Saturday, September 24, 2022

Remica Bingham-Risher's "Soul Culture"

Remica Bingham-Risher, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is an alumna of Old Dominion University and Bennington College. She is a Cave Canem fellow and Affrilachian Poet. Among other journals, her work has been published in the New York Times, the Writer’s Chronicle, New Letters, Callaloo and Essence. She is the author of Conversion (2006) winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, What We Ask of Flesh (2013) shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Award, and Starlight & Error (2017) winner of the Diode Editions Book Award. She is currently the Director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at Old Dominion University and resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children.

Bingham-Risher applied the Page 99 Test to her newest work, and first book of prose, Soul Culture: Black Poets, Books and Questions that Grew Me Up, reported the following:
On page 99 of Soul Culture, we’re a few pages into an essay, “Girls Loving Beyoncé and Their Names” about what I learned from the poet Forrest Hamer, how Beyoncé became a bridge connecting me and my daughter and how we should all take care to listen to the in-between. We're also, almost to the page, at the exact halfway point in the book. Here’s a passage found there:
Sonsoréa was a lot more like I might have been after my parents divorced, if either had chosen to remarry. Respectful, kind enough, but on guard always. Like her, I, too, was wary of love in real life—not the kind New Edition told me was possible, but the falling-apart kind that was unbearable if people who were supposed to be grown up, responsible, didn’t actually know everything, even ruined things, barely listening to us or each other. At thirteen, my parents split up, I was the best soloist in middle school choir, and I met Sonsoréa’s father, years before she was ever imagined.
The Page 69 Test works remarkably well for Soul Culture. I was a little shocked at how each of the recurring threads of the book—talking with a particular Black poet I interviewed, ruminating on what I learned from being in their orbit and studying their work, how all my different identities blended together at home or on the page and even some of the hybridity of the work i.e. portraits, footnotes, Q and A exchanges, etc.—all showed up on page 99.

On one hand (and still in my heart of hearts), Soul Culture is my love letter to the elder poets who helped me figure out my own path as a writer. On the other hand, it’s a snapshot of my life, my growing into myself with the help of family, friends, and innumerable good books. On page 99, I am trying to figure out how to be a mother to children I’ve inherited and I’m beginning to wonder what it means when our parents create us and pull our names (and lives it seems) out of thin air. It’s miraculous really, our coming to be, and all the things we’ll desire for ourselves outside of what others have made for us make up the big questions of our lives. Every time I put pen to page, I’m really just trying to articulate a question I have about the world. In the intro to Soul Culture, I explain: “The enduring question I ask daily—when writing, when watching the news, when praying—about Black folks is: How is it possible we’ve survived? Soul culture is rooted in deep pain, longing, and incessant innovation, so this book is about singular experiences illumined by memory, mortar made possible by genius, grit, mother-wit, and sleight of hand.”
Visit Remica Bingham-Risher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2022

Alexandra Horowitz's "The Year of the Puppy"

Alexandra Horowitz observes dogs for a living. Her research began more than two decades ago, studying dogs at play, and continues today at her Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know and three other books: On Looking; Being a Dog; and Our Dogs, Ourselves. She lives with her family of Homo sapiens, Canis familiaris, and Felis catus in New York City.

Horowitz applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves, and reported the following:
The ninety-ninth page of The Year of the Puppy finds us eight weeks into the life of the litter of puppies from which our new pup -- our new family member -- will be chosen. We've followed the rambunctions of a litter of eleven mixed-breed pups, born of a dog surrendered at a shelter in Georgia when she was discovered to be pregnant, and fostered by a good samaritan and skilled pup-fosterer until the puppies are adopted. At week 8 of their lives, they are about to leave the natal nest and enter their new homes. Here I write about the science of this time of their life, developmentally, including their entrance into a second socialization period -- a time when they are maximally open to new people, sounds, smells, contexts:
All puppies are still approaching new people and dogs with confidence and a wagging tail--and that is why researchers believe this is the best time to place a pup into a human home. Mom has completed weaning and is probably highly irritated with her pups; they are getting more aggressive in their play with one another. They are cognitively quite advanced from their abilities two months ago....brain activity is already adult-like, organized completely differently than when they were neonates.
Raising a puppy is half chaos, half pleasure. My scientific memoir about raising a puppy is half description -- anecdotes of her life as a very young pup, her integration into our family, and her coming into herself -- and half the science (such that exists) of the stage of life that she's in. Insofar as page 99 is in the latter, scientific part, it represents at least some of the book. Had I written the book with the Page 99 Test in mind, I would have included much more about Quid, our puppy, or her siblings. These little furry sweet potatoes are the heart of the book, and the science is only there in service to interpretation about what they're doing, what's happening to their bodies and brains, and who they are.
Visit Alexandra Horowitz's website and the Dog Cognition Lab website.

The Page 99 Test: Inside of a Dog.

The Page 99 Test: Our Dogs, Ourselves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Colin Woodward's "Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash"

Colin Woodward is an archivist who holds a PhD in history from Louisiana State University. He is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War and the host of the American Rambler history and pop-culture podcast.

Woodward applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Cash and his bandmates soon realized they couldn’t function as three acoustic guitar players. Cash’s strengths as a singer was never questioned, but he was the one who ended up with the acoustic. Grant picked up the bass, while Perkins got hold of an electric guitar. None of the men had any musical training to speak of. Even so, Cash and the Tennessee Two made the most of their limitations. What is amazing is that men in their mid-twenties—with day jobs and wives, and no musical training or understanding of show business—pursued music as seriously as they did. Becoming proficient on guitar is no easy feat, especially without lessons. As a guitarist, Cash kept to strumming and picking. Grant set himself to learning the upright bass, on which he attached pieces of tape so he could follow the notes on the fret board. The difference between upright and electric bass, Peter Cooper has written, is “like driving a tank and flying a plane.” Marshall eventually became adept at both.

As the group’s sole electric guitarist, Perkins had the most difficult task of all three musicians in providing riffs and lead lines that gave shape to Cash’s songs. Perkins painstakingly worked out his lead parts, note for note. His playing was primitive compared to the guitar wizards of the late 1960s and 1970s. Even by 1950s standards, though, Cash and the Tennessee Two could not have kept up with contemporaries such as the Pennsylvania-based Bill Haley and the Comets. The solo on “Rock around the Clock” remains one of the best guitar breaks of all time. The Tennessee two couldn’t play like the Comets. Still, as a guitarist, Luther had one essential virtue: he was distinctive. And people—not least among them Perkins’s later replacement, Bob Wootton—admired and emulated him. Luther might have been limited, but the stripped-down Sun style became the gold standard for rockabilly. Many of the most successful and revered bands, from the Rolling Stones to the Beatles eschew extended instrumental breaks. They took lessons from what Cash, Perkins, and others at Sun did: say it well in a song and do it under three minutes. What Cash and the Tennessee Two created was “boom-chicka-boom” or the “Cash sound.”
I’m lucky in that page 99 of my book gives a good idea of what Country Boy is about. It talks about Cash getting his start in Memphis in the mid-50s. Despite the fact that he and his bandmates—the Tennessee Two—were not trained musicians, they were talented, persistent, and lucky enough to be born in a time when an unknown singer with no credits could walk into a studio (not just any studio, but Sam Phillips’s Sun Records, where Elvis got a start) and get an audition. One could say that the book really begins on page 99. Here, we see Cash coming up with his signature “boom-chicka-boom” sound.

What’s more, the fact that Cash was limited musically kept him more rooted than I think it would have if he was a proficient guitar player. In his voice and playing there was an honesty. Proficient players can make great music, too, but Cash was playing in the country tradition, which depended on “three chords and the truth.” We see him approach songwriting like this again and again in the manner of his heroes like Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. And for many Cash fans, his work at Sun was the best music he ever recorded. On page 99, we see Cash becoming Cash the musician. I wanted to delve into that moment and the process when thing really came together for him.

More than any other book, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash goes into Cash’s early life and what made him who he was. Musicians, no matter how well known or obscure, come from somewhere. And Cash’s story growing up in Arkansas during the Great Depression is a fascinating one. Many roots musicians aren’t really connected to the place where their music came from. But Cash’s music emerged from the South where he was born and raised. He drew on blues, gospel, folk, pop, and country to make his distinctive music. For him, Arkansas wasn’t just a place he left once he began his career. He returned often over the years, not just to visit family, hunt, and fish, but play memorable concerts. My book uses Cash’s days in Arkansas to tell his larger story.

Cash never forgot where he came from. Despite the personal and drug problems he had later in life, Arkansas kept him rooted. In his mind, he never really left it.
Visit Colin Woodward's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Michael A. Verney's "A Great and Rising Nation"

Michael Verney is assistant professor of History at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. In 2017, he was a fellow at the Baird Society Resident Scholar Program at the Smithsonian Libraries. His next project will be a study of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry’s Japan Expedition and the North Pacific Exploring Expedition of the mid-1850s.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, A Great and Rising Nation: Naval Exploration and Global Empire in the Early US Republic, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Wilkes’s new base of operations was a massive room named the Great Hall, on the second floor of the U.S. Patent Office… On entering, visitors would have been immediately struck by the grandeur of the space before them. The Great Hall dominated the upper floor; at 273 feet long, sixty-three feet wide, and more thirty feet from floor to ceiling, it was one of the largest rooms in Washington. A series of red rectangular pillars stood watch over the gigantic space, which stretched far out of sight through two wings on either side. Above, a central, stained-glass atrium arose like a daffodil pyramid surrounded by blue poesies. Visitors had only a moment to take in the space before being greeted by a friendly and “courteous” doorman. He may have taken their coats and umbrellas if it was raining, asked them to sign the register of visitors (though few ever did), and might have good-humoredly pointed out a few architectural flaws. The distractions during this conversation would have been many: murmuring echoes, the tap and scuff of shoes on marble, and most of all, the main attraction itself: a maze of tall wood and glass cases, full of specimens and expanding out in all directions.

Wilkes had worked hard to re-fashion the Great Hall into a pleasing, organized, middle-class space…
The Test almost works. Page 99’s opening reference to Charles Wilkes, a Commander in the antebellum US Navy, reflects the book’s focus on mid-ranking naval officers. These were men who, like Wilkes, yearned to attain personal and national glory through leading naval exploring expeditions around the world. Their energies and vanities add tension to the book and drive much of its narrative plot. This page also hints at one of my core arguments: that committing the United States to a career of global imperial expansion was never solely the work of overambitious naval officers like Wilkes or government elites; instead, it required considerable buy-in from influential domestic constituencies. Page 99 is part of a section arguing that Wilkes’s displaying of the Navy’s natural and anthropological specimens at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, encouraged white middle-class US citizens to embrace naval voyages of discovery. They saw them as supplying novelty, pleasure, and education. Finally, this page is representative of my attempts to write as vividly and engagingly as possible. The text excerpted here draws from a real visit to the National Portrait Gallery, which was formerly the National Gallery.

What is missing from page 99 is the diplomatic dimension of my argument. Exploration boosters like Wilkes were inspired by European voyages of discovery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They craved the esteem of the Great Powers of Europe and believed that embarking the US Navy on scientific exploring expeditions would win them plaudits in European capitals. After all, Congress partly established the National Gallery, the nation’s first publicly funded museum of natural history, to match the cavernous public museums of Western Europe. To get that full analysis, however, a reader would have to voyage beyond page 99.
Follow Michael Verney on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Jesse Olsavsky's "The Most Absolute Abolition"

Jesse Olsavsky is Assistant Professor of History at Duke Kunshan University.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Most Absolute Abolition: Runaways, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835–1861, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the 1850s, the Vigilance Committees more firmly organized what they sometimes called the “submarine railway” or the “‘Peoples Line’ of steamboats.” In the early 1830s and 1840s, mainly Black sailors had worked informally to help fugitives stow away, then directing them to antislavery offices or sailors’ homes upon arrival in the North. Such work involved great risk, greater yet after 1850. Being caught helping runaways in southern ports meant jail time or worse. Being caught in transit by an unsympathetic captain meant severe physical disciplining or dismissal from the job. For the fugitive, it meant reshipment south. Still, sailors helped runaways “constantly.” The committees devised various strategies to as­sist sailors in their dangerous work. The BVC had agents on board ships, as well as “friends in the seaports of the south,” to inform them which Boston-bound ships contained fugitive stowaways. In one case, the BVC received a telegram about a vessel hiding a fugitive on its way to Bath, Massachusetts, rushing members there to meet him. Sailors welcomed them aboard the designated ship only to inform them that the fugitive had jumped ship a few days earlier, after the captain tried making arrangements to hand over the runaway to the police. The BVC even devised plans to deploy a “pirate” boat “off the capes of Virginia” to resist “pilot boats” that “boarded and searched every coasting vessel for fugitive slaves.” It additionally employed maritime workers directly to rescue fugitives from arriving ships. Austin Bearse, a sailor, and Henry Kemp, an Irish laborer, led the BVC’s maritime wing. They relied upon Black dock­workers and sailors as informants, while the committee gave them money to build a yacht. Upon receiving word of an arriving fugitive, Bearse, Kemp, and occasionally other members, including Wendell Phillips, William Bowditch, or John Browne, as well as any wharf workers interested in helping would get on the yacht, sneak onto the suspected ship, and rescue the runaway. Bearse and Kemp succeeded in doing this dozens of times. The BVC paid the two men up to fifty dollars for some of their more dangerous rescues.
The Page 99 Test works. The Most Absolute Abolition is the first full-length study of the interconnected networks of the vigilance committees, of how they organized the Underground Railroad, learned from thousands of runaways, exacerbated the sectional crises of the 1850s, helped plan John Brown’s raid, and revolutionized abolitionism in the process.

Vigilance Committees were urban antislavery organizations, formed throughout the north, committed to defending Black neighborhoods from police and slave catchers, and to helping runaways escape from the “prison house” of slavery. Committee members came from all walks of life. Most were African American, working class, or Women. They were also prominent abolitionists, maroons, sailors, feminists, wayward intellectuals, reprobate ministers, and other outcasts from America’s racist, conformist civil society. They built up an elaborate network of allies in the South, in Canada, in Haiti, in the British Isles, and helped as many as 10,000 enslaved people in their self-liberation by land and sea.

Page 99 gets at two crucial elements of my book. First, it shows the ways abolitionists in vigilance committees mobilized diverse networks of working-class people to assist thousands of freedom seekers to resist enslavement. Second, it shows the key role of maritime workers and maritime routes to the Underground Railroad. Very often the Underground Railroad is seen as something organized on the land. The enslaved often escaped by water too!
Learn more about The Most Absolute Abolition at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2022

Steve Waksman's "Live Music in America"

Steve Waksman is Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music at Smith College, Massachusetts. His publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (1999) and This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (2009), the latter of which was awarded the 2010 Woody Guthrie Award for best scholarly book on popular music by the U.S. chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US). With Reebee Garofalo, he is the co-author of the sixth edition of the rock history textbook, Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A. (2014), and with Andy Bennett, he co-edited the SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (2015). His essays have appeared in such collections as the Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop, Metal Rules the Globe, and The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre and Popular Music.

Waksman applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Live Music in America throws the reader into the middle of an event from 1872, the World’s Peace Jubilee held in Boston during the summer of that year. A sort of analog to the giant music festivals of today, the Jubilee was the second such event produced by U.S. bandleader Patrick Gilmore, following his 1869 National Peace Jubilee. It comes up in chapter two of the book, which focuses on the performance career of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a pivotal group of African American singers who toured the U.S. and internationally in the years following the American Civil War. It was a huge milestone in the career of the Jubilee Singers to sing at Gilmore’s second Jubilee – the concurrence of the term “Jubilee” is notable and something I discuss elsewhere in the chapter. On page 99, the reader finds background history about Gilmore’s Jubilee, which went on for more than two weeks and featured music and performers from several European nations along with the U.S. The Jubilee Singers were one of only two Black attractions scheduled to appear at the Jubilee, and they scored a significant success singing the selection “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord” in conjunction with a choir of over one-hundred voices.

Does the Page 99 Test work for Live Music in America? Yes and no. Yes, because the book is full of these kinds of detail-rich accounts of specific performances from throughout the history of American music, from 1850 forward. These are moments of the book where I use historical documents to bring the past back to life and to recover episodes of live performance that have in many cases been largely forgotten. The focus on an event of such giant scale is also in keeping with the book’s interest on how live music often entails large collective gatherings that are integral to the experience. Gilmore staged the Jubilee in a specially built coliseum designed to hold some 70,000 people that was located along Boston Common. The whole event was done with scale in mind – a chorus of over 10,000, an orchestra of over 1000 – in many ways foreshadowing the enhanced size of festivals and concerts that would become more commonplace from the mid-twentieth century forward. The focus on a group of African American performers on page 99 is also a good reflection of many of the book’s themes. I consider race relations to be central to the story of American music and of live music especially, and this is the first portion of the book where that theme comes to the foreground.

Where the Page 99 Test fails, is that a reader who opened to this page without knowing anything else about the book would probably have a hard time getting oriented. The story of Gilmore’s World’s Peace Jubilee, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ appearance there, takes shape here without a lot of larger explanation regarding the book’s main themes or focus. Like much historical writing, a lot of Live Music in America concentrates on a kind of storytelling. I tell a plethora of stories throughout the book, all of which are ultimately connected, but not every page clearly indicates where the connections lie between one story and the next, or between isolated events and bigger themes. This is a page that mainly guides the reader through a lot of information necessary to understand why the events under discussion are worth knowing about. Hopefully, at least, it would pique a reader’s curiosity enough to want to know more.
Learn more about Live Music in America at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Lars Chittka's "The Mind of a Bee"

Lars Chittka is Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at Queen Mary University of London.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book The Mind of a Bee, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Mind of a Bee contains just a single paragraph, the last sentences of the summary of a chapter about bees’ remarkable spatial memories. Yet you can discern a few key messages of the book. Bees owe their seemingly peaceful and vegan lifestyle to forebears who lived by very different rules: not only were these ancestors carnivorous, but in fact they were nature’s cruellest killers – parasitoid wasps that paralyse their prey, to be consumed alive by the wasps’ offspring.

The book is about bees’ astonishing intelligence – we have discovered in the last few decades that they can count, recognise images of human faces, learn simple forms of tool use, copy such techniques by observing each other, and might even be conscious. How did these remarkable abilities evolve in a miniature brain of an insect? The summary on page 99 reminds us that a key element in the evolution of intelligence of bees was the switch, in a Triassic wasp-like ancestor, from a vagabond lifestyle to being the owner of a home – constructing a nest that contained the offspring, which required frequent commuting between this home and foraging sites with the nutrition required for larval provisioning. This lifestyle brought with it a transformation of the brain. The so-called mushroom bodies, insect brain areas for multisensory integration and memory storage, ballooned in size to accommodate the required additional memory capacity.

The possession of a home came with a selection pressure for precise spatial memory: the ancestor of bees that failed to remember their nesting site would have lost her “babies”. We learn in this chapter that bees have thus evolved very impressive cognitive capacities. They can navigate with high precision over miles, use a sun compass, polarised light and landmark memories. They remember multiple feeding sites over long periods and link them in an efficient manner, much like a travelling salesman does.

The paragraph on page 99 summarises how the increased memory capacity in bees’ distant ancestors prepared them for becoming the intellectual giants of the insect world: to become careful shoppers in the floral supermarket, where bees not just learn to associate flower signals with rewards, but also learn to manipulate the often-complex “puzzle boxes” that are flowers, and even learn concepts and rules that distinguish multiple different flower types from unrewarding ones.
Visit Lars Chittka's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 16, 2022

Patricia Illingworth's "Giving Now"

Patricia Illingworth is an author, philosopher, and lawyer who works on some of the most urgent social, ethical, and human rights problems that face people and their communities. She has been a Fellow at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and most recently, Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is Professor of Philosophy and Business at Northeastern University.

Illingworth applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Giving Now: Accelerating Human Rights for All, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Giving Now introduces Chapter 8, entitled, The Fierce Urgency of Now. This chapter explores philanthropy during COVID-19, a time when need was great, and philanthropy stepped up to meet it. That said, many very wealthy people did not do enough to help during this crisis. The Chapter explains how philanthropy changed during COVID-19 and what those changes tell us about philanthropy, donors and human rights. Page 99 begins the analysis under the subheading Same Storm, Different Boats, describing COVID-19 and how it impacted people differently. Although we were all affected by the pandemic, it was devastating for some communities, while the wealthy and healthy suffered minimally. Page 99 underscores that donors increased their giving during COVID-19 in response to the pandemic’s brutal assault on human rights, visible to all. Although people gave more during the COVID-19 pandemic, many donors did not give enough to meet their human rights responsibilities. Page 99 is an excellent overview of the human rights approach to philanthropy developed in Giving Now.

Applying a human rights analysis to the nonprofit sector helps to identify the ethical issues raised by giving, solve those issues and provides a mechanism for preventing human rights violations. I draw primarily on the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (GP). The GP were ratified in 2011 and have been applied to for-profit organizations. I make the case that under the GP individuals and nonprofits also have human rights responsibilities. How does this play out?

This analysis is developed using case studies. I consider Sackler philanthropy and whether nonprofits should accept donations from the Sackler family given the role that Purdue Pharma, (owned by the Sacklers), played in the opioid epidemic. I also look at whether MIT should accept donations from pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Since the donors were responsible for human rights violations in both cases, I maintain that their donations should be refused. When nonprofits accept donations from donors who have violated human rights, they are complicit in those violations. There are other moral problems inherent in these cases, such as the risks associated with reputation laundering and moral licensing which I also discuss. I also look at MacKenzie Scott’s approach to philanthropy and highlight the ways in which it supports human rights.

The GP hold that enterprises should respect human rights and ensure that they are not implicated in the violation of human rights. They also state that organizations should practice human rights due diligence. This involves transparency, or put differently, knowing, and showing. When practiced, due diligence can prevent the violation of human rights, or at the very least ensure that nonprofits are not complicit in the violation of human rights. I offer a due diligence framework that can be used by donors, nonprofits, and fundraisers to ensure that they mitigate their adverse human rights impact.
Learn more about Giving Now at the Oxford University Press website and visit Patricia Illingworth's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Health of Newcomers: Immigration, Health Policy, and the Case for Global Solidarity by Patricia Illingworth and Wendy E. Parmet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Amanda H. Podany's "Weavers, Scribes, and Kings"

Amanda H. Podany is Professor Emeritus of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the author of Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East and The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction. She is also the author and instructor of an audio and video lecture series for Wondrium called Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization.

Podany applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East, and reported the following:
When you reach page 99 in Weavers, Scribes, and Kings, you are immersed in the life of Baranamtara, queen of the Mesopotamian city-state of Lagash, who lived in the early 24th century BCE. You will have already read about her role as the administrator of a large estate, called the “House of Women,” where she oversaw hundreds of workers, and about her diplomatic relationships with queens of other city-states, along with her ritual journey around the kingdom during the largest annual festival. Page 99 starts with the statement that, in leading the festival this way, “She was reminding the people of the kingdom of her legitimacy as queen and bringing her subjects together in a shared celebration.”

The page moves on to a statue that Baranamtara commissioned of herself. “The royal statues must have taken up considerable space in a temple. Eight are mentioned by name as receiving individual offerings… After Baranamtara’s death, her statue joined this group, along with a statue of her husband Lugalanda.” Lugalanda was the king who ruled Lagash at this time, but we know much less about him than about Queen Baranamtara, because her archives have been excavated, and his have not.
Although these dead royals were not called gods, in the minds of the people of Lagash, the distinction between immortal gods and mortal monarchs might have been a little hazy. Statues of royal family members stood in temples, just like statues of gods. Both the statues of dead monarchs and those of gods needed food, drink, and clothing.

It is often argued that most Mesopotamian royals were not divine, in contrast to Egyptian kings who were, but the hard-and-fast line between god and human that we perceive now was probably a lot more porous in the mind of an ancient Mesopotamian. The average person might have had trouble distinguishing between the divinity of deities and deceased royals. It’s clear that queens were in the same category as kings in this regard—both required offerings. In fact, there were almost as many queens as kings among the venerated statues.
I’m pleased to report that the Page 99 Test works well; you would get a good idea of the spirit of the book from this page. Throughout the book I have included microhistories of men and women from all walks of life to explore the culture and events of the ages in which they lived. Some are of “Big Names” of ancient Near Eastern history, such as Sargon of Akkad, Enheduana, Hammurabi, and Ashurnasirpal II. Others are of powerful people who are less well known, like Queen Baranamtara, Shamash-hazir (a high official working for Hammurabi), and Adad-guppi (a 100-year old priestess). Many others are of people who were not powerful at all, like child laborers who worked for a temple, Zum, a weaving woman who oversaw one of Baranamtara’s workshops, and an enslaved couple named Nabu-utirri and Mizatu who ran a brewery.

On page 99, my discussion of the statues of gods and kings underlines one theme of the book: religion was not something the Mesopotamians recognized as a concept, or even had a word for. The world was teeming with deities, whose actions were inextricable from the rest of experience. The Mesopotamians saw no clear lines between the divine and the secular. The royal statues, which were believed to contain some part of the spirit of the person represented, provide an interesting example of this.

One way in which the page is not typical, however, is that it includes no quotes from ancient texts, which are found throughout the book.
Follow Amanda Hills Podany on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Brotherhood of Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

E. Claire Cage's "The Science of Proof"

E. Claire Cage is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Alabama. Her first book Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage, 1720-1815 won the Baker-Burton Prize from the European History Section of the Southern Historical Association.

Cage applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Science of Proof: Forensic Medicine in Modern France, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book analyzes medical practitioners' efforts to detect malingering, or the practice of feigning medical conditions for specific purposes. Malingering became a pressing concern in legal medicine, also known as forensic medicine, in France largely in response to the introduction of conscription during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century medical publications on the subject detailed the tactics that medical practitioners employed when treating suspected malingerers. These works also revealed how lay persons’ expanding medical knowledge made them increasingly adept at malingering.

The treatment of this subject on page 99 features some of the central themes and key arguments in my book. These include the considerable challenges that medical men faced in performing medicolegal work, whether combatting malingering (Chapter 3), investigating death and performing autopsies (Chapter 1), detecting poisonings (Chapter 2), examining reproductive matters and crimes (Chapter 4), or evaluating the signs of sexual assault (Chapter 5). Despite these challenges, many practitioners of legal medicine articulated great confidence in their abilities and findings as part of broader efforts to establish authority and to raise the profile of their profession. Some medical men warned that failing to expose malingerers would harm not only their individual reputations but also the field of medicine itself. On page 99, I also allude to debates that emerged within the medical community in the latter half of the nineteenth century on whether doctors’ efforts to expose malingering, which included threats, painful procedures, and the use of anesthesia, had gone too far and risked the dignity of their profession. Readers who turn to page 99 would be able to get a general sense of my book’s argument and approach as well as a more specific examination of the possibilities and pitfalls for doctors tasked with detecting malingering in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France.
Learn more about The Science of Proof at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 12, 2022

Kathleen Lubey's "What Pornography Knows"

Kathleen Lubey is Professor of English at St. John's University. She is the author of Excitable Imaginations: Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660-1760 (2012).

Lubey applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, What Pornography Knows: Sex and Social Protest since the Eighteenth Century, and reported the following:
On page 99, I’m unpacking a description of erotic dancers from a 1749 pornographic novel called The History of the Human Heart. The passage contains sexual action in the main text, plus a lengthy footnote supposedly added by an erudite “editor”:
The pornographic description is complete without reference to men’s bodies or their capacity to penetrate.

In this original edition, the posture-girl episode is textually overrun by a footnote offering feminist speculations on the action in the main text. In the note, the editor questions a passing remark made by the author that the posture girls possess a natural feminine attribute, defining the concept instead as a longstanding cultural invention. Disputing common consensus, the editor claims that social fictions are devised to impose strict codes of conduct on English women, curbing their knowledge and ambition. He goes on to imagine the chaos of a culture without modesty in which the sexes encounter each other without cultural interference—that is, without clothing.
I was gobsmacked to see that on page 99, I’m discussing the passage that quite literally launched this entire book project. The point I’m making there is that in the midst of a sexual spectacle that titillates its reader by objectifying women, this little-known text turns our attention primarily to a feminist analysis of moral categories that are oppressive to women in eighteenth-century Britain. This philosophical move flies in the face of what we typically think pornography does—encourages masturbation, shuts down its users’ intellect, stokes misogyny. That pornography advances a far more complex, feminist project is the central argument of my book—so the Page 99 Test is apt indeed, bringing the reader straight to my most persuasive evidence.

When I first closely read Human Heart in the British Library over a decade ago, I was amazed to find that a description of women dancers masturbating is reduced to two lines per page, edged out by a massive footnote that tells the reader modesty is an invention of moral philosophers designed to reduce women’s autonomy. The collision of genital action with philosophical argumentation was an absolute revelation, and I thereafter undertook years of a research seeking feminist content in early pornography. I found loads of it, resulting in this book. My research took me into later periods as well—the Victorian period and countercultural era—where, amazingly, I discovered that pornographic editors reprinted these eighteenth-century texts and edited out, as though with a scalpel, its feminist content. In addition to proving a feminist past to pornography, What Pornography Knows also shows how pornographers actively and intentionally purged the genre of its social conscience, and I conclude by asking how we might approach pornography today with an openness to its critical insights.
Follow Kathleen Lubey on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Katherine M. Zinsser's "No Longer Welcome"

Katherine M. Zinsser is an Associate Professor of Community & Prevention Research in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from George Mason University and her B.A. from Smith College. She studies classroom interactions, supports, and policies that impact young children's emotional well-being and the well-being of the professionals who care for them. Her work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Spencer Foundation, the American Psychological Association's Society for Community Research and Action, the Foundation of Child Development, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, her research team ( conducts action research in collaboration with community stakeholders and practitioners.

Zinsser applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, No Longer Welcome: The Epidemic of Expulsion from Early Childhood Education, and reported the following:
The casual browser taking No Longer Welcome off the shelf in a bookstore or library and flipping to page 99 would find themselves towards the end of a chapter. This page reiterates the focus of the chapter – that relationships hold great power in early education and, when well and positively formed, connections between parents and teachers can be one our most ubiquitous and potent tools to prevent the expulsion of children from preschools.

The top of page 99 includes a summary of a mixed-method study of parent-teacher relationships among children who were previously expelled from a childcare or preschool program. In line with other sections of the book, quotes on this page provide insight into teachers’ lived experiences working in early childhood education. Down the page, the reader is reminded of the inherently social nature of learning and the critical role that home-school connections play in supporting children’s academic motivation and achievement over time. Finally, in setting up the transition to the next chapter, page 99 reiterates a central tenant of the book: that to resolve our nation’s early childhood expulsion crisis, we must examine the whole ecological system in which childcare is provided.

In general, the Page 99 Test works reasonably well for this book – this page hits several themes and introduces some key players (parents, teachers, children but not program administrators or policy makers). However, most readers would likely pause early on page 99 and ask themselves, “Wait, kids get expelled from preschool?” which is a common response when I tell colleagues about my program of research. Hopefully, readers would be motivated then to examine the Table of Contents to see where they can learn more about the rates, causes, and consequences of this disciplinary practice, as well as the systemic drivers of inequity in who is often expelled (namely boys, Black children, and children with disabilities) and promising policy and practice solutions.
Learn more about No Longer Welcome at the Oxford University Press website, and visit the SETL Lab website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Saida Grundy's "Respectable"

Saida Grundy is a feminist sociologist of race and Assistant Professor of Sociology, African American Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies at Boston University. A proud graduate of Spelman College, she received her PhD in Sociology and Women's Studies from the University of Michigan and often contributes to the Atlantic.

Grundy applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Respectable: Politics and Paradox in Making the Morehouse Man, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Even low-income and working-class respondents had a preexisting vague notion that such moneyed Black families existed from television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but living among the sons of these families in an up-close residential atmosphere unveiled the sometimes obvious but more often nuanced class markers and cues that many students were observing for the first time in their peers. Davis and Waller learned a new language of class recognition in their earliest days on campus. Fittingly, their realizations about class bookended each other in terms of where they located and articulated their class positions. I found Davis, whom I had known over the years as a friend of my sister, instantly likeable and charming over the phone. He presented himself as the consummate professional in his high-paced career at a premier public relations firm.

His self-deprecating humor about his early days as a freshman, however, made it clear he had not always been this way. He arrived on campus mesmerized not only by the buffet of backgrounds among his classmates but also by the opportunity to be in a place with so many peers on the same academic trajectory. Even though his public high school in a solidly middle income majority Black suburb enrolled over 3,000 students, Davis was one of only two Black males in the school’s rigorous college preparatory program. Few of his high school peers shared his social experiences, such as participating in the city’s “Beautillion,” a biennial coming-of-age ball for highschool-aged Black boys sponsored by various exclusive Black social clubs such as Jack and Jill of America, an invitation-only organization for well-heeled Black mothers and their school-aged children.

“I had a diverse group of friends and got along with everybody that I wanted to,” Davis recalled. “But there were certain differences in the way I grew up, some of my understandings of the world and some of the things that I [had done.] For instance, I was Beautillioned in my last year in high school. I went to Jack and Jill teen conferences, and most of the people I went to high school with had no idea what the hell that was.”
Respectable’s page 99 is deep into the ethnographic observation of what happens when a group of vastly diverse Black men from all over the country arrive on campus as freshmen at Morehouse College, the nation’s only Historically Black College for men. To land on this page without the previous pages’ descriptions may be disorienting, but the reader would immediately recognize a conversation about social class and how Black men who never really got much opportunity to think of their class position previously (in predominantly high schools, for example, their racial subjectivity was paramount to their identity) begin to realize how class is communicated within Black spaces, and what they do and do not have in common with the social standings of their classmates. Page 99 is an accurate slice of my work because Respectable truly is an analysis of race, gender and class. Furthermore this page is a snapshot of what the book emphasizes throughout— that class and gender make meanings of Blackness within Black spaces. Radicalization occurs not only in interracial encounters but in intraracial contexts, which is what is on display on this page.

What I like about these reflections by Davis and Waller (respondent pseudonyms) is that they are learning a new class language— not necessarily verbal, and often based on observable cues— about how to articulate class in themselves and detect it in others. There are many exceptional sociological studies on class in school settings, but what I like about this passage is that it does something none of those works do in emphasizing a racially specific class language. These aren’t cues what anyone would pick up outside of a Black space and setting. These young men were learning the specifically African American markers of class that would be lost on an outside observer. They came to school with some of this language, and they picked up even more as they interacted with other students. Over and over again the men in my study remarked upon a simple but overlooked truth about HBCUs: Black people are vastly diverse and in this and other passages men are not only relishing in that diversity but they are learning where they are located within it. When one removes the controlling variable of racial heterogeneity, Black people in Black spaces have rare opportunities to amplify all the other parts of themselves from ethnic differences to class and sexuality spectrums. In Black spaces, Black people are allowed to be dynamic in ways that we are otherwise limited under the white gaze.
Learn more about Respectable at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 9, 2022

Tyler R. Bamford's "Forging the Anglo-American Alliance"

Tyler R. Bamford is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Forging the Anglo-American Alliance: The British and American Armies, 1917-1941, and reported the following:
Readers who open Forging the Anglo-American Alliance to page 99 will find themselves dropped into the tumultuous aftermath of World War I. Trying to come to terms with the enormous losses of the Great War, some British and American writers feared the imminent decline of Western Civilization. Many Britons and Americans naturally responded by embracing pacifism, advocating disarmament, and decrying nationalism as an antidote to prewar militarism and arms races.

As page 99 explains, however, career British and American army officers took a very different view of the war. The destructiveness of the conflict reinforced their belief in maintaining a strong army as a guarantee of their nations’ security. The officers’ similar military perspective set them apart from popular mainstream writers of the Lost Generation such as Ernest Hemingway, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves, who emphasized the darker side of the war and captured the growing postwar cynicism of traditional institutions. Instead, army officers on both sides of the Atlantic accepted that war was a normal occurrence that was both necessary and glorious.

British and American officers’ wartime experience as allies also gave them many fond memories of fighting together. The wartime recollections of British and American officers provided common ground that allowed them to build friendships and trust with much greater ease than they had before the war. This was a crucial factor in expanding the personal relations that ultimately laid the groundwork for the British and American armies’ effective cooperation during World War II.

The Page 99 Test works remarkably well as a way for any potential reader to get a sense of the major themes in Forging the Anglo-American Alliance. This book endeavors to illustrate the many factors that drew British and American army officers together in the two decades prior to World War II, and page 99 discusses one of the most important, the legacy of World War I. Readers who choose to read the entire book will find the officers’ friendly relations all the more surprising in light of the hostility that many of their nations’ citizens harbored toward their former allies after the war. One of the major elements of the book that page 99 does not allude to is just how many areas in which British and American officers found common ground after World War I. They cooperated in policing their respective empires, occupying Germany, foiling alleged communist conspiracies, and sharing the latest military technologies. Yet even though page 99 is only a small extract, it is a representative sample of the book because, like the work as a whole, page 99 emphasizes the experiences and outlook of British and American soldiers and the strengthening links that drew them together.

The views and conclusions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy.
Follow Tyler R. Bamford on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Emily B. Finley's "The Ideology of Democratism"

Emily B. Finley holds a PhD in Politics from The Catholic University of America and a BA in Classics from Trinity University (San Antonio, TX).

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Ideology of Democratism, and reported the following:
Page 99 is curiously representative of The Ideology of Democratism as a whole. Analyzing the political thought of one of the twentieth century’s most influential Catholic philosophers, Jacques Maritain, this page captures some of the major themes of the book as a whole. Maritain is regarded as one of the West’s champions of popular rule, but, like other “democratists,” his understanding of democracy is one that obviates the need to consult the actual people. From page 99:
Maritain’s vision of global governance overlooks the historical reality of the libido dominandi and of local resistance to dictates from faraway places. What Maritain fails to realize, his critic Kolnai argues, is that “a wholesale dethronement of power by a stroke of a pen . . . directly invites the despotic rule of one massive totalitarian power claiming to determine the lives of men, without stopping short at individual rights or Church autonomy, on behalf of their general and identical ‘liberty,’ so as to make the concerted unity of their ‘wills’ fully manifest and valid.”82 In other words, seeking to eliminate power for the sake of liberty only creates a situation ripe for totalitarian “liberty” of the Rousseauean variety. People will be “forced to be free” under the democratist general will.
The Ideology of Democratism contends that the Social Contract of Jean-Jacques Rousseau nearly lays the blueprint for our modern, imaginative conception of democracy. While pretending to treat the people as sovereign, this new understanding of democracy that I label democratism, conceives of an abstract General Will in the place of the actual historical desires of the people. It necessarily requires the direction and guidance of a knowing elite for the unfolding of this “democracy.” Maritain is one example of a philosopher-planner who would do away with historically evolved norms in order to allow a more “democratic” way of life to unfold—according to his designs. The paradox of democratism is that its rational schemes for liberation and equality result concretely in the greater concentration of power into the hands of the few at the expense of the people.
Learn more about The Ideology of Democratism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Alexander Mikaberidze's "Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace"

Alexander Mikaberidze is Professor of History and Ruth Herring Noel Endowed Chair at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. He holds a degree in international law from Tbilisi State University and a Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. After working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, he taught European and Middle Eastern history at Florida State and Mississippi State Universities and lectured on strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College. Mikaberidze specializes in the 18th-19th century Europe, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, and the military history of the Middle East. He has written and edited some two dozen titles, including the critically acclaimed The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (2020).

Mikaberidze applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss one of the unexpected turns in Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov’s long and interesting career, namely him becoming a diplomat. The page starts with the discussion of the end of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1787-1792 and the key provisions of the Treaty of Jassy that ended the conflict. One of them called for exchanging ambassadors “to guarantee the auspicious peace and sincere friendship between the two empires.” Russian Empress Catherine needed a capable and dependable individual “who could settle relations with the Turks, defend Russian interests across the Ottoman realm, and maintain peace along the empire’s southern borders for the foreseeable future.” After careful consideration, the empress decided to eschew professional diplomats in favor of battle-tested military professionals, and , on November 6, she announced the appointment of Kutuzov as the new Russian ambassador plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. This appointment startled many in Russian society but there were good reasons for it. “By choosing a man who had just recently trounced the Turks on the fields of battle, she was sending a clear message to the sultan: toe the line or risk a new war and fresh humiliations.” This analysis continues into the next page.

I do not think the Page 99 Test works well for this book. While it refers the reader to an important twist in Kutuzov’s career, this page does not represent the book well since it devotes much of the space to the discussion of the treaty provisions and arrangements for the exchange of the envoys. I certainly prefer other parts of the books, not the least of them the scenes of Kutuzov commanding troops in battles like Austerlitz and Borodino, or him leading the assault on the Ottoman fortress of Izmail.
Learn more about Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Alison Richard's "The Sloth Lemur's Song"

Alison Richard is the Crosby Professor of the Human Environment emerita and senior research scientist at Yale University. She previously served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and in 2010, she was awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire) for her services to higher education.

Richard applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Sloth Lemur’s Song: Madagascar from the Deep Past to the Uncertain Present, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…Thud went our feet, and sweat dripped off my chin. Then a crackle mixed with the thud, and I felt a whisper of dry wind. Ten more footsteps and we reached the top of the pass. The litter crackled noisily, a warm dry wind blew away sweat, and westward, down from the pass, a sunlit vista of silvery dry forest opened up. The climate and rainforest of the east had vanished behind us.

Where and when did the plants originate that compose today’s grand diversity of vegetation? Almost a century ago, Henri Perrier de la Bâthie pointed out how closely many of Madagascar’s plants resemble species found elsewhere and, based on these resemblances, he assigned them to groups according to their likely land of origin. These origins, he proposed, included not only nearby Africa and islands in the West Indian Ocean but also places much further away. Plants do not walk but, if he was right, they certainly move around a lot. The evidence was limited, however, and the matter remained one of intense speculation.

With acceptance of continental drift as a feature of Earth history, two possible explanations emerged for similarities between plants on the island and in different regions. One was that Madagascar was a kind of crossroads in Gondwana that incorporated species from all the lands around it. The other was that plants mostly made their way to Madagascar by sea or air after it became an island. But there was no way of knowing which or what combination of these scenarios best represented what actually happened.

Molecular and morphological approaches used today in tandem show that Perrier de la Bâthie’s conclusions, reached from morphology alone, turn out to be largely correct…
Would browsers opening The Sloth Lemur's Song to page 99 of get a good idea of the whole work?

Yes and no! On the ‘yes’ side: I frequently use my own experiences to illustrate general points – in this instance, the abruptness with which climate and vegetation sometimes change across this continent-like island. A second ‘yes’: the book recounts Madagascar’s long journey through space and time to the present, transformations in climate, vegetation and wildlife along the way, and how they happened – in this instance, how the island’s vegetation came to be. On the ‘no’ side, page 99 gives no hint that the book includes the origins of the Malagasy people, the voyages entailed in reaching the island, the timing of their arrival, and their subsequent environmental impact. A second ‘no’: reading page 99 made me smile, because elsewhere I emphasize Perrier de la Bâthie’s deep prejudices (glad I gave him his scientific due here!).

I enjoyed this test. I like my page 99 (she says shamelessly), but the test made me reflect anew on my ambitions for the whole book. A major thread, deeply important to me, is missing from page 99. It comes from the idea that we are a species of storytellers, and the first and last chapters reflect on the power of stories to shape, and distort, how we see and interpret the world. Perrier de la Bâthie’s century-old account of Madagascar is effectively a story of Paradise Lost, using evidence that is flawed at best and plain wrong at worst. Yet it still dominates public perceptions of Madagascar. I set out to tell a new and different story. But however well (or not) I have done that in scientific terms, it is only one way of conjuring the land and its history. Landscapes are culturally meaningful as well as subjects for scientific study and a tapestry of stories, not just one - even mine! – will have the best chance of sustaining Madagascar’s people and environments into the future.
Learn more about The Sloth Lemur’s Song at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 5, 2022

Skye Cleary's "How to Be Authentic"

Skye C. Cleary is a philosopher and writer. She teaches at Columbia University, Barnard College, and the City University of New York, and is the author of Existentialism and Romantic Love and co-editor of How to Live a Good Life. Cleary’s writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Aeon, The Times Literary Supplement, TED-Ed, and Los Angeles Review of Books, among other outlets. She won the 2017 New Philosopher Writers’ Award and was a 2021 MacDowell Fellow.

Cleary applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, How to Be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of How to Be Authentic is the conclusion to my chapter on romantic love. If a browser opened to that page, they would find a one paragraph summary of authenticity in the context romantic relationships, including: “Love is neither destined nor found, but created”. Page 99 concludes with a bridge to the topic of marriage and gives an inkling as to what’s coming in the next chapter. The test doesn’t sum up the whole book, but it does reveal two critically important situations that present challenges and opportunities to becoming authentic.

Beauvoir’s views on love are what drew me to her philosophy in the first place so it feels apt that this is where the test brings us! The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was particularly concerned with the way that women’s situation as “The Second Sex”—that is, subordinate to men—perverts us from creating relationships in authentic ways. For Beauvoir, “authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms,” which means that lovers respect one another as individuals, support one another’s flourishing, are generous towards one another and the world around them, and stretch together toward shared goals. It also means that lovers choose to be together and choose to create a relationship together. If people are coerced into a relationship, such as through family or social or financial pressures, then it can’t be an authentic connection. Choice is key. Maybe you say you can’t choose love? Well, probably you can’t choose whether to be attracted to someone, but you can choose whether to pursue a relationship and with whom. If you feel you don’t have a choice, then take a look around to see if you’re being oppressed or if you’re beholden to your passions. While love is sometimes so intoxicating that it feels you’re destined to be with one another, that’s the hormones talking. Love cannot complete us. Any feeling of wholeness is fleeting and illusory. Love isn’t written in the stars. Relationships are never a given. We have to work towards creating harmony—not only in romance but in our connections with other people and the world around us.
Visit Skye Cleary's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Mansi Choksi's "The Newlyweds"

Mansi Choksi is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and two-time Livingston Award Finalist. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic, The Atlantic, and more. She lives in Dubai with her husband and son.

Choksi applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Newlyweds: Rearranging Marriage in Modern India, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Dawinder pressed his wrists into his eyes to stop the tears from falling out. “We are dirty children,” Neetu said mournfully as she rested her head on his shoulder.

When Neetu and Dawinder started to pack their bags, Sachdev hovered around them. He said he had become so attached to them that he could no longer do without them. Couldn’t they stay a little bit longer for the sake of their old Baba? He reminded them about the couples who had left the shelter to be with their families, only to become victims of honor killings.

“Please understand, children, it is not safe,” he said. “Why do you want to go and get killed?”
The Test works. Page 99 of The Newlyweds cuts straight to the heart of the theme that defines this book.

In the book, I write that the pursuit of love and its aftermath is ultimately a kind of displacement. Years after the three couples in this book defy their families to be together, they continue to long for their acceptance.

Some of us are raised to think of romantic love as a corruptible force or a subversion of Indian values. Some of us think of romantic love as a great adventure against the tyranny of tradition. In India, the idea of modernity is a moving frontline between the anarchy of freedom and the peaceful order of tradition, and in my opinion, nowhere is this crisis of meaning deeper than in the choices young people make about who to love. My hope for readers is to leave with the understanding that in the end, we make our calculations between tradition and rebellion and arrive at our own truths about Indian modernity.
Visit Mansi Choksi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 2, 2022

Jehanne Dubrow's "Taste: A Book of Small Bites"

Jehanne Dubrow is a professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas. She is the author of nine poetry collections, including most recently Wild Kingdom (2021), and a book of creative nonfiction, throughsmoke: an essay in notes (2019). Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Colorado Review, and the Southern Review.

Dubrow applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Taste: A Book of Small Bites, and reported the following:
Here’s what you’ll find on page 99 of Taste: A Book of Small Bites:
Today, I’m trying to find an old photograph of my mother. She’s smiling at the camera, a blanketed weight in her arms. She is just about to finish feeding me, about to button her shirt again, to dab a drop of milk from my lips. In my memory, the snapshot is cast in the golden light of late afternoon. It has the shine of archetype, like a classical image of the Madonna with her child. And because I can’t find the photo album to confirm what I remember—I’m sure Mommy glowed with joy, that she was radiant in the picture—I search the Internet instead for representations of mothers and babies. I want to see how the old painters depicted this most mundane of actions, Mary feeding her holy son, a sliver of breast visible to the viewer. I want to find paintings that show us these famous bodies—divine and biblical—as human, the Madonna tired as any new mother might be after nights of tiny…
It's the opening paragraph from a brief essay called “The Tiny Thread of Milk,” which appears at the start of the umami section of the book (Taste is divided into five parts focusing on the five known tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami). “The Tiny Thread of Milk” focuses on breastmilk—a substance that is rich in umami—and looks at paintings by da Vinci and Mary Cassatt to explore visual representations of nursing mothers.

Page 99 of Taste is very typical of the book as a whole. It’s lyrical, a little intimate, but also prepares the reader for close reading and scholarly thinking.

I created Taste for Columbia University Press’s No Limits, which is a series dedicated to interdisciplinary philosophical writing. So, Taste isn’t a personal essay but something more hybridized. In the book, I write about foods as well as substances like sweat and tears. The book includes meditations on novels and poems, works of religion and philosophy, fairytales and mythology, operas, plays, movies, and the plastics arts. I am not a philosopher by training. Taste is idiosyncratic. It’s grounded in my sensibilities as a poet and the particularities of my personal history. My hope, when people read Taste, is that they will imagine what their own versions of such a book would include. When you think of the important tastes in your life, what are they? What do they say about you, who you are, your origins?
Learn more about the book and author at Jehanne Dubrow's website.

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow (April 2010).

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow (November 2012).

Coffee with a Canine: Jehanne Dubrow and Argos.

Coffee with a Canine: Jehanne Dubrow & Lola and Bandit.

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Rohan Mukherjee's "Ascending Order"

Rohan Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was previously Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. He is a former Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the MIT Security Studies Program and non-resident Fellow at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

Mukherjee applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Ascending Order: Rising Powers and the Politics of Status in International Institutions, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ascending Order sets the scene for a case study of the United States as a rising power in the 19th century. The page discusses how US leaders after the Revolutionary War emulated the practices of the European great powers in the domain of maritime law, as a way of gaining acceptance and entry into the club of great powers that dominated the international order. The page also begins to describe how access to this club was restricted after the Napoleonic Wars, when five European great powers (Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and France) formed the Concert of Europe in 1815.

The Page 99 Test works reasonably well for my book, because it shows how a rising power may follow existing rules to gain acceptance among the great powers.

Ascending Order is about the strategies rising powers pursue to achieve equal status with the great powers. The great powers maximize their own power and international status by acting as an exclusive club that co-manages the international order, or the rules and institutions of international cooperation and conflict. Rising powers seek entry into this club as aspiring great powers and co-managers. But which strategy will they choose to assert their claim to equal status?

The central insight of the book is that a rising power’s choice of strategy will depend on the openness and fairness of the core institutions of the international order. A state’s leaders are more likely to cooperate with an order that is open in terms of who gets to lead and fair in terms of how rules are applied across members. Rising powers are less likely to cooperate when the leadership ranks of the order are closed to new members or its rules are biased in favor of the great powers, or both.

Page 99 of Ascending Order provides a glimpse at how the US followed existing maritime law when the international order was relatively open and fair, in the early 19th century. It would soon become less open under the Concert of Europe, leading US leaders to alter their strategy of seeking equality with the great powers. Similar patterns can be found in the other case studies of the book, on Japan and naval arms control between the two World Wars, India and nuclear nonproliferation in the Cold War, and China in the post-Cold War ‘liberal international order’.
Visit Rohan Mukherjee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Joseph O. Chapa's "Is Remote Warfare Moral?"

Joseph O. Chapa is a US Air Force officer and holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Oxford. He has served as a Predator pilot and instructor of philosophy at the Air Force Academy. Chapa has published on military ethics in academic journals including Social Theory and Practice and The Journal of Military Ethics, and in online venues such as War on the Rocks and The Strategy Bridge. He currently leads the Artificial Intelligence Cross-Functional Team in Air Force Futures and serves as the Department of the Air Force's chief responsible AI ethics officer.

Chapa applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Is Remote Warfare Moral?: Weighing Issues of Life and Death from 7,000 Miles, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Just because moral injury is separate from, and often lacks the acute trauma of, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is no small thing. Long before the term moral injury was coined, [J. Glenn] Gray described it—and the way a soldier might respond to it—in combat:

It is a crucial moment in a soldier’s life when he is ordered to perform a deed that he finds completely at variance with his own notions of right and good. … he discovers that an act someone else thinks to be necessary is for him criminal. … He feels himself caught in a situation that he is powerless to change yet cannot himself be part of. The past cannot be undone and th present is inescapable. His only choice is to alter himself, since all external features are unchangeable. (Gray, The Warriors, 184)

Moral injury, of course, falls on a spectrum. Perhaps not all examples will be as life-changing as those Gray describes. He seems to suggest here that a soldier must “alter himself” only if the task he is required to perform is, in some sense, beyond the pale—so far outside what he believes to be morally justifiable that he knows that committing the act will injure him. And moral injury is often characterized by feelings of guilt and shame. The counterintuitive revelation from a number of recent studies, however, is that combatants can experience moral injury even when the acts they commit are morally justified and even when they commit no wrong. This finding is a surprising phenomenon. Taking a human life can be a traumatic thing, even when doing so is morally justified, as it often is in war.
There is one sense in which the book fails the Page 99 Test, and another in which it performs exceptionally well. The book fails the test in that page 99 invites the reader to wade deeply into subject matter that might seem out of place given the book’s topic. There is no mention here of remote warfare, of “drones,” of the US’s post-9/11 wars, or of the Predator and Reaper aircraft and their crews. Page 99 is about the distinction between post-traumatic stress disorder and moral injury—two terms that might fit more naturally in a book about psychology than one about morality. One could read page 99 and yet have no idea that this book is about the morality of remote warfare.

And yet, there is another sense in which the Page 99 Test points readers to a thread that is woven throughout the book’s other pages: if we are to understand remote warfare, we must look, not just to modern military technology and not just to the post-9/11 “global war on terror,” but to the broader context: to the long history of airpower, to two millennia of just war thinking, and to enduring features of human nature, to include moral psychology.

Even if, as Ford Madox Ford suggests, the quality of this book should be revealed on page 99 (and I’ll leave that determination to readers), the scope of the book, in this case, will not be. To engage with (notice, I do not say “to answer”) the question, is remote warfare moral, I have looked closely at the warrior ethos, at moral justifications for killing in war, at military virtue, at the history of war, and yes, of course, at moral psychology. My own view is that these questions are not simple, and their answers are not obvious. But as the age of “drones” quickly ushers us into the age of military artificial intelligence and lethal autonomous weapons systems, it is crucial that we ask them.
Visit Joseph O. Chapa's website.

--Marshal Zeringue