Thursday, September 30, 2021

Brad Ricca's "True Raiders"

Brad Ricca was born in Cleveland and still lives there with his family in a 100-year-old house. He teaches sometimes at Case Western Reserve University, where he earned a Ph.D. in English.

Ricca's books include written Olive the Lionheart, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, Super Boys, and American Mastodon. He made a movie, Last Son, that won a 2010 Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival. He loves books and comics ... and hates mummies.

Ricca applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The hour was late when Monty finally got up to his room at the tall ramshackle house that they were renting from the mukhtar, the chieftain of Silwan. Monty walked up the creaky stairs. Its high ceiling were guarded by uncompromising spiders. The men had turned the first floor into what appeared to be a Jerusalem version of a jumble sale. There were bits and pieces of digging equipment scattered over handsome Persian rugs, pickaxes propped up against heavy cracked bowls spread out on the Turkish divans. Wall shelves and cupboards had been repurposed to temporary storage spaces . . . Monty clicked his door shut and walked over to the closet. As he passed a mirror, he caught a glimpse of himself, or at least a version of it: different, but generally recognizable in the moment. He walked into the closet -- it was still dark -- and switched on the special bulb. He looked into the shallow tray on the small table before him. A shadow had begun to form, like smoke, on the surface of the paper. As the image began to fade in, the strange black cloud solidified into a sharper rectangle. Monty shook the tray a little, before grabbing it with the tongs.
Ok, so this page may not be all that thrilling or full of adventure, but it really does portray one of the major themes of the book, at least as I saw it. I usually don’t like talking about process because I like things to be more open-ended for a reader but writing about something like the Ark has that built-in anyway, so this is just my interpretation. Monty going up the stairs is him moving past the down-and-dirty part of their dig near Jerusalem to think about the quest for the Ark in a higher, more imaginative way. One of my main inspirations for the structure of the book was William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, not only in the multiple (and sometimes unreliable) narrators it has, but in the way Faulkner continually moves them through all kinds of boxes and spaces, some filled, some not. For me, that is the quest for the Ark, trying to find some ancient box with an unknowable interior that is so tantalizing in its mystery and lack of truth that it is overwhelming. In the closet, Monty is confronted with that lack of knowledge as darkness before he begins to see the image take shape – but what is it? He may see the Ark in the tunnel (for a moment) but it is ethereal and changing. There is nothing concrete about any of this, but there is some hope – some faith – in even the briefest of signs that pushes him to continue. When Monty looks in the mirror, that’s also my admission that I can't portray him exactly as he really was (I don't have a working time machine). Much as we all sometimes look in the mirror and say “who is that?” there is a disconnect between the book's Monty and the real Monty – and how he views the Ark – that exists in the space between what we see and what is true. For me, that conflict -- and power -- is at the hidden core of this book. It’s a busy page. Full admission: I changed that adjective before "spiders" at least forty times.
Visit Brad Ricca's website.

The Page 99 Test: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Ada Ferrer's "Cuba: An American History"

Ada Ferrer is Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, where she has taught since 1995. She is the author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898, winner of the Berkshire Book Prize for the best first book by a woman in any field of history, and Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, which won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University as well as multiple prizes from the American Historical Association. Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, she has been traveling to and conducting research on the island since 1990.

Ferrer applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Cuba: An American History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Cuba: An American History drops the reader into Chapter 8 and one of Cuba’s most important conspiracies and rebellions against slavery. The story of that episode, from 1843 to 1844, counts on a remarkable cast of characters: a provocative Scottish abolitionist waging a battle against Cuban slave traders; a slaveholder who ran the island’s largest “slave-breeding” operation on one of the plantations where the conspiracy was allegedly uncovered; a prominent Cuban writer with liberal sympathies who happened to be the son-in-law of one of the wealthiest families on the island; American plantation owners, visitors, and diplomats who watched everything unfold from close proximity; a prolific poet named Plácido, the illegitimate son a Spanish ballerina and a Black barber; African women and men rising up on sugar plantations. Over a century later (as discussed in Chapter 31), Fidel Castro would name a Cuban military operation in Angola after one of them: the rebel leader Carlota Lucumí. Like most conspiracies and rebellions of its kind, the 1843-1844 one was crushed by the state. Scholars estimate that some three thousand people died—in the fighting or later from diseases incurred in jail, by suicide on the part of those who feared getting caught, and, unsurprisingly, by execution and torture. It was the torture inflicted by the government on suspects that ended up giving this historical episode its name: La Escalera, or the Ladder, because people were tied to ladders and whipped.

The conspiracy that is the subject of page 99 is just one tiny part of a book that chronicles more than five hundred years of the island’s history. Yet landing on that page does cast light on some of the most important elements of the book. In telling the history of Cuba, I have approached it from both within and without. I pay particular attention to external forces that have shaped the island’s past and present. The United States plays a prominent role in that regard. At the same time, I have written the history of Cuba in ways that stress the experiences of ordinary men and women. As I write in the prologue, “in this history of Cuba, kings and presidents, revolutionaries and dictators share space with many others . . . . whether those taking up arms in a revolution or sewing to the light of glowworms in a slave hut or building a raft to take to sea.” By opening to page 99, readers may sense some of that, of the ways many different kinds of people act on history, and have history act on them. I just wish that page 99 was one with a little less on the Scottish abolitionist and more, say, on Plácido (97-98) or Carlota (102).
Follow Ada Ferrer on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 27, 2021

Max Waltman's "Pornography: The Politics of Legal Challenges"

Max Waltman is an assistant professor at Stockholm University who has published on the politics of legal challenges to prostitution, sex trafficking, and pornography, including its association with gender-based violence and sex inequality.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Pornography: The Politics of Legal Challenges, and reported the following:
Although the page 99 test does not provide a distillation of the essence of the book's analysis or conclusions, it works well in exemplifying its depth and analytical rigor. That is, the book's central argument stands on three pillars:
An exhaustive analytical review of the best empirical evidence to date of the exploitative conditions of production of pornography, i.e., how the people having sex on camera are used and abused, and what the effect of watching pornography has upon the viewer in terms of becoming more sexually abusive toward women and desensitized to such behavior.

A feminist, political, intersectional, and legal theory of how to mount a legal challenge that empowers those multiply disadvantaged and disempowered by pornography, either in its production or by its consumers.

An empirical test of the theory and analysis of the extent such legal challenges could be successful and to what extent alternative challenges exist.
Each of the three "pillars" of the book needs to be solid—if one is not, it breaks the foundation and relevance of the others. Page 99 illustrates that no stone is untouched by this book and that readers will find, thoroughly illuminated, all the necessary components for a politics of legal challenge to pornography.

Page 99 deals with the nitty-gritty details of dissecting studies in psychology. Since most serious psychologists accept the overwhelming evidence that consuming pornography makes men significantly more likely to adopt attitudes supporting violence against women and behave sexually coercively toward women, the debate has shifted to what extent these effects are harmful. Page 99 is part of a section of the book that identifies misleading studies published by relatively respected researchers. For example, an often-referred survey of the association between pornography and rape myths for no good reason "controlled for" similar variables, in this case, among other things, "hostility toward women." Such a research design is "akin to asking, 'Does hostility lead to hostility?,'" page 99 concludes.

Furthermore, page 99 shows how other studies made similar statistical errors termed "post-treatment bias," which means that the researchers statistically soak up the visible effect of pornography on sexual coercion by adding questionable control variables that are not independent of the causal pornography variable (e.g., sexual promiscuity or hostility toward women). Men tend to become more promiscuous and sexually aggressive toward women due to viewing pornography, which means promiscuity and hostility toward women are not appropriate controls. The effect of promiscuity and hostility toward women on sexual aggression in part originate from pornography consumption; thus, the statistical model minimizes these true associations under the false impression of promiscuity and hostility being independent "control" variables.

While psychologists have often been goaded to "control for" as many variables as possible, doing so can falsely attribute the effect to variables that may themselves be partial outcomes of pornography consumption, such as a sexually aggressive predisposition. Several studies have made this statistical error. However, this mistake is difficult to identify for readers new to the literature on pornography and aggression and unfamiliar with common statistical problems. Yet, these studies are often referred to by those wishing to downplay the harms. Like the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries, which long denied the harmful consequences of their activity by distracting the debate, pointing to misleading research to say that the science was "inconclusive," these filibustering techniques of the apologists of pornography is a pernicious political problem. Any book intent on making a meaningful intellectual contribution to its legal challenges must thus address it.
Learn more about Pornography: The Politics of Legal Challenges at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wray Vamplew's "Games People Played"

Wray Vamplew is professor emeritus of sports history at the University of Stirling and a global professorial fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His many books include How the Game Was Played: Essays In Sports History, and he was the general editor for the six-volume series Cultural History of Sport.

Vamplew applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Games People Played: A Global History of Sports, and reported the following:
Page 99 looks at how technology has improved sport performance by players making their bodies part of their equipment with golfers, baseballers and basketballers having laser eye surgery to improve their normal eyesight. This, of course, was quite legal, but not the use of steroids to bulk up muscle. It is also suggested that modern swimmers and sprinters may not be that much better than their predecessors, given today’s wave-reducing lane ropes in pools and slip resistant running tracks that return energy to the legs.

The page comes from the chapter dealing with ‘The Past Century or So’ with the preceding ones showing that professionalism began with the Ancient Greeks and Romans, that Medieval Europe hosted a circuit of jousting tournaments at which touring knights fought for booty and prizes, that during the Enlightenment publicans and gamblers began to push the development of sport for their own interests, and that the Industrial Age saw the emergence of mass spectator sport and gate-money leagues.

The page is indicative of the book in that the use of steroids illustrate the dark side of sport, something that features in the book’s historical surveys of match-fixing, drug-taking, environmental destruction and discrimination by gender, race and social class. However, the page is not typical of the book as it features three American sportsmen (Tiger Woods, Mark McGwire and Jesse Owens), while the book aims to be global in scope covering sports and sportspersons worldwide. Hence readers can find information on Australian Rules Football down to wushu and the Yukon International Quest. Sportsmen mentioned include Roman charioteer, Diocles, who won 1,462 races, and the Gracie brothers, whose Scottish father had emigrated to Brazil where they developed a form of ju-jitsu which paved the way for the modern combat sport of mixed martial arts. This is not to forget such outstanding female performers like ‘Lottie’ Dod, Cathy Freeman and Billie Jean King who feature in special vignettes. To use an Australian sporting term, United States sport ‘gets a guernsey’ (there is a discussion on the language of sport) by having a separate chapter devoted to American football, baseball and basketball, hopefully supplying some information new to American sports fans.
Learn more about Games People Played at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Krystale E. Littlejohn's "Just Get on the Pill"

Krystale E. Littlejohn is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Her work has been published in Demography, Gender & Society, and Journal of Health and Social Behavior, among other outlets.

Littlejohn applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Just Get on the Pill: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics, and reported the following:
An excerpt from the first full paragraph on page 99:
In this chapter, I focus on the fifty women who had experienced a pregnancy to demonstrate how broader patterns of unchecked gender inequality--not "careless" contraceptive behavior--limited women's ability to prevent pregnancy and control their fertility on their own terms... Whereas the previous chapters focused more heavily on gender-normative behavior, this chapter focuses on elucidating the social contexts in which women engaged in non-normative behavior.
This page does a fairly nice job of summarizing what I do in Just Get on the Pill. It doesn't explain what aspect of gender inequality I focus on in the book (birth control responsibility), but I appreciate that it addresses the way that race intersects with gender in women's experiences trying to prevent pregnancy with partners who do not always cooperate with using condoms. In the rest of Just Get on the Pill, I focus on how women are socialized to accept primary responsibility for preventing pregnancy and face intense social pressure to adhere to gender norms that outline pregnancy prevention as their job. Page 99 is part of the introduction to Chapter 4 (titled, "Selective Selection") where I discuss how black and less advantaged women resisted gender norms that held them responsible for using prescription birth control and instead pressed their partners to continue using condoms. I contend that if we listen to stories like those told by women in the book and in this chapter, we can learn about how our social approach to pregnancy prevention encroaches on people's reproductive freedom and, ironically, undermines their goals to prevent pregnancy.
Visit Krystale E. Littlejohn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mark Lawrence Schrad's "Smashing the Liquor Machine"

Mark Lawrence Schrad is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Villanova University. His book Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State (2014) has been translated into Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, and Chinese. He is also the author of The Political Power of Bad Ideas: Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave (2010).

Schrad applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Smashing the Liquor Machine: A Global History of Prohibition, and reported the following:
Smashing the Liquor Machine is a global history of temperance and prohibitionism. But it is not a simple historical chronology, but more of a work of comparative politics in which we look at what temperance and prohibitionism were all about in the rest of the world in order to see if there are any historical lessons that we can apply to our conventional understanding of prohibition history in the United States. Happily, there is! What we find in looking at temperance and prohibition history in global context is that it wasn't motivated by the stereotypical conservative, bible-thumping evangelicals of our popular imagery, but of a wide swath of socialists, liberals, nationalists, abolitionists, suffragists and progressives, all of whom were united in their opposition not against alcohol (i.e. the stuff in the bottle), but the predatory liquor traffic that got people addicted to liquor for their own private profit. So what we find around the world with temperance and prohibitionism is a global movement for liberation from the very worst excesses of capitalism, and against the very state that profited from the misery of its own people.

In that global tour, page 99 finds us in the German Empire of the mid-nineteenth century, struggling to explain why temperance seemed to be a dead issue, and didn't have the conventional hallmarks of temperance organization--social organizations, lodges, abstinence pledges--that we're accustomed to in the United States. The answer is that--in a closed autocracy like the German Empire--social organizations had no means to influence government policy, so movements to rein-in the excesses of the conservative Junker aristocracy that profited from their cut-rate schnapps came mostly from liberals and socialists within the bureaucracy in defense of urban workers. Here's an excerpt:
Prussian schnapps was not some refined, upper-class drink, but rather a cheap, potent high that even the poorest German could afford—much like Russian vodka just across the frontier to the east. As in Russia, too, it was the means by which the conservative Prussian state and Junker aristocracy got rich off the peasants’ misery. Germany even had its own version of the vodka-soaked tsarist kabak: the dank, dimly lit Schnapshölle (schnapps hall). German paupers often stumbled in alone and got thoroughly drunk as quickly as possible, before being cast out by an unscrupulous tavern-keeper.

Unlike distilled schnapps, fermented beer was too bulky and (prior to bottling technology) spoiled too easily to be transported far. Consequently, every German city of any size had one or more local breweries—often with their own unique brews—that catered mostly to local workers. The beer halls of Bavaria and the industrialized cities of western Germany were bright, airy, rambunctious places for industrial workers to unwind after a long day of work. Unlike the dank Schnapshölle, going to the beer hall was less about getting plastered and more about fraternization, bonding, and even political organization. In the wake of industrialization, beer became the symbol of the working class, while schnapps was scorned as a poor person’s drink.
Though it is suggestive of some of the broader themes of the book, I do not think that page 99, read in isolation, gives a good sense of the scope of the entire 772-page tome (admittedly a tall order).

The book is not primarily about Germany or bureaucracy, but chapter 4 is important in getting a sense of the different "flavors" and forms that opposition to the liquor traffic took in various countries all over the globe.

Yet, I take Ford's page 99 test to be not simply about subject matter, but as he says: "the quality of the whole," which could be interpreted in different ways. In writing Smashing the Liquor Machine, I tried to populate the book with biographical vignettes of larger-than-life historical figures to help maintain the reader's attention through 700+ pages. On page 99, there are no larger-than-life figures, but rather a necessary telling of the historical context. So in terms of writing style, it might not be representative either. However, if by "quality" you're looking at how well the argument is supported by empirical evidence culled from a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, I feel confident that the materials on page 99 are as representative as that found on any other page.
Learn more about Smashing the Liquor Machine at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue