Saturday, December 31, 2022

Charlotte Bentley's "New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859"

Charlotte Bentley is a lecturer in music at the International Centre for Music Studies at Newcastle University, having previously held a research fellowship at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and a teaching fellowship at the Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859, and reported the following:
At first glance, I wasn’t convinced that the Page 99 Test was going to work: my book focuses largely on francophone opera in nineteenth-century New Orleans, but page 99 begins with a brief detour to consider markets for Italian opera in the city.

But although it’s not fully representative in that sense, page 99 does go on to illuminate one of the book’s key themes. New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859 sets out to explore how transnational connections of many kinds sustained the vibrant operatic life of New Orleans; one of its conclusions, perhaps inevitably, is that although those connections created plentiful artistic, financial and personal opportunities for the people involved, they could also cause friction and discontent.

The second half of page 99 explores an example of just that. There, I return to a pair of quirky death notices from a New Orleans newspaper that I introduced a few pages earlier. These obituaries were not for a person: rather, they were satirical critiques of the city’s longest-running theatre, which was home to its opera company. Among other things, their vehement criticism targeted the theatre’s overreliance on imported Parisian works in its programming. In reaction to the dominance of this imported francophone repertoire, critics and other music lovers at the time suggested a couple of avenues for change: for some, the answer was to counterbalance French works with Italian operas performed by Italian troupes. Others, meanwhile, argued that the solution was to build a new Théâtre Louisianais, which would foster the talents of local composers and playwrights. While the latter project ultimately never came to fruition, the debates around it highlight how tensions between localising and internationalising priorities were ever-present in the operatic life of the city.

I wouldn’t, of course, recommend that a potential reader should rely solely on the Page 99 Test when deciding whether to give the book a go, but I do think that it gives an enticing glimmer of the people, places, and debates that have animated my research.
Follow Charlotte Bentley on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 30, 2022

Jed Rasula's "What the Thunder Said"

Jed Rasula is the Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor at the University of Georgia. He is the author of nine scholarly books and three poetry collections and the coeditor of two anthologies. His recent books include Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century and History of a Shiver: The Sublime Impudence of Modernism.

Rasula applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, What the Thunder Said: How The Waste Land Made Poetry Modern, and reported the following:
My book is largely narrative, so any given page is a moment in the flow.

Page 99 finds us in the midst of a narrative arc involving American poet Ezra Pound, and it quotes his famous definition: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” This is a credo of Imagism, the movement Pound advanced to promote the work of himself and his friends. It was Pound’s fervent attempt to appear “modern” in 1913. A year later, meeting T. S. Eliot and being thunderstruck by the manuscript of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Pound gushed that this young American had “modernized himself on his own.”

Because my book takes its title from Eliot’s famous poem (named in the subtitle, How “The Waste Land” Made Poetry Modern), I took the precaution of spelling out the role of the man and his poem early in the Introduction. “The Waste Land is not so much the subject of this book, as its center of gravity,” adding that Eliot “does not make an appearance until halfway through.” The narrative arc involving Eliot does not commence until page 137. The Eliot story is nested into Pound’s because Pound “discovered” Eliot and later performed the crucial editorial task that made The Waste Land what it was.

Eliot remained grateful to Pound for the rest of his life. Fittingly, the narrative resonances of their own lives lead the book towards a conclusion many years later, when Eliot is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature at the very moment Pound’s Pisan Cantos receives the Bollingen Prize, resulting in a stormy controversy owing to the fact that Pound had recently been consigned to a mental institution, thus fending off the charge of treason for radio broadcasts he made under the auspices of the Fascist regime in Italy during World War Two.

The Page 99 Test happens to land on a key episode in Ezra Pound’s effort to make poetry modern, a course that would catapult Eliot into the front rank of modern poets, and ultimately lead to Pound’s ignominious downfall.
Learn more about What the Thunder Said at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Jane Draycott's "Prosthetics and Assistive Technology in Ancient Greece and Rome"

Jane Draycott is Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Glasgow. Her research investigates science, technology, and medicine in the ancient world. She has published extensively on the history and archaeology of medicine, impairment, and disability in the ancient world, including the monographs Roman Domestic Medical Practice in Central Italy from the Middle Republic to the Early Empire (2019) and Approaches to Healing in Roman Egypt (2012), and the edited volumes Prostheses in Antiquity (2019) and Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future (2017).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Prosthetics and Assistive Technology in Ancient Greece and Rome, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Prosthetics and Assistive Technology in Ancient Greece and Rome, you’ll find the concluding section and the start of the conclusion of the second chapter, ‘Facial Prostheses’, which examines the literary, archaeological, and bioarchaeological evidence for prosthetic eyes, noses, and teeth. It details the archaeological evidence for ancient ‘false’ teeth, mentioning examples made from gold, silver, bronze, and even real teeth (perhaps the wearer’s own). It’s probably not the most representative page of the book because it’s so particular, but reading it will give you an indication of both the specific argument of this chapter (in antiquity people used a variety of facial prostheses, for a variety of reasons) and the more general argument of the book as a whole (in antiquity people used a variety of prosthetic devices and assistive technology, for a variety of reasons). It does make the point, I feel, that ancient people who used prostheses were individuals, their prosthetics were highly individualized, and their experiences are fascinating for the insights they provide into impairment and disability in antiquity.
Follow Jane Draycott on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Jeremy Harte's "Cloven Country"

Jeremy Harte is curator of the Bourne Hall Museum at Epsom and Ewell. He is secretary of the Romany & Traveller Family History Society and created the Surrey Gypsy Archive.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Cloven Country: The Devil and the English Landscape, and reported the following:
The Devil is a deceiver, and his most generous offers usually turn out to have a catch. Confident that Cloven Country will pass the Ford Madox Ford test, I turn to page 99 – only to find that two-thirds of the page is not text at all, but an old photograph of Tarr Steps, the rough clapper bridge that takes you across a stream in the Quantock countryside of Somerset. This well-loved landmark was built by the Devil, so legend tells. One day there was nothing there and on the next the river crossing was complete, for the black architect can work swiftly when he is covered by darkness. It doesn’t look very Satanic on the page, drowsing in the endless summer of an Edwardian sepia postcard. But this combination of peaceful scenery and dreadful imagined deeds is typical of my book, which journeys around England from Dartmoor to Hadrian’s Wall, finding and passing on stories of the Devil’s intervention as he threw up stones or fortifications and tinkered with church architecture. Other countries may have sweeter fairytales, earthier proverbs or more haunting songs, but if there’s one thing the English are good at, it’s local legends. We’ve been telling and retelling them since the sixteenth century.

Below the picture you’ll find yourself halfway through one of these stories, with three protagonists: a blacksmith, a vicar, and an imperious gentleman, smartly dressed in black and under strong suspicion of being you-know-who. That’s a fair sample of the character list in traditional narrative. The hero will be a working man – a cobbler, a tailor, a shepherd, maybe a pair of miners looking for work or a crew of local fishermen. Often they are smart enough themselves to get one over on the Enemy of Man, but sometimes they need assistance from the village priest, who’s under suspicion of being a bit of a magician himself. But this deference has to be earned. The Devil, by contrast, is the landlord class gone bad. He swaggers, demands fulfilment of merciless contracts. and lures village girls to a fate which is – really, this time – worse than death. Spoiler alert: these stories always end in the Devil’s discomfiture and no-one gets hurt in the end. Well, a couple of people get carried off to Hell in the last two chapters, but they were Villains, and Unbelievers, so their departure makes a happy ending for everyone else.
Learn more about Cloven Country at the Reaktion Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Heather Gautney's "The New Power Elite"

Heather Gautney is Associate Professor of Sociology at Fordham University. She has written and edited books, opinion essays, and academic articles on US politics, social movements, social inequality, and workforce issues in the entertainment industry. Gautney was a senior policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders on his presidential campaign and in the US Senate Budget Committee. In 2020, she served on the Democratic Party's platform drafting committee and was co-chair of the Biden-Sanders Task Force on Education.

Gautney applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The New Power Elite, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The New Power Elite recounts the Bill Clinton administration’s NATO-led “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo, and UN “peacekeeping” in Somalia, in discussing how American and other western political and corporate elites have used militarism—including the mass air-bombing of civilian targets—to realize their interests under the pretense of “just war” and “human security.” Does page 99 epitomize the entire book? The answer is both yes and no.

On the one hand, the contents of page 99 exemplify the book’s general tone and historical approach by offering evidence and insight into the brutal, violent face of global capitalism and power elites’ wanton profiteering through repression and social control. On the other hand, it is not the most compelling example of these trends. Following page 99 is a history of U.S. militarism that covers George W. Bush’s exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy to enrich defense contractors vis-à-vis his War on Terror (including the CIA’s sadistic torture program); Obama’s proliferation of apocalyptic drone strikes to “secure” the Middle East (including the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad); Trump’s corrupt arms dealing and “diplomacy” with right-wing forces; and Biden’s continuation of secret drone strikes and profligate arms dealing and defense spending. Put together, this history attests to the greed and cruelty of the American empire; the antidemocratic consolidation of executive power in the U.S. government; and mass manipulation by the corporate media.

The New Power Elite is a sequel to C. Wright Mills’s classic text, The Power Elite, written in the early years of the Cold War. Mills was troubled by the advance of nuclear weaponry and the fact that high-stakes decisions affecting the future of human and planetary life lay in the hands of “irresponsible elites.” America’s obsession with communism, he argued, was the work of “crackpot realists” who had created “a paranoid reality all their own” to justify their abuses of power and many atrocities. The New Power Elite takes up this critique by exposing how, over the last forty years, a new generation of crackpot realists—proffering a view of foreign policy that reduces all human relations to capitalist competition and maximizing profits—are inventing their own paranoid reality to legitimize torture, secret wars, and repression. Like Mills’s book, moreover, it is an urgent call to democratic action and stark warning against the dangers of elite power.
Follow Heather Gautney on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 26, 2022

Valerie Padilla Carroll's "Who Gets to Go Back-to-the-Land?"

Valerie Padilla Carroll is an Associate Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies in the Department of Social Transformation Studies at Kansas State University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Who Gets to Go Back-to-the-Land?: Gender and Race in U.S. Self-Sufficiency Popular Culture, and reported the following:
Even though page 99 of Who Gets to Go Back-to-the-Land? is a full-page image of a letter from gay activist and writer Clear Englebert to back-to-the-land icons Scott and Helen Nearing, it is an excellent representation of my book. Dated August 8, 1981 Englebert’s letter asks the Nearings to intercede on behalf of the gay country living magazine RFD. For much of the 1970s, RFD has been asking the flagship back-to-the-land magazine Mother Earth News to publish paid advertisements for RFD. Mother Earth News editors refused, claiming that because RFD was a gay magazine such ads could offend their readers. Englebert, a contributing writer for RFD, reached out to the Nearings because they were known believers in social justice and promoters of the self-sufficiency of the back-to-the-land movement. In his letter Englebert explains that Mother Earth News carrying ads for RFD would represent inclusion for gay back-to-the-landers as well as offer other gay country folks the knowledge that they were not alone.

The letter itself is given a full page in my book because it represents the promise and problems of those so often left out of the back-to-the-land promise. BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+ folks have been mostly left out of the back-to-the-land movements, at least in the popular culture products that promote the self-sufficient life. Yet those who have been left out have always sought this promise by writing their own narratives. My book explores these stories in US popular culture—from the Black Press opinion pieces and letters to the editors calling for a “back to the farm” for Black folks during the Great Depression to the alternative presses of the 1970s where women and LGBTQ+ folks self-published to the current day social media accounts of BIPOC back-to-the-land. Those left out of the mainstream back-to-the-land narrative of freedom, autonomy, and self-sufficiency on the land have and continue to write themselves into movement. The image on page 99 shows that Mother Earth News only told the mainstream heteronormative story. Englebert and RFD offered another and more complete story that includes gay and lesbian back-to-the-land and country living folks.
Follow Valerie Padilla Carroll on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 23, 2022

Bradford Vivian's "Campus Misinformation"

Bradford Vivian is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and past Director of the Center for Democratic Deliberation at Penn State University. His previous books include Commonplace Witnessing: Rhetorical Invention, Historical Remembrance, and Public Culture (2017) and Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again (2010), which received the Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address awarded by the National Communication Association.

Vivian applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Campus Misinformation: The Real Threat to Free Speech in American Higher Education, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Provocateurs and propagandists are free to irresponsibly sensationalize episodes of campus debate as caustic spectator sport. Yet those activities evince dubious commitment to protecting free speech and academic freedom for everyone. A cluster of hyperbolic terms dating to this phase of campus misinformation [2017-2018] now circulate widely in public discourse as all-purpose denigrations of movements for social justice or democratic equality: shut downs, cancelling, and mobs. Such terms not only project a misleading alternate reality of higher education; they also help to popularize a deeply cynical way of talking about and defining freely exercised rights of protest and social advocacy on behalf of historically disenfranchised communities—first on college campuses, then in society at large.”
Page 99 of my book is a good snapshot of my overall analysis for browsers. It includes part of the introduction to my fifth chapter, which examines common misinformation in the form of purposefully manufactured controversies over invited speakers to college campuses. This page highlights the approach to language that I use throughout the book. Agents of campus misinformation aggressively promoted the vocabulary of shut downs, cancelling, and mobs to describe allegedly poor climates for free speech and diverse ideas on college campuses in the late 2010s; this same vocabulary reappeared in partisan political rhetoric designed to delegitimate First Amendment liberties of nonviolent protest, counter-speech, and dissent.

Other important examples of key terms in campus misinformation that I examine include trigger warnings, safe spaces, viewpoint diversity, and orthodoxy. Such terms, I argue, helped to popularize a misleading, politically reactionary meta-discourse about higher education that bore only faint resemblance to how universities typically operate or the truer complexity of student and faculty groups within. I further argue that even readers who do not belong to university communities should care about this topic because campaigns against academic freedom are often early warning signs of growing anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian sentiment writ large. I hope that readers will find in this book both practical ways to pursue a more constructive and inclusive public debate about the state of higher education as well as effective techniques for recognizing misinformation campaigns in general.
Follow Brad Vivian on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Kal Raustiala's "The Absolutely Indispensable Man"

Kal Raustiala is the Promise Professor of Comparative and International Law & Director of the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Absolutely Indispensable Man falls in the midst of the crucial story of the creation of the United Nations itself. Ralph Bunche is on the State Department team that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, shortly before his death, sends to San Francisco in the spring of 1945 to negotiate the UN Charter. The war is not yet over—though Germany surrenders in the midst of the negotiations—but the end is very much in sight. While the Allies have essentially won the war, their agenda now is winning the peace. The new “United Nations Organization” they are creating will be the central feature of what they hope will be a new—and far more peaceful--world order.

Bunche, the only State Department official with any real experience in the colonial world—and the only Black man on the team--is the key player on the question of how the UN will handle empire. From the vantage point of today colonialism seems a musty, distant phenomenon. But in 1945 it was a central feature of world politics, and one that few believed would end anytime soon. Bunche had dedicated his early career, as a professor at Howard University, to the twinned questions of colonial governance and racial justice. Now, in San Francisco, he is in the position to put those ideas into practice—and they would lead to a political revolution that was, in many respects, the greatest of the 20th century. All these points are reiterated on page 99 and the American negotiating team is described—from Edward Stettinius, the US Secretary of State Time Magazine dubbed “impressively handsome” (but Bunche thought was “a dud” clearly not up to the task) to the diplomatic legend John Foster Dulles.

The central themes of The Absolutely Indispensable Man are Ralph Bunche’s key roles in both the early United Nations and the 20th century fight against empire, and the way his quest for racial justice informed both of these efforts. The Page 99 Test captures these remarkably well.
Learn more about The Absolutely Indispensable Man at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A. David Redish's "Changing How We Choose"

A. David Redish is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. A poet, playwright, and scientist, his books include The Mind within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How Those Decisions Go Wrong and Computational Psychiatry: New Perspectives on Mental Illness.

Redish applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Changing How We Choose: The New Science of Morality, and reported the following:
If you read the book online and go to the 99th page of the text, you’ll find yourself at the beginning of chapter 7, “The neuroscience of choice”. If you open the book to the page labeled 99 (a few pages later), you’ll find a discussion of self-control and why the classical old psychology dual-process theories of you as a self that is trying to control a wild “animal” side are incomplete. This makes an excellent introduction to the ideas in this book – both address the idea that the person we are includes multiple decision-makers, multiple decision-processes, and how, in contrast to those older dual-process theories, you are all of these decision-makers. The reason that this is important is that moral decisions (such as whether to stand and fight or to run, whether to help or to betray a companion, whether or not to dive into a freezing river to save a drowning stranger) turn out to depend on all of these systems, operating at different times in different situations.

The Page 99 Test is a fascinating entry point into the ideas in this book, because the key idea in the book is that how one views the question at hand changes which decision system controls the actions one takes. (Remember, you are all of these systems, working together.) Moreover, it changes how that system controls the actions one takes – it changes how you make your decisions. This means that we can change how we choose by changing the perspectives we take on a situation. The premise of the book is that moral codes are “toolkits” (social technologies) that change our behavior by changing how our decision systems interact with the world.

What the Page 99 Test doesn’t capture is the fun that we can have looking at how artistic works, historical situations, and the world in general showcase how moral codes change behavior. How we can see that the key to the success of the Marvel movie The Avengers is in how the superheroes learn to work together by respecting each other’s individual talents (page 58), or how we can see these sociological interactions among cattle ranchers in northern California (page 74) and lobstermen in Maine (page 77) and scientists in a lab (page 55), or how we will need to think carefully about these moral codes when we begin to interact with intelligent machines (page 258). But it does get us to the key idea in the book – if we understand what it means to be human, we can understand how moral codes work, and we can identify how to create moral codes that work best --- so that we can all do better when we all do better.
Visit A. David Redish's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Barbara Leckie's "Climate Change, Interrupted"

Barbara Leckie is Professor of English and the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture at Carleton University. She is the author of Open Houses: Poverty, the Novel, and the Architectural Idea in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2018), among other books, and coordinator for the Carleton Climate Commons.

Leckie applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Climate Change, Interrupted: Representation and the Remaking of Time, and reported the following:
Page 99 is in “Layering,” the first chapter of the second section of my book. The chapter is composed of six bands that tell six stories. And so any summary of the page is impossible insofar as it offers no obvious argument and even the stories it tells are fragments. The first band, comprised of a single line on the page, is a running band that strings together quotations referring to grass. The sixth band, also comprised of a single line, strings together quotations referring to sand. The four middle bands enter into the middle of stories about Percy Shelley’s last days before he died, my reading of the Derrida essay that gave me the idea for writing in bands, ellipses in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and, in the fifth band, reflections on rocks and words. While it may seem unfortunate that page 99 falls in such an impossible-to-summarize part of my book, it is apt for the goals of my book overall, a book that attends to the role of interruption in responding to the climate crisis. For the page itself is at once filled with interruptions and is about interruption. And interruption, capaciously understood, I argue, can contribute to more just and equitable climate action. But such action is unlikely to occur without interrupting the prevailing temporal forms, including forms as basic as the academic book and as all-encompassing as time, by means of which thinking happens.

“[I]s equally perfect” and “fragile”: these are the first and last words on page 99. The first band falls in the middle of a quotation from Walt Whitman and the last band is from the middle of a quotation from Rachel Carson. When I wrote this chapter I was curious about how it would be read. Would readers turn to each band individually and read across the page in that way? Or would they read up and down? Or would they do both? For this reflection, I am reading up and down, I am putting Whitman and Carson into dialogue as well as, in the other bands, Mary Shelley, Jacques Derrida, Virginia Woolf, and Lauret Savoy.

When I do this it is hard not to feel a little at sea (and, to be sure, the entire chapter is about storms and being at sea, both literally and figuratively). A little lost. I know these bands well but, even so, I have to check myself and ask, where am I? It is a feeling that the climate crisis creates as well if one stops, interrupts one’s self, and considers. As it happens, to the degree that this page has a focus, its focus is wandering and getting lost. In the best sense. Both Percy and Woolf’s narrator value getting lost as a form of thinking, indeed, in Woolf’s reflections, as a form of truth. Percy improvises a flimsy canvas boat that may float, Derrida’s book is falling apart and yet readable, Woolf’s narrator gets lost and yet she keeps walking, Savoy’s words “blaze with intensity” and yet are modest. Improvising, reading, walking, blazing—these are all ways to get lost. And getting lost, as Woolf notes, is the point, the point that falls like sand, like binding glue, like words,...

I like to think of the bands jostling against each other, as stones do when they bump up against each other, shifting into something different, becoming smaller and bigger at once. I was surprised to see that both the first and last band refer to grains of sand. I imagine the “equally perfect” grain of sand on the top of the page falling down to meet the “fragile” grain of sand at the bottom. I want to hold the tensions and movement of the page together. I read the first word and last word together: “is ... fragile”—being is fragile.
Visit Barbara Leckie's website and learn more about Climate Change, Interrupted at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 19, 2022

Erica Hannickel's "Orchid Muse"

Erica Hannickel, a master gardener, is professor of environmental history at Northland College. The author of Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers and Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America, she writes for Orchids magazine and blogs at She lives in Wisconsin.

Hannickel applied the "Page 99 Test" to Orchid Muse and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is an excellent one for Orchid Muse—we see the whole ecosystem of the book encapsulated in this slice. The page comes near the end of Chapter 6, “The Wind Orchid,” wherein I detail the international circuits of one of Japan’s most beloved orchids through history—Vanda falcata, also known as Neofinetia falcata, the wind orchid, or the Samurai orchid—had traveled throughout Europe and America by the early 19th century. Page 99 describes how the Japanese grew these orchids since the 18th century: on traditional moss mounds, in ornamental pots used only for wind orchids, with delicate wire cages over them, and compares the practice to how many contemporary lovers of neofinetia orchids display them and continue to study their vaunted Samurai history. Neofinetias are one of the most collectible and well-loved orchids today, and interestingly, very little has changed in their culture over the centuries. I write “There is simply no other orchid in circulation today that carries with it so many cultural components. Its only likeness, really, is to another esteemed Japanese horticultural export: bonsai.”

If there is one element of the book page 99 does not represent very well, it is the multiple meanings of muse in Orchid Muse. On this page, we have the orchid as muse in that it beguiles humans into centuries of attentive cultivation and global trade. It does not offer what much of the rest of the book does, however—the deeper stories of humans, most of them women, people of color, and others previously left out of orchid history—whose lives were reshaped by coaxing orchids into bloom in adverse environments for wildly varied reasons. Frida Kahlo used orchids to represent the pain of a lost pregnancy; the heiresses of New York’s Gilded Age to flaunt their extreme wealth; Chinese Empress Cixi to emphasize her imperial power; Jane Loudon to advocate for women’s rights and freedom; French Empress Eugenie to punctuate her role as the 19th century’s ultimate fashion maven. As it turns out, throughout time, humans have sung to their orchids as much as orchids to their humans.
Visit Erica Hannickel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Musab Younis's "On the Scale of the World"

Musab Younis is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, On the Scale of the World: The Formation of Black Anticolonial Thought, and reported the following:
Page 99 of On the Scale of the World comprises the end of a chapter, “The Whiteness of the World”. The chapter is about how Black writers confronted the idea of Whiteness between the two world wars. In poetry, novels and political texts, these writers described the operation of a racial ideology that elevated Europe above its subjugated peoples. They saw Whiteness as spanning the world, transcending boundaries between empires and states. And they mused on the impossibility of progress or justice or equal treatment for those classified as "non-Whites" under this binary system. They came to these conclusions through a series of surreptitious readings of racist and colonial texts.

Reading page 99 gives an accurate sense of the project of the book as a whole, which excavates archives of interwar Black writing in both English and French in order to rethink imperial globality. "The Whiteness of the World” chapter specifically explores critical writing about Whiteness. It draws on archives produced by African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris and journalists in West Africa during the 1920s and 1930s. Whiteness still tends to be seen “from above”, through the eyes of its self-confessed acolytes. More recently, scholars have rightly credited African American intellectuals—especially James Baldwin and W. E. B. Du Bois—as theorists of Whiteness "from below”.

But this chapter shows that a skeptical analysis of Whiteness stretched far beyond the United States. For Senegalese pan-Africanists in Paris and political activists in West Africa, it formed part of a distinct theorization of empire. It showed how the imperial order was at once global and racial, fixing colonized peoples in space and time. And, by the same token, it also indicated the route towards a counter-imperial politics. The obverse of the White world was a rival globe-spanning vision: what Public Enemy would later articulate as a Black planet.
Learn more about On the Scale of the World at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Uther Charlton-Stevens's "Anglo-India and the End of Empire"

Uther Charlton-Stevens is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the author of Anglo-Indians and Minority Politics in South Asia. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Oxford. Uther spent his childhood in colonial Hong Kong. Born in Ferozepore, his Anglo-Indian father grew up in Bangalore before migrating to England.

Charlton-Stevens applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Anglo-India and the End of Empire, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Anglo-Indians had no doubt expected that the confirmation of their eligibility to serve in the British Army would continue, and that, failing this, their earmarked jobs on the railways would be awaiting their return. Instead, the AIF [Anglo-Indian Force] was permanently disbanded. No alternative routes for continued service in the British Army or British Indian Army were substituted; nor were serious efforts made to assist Anglo-Indian veterans resuming civil or railway employment. It is not a stretch to imagine Anglo-Indians feeling betrayed by the lack of recompense or lasting recognition for ‘the acknowledged good services rendered by Anglo-Indian units in the [First World] War’.

[Henry] Gidney would later recall the plight of the large cohort of ‘Anglo-Indian nurses… [who had] freely enlisted in the British Army… The moment the War was over the door was closed and they were demobbed. To-day the rules prevent an Anglo-Indian nurse being employed by the British Army.’ Paul Scott’s fiction describes how ‘“the rulers of the roost” in civilian hospitals were Queen Alexandra nurses sent from Britain: “You should see the airs some of the QAs give themselves. At home they’d simply be ordinary ward nurses… Here they rank as sisters… [and] are[n’t] supposed to do anything menial. That’s all left to the poor little Anglo-Indian girls.”’

Generally, as [Elizabeth] Buettner highlights, colonial British women were less likely to work than their metropolitan counterparts. While many careers deemed suitable ‘for unmarried middle-class women had slowly shed some of… [their] stigma in Britain’, such as ‘teaching, nursing, working in… department stores, and as typists and receptionists’, in India these were associated with ‘the racially mixed’. Nursing was one of the few careers that British women, generally from less ‘pukka’ families, pursued in India during peacetime. By 1923 Gidney was arguing ‘that the recruitment of hospital nurses from England for British Station Hospitals is unnecessary, and… should be stopped on the ground that sufficient nurses’ could be obtained in India.
In terms of briskly telling the reader what the book is about, it is remarkable how well the Page 99 Test works for Anglo-India. Every discussion of Anglo-Indians, past and present, has always had to begin with an explanation that they are a community of mixed European and Indian descent originating from the centuries long European and British imperial and trading presence in the Subcontinent. By page 99 the reader would of course have already encountered this almost compulsory preamble, so it is unsurprising that it is not restated here. However, it is made clear that Anglo-Indians are perceived as being ‘racially mixed’ and we get an excellent sense of their middling position in the social and racial pecking order of the Raj. That we learn this through the prism of nursing is particularly apposite, because nursing was the most common profession for Anglo-Indian women and the book’s most noteworthy female character, after Merle Oberon (on the cover), was Irene Green, an Anglo-Indian nurse who served in Bombay as well as the Raj’s North-West Frontier Province. Page 99 provides a good sense of the discrimination Green would have faced from British nursing sisters, but fails to get to another crucial theme of the book – racial ‘passing’ – which helped individuals like Green and Oberon to transgress the socioracial hierarchy of colonial British society.

The leadership of Henry Gidney is also spotlighted, and despite the importance of his successor, Frank Anthony, Gidney’s story from the 1920s until his death in 1942 is at the core of the political history told by the book. It is the combination of the social and the political and the interaction between the two which is indispensable to understanding the Anglo-Indian dilemma during the long-drawn-out British retreat from empire. Chronologically, the book’s title is most likely to evoke the aftermath of the Second World War and the tumultuous events that brought on the blood-stained partition of India alongside independence in 1947 and subsequent wrangling over what should be in the Indian Constitution. However, page 99 throws us down in 1918-1923, the immediate period following the First World War, the importance of which tends to be underplayed in recent histories, but which was really the crucible of so many strains of Indian politics, as much for the emergence of a new kind of anticolonial nationalist movement as for the growth of communal politics for Anglo-Indians and other minority communities.
Follow Uther Charlton-Stevens on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 16, 2022

Joshua Kurlantzick's "Beijing's Global Media Offensive"

Joshua Kurlantzick is a Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Kurlantzick was previously a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he studied Southeast Asian politics and economics and China's relations with Southeast Asia, including Chinese investment, aid, and diplomacy. He is the author of five previous books on China and Southeast Asia.

Kurlantzick applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Beijing's Global Media Offensive: China's Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World, and reported the following:
In my new book, Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World, page 99 primarily discusses how China is increasingly using influence tactics, both online and in more old-fashioned ways, that seem similar to what Russia has done in recent years. It also describes how, until recently, most countries were not prepared for Beijing’s rapidly expanding efforts to influence other countries’ domestic politics. I note, “most countries have been, at least until recently, prepared to recognize [China’s growing influence efforts] and combat [them.”]

Opening the book to page 99 does give the reader some decent idea of the themes of the whole work – in fact page 99 does discuss the central theme of the book, which is that over the past decade China has launched a global, sizable effort, for the first time since Mao’s era, to influence the domestic politics and societies of many other countries. This includes countries in its near neighborhood – some of the first targets were Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand – but this influence campaign has expanded globally, to Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the United States as well. Some of what China is doing – disinformation online, increasing use of efforts to disparage democracy and stir rumors – does seem to be following in Russia’s footsteps.

But China is also using other efforts to wield influence within other countries, shape global narratives, protect the Communist Party from criticism, and potentially promote China’s model of authoritarian capitalism. These other efforts include a massive expansion of China’s state media, growing control of locally-owned Chinese language media in other countries (including the United States), a more assertive brand of diplomacy, and growing efforts to wield more direct influence within universities, research institutions, and the Chinese diaspora abroad, as well as meddle in political elections in some other countries. However, I also argue (which does not come across on page 99) that a lot of China’s efforts to influence other countries have failed, and actually backfired against China, which today is viewed negatively, in polling, by many countries around the world. Its support for Russia in the Ukraine war, and the ongoing protests in China don’t exactly help the Chinese government’s global image either – especially as the government cracks down on and tries to censor the demonstrations at home.
Learn more about Beijing's Global Media Offensive and follow Joshua Kurlantzick on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Charm Offensive.

The Page 99 Test: A Great Place to Have a War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Patricia Blessing's "Architecture and Material Politics in the Fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire"

Patricia Blessing is Assistant Professor of Islamic Art History at Princeton University. A scholar of Islamic architecture in the eastern Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula, and Iran, she is the author of Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest.

Blessing applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Architecture and Material Politics in the Fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes aspects of the relationship between Ottoman and Mamluk architecture in the fifteenth century, using the example of a building in Amasya, Turkey. The example here is the Bayezid Pasha Mosque, built in 1414. The text on the page describes elements of the building, provides historical context, and makes connections to other types of architecture that will be explored later in the chapter. The page also talks about who the patron was, and what his position was within the Ottoman elite, so explains how he came to commission a building like this in the first place.

The page gives a good idea about the book, with one big exception: there aren’t any images on it. Since the book is about architectural history, it features close to 170 images, most of them in color. Many of them are my own photographs, taken during my research trips. There are references to several images on this page, so a reader would at least know to expect them later on. From the text on the page, one can understand that Ottoman architecture is the main subject of the book, and that the fifteenth century plays a role. I am not sure to what extent a reader would understand that this period is at the core of the book project since the only other example of a building that is mentioned is a 14th-century one in Cairo.
Follow Patricia Blessing on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

John Dyer's "People of the Screen"

John Dyer is VP for Enrollment and Educational Technology and Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has been a technology creator for over 20 years, and his research focuses on the intersection of faith and technology, including Bible software, digital ecclesiology, artificial intelligence, and transhumanism.

Dyer applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, People of the Screen: How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible and How It Shapes Their Reading of Scripture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of People of the Screen is an analysis of the way Bible software developers think about what their larger goals are. “the common point made by all the Bible software teams was that all forms of Bible engagement have the potential to help people achieve a changed life, and that life change is more important than the form … evangelical ministries and Bible software developers are less concerned with conclusion, interpretation, or forms of engagement than with reiterating the end goal of spiritual transformation that happens through Bible engagement. In this sense, Bible engagement itself is not the end goal, but a means to the end of ‘life change.’” That ended a section focused on average church-going Bible readers, and half way through page 99 and new section begins, entitled “A Time Machine for Pastors” which explains how desktop Bible software is designed to bring a variety of historical research to pastors preparing sermons which presents a different financial model than phone-based reading apps.

Although I can’t say page 99 is the “single best page to introduce what the book is about” it seems like a fair representative of the kinds of things that are happening in the book and touches on many of the finer points without spelling them out directly. At a basic level, People of the Screen is about what happens when people shift from reading the Bible in print to reading it on screen. But it turns out this shift is not like the shift from scrolls to codices or from a hand-written codex to a printed book. In those cases, we left the previous technology behind, but today it appears that readers, both religious and not religious, use a combination of print and digital reading. People of the Screen is also about the unique role of evangelicals in developing Bible software and the characteristics of the evangelicalism as a whole that make it tend to resist some elements of culture change while embracing others, notable technology.

Page 99, then, does surface some of the complexities of the way evangelicals think about the Bible itself. They don’t believe that it’s just a book with information that one needs to learn (like a history or science book) and it’s not merely a set of rules one needs to follow (like a legal or ethic text). It is those things, but for evangelicals, the Bible is also a kind of conduit to connect with God, and when one connects with God, that should bring about a changed life, one that is more peaceful and has less conflict (or sin). Page 99 section talks about how evangelical Bible programmers attempt to develop apps that encourage people to read more, not merely for more information, but more life change.

At the same time, these apps aren’t free, so I’m glad that page 99 also introduces the realities of the business models of Bible apps. One of the key ideas of the book is that evangelicals approach technology with what I call “Hopeful Entrepreneurial Pragmatism” and this page has a little bit of all of those things.
Follow John Dyer on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Bob Blaisdell's "Chekhov Becomes Chekhov"

Bob Blaisdell is Professor of English at the City University of New York’s Kingsborough College. He is a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Christian Science Monitor, and the editor of more than three dozen Dover literature and poetry collections. He lives in New York City.

Blaisdell applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Chekhov Becomes Chekhov: The Emergence of a Literary Genius, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In most Chekhov biographies, Leykin comes off as the crooked editor and publisher that all of us writers have in mind as blocking or exploiting our genius. But however much Chekhov defamed and mocked him, however much we naturally side with our hero and hold in contempt anyone or anything hampering his literary development, Leykin is my favorite supporting character.

Nineteen years older than Chekhov, Leykin was of peasant stock. As a provincial boy he was apprenticed to a shop owner in St. Petersburg, where he was also enrolled in a school. “He had written, by his own account, more than 20,000 short stories and sketches, and called himself ‘a man of letters’ with great pride,” writes Mikhail Chekhov. According to Michael Henry Heim and Simon Karlinsky, Leykin’s humorous writings, which the Chekhov brothers had grown up reading, were primarily about Russian merchants and their domestic lives, but the fiction’s “wide popularity with less-literate readers rapidly dwindled at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Leykin had been a literary father to the three eldest Chekhov boys. Mikhail Chekhov, who did not work for him, described him: “He was short, broad-shouldered, lame in one leg, and eccentric.” Because he was unattractive and had a bad leg, Chekhov and Alexander would refer to him as “Quasimodo.”

PHOTO {Nikolay Leykin.}

Earlier in their relationship, Chekhov could and did explain the difficulties he had crafting comic stories to size. Though a proud professional, Chekhov always had an artist’s sense of proportion, and he sought space and the allowance for his own discretion about topics. Even at the age of twenty-three, Chekhov had stood up for himself to Leykin....
To my surprise, page 99 is a good page! Not necessarily typical, but good. I have written two narrowly focused biographies, but I can’t say I know how to introduce real people as characters. I don’t know how to bring out their qualities and I have little confidence in my judgments of them. I don’t even know how to fairly judge my heroes, Chekhov and Tolstoy. How can I show their essence? I can’t. I can only give my very limited impressions of people I have never met. Nikolay Leykin is someone I only ever knew the existence of through biographies of Chekhov and Chekhov’s letters. I did read excerpts of Leikin’s letters that are quoted in the notes of the excellent Soviet edition of Chekhov’s Collected Works.

When I found a collection of Leikin’s comic stories in Russian and tried to read one, I saw that it would not be easy; the language is quick, allusive, and idiomatic. There are no stories by Leykin translated into English, as far as I was able to find. He is known today only because he was Chekhov’s humor-story editor from the time Chekhov was 21 to age 27. Chekhov once teasingly threatened to depict Leykin in a story, and Leykin said he would be flattered by the attempt, but there is no story identified by Chekhov or his acquaintances that points to Leikin. (If there had been, I would have grounded my impressions of Leykin on Chekhov’s fictional depiction.) My presentation of Leykin should be and is, I hope, acknowledged as limited. He was shrewd enough and vulnerable enough to call out Chekhov’s social and literary excuses in 1887, in particular about not writing for Fragments as much as he promised he would (the success of Leikin’s humor magazine had depended through 1886 on Chekhov’s work as “Antosha Chekhonte”). As I regularly point out in the book, Chekhov, financially supporting his parents and younger siblings, could always rely, no matter his immediate squabbles with Leikin, on emergency loans from “Quasimodo.”
Learn more about Chekhov Becomes Chekhov at the Pegasus Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 12, 2022

Ryan Poll's "Aquaman and the War against Oceans"

Ryan Poll is an associate professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University. He is the author of Main Street and Empire: The Fictional Small Town in the Age of Globalization.

Poll applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Aquaman and the War against Oceans: Comics Activism and Allegory in the Anthropocene, and reported the following:
Turning to page 99 of my book, readers discover an idea central to my project: how humanism is a form of violence inextricable from other forms of violence, including racism, genderism, and ableism. Moreover, this page asks if empathy, as theorized by ecofeminists, can help dissolve these linked structures of hate. The middle paragraph of page 99 reads:
Ecofeminist scholar Greta Gaard defines ecofeminism as “an evolving praxis” that centers on “entangled empathy.” Entangled empathy is an intersectional paradigm and praxis that recognizes the inextricable connections between “human justice, interspecies justice, and human-environment justice.” In contrast, empathy as policed and practiced by Humanism only extends to others recognized as Humans. This narrow form of empathy not only excludes nearly all nonhuman animals (with exceptions for select species enfolded into the Human everyday, like dogs), but moreover, such empathy also excludes most humans. Humanism excludes individuals not raced as white, not gendered as masculine, and not able-bodied.
Page 99 exemplifies my project in numerous ways. First and foremost, the page illustrates how I read popular culture in relation to critical theory in surprising, unexpected ways. I am certain that if someone randomly picked up my book on Aquaman, they would not expect a detailed discussion of ecofeminism and a critique of humanism! As this page encapsulates, popular culture is a form of critical thinking and engaged readers must learn to swim with the critical currents of popular culture, and at times, learn to swim against such currents. As Fredric Jameson teaches and as my book practices, interpretation is a political act.

In particular, page 99 is part of a chapter that centers on Mera, Aquaman’s intimate partner and a superhero in her own right. This chapter charts how Mera, in the comics, experiences myriad forms of patriarchy when she ventures from the ocean to the surface world. As I argue, when Mera enters what may be called the Kingdom of Humans, she enters a Kingdom of Patriarchy in which women are devalued, degraded, and open to gratuitous forms of violence. Mera, I argue, develops a feminist imagination while on the surface world, and moreover, she inspires alternative reading practices than those practiced by patriarchy, such as ecofeminism, which is discussed on page 99. As I argue, Mera’s experience of systemic and everyday patriarchy in the comic books reflects the treatment of women within the corporate structure of DC Comics, and moreover, anticipates the treatment of Amber Heard, who played Mera in the 2018 blockbuster Aquaman, on social media.

Overall, my book argues that the characters in Aquaman, including Mera and Black Manta, one of the few African American supervillains in mainstream comics, are accessible figures for understanding the centrality of oceans to the modern world, and how these same characters can be used to narrate how ecological justice is inextricable from social justice.
Follow Ryan Poll on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Edward Humes's "The Forever Witness"

Edward Humes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author whose many books include Garbology, Mississippi Mud, and the PEN Award-winning No Matter How Loud I Shout. He splits his time between Seattle and Southern California.

Humes applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Forever Witness takes readers to the story of “Baby Alpha Beta,” a newborn abandoned in 1987 not far from Disneyland, at a supermarket that was part of the now-defunct Alpha Beta chain. A janitor found the baby girl behind the store, wrapped in a yellow blanket in a milk crate next to the trash bins. Her birth mother was never found. A local nurse who read about the baby in the local newspaper—which dubbed her “Baby Alpha Beta”—was entranced, and ending up fostering, then adopting the little girl.

If page 99 is all you read, you would have absolutely no idea that The Forever Witness is a true crime story about families devastated by murder, a seemingly unsolvable crime, a revolution in forensic science, and battles over genetic privacy. But if you read a little bit further, you would learn that Baby Alpha Beta was the key to almost everything in the book—a vital and even eerie backstory to the cold case revolution that unfolds in The Forever Witness.

The use of genetic genealogy to solve cold cases was pioneered by CeCe Moore, and the techniques she invented were in essence beta-tested when she was asked by Baby Alpha Beta—now known as Kayla Tovo—to identify the mother who abandoned her. Moore did so, along with the rest of her biological family, and in the process she unintentionally solved a crime with genetic genealogy for the first time: child endangerment. Years later, she would later use the same techniques to solve the murders of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook, the case at the heart of The Forever Witness.

The eerie part: Baby Alpha Beta was born the same day in November 1987 on which Tanya most likely died. The child who was key to solving the case came into the world at the same time Tanya left it.
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Humes's website.

The Page 99 Test: Force of Nature.

The Page 99 Test: Garbology.

My Book, The Movie: Burned.

The Page 99 Test: Burned.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Rumya Sree Putcha's "The Dancer's Voice"

Rumya S. Putcha is an assistant professor in the Institute for Women's Studies as well as in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. Her research interests center on colonial and anti-colonial thought, particularly around constructs of citizenship, race, gender, sexuality, the body, and the law.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Dancer's Voice: Performance and Womanhood in Transnational India, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Dancer’s Voice describes the way the religious ritual of thambulam (ceremonial offering) operates for Indian dancers:
The surreptitious gifting of money within the practice of thambulam is consistent across nominally Hindu settings. The same practice is observed, for example, when one seeks the blessings of a priest… The exchange of money and financial support in general is something that flies under the radar in the transnational classical dance scene. During my time in Chennai, it became clear that the impact of NRI (non resident Indian) wealth is particularly important to any understanding of how power operates for women who consider themselves dancers. Dancers are paying for their class time, and this can mean more than simply dance training. It can mean being cast in a new production or being asked to help with choreography, and it can also mean the permission to talk back—to have a voice—in class. For some, this ability to speak and to have agency also extends to the right to an independent artistic life. Access to recorded music is carefully controlled and guarded. Only some students are allowed to bring a device to rehearsal and record the music. These recordings allow dancers not only to practice on their own but also, in some cases, to perform without their guru. A dancer’s freedom and ability to grow as an artist and to develop their own artistry thus depends on access to music. This access, in turn, must be granted by or purchased from the guru.
I think the Page 99 Test works! It helped me see, from a different perspective, how I listened for “the dancer’s voice” on this one page, and more generally across this particular chapter, which is titled “Silence.” The book is about the media-driven forces that animate Indian womanhood. Specifically, I explore how the public persona of the Indian dancer reveals that citizenship for women operates as a performance. I argue that such performances require and normalize separating women’s voices from their bodies. By theorizing “the dancer’s voice,” this book uncovers how performances of Indian womanhood since the early 20th century have relied upon, recycled, and in some cases, subverted a victim-heroine dynamic and in doing so have come to characterize what it means to identify as an Indian woman. Toggling between India and the U.S., between film, archival, and ethnographic analysis, and the past and the present, the personal and the public, the book shows how the dancer’s voice reveals quiet strategies of resistance and subversive acts of compliance.
Follow Rumya Sree Putcha on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 9, 2022

Jeffrey Bellin's "Mass Incarceration Nation"

Jeffrey Bellin is the Mills E. Godwin, Jr., Professor at William and Mary Law School. Prior to becoming a law professor, Bellin served as a prosecutor in Washington, DC.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Mass Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became Addicted to Prisons and Jails and How It Can Recover, and reported the following:
One of the themes of the book is that mass incarceration arose, in part, because officials funneled more and more matters to the criminal courts. These matters used to be resolved informally (outside of court) or not at all. One of the best-known examples is drug offenses. While marijuana, cocaine and heroin were illegal long before the dawn of mass incarceration in the 1970s, it used to be much less common that someone using or selling those drugs would be arrested, brought to court, or incarcerated. The same can be said for many other offenses like drunk driving, unlawful immigration, or gun possession. Page 99 is a portion of a discussion of another important example: domestic violence.

Although little discussed, a change in the policing and prosecution of assaults, and especially domestic violence, is one of the most dramatic policy changes across the era of mass incarceration. As explained on page 99, part of this change was the disappearance of once-common, non-punitive “domestic relations courts” as domestic assaults were increasingly treated, first like any other assault, and then, as a particularly serious form of the crime.

This is an important point because it reveals that among the many policy changes that led to mass incarceration are some with noble intentions. All these changes, alongside other important factors (not at all mentioned on page 99!) contributed to the dramatic rise in this nation’s incarceration rate between 1970 and today. This does not mean that we should not do everything we can to reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country. But it does suggest that getting back to the incarceration rates of the 1970s is a difficult challenge. And that process must begin with an unblinking understanding of the scope of the problem – the goal of my book.
Follow Jeffrey Bellin on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Glory M. Liu's "Adam Smith’s America"

Glory M. Liu is a lecturer in Social Studies at Harvard. Previously, she was a postdoctoral research associate at the Political Theory Project at Brown University from 2018-2020.

Liu applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Adam Smith’s America: How a Scottish Philosopher Became an Icon of American Capitalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book lands us in the middle of a discussion of key changes in academic political economy in America after the Civil War. Specifically, this page discusses the increased specialization in economics courses, and the influence of rival schools of thought, specifically the German Historical School. This is important context for what ends up being an inflection point in Smith’s American reception. American academic political economists begin historicizing Smith. They begin relegating him and his ideas to the past, though they never really give up on his lasting importance as the founder of the discipline.

On the one hand, I think readers will get a pretty good sense of what my book is like from this page. They’ll get a sense of how I chart important intellectual shifts, and in particular, they’ll get a little taste of how the shift from “Political Economy” to “Economics” in the academy changes the way people encounter, interpret, and use Adam Smith’s ideas in the late nineteenth century. By page 99, I’ve charted some of the origins and evolution of the discipline and shown how many political economists began to self-consciously style themselves as followers of Adam Smith, or continuing the tradition that Smith founded. On the other hand, I think readers might raise an eyebrow at what appears to just be a bunch of “textbook knowledge” about what academic economics looked like between, say, 1860 and 1890. The book is much more than a compilation of textbook knowledge about the history of economics. I use the history of economic thought in order to show how and why certain thinkers—like Smith—become canonized, often in narrow and politically charged ways. And I’m also interested in how Smith comes to represent an entire way of thinking, a mode of reasoning that becomes incredibly politically powerful.
Visit Glory M. Liu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

"Between Light and Storm"

Esther Woolfson is the author of Corvus: A Life With Birds and Field Notes From a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary, which was short-listed for the Wainwright Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. She has been an Artist in Residence at the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability and is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Aberdeen University.

Woolfson applied the "Page 99 Test" to her recent book, Between Light and Storm: How We Live with Other Species, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Between Light and Storm describes the growth of 19th century industrial meat production, particularly in the United States.

I’m not sure I’d have chosen page 99 as a first introduction to the book not because it doesn’t adequately represent it, but because it does. The page is part of a chapter called ‘Blood’ which deals with our relationship with the animals we eat. It’s not an easy subject perhaps but it is a fascinating and increasingly important one. In the chapter, I trace the history of our meat-eating through the by-ways of religion and history, from developments in ancient Levantine thought to the industrialised food-production of today. On the way, I reach page 99 and the growth of the meat industry in the United States and one of the still-relevant dilemmas in which many people find themselves—where do our sympathies, if any, lie towards the fates of other species? I quote a book by Upton Sinclair. Published in 1906, it characterises the dilemma:
‘The Jungle’ (is) a lengthy account of the hardships and tragedies of a Lithuanian stockyard worker, his fellow workers and the unhappy creatures they dealt with. Although the book’s main purpose was to be a rousing call to socialist action by detailing the horrors of the industry, the appeal to readers for sympathy for the workers became eclipsed by their sympathy for the animals. ‘I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident, I hit it in the stomach,’ Sinclair declared.
As on page 99, I try in the rest of the book to hit the public, or the reader, wherever I can in reflecting on how humanity has reached the moment when vast numbers of species are facing extinction and as that sublime poet W.S. Merwin says in his poem ‘A Message to Po Chu-yi’, ‘we are melting the very poles of the earth.’ I write about animal cognition and question ideas of human superiority. I write about animals in art and literature and about the crazy and hidebound ideas of ‘tradition’ which underpin so much wanton cruelty to animals. I write about the love we may feel for some creatures and the inexplicable lack of love we may feel for others. Not only on page 99, I write on the other 297 pages about the urgent need for us to extend our compassion to other species.
Visit Esther Woolfson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Anthony D. Cooling's "Still a Hollow Hope"

Anthony D. Cooling is a Budget and Revenue Officer.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Still a Hollow Hope: State Power and the Second Amendment, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Still a Hollow Hope: State Power and the Second Amendment is conveniently a microcosm of the book’s learned lessons, that the Supreme Court follows the culture rather than leads it, is hamstrung by the weaknesses of courts in that they have no power to implement their own decisions via the sword of the executive branch, that they do not have the legislative power of the purse to allocate funds to implement their decisions, have no control over the timing of cases, and that a court itself can be divided against itself with slim majorities based on the timing of presidential nominations for seats. The page is noting for the reader why it was over a decade after Heller and McDonald, the two cases where SCOTUS decided that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear arms and incorporated it against state encroachment, until they took another case. They stayed hands off the issue of guns except for remanding a case about stun guns, saying the ban was inconsistent with Heller. This hands-off approach happened because of the aforementioned weaknesses and thus Courts are generally loath to put themselves at the center of a political controversy unless they are aware that they will be supported in a decision, which they were not during the Obama administration. This is especially true when SCOTUS, as the page notes, was split 5-4 in its ideological divide. By 2019, the next substantive case SCOTUS took was only after Trump took office and there was a strong pro-gun 6-3 majority on the Court.

When SCOTUS decided Heller/McDonald, they set lower courts up to receive a hail of firearms related lawsuits, then they went largely silent themselves, justifying it with allusions in their McDonald decision to state experimentation, under the well-worn mantra that states are laboratories of democracy. The result wasn’t as much that there was variation in the states, but the various circuit courts becoming split. These splits across the states and the lower courts, the page notes “are a product of a divided public, culture, and elected government.” Indeed.
Follow Anthony Cooling on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 5, 2022

Gabriella Safran's "Recording Russia"

Gabriella Safran, the Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies, teaches in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Stanford University. Her books include The Worlds of S. An-sky, Wandering Soul and The Whole World in a Book.

Safran applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Recording Russia: Trying to Listen in the Nineteenth Century, and reported the following:
A person who reads just page 99 of my book, more than a person who reads the entire thing, might think that it views Russian political history through a contemporary lens. I write about mid-19th-century writers who live in or travel to the Russian Empire and who describe how they and their fictional heroes listen to and record the words of non-writers, whom they sometimes call “the people.” These writers, I argue, evaluated their own and each others’ listening critically; I see the listening scenes they describe as performances in various genres or modes. In their listening, these writers competed with each other, or with what they saw as other sides of themselves. Their accounts of listening constantly reference the changing communication technology of their period. People sometimes assume that Russia was distinctive in the ways its intelligentsia has felt both oppressed by the government and tragically cut off from “the people,” but this book argues that Russian imperial intellectuals had much in common with members of their mid-century media generation in other countries.

Page 99 depicts the conflict between Vladimir Dahl, a lexicographer born in Luhansk, and the St. Petersburg censor’s office. When he tried to publish his Sayings of the Russian People in 1853, the reviewers complained that the collection was too inclusive, containing, as it did, evidence of and thus dangerous support for the “people’s” superstition, ignorance, and sectarianism. Dahl defended his collection and his listening techniques, insisting on the authenticity and value of his material, and he drafted a sarcastic letter offering to provide a copy of the manuscript to the Academy of Sciences “if I did not fear the accusation that I would corrupt its innocent morals.” I describe Dahl as listening in an “omnivorous” mode and decrying the censors’ “suspicious” mode of listening, their eagerness to define what others said as threatening to the regime. Dahl too listened suspiciously at times, as when, as part of his work as an imperial official, he made dictionaries of the argots of groups suspected of sectarianism – but he was shocked and insulted to be accused of insufficient loyalty to the government himself. He was not the only imperial bureaucrat to find himself in this paradoxical position.

Like the other characters in the book, Dahl judged himself and was judged by others for his listening to “the people.” His case indicates that although there is a tradition of defining thinkers from this part of the world as simply dissidents or government loyalists, they are actually multifaceted and hard to place. The story of Dahl’s dispute with the censors is representative of the book as a whole in that he was not the only writer I examine to be censored; he resembled Alexander Herzen, Ivan Turgenev, Pavel Rybnikov, and Fedor Dostoevsky, all of whom produced ethnographic work after they were exiled for what seemed to be disloyal behavior or writing. Today, in late November 2022, nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the question of this Eastern Ukrainian’s loyalties matters differently than it did when I started writing this book. At a moment when hundreds of thousands of people who disagree with Putin’s war have left Russia, it is tempting to categorize Russians as either oppressed or oppressors, good or bad. My book as a whole argues against this bifurcation, even as page 99 provides poignant evidence for its historical longevity.
Learn more about Recording Russia at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue