM fields now, and that is precisely the point that Lepaute’s eulogist, Lalande, is making on this page. He laments that she has been “taken from her family, friends, and from the sciences.” In particular he praises her calculations that made possible the accurate prediction of the return of Halley’s comet in 1759. This, and admiration also for her other mathematical and astronomical accomplishments, gets generalized by Lalande into a plea to his male colleagues that “we should include more [women] in our work.” “Mme Lepaute deserves to be cited among the small number of women of mind who give an example to their sex with their striving and taste for the abstract sciences…. She was the only woman in France who had acquired veritable knowledge of astronomy. (Forgive me, please, as the last five words of this last sentence spill over onto p. 100).

One more thing about Lalande’s laudation of Lepaute on page 99 is less pleasing, but revelatory, and so must be mentioned. After praising her own extraordinary accomplishments, he nonetheless concludes that her “principal contribution” was bringing her nephew to Paris and tutoring him in astronomy! Here he betrays the patriarchal bias of even the most genuinely admiring fans of my women. This is a glimpse of the deep prejudice that they had to face and conquer, a prejudice that hampers female scientists’ progress still today. Taken all together, page 99 is a microcosm of some of the main themes in my book.

But page 99 cannot do everything. It can’t give an idea of the other women I present or their impressive range of competence: a mathematician, a field naturalist, a botanist, an anatomist and a chemist. All six of them figured out ingenious ways to live lives in science within a system not built to accommodate female talent of this kind. They developed tactics that found play in the machine, openings and opportunities they could take advantage of to create space for their scientific endeavors. They led full, rich, and unusually long lives, stellar examples of creative ageing.

Something else I’d like to mention, to which page 99 gives no hint, are the Interludes between my chapters. These are short letters that I write to each of the women, posing questions that I was not able to answer during my research, and that I think my readers will also wonder about. The women don’t answer, of course, but at least the issues are broached. I also bring each of them up to date, explaining how their stories are now coming to light and what their legacy has been. My letter to astronomer Lepaute, for example, does not begin until page 103. It informs her that a crater on the moon, an asteroid, and even a street in Paris have now been named for her. Such recognition in the 21st century, when the accomplishments of women are finally getting well-deserved and long-overdue attention, would have been beyond her wildest dreams.
Learn more about Minerva's French Sisters at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mia Bloom and Sophia Moskalenko's "Pastels and Pedophiles"

Mia Bloom is the International Security Fellow at New America, professor at Georgia State University, and member of the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group. She has authored books on violent extremism including Small Arms: Children and Terrorism (2019), Bombshell: Women and Terrorism (2011), and Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005).

Sophia Moskalenko is a psychologist studying mass identity, inter-group conflict, and conspiracy theories. She has written several books, including the award-winning Friction: How Conflict Radicalizes Them and Us (2011) and The Marvel of Martyrdom: The Power of Self-Sacrifice in the Selfish World (2019).

Moskalenko applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the mind of QAnon opens a section titled “Shifting Gender Roles.” It describes how the society’s expectations for women have changed, with new freedoms adding new demands on women’s time (education, career), while the demands of traditional gender roles (childrearing, home-keeping) remained, creating a highly stressful reality. QAnon’s fiction offered an escape from this stressful reality to many women. Here’s an excerpt:
Traditional gender roles have been changing in the United States since the sexual revolution of the 1960s. People in their 70s remember a time when a woman’s place was in the kitchen, and the husband was the sole breadwinner. For many on the United States, those were the good old days, a paradise lost: a Great America, which Trump promised to return in his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Partly because of this appeal, Trump won the majority of white women’s votes in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
For people trying to get an idea of the whole book from page 99, it will give only a hint of how broad and complex the reasons for people’s interest in QAnon might be. In fact, shifting gender roles is only one of four cultural shifts that we connect with QAnon’s rise. In addition to these, there are personal, psychological reasons people gravitated to the online-based conspiracy-theory promoting movement, which we elucidate in the book. The book also describes the history of QAnon’s rise, its evolution from obscurity to fame, its viral spread around the world, and strategies that can be used to curb QAnon’s influence. In short, page 99 is not a great way to get an idea of Pastels and Pedophiles.

QAnon is a meta-conspiracy theory, appealing to millions of people through what we call folQlore—a variety of conspiracy theories that assuage people’s fears (about COVID-19 virus, vaccines, and technology such as 5G) and indulge their anger (toward political and cultural elites, toward scientists and medical professionals, and toward minorities they see as infringing on their birthrights). QAnon believers are young and old, rich and poor, highschool dropouts and Harvard graduates. To understand how they all flocked to QAnon, the book brings together insights from security studies, political science, sociology, cultural and clinical psychology. Pastels and Pedophiles details research-tested tools that can help defend against the damage that QAnon continues to inflict on us through its influence on our friends and neighbors, as well as on our lawmakers and institutions.
Learn more about Pastels and Pedophiles at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 14, 2021

Robin Derricourt's "Creating God"

Robin Derricourt is an Honorary Professor of History in the School of Humanities at the University of New South Wales and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He holds a PhD in archaeology from the University of Cambridge. His books include Inventing Africa: History, Archaeology and Ideas (2011), Antiquity Imagined: The Remarkable Legacy of Egypt and the Ancient Near East (2015) and Unearthing Childhood: Young Lives in Prehistory (2018), which received the PROSE Award for Archaeology and Ancient History.

Derricourt applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Creating God: The birth and growth of major religions, and reported the following:
In my secular history of the beginnings of major monotheistic religions, page 99 summarises some key points relating specifically to Christianity. It suggests that to those living in mediaeval and early modern Europe the time and place of Christian origins must have seemed strange and distant. By contrast today (pre-COVID!) thousands of tour parties travel by bus through the sites of “the Holy Land” while numerous archaeologists immerse themselves daily in the buildings, artefacts and food debris of 1st century Palestine, making familiar and ordinary what was once mystical and obscure.

The page also reminds the reader that much of the history of early Christianity has relied on interpreting each word or phrase in those few religious texts in Greek chosen to be the canon of the New Testament for a small and widely dispersed audience. It notes that modern reinterpretations have often come from authors who started from conventional religious positions before moving to a more critical stance.

Choosing page 99 gives a good indication of the overall approach of a book in which I use critical historical scholarship and scientific archaeology to consider the first stages of Mormonism, Islam, Christianity, monotheistic Judaism and Zoroastrianism. It implies that understanding religions’ origins means looking at the social, economic and political contexts in which individuals operate, within a non-mystical material world: a shift from the optimism of faith to the analysis of evidence.

My chapters go backwards in time because the emergence of prophets, the acquisition of followers by some, and the development of a few movements into longer lasting religions make more sense when we start with the relatively familiar. I suspect many readers of the book will endorse a critical and secular approach when applied to religions other than their own, while non-believers will accept its application more broadly, although not necessarily agreeing with all the details of how I interpret the sources and debates.

In another blog I attempted to explain a secular approach to religious beginnings. While religious affiliations and active religious participation have been falling in many regions, sometimes dramatically, we have also seen a rise in the political impact of a range of “religious fundamentalisms”. Although not the primary aim in researching and writing my book, a re-examination of what today’s science and scholarship tell us of the origins of major religions can challenge dramatically some of the assumptions of “fundamentalist” adherents. The history and archaeology of religions provide a fascinating and contested subject: I hope I have added usefully to understanding something of the times, places and contexts where humankind created new religious affiliations. Page 99 invites this.
Learn more about Creating God at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Jocelyn C. Zuckerman's "Planet Palm"

Jocelyn C. Zuckerman is the former deputy editor of Gourmet, articles editor of OnEarth, and executive editor of Modern Farmer. An alumna of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a former fellow with the Washington, DC–based Alicia Patterson Foundation, she has written for Fast Company, the American Prospect, Vogue, and many other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, with her husband and two children.

Zuckerman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls close to the end of Part One of Planet Palm, in a chapter called “Playboys of the South China Sea.” Concluding the historical part of the book, the chapter focuses on a handful of Europeans and Scandinavians who relocated to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies around the turn of the last century in order to establish rubber and oil-palm plantations there. The page introduces something called FELDA, the Federal Land Development Authority, which the Malaysian government created soon after independence as part of a poverty-alleviation scheme. Its anchor program, aimed at providing “land for the landless, jobs for the jobless,” entailed the clearing of vast areas of tropical rainforest to make way for the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of poor Malay families. In addition to small plots of land, the newcomers were given rubber and oil-palm seedlings. In the decades since, the palm oil industry has exploded in Malaysia (the country’s exports are second only to those of Indonesia), and the commodity has become ubiquitous on grocery shelves worldwide.

While Page 99 focuses solely on Malaysia—the book is reported across four continents—it does touch upon an important theme of Planet Palm. In telling the story of the industry from the 17th century to the present, I try to show that many of the ills now commonly associated with it, from carbon-emitting deforestation and biodiversity loss to labor and human rights abuses, often have arisen not as a result of malice but of historical circumstance and shortsightedness. (That said, there’s plenty of racism and greed involved, too.)

What a reader won’t get from page 99 (in part because only half of it is text; it features one of the book’s 30-or-so images) is any sense of character. I made it a point to tell the story of palm oil through various historical figures—including a brilliant but arrogant British aristocrat, a once-enslaved African who became the greatest palm oil trader in coastal Nigeria, and the award-winning French author Henri Fauconnier—and through the farmers, plantation laborers, primatologists, activists, and others whose lives continue to be impacted by the commodity today.

Interestingly, FELDA turns up later in the book, when, in 2020, the United States Customs Authority bans imports of palm oil from the commercial arm of the government organization based on credible allegations of forced and child labor on its plantations. In this sense, the Test succeeds brilliantly, with the page having primed readers for an investigation into the long arm of the $65 billion industry, with its enduring legacies of racism and colonialism, stolen land and slave labor.
Visit Jocelyn C. Zuckerman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 11, 2021

Scott Radnitz's "Revealing Schemes"

Scott Radnitz is the Herbert J. Ellison Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. His scholarly publications include Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia.

Radnitz applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes about midway through chapter 6, “The Emergence and Ascendancy of Conspiracism in Russia.” It discusses the Beslan attacks and President Vladimir Putin’s response to it, marking an important moment in Russia’s evolution into a regime in which the Kremlin strategically deployed conspiracy claims as part of its official narrative. This chapter argues that the critical change took place as a result of a series of tragedies and foreign policy setbacks occurring in close succession, starting with several attacks by Chechen militants in Russia proper and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. The terror attacks in particular cast doubt on the government’s claim to have ended the Chechen war(s) and restored stability in Russia. The fact that some Chechen militants had been hiding out in a remote part of Georgia created a linkage, from the Kremlin’s perspective, between internal threats from the North Caucasus and the possibility of external, and perhaps even Western, support for militants seeking to target the Russian state.

It is in this context that militants wielding Kalashnikovs took over a Beslan school with over 1,000 schoolchildren and their families on September 1, 2004. As I describe on page 99: “After two days and halfhearted efforts at negotiations, Russian special forces launched a raid on the school. In the ensuing firefight, which lasted 10 hours, 334 hostages were killed.” This outcome sent shockwaves throughout the country. It was a national tragedy and a political crisis. Putin subsequently gave a speech in which he insinuated that foreign enemies hostile to Russia were aiding militants in their efforts, and used the episode as a pretext to concentrate more power in the executive. More important for this book, this event was critical in shifting the Kremlin’s rhetoric, if not its worldview, in a more conspiratorial direction. One can trace some of the Kremlin’s conspiratorial rhetoric up to today to ideas and tropes developed during this critical period between 2003 and 2005. The rest was (almost) history.
Learn more about Revealing Schemes at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Weapons of the Wealthy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sam Apple's "Ravenous"

Sam Apple has written for The New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Atlantic, and He is on the faculty of the MA in Science Writing and MA in Writing programs at Johns Hopkins, and lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

Apple applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book reveals that my central character, Otto Warburg, has won the Nobel Prize for his research on how cells breathe. Warburg was excited about what he was going to do with the money, and page 99 also mentions how frustrated Warburg was when Einstein told him that a scientist shouldn't be concerned about having nice things.

I would say the test works in terms of giving a fairly clear picture of Otto Warburg. Ravenous details Warburg's extraordinary arrogance. On page 99, we learn that Warburg felt that some of the luster was lost from his Nobel Prize when he arrived in Stockholm and found the selection committee to be fairly unimpressive. So, if my book were strictly a biography, it would work quite well. But, as Warburg's story is only one component of the book, I would say the test did not work.

The part of Ravenous not captured on page 99 is the part about cancer. The book explores the question of how cancer became such a common disease in modern Western societies. I focused on Warburg because he made a critical discovery about how cancer cells eat that helps explain how our diets--sugar, in particular--drive cancer.
Follow Sam Apple on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Samantha Barbas's "The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade"

Samantha Barbas is the author of six books: The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst: Free Speech Renegade; Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine; Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle Over Privacy and Press Freedom; Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America; The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons; and, Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity. She holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley and a J.D from Stanford Law School. She is Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar award.

Barbas applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst and reported the following:
On page 99, rather serendipitously, we are introduced to the case that Morris Ernst regarded as the most important case of his career, with an “enduring effect on human happiness.”

It was not the Ulysses case, for which Ernst is best known, or one of the constitutional matters he presented before the Supreme Court, but a case involving an innocuous sex education pamphlet for children called the Sex Side of Life. The author was Mary Ware Dennett, a feminist activist, who had written the pamphlet in 1915 when she discovered that there were no frank and accurate sex education materials for children. Much of the existing sex education material was laden with euphemisms or characterized sex as harmful and shameful.

Under the existing Comstock laws, and the broad definition of obscenity under the Victorian-era “Hicklin test,” which were used to repress all manner of art and literary material, Dennett’s pamphlet was obscene because of its purported “tendency” to “deprave and corrupt” children, the most susceptible members of society, “those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

In 1928 Dennett was criminally charged for having circulated obscene material, and she called on Ernst to defend her. Ernst, a young lawyer affiliated with the ACLU, had won a reputation for his work on behalf of progressive causes, including defending reproductive rights crusader Margaret Sanger and representing authors whose books had been banned for purported obscenity.

In court, Ernst argued that the pamphlet was accurate and scientific, and that the suppression of such material – and resulting ignorance – created far greater harm to society than its circulation. Dennett was convicted and fined, and Ernst took the case to the federal appeals court. He argued that the Hicklin definition was outdated and that obscenity must be judged according to the “mores of the time” – the more sophisticated sexual and social morals of the 1920s.

In a groundbreaking decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals repudiated Hicklin in the context of sex education material, declaring that such works were to be considered according to their effect on “normally constituted” individuals and that a work could not be obscene if its “dominant theme” was not to convey lascivious material. An “accurate exposition of the relevant facts of the sex side of life in decent language … cannot ordinarily be regarded as obscene,” the court stated. It was a ruling that would have far-reaching consequences. Not only did it transform the field of sex education, but it made possible Ernst’s subsequent victories in cases in which he undermined the foundations of literary censorship, including the case that removed the ban on Ulysses.
Learn more about The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Laws of Image.

The Page 99 Test: Newsworthy.

Visit Samantha Barbas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Ann McCutchan's "The Life She Wished to Live"

Ann McCutchan is the author of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute, The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak About the Creative Process, Circular Breathing: Meditations from a Musical Life, River Music: An Atchafalaya Story, and Where's the Moon? A Memoir of the Space Coast and the Florida Dream.

As well, she is a busy lyricist and librettist, with eight commissioned works; the newest is The Dreamer, an opera based on an original story with composer Mark Alan Taggart, to be premiered online by the East Carolina University Opera Studio.

McCutchan applied the “Page 99 Test” to her sixth book, The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of "The Yearling," and reported the following:
On Page 99 of The Life She Wished to Live, Marjorie reports to her editor, Maxwell Perkins, that she is writing hard, with several short pieces in the works. Above all, she has befriended three families in rural Florida’s Big Scrub country and will live with one household for an extended period -- necessary research for her first novel, South Moon Under. People in the Big Scrub sustain themselves with some illegal activities, like moonshining. “The federal agents have been very active lately,” she tells Max. “So don’t be surprised if your correspondent has the misfortune of being run in! If it should happen, please don’t bail me out, because the jail-house would be a splendid place for quiet work.”

While Marjorie’s immersive research was key to her portrayal of rural north Florida and its inhabitants, page 99 alone doesn’t express the depth of her connection to the region, nor her ongoing struggles to write about it as well as she could. This is one page of a comprehensive biography, after all. Still, it offers a bit of Marjorie’s own voice in a letter, and letters (whether or not I quoted from them) were a significant component of this book. More than 4000, to or from her, exist.

As I worked on Marjorie’s story, I was struck anew by how much a biography of a deceased individual depends on the materials available. My previous biographical subject, the flutist Marcel Moyse, left no archive to speak of, and to describe his personality, his character, I depended heavily on interviews with people who had known him at various points throughout his 95 years. When I began Marjorie’s biography, only a handful of people who had known her – as children – were alive, and two left this world shortly after I spoke with them. I am grateful that Marjorie was without reliable telephone service for a very long time, and communicated with so many people by post. She herself said, “Anyone who has done research of any sort knows the treasure trove in coming across letters that picture the period and the personalities in a period far beyond the publications of the day.” The treasure trove she left was essential to bringing this high-spirited, passionate, complex woman to life.
Visit Ann McCutchan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 7, 2021

Molly Rosner's "Playing With History"

Molly Rosner received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Rutgers University-Newark. She has spent her career working as an educator at cultural institutions and universities in New York City, where she was born and raised.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Playing with History: American Identities and Children’s Consumer Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Playing With History is primarily a 1961 photograph from the amusement park Freedomland U.S.A. Freedomland was a short-lived theme park, with rides and exhibits ostensibly based on American history, located in the Bronx. The photo, from the New York Daily News Sunday Color Magazine, shows park guests (mostly children and couple adults, all of whom appear to be white) holding their hands up in the air in mock terror as an “Indian,” (or, at least, an employee dressed in a Native American costume), stands on top of their covered wagon threatening the passengers with a shotgun. It’s a familiar scene to those who grew up watching Westerns that were particularly popular in the 1950s. This image is a good example of the casual and over-the-top way racism was employed for entertainment purposes at the park (as well as in other children’s amusements). The 1960s clothing of the guests contrasting with the costumes of the employees also highlights a disjuncture and the unreality of the scene’s historical “authenticity.”

This is an apt image to encapsulate the themes of the book because it speaks to how “history” was employed for entertainment purposes touches on a number of the book’s larger arguments that historically-based amusements (whether dolls, books, games, or a park) were used to promote certain racist, sexist, and classist ideologies and sell ideas about American identity. The single paragraph on the page, below the image, explores how Freedomland U.S.A. differed from other Amusement parks in the vicinity of New York City because of its use of history (though that history was treated less than academically).

This page accurately conveys the themes of the book – mixing the playfulness of childhood with the seriousness of the lessons often sneakily taught to young people (though this example is far from subtle). This photo speaks to the important interactions of consumerism, racism, and history in shaping children’s ideas about themselves and others.

The other chapters in the book explore toys, dolls and books from the advent of the American toy industry through today. Beginning with racist toy banks in the late 19th century and ending with global appeal of American Girl dolls in the 21st century, these case studies highlight how the ideas about America have been manufactured, packaged, and sold so ubiquitously that we often take them for granted.
Visit Molly Rosner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue