Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Suisheng Zhao's "The Dragon Roars Back"

Suisheng Zhao (赵穗生) is Professor and Director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Dragon Roars Back: Transformational Leaders and Dynamics of Chinese Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the Dragan Roars Back: Transformational Leaders and Dynamics of Chinese Foreign Policy is an analysis of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as part of his enlarged periphery strategy to build China’s regional primacy toward global dominance, like the US beginning in West Hampshire to build global primacy.

The Page 99 Test may not be the best browsers' shortcut to the book but works well because the analysis presents a crucial case of chapter 3 with the title, “Xi Jinping’s Big Power Diplomacy: Showing China’s Sword,” which explores how Xi Jinping buried his predecessors’ low-profile diplomacy and pursued the China Dream of Great Rejuvenation. Xi Jinping is one of the three transformational leaders studied in the book who have charted unique courses of Chinese foreign policy in the quest for security, prosperity, and power. Mao Zedong led revolutionary diplomacy to keep the wolves off the door; Deng Xiaoping’s developmental diplomacy created a favorable international environment for economic prosperity; Xi Jinping launched big power diplomacy to return China to the global centrality it occupied throughout most of human history. With the ultimate decision-making authority on national security and strategic policies, these leaders have made political use of ideational forces, tailoring bureaucratic institutions, exploiting the international power distribution, and responding strategically to the international norms and rules to advance their foreign policy agendas in the path of China’s ascendance.

This book provides a historically in-depth, conceptually comprehensive, and up-to-date analysis of the critical role of transformational leaders in the transition of Chinese foreign policy, leading to the ascendance of China to global power. Understanding how these leaders saw the world and how they tried to change it is essential if we are to understand where Xi Jinping intends to lead China.
Follow Suisheng Zhao on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Vincent W. Lloyd's "Black Dignity"

Vincent W. Lloyd is associate professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. His books include Black Natural Law and the coedited Race and Secularism in America. He coedits the journal Political Theology.

Lloyd applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Black Dignity: The Struggle against Domination, and reported the following:
From page 99:
What of counter-histories, histories from below, histories of struggle against domination? [These] are best understood as tactical interventions in a domain controlled by the forces of domination. They are a means of gathering arms for the present struggle, motivated by the needs of the present struggle. If such histories aspire to more, if they aim to provide grand narratives of the oppressed, their readers forget that these histories, too, are con­taminated by domination.
Each of the main chapters of Black Dignity is named after a hashtag that animates the Black Lives Matter movement. Page 99 of Black Dignity comes in the chapter on #BlackFutures. As a work of what my publisher calls “observational philosophy,” Black Dignity starts with the language and practices of a social movement, and then it fills in the moral vision guiding the movement.

One observation I made is that the language of hope circulates much less around racial justice activism today than it did at the time of the civil rights movement. Instead of talking about hope, activists talk about “futures.” My chapter explores what this could mean and how conjuring futures differs from hoping. I argue that the optimism of the civil rights era has been exhausted, and the future-directed thought of today’s racial justice movement does not envision any path from our present world to a world of racial equality. Therefore, discussing a world of racial equality requires different genres than prose: poetry, song, and even prayer.

Given that distinctive stance toward the future, how does the moral vision of Black Lives Matter approach the past? This is what I am exploring on page 99. I worry about attempts to romanticize Black history or past movements for racial justice. I also worry about attempts to approach the past neutrally, supposedly presenting just the facts. Instead of these approaches, I argue that we ought to be oriented toward the past by our current struggles against domination, and we ought to use a rigorous engagement with the past as a tactic to advance these struggles.

While page 99 explores a quite particular set of issues – and rather more abstract ones that the book as a whole is concerned with – it does offer a taste of the approach and themes of Black Dignity.
Learn more about Black Dignity at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Black Natural Law.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2022

Sandra Joireman's "Peace, Preference, and Property"

Sandra F. Joireman is Weinstein Chair of International Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Peace, Preference, and Property: Return Migration after Violent Conflict, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Peace, Preference, and Property discusses the case of return migration to Liberia after the second civil war ended in 2003.
When and how people return to their communities of origin varies across contexts. The return experience in Liberia highlights the benefits and challenges of customary tenure systems in accommodating returnees after lengthy displacements. In northern Uganda, after peace was established, most of those internally displaced people returning home did so over a relatively short period of time (three to four years), although they did not necessarily rebuild their houses where they were previously located. Liberian return migration was different, with people returning to their communities of origin sporadically over many years, often with long sojourns in intermediate locations.
The Page 99 Test is somewhat helpful in identifying the core content of the book as it pertains to one of the case studies that I use in the book and highlights the fact that return migration looks different across contexts. What it does not show the reader is the overall scope of the problem of forced displacement as a result of violent conflict, the focus on individual preferences for return, and the possible solutions. I doubt that the Page 99 Test is the most helpful method of assessing the content of this book. The intent of this book is to package academic research and make it accessible to general readers, policymakers, and others specifically interested in the problem. Because of that wide readership and nature of the content - which engages international law as well as both qualitative and quantitative data – I have tried to make the introduction a clear and compact assessment of the book. For that reason, I would think any page in the introduction would be more helpful in identifying the core content of the book than page 99. That said, I can also see how this might not be the case for other types of books.

One of the things I try to do in this book in order to make it more accessible to the general public and to policymakers is to include first person accounts from interviews I have conducted with forcibly displaced people around the world. Those interviews have changed the way I think about forcible displacement. Specifically, they have helped me understand forcible displacement as an intergenerational problem. Often people are displaced for so long that they raise their children in places of refuge and those places of refuge become home for the children raised there, influencing their desire to return to a ‘home’ they do not remember.
Visit Sandra Joireman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Rachel E. Walker's "Beauty and the Brain"

Rachel Walker is an Assistant Professor of History in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Hartford.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Beauty and the Brain: The Science of Human Nature in Early America, and reported the following:
The short answer to What's on page 99? Not much text. Page 99 has an image that takes up about three-fourths of the page, leaving room for just 6 lines of prose. In those lines, I analyze a fabulous magazine article from 1831, in which an author compares the faces of two fictional women. Aunt Mabel is a kind and virtuous paragon of proper womanhood. Her sister, Aunt Silly, is a classically beautiful but vapid exemplar of frivolous femininity. Aunt Mabel was never “perfectly beautiful,” but she always had the physiognomic indications of a good character. Aunt Silly, by contrast, was born with elegant and symmetrical features. Yet her questionable character eventually caught up to her, imprinting itself on her face and remolding her skin into a “musty parchment.” By recounting this tale, the writer tried to make a simple point: people’s faces disclosed their personalities. This meant that women with bad characters would eventually become ugly, even if they had initially been blessed with all the markers of classic beauty. Virtuous women, by contrast, would always have pleasing—if not perfect—physiognomies. The anecdote is intriguing because it conveys two contradictory notions that simultaneously circulated in early American society. On the one hand, there was this idea that character and intelligence mattered more than beauty. On the other hand, there was also this belief that beauty was, in fact, critically important. Why? Because beauty was the visual manifestation of a person’s inner nature.

Page 99 has only 6 lines of text. If that’s all they saw, browsers would get an incomplete (and perhaps perplexing) picture of my work. In some ways, though, I think this page effectively conveys three of my book’s major points. First, it shows that early Americans legitimately believed they could discern character from people’s faces. Second, it reveals that when people interpreted each other’s minds and bodies, they did so in gendered ways. Finally, this page analyzes a claim that physiognomists and phrenologists made on a regular basis: that vice could disfigure the human body, while a virtuous life could make even the plainest woman appear pretty. By dramatizing that point, page 99 hints at what made physiognomy and phrenology so appealing to Americans. These were optimistic sciences that emphasized the possibility of self-help and personal improvement.

Beyond the text itself, this page also captures the spirit of my book in another way: it’s dedicated to an image. One of the major claims that I make in this project is that science and visual culture worked together to shape how early Americans evaluated each other’s personalities. By showcasing an image, page 99 indirectly illustrates the centrality of visual culture to the intellectual universe that I unearth in this book. My ultimate goal was to recover a mostly forgotten scientific world—a culture where people thought it entirely ordinary to search each other’s bodies for secrets about human nature and psychology. For modern observers, this physiognomic universe might seem unfamiliar at best (and at worst, a bit ludicrous). For early Americans, though, scrutinizing heads and faces was a normal part of life. More than that, it was an act with social and political consequences.
Follow Rachel Walker on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2022

Melanie Newport's "This Is My Jail"

Melanie D. Newport is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration, and reported the following:
Toward the end of the chapter where page 99 falls, I’ve assessed the symbolic power of rehabilitated Black prisoners and the anti-corruption visions of white liberals in the political construction of jails as “model detention camps.” In this section about the role of comedian Dick Gregory in raising the profile of civil rights struggles in Chicago’s House of Correction, page 99 includes the somewhat successful campaign by Black corrections officers to get a racist warden fired, in part because they were being blocked from promotions. The outcome is a bit of a mixed bag, because a white corrections officer was promoted to be the new warden while a Black CO was made number 2 in command, which largely proved the point the Black corrections officers were making about the limits they faced for pay raises and power in the institution.

Page 99 provides an accurate sense of the book in that takes the reader into the thickets of local politics that are driving jail reform. Page 99 hits right in the middle of the book, as the Civil Rights Movement was making its mark on the Chicago House of Correction and Cook County Jail in the 1960s. By this point in the story, jails in Chicago have been operating for 130 years as racialized institutions essential to political repression and class warfare. Over time, the major question of jailing in Chicago had changed from “should we have jails?” to “what kind of jails should we have?”

For people incarcerated and working in jails, the matter of how to deal with jails as an inevitable presence in urban life was informed by a new demographic reality: by the 1960s, both the city and county jails were predominantly Black institutions. Policymakers advocated for jailing because they believed they were good for society. Racial ideologies about the benefits of jailing were starting to extend to the Black workers who were becoming responsible for jailing their neighbors and community members.

However, where page 99 departs from the rest of the book is that it is one of the rare spots where I had a clear sense of how workers were intervening in local jail politics. The archive around labor organizing in Chicago’s jails is thin, and part of why I loved getting to tell the story of the guard activism at the Chicago House of Correction is that they were explicit about how they saw themselves as civil service professionals worthy of dignity and respect from both jail bosses and the city politicians working to undermine civil rights protests.

While the activities and sympathies of jail corrections officers in Chicago today are largely hidden, page 99 of my book shows that their politics and history are more complicated than shown by simple narratives of conservative or punitive political ascendence. Complicating every assumption we have about the rise of mass incarceration is the goal of the book, so in that sense, the Page 99 Test works.
Visit Melanie Newport's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Larrie D. Ferreiro's "Churchill's American Arsenal"

Larrie D. Ferreiro is an engineer, historian and the author of several award-winning books in history, science and technology, and was the 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist in history for his book Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. He teaches at George Mason University in Virginia and Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

Ferreiro applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Churchill's American Arsenal: The Partnership Behind the Innovations that Won World War Two, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Churchill’s American Arsenal ends with the following paragraph:
By late 1943… American aircraft were also being fitted with the same [radar] systems as the RAF, but Army Air Forces doctrine still saw daylight bombing by mass formations of bombers as the best means of conducting precision attacks against specific German military targets, notably factories, oil refineries, and railroads. However, without adequate long-range fighter protection, unescorted American bombers, even in massive formations with mutually supporting gunfire, were being chewed up by the Luftwaffe before they could even reach their targets.
Let’s unpack that and see what it tells us about the book as a whole.

The chapter is called “Fight in the Air,” a reference to a line in Winston Churchill’s famous speech after the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940. The great bulk of the British army had been saved, but all of its equipment – tanks, artillery, even rifles – had been left behind on the beaches. Germany, meanwhile, had swept through France and completed its domination of Europe. Churchill vowed to keep fighting and even re-take the continent. But to rebuild its forces would require months and even years to complete, and would require America’s help. Churchill’s immediate goal was to carry out “devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers… upon the Nazi homeland.” Even before the United States entered the war the following year, the two nations joined forces – military, industrial and scientific – to produce the weapons needed to carry out these attacks.

Two revolutionary inventions, developed in Britain and built in the United States, led the bombing campaigns. Airborne radar, which allowed bombers to “see” their targets through the heavy clouds that blanketed European skies, was the brainchild of two British scientists. After Dunkirk, the British brought the invention to the United States, where American scientists and engineers created and built radar sets in their thousands. By 1943, radars equipped both nations’ entire bomber fleets.

At the same time, the RAF placed orders for its new fighter, the P-51 Mustang, to be built in America to British specifications. Delivered in 1942, the RAF immediately saw that the aircraft would become a superb high-altitude escort fighter if fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Fortunately, American automobile plants were already building the Merlin, and Roosevelt himself directed that the Army Air Forces order the newest Mustangs fitted with the Merlin engine. By 1943, the combination of radar-equipped bombers, escorted by P-51 Merlin Mustangs, allowed for Churchill’s “devastating, exterminating attacks” that decimated German industry, paved the way for the Allied invasion the following year, and victory soon after.
Learn more about Churchill's American Arsenal at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Brothers at Arms.

The Page 99 Test: Brothers at Arms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Anthony Rudd's "Painting and Presence"

Anthony Rudd studied Philosophy as an undergraduate at Cambridge and took his PhD at the University of Bristol (1998). He was a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, 1999-2001, and since 2001 has taught in the United States at St. Olaf College, Minnesota where he is now Associate Professor of Philosophy Emeritus. He is the author of Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical (1993); Expressing the World: Skepticism, Wittgenstein and Heidegger (2003); and Self, Value and Narrative: a Kierkegaardian Approach (2012).

Rudd applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Painting and Presence: Why Paintings Matter, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works in a way for my book; at that point I am discussing a specific example or set of examples which I use to support my general thesis. The book is a philosophical inquiry into why paintings matter – that is, into whether and why we should care about them. (Why do people go to art galleries? Hang paintings on their walls? Why do artists create paintings?) My basic idea is that paintings matter primarily because they can put us into touch with reality – not so much by accurately depicting it, but by making things immediately present to us in their essential natures. My initial model for this is a certain kind of religious painting – the Orthodox icon, which aims, not to accurately depict the way a saint looked, but to bring us (if we approach it in the right frame of mind) into the presence of sanctity. I go on to argue that paintings of all sorts – e.g. a Cezanne picture of a mountain, or a bowl of apples - do something similar, in that they make the essential natures of things immediately present to us; bring us into relation to them. On page 99 I am in the middle of another of my case-studies, in which I discuss classical Chinese landscape paintings and cite contemporaneous Chinese art critics and historians to show that they understood the purpose of painting in this way:
The artist intuits the inner essence of things and by so doing is able to make it manifest in the painting. But the appreciator of that painting is then able to experience this making manifest or making present; what the artist was able to intuit is thus made manifest to the viewer as well. Guo Xi emphasizes the way in which a good painting can make the landscape present to its viewer: ‘Without leaving your room you may sit to your heart’s content among streams and valleys. The voices of apes and the calls of birds will fall on your ears faintly. The glow of the mountain and the call of the waters will dazzle your eyes glitteringly.’ The idea that a (monochrome) painting can show you glow and dazzle – and make you hear birds and apes – makes it clear that it is not literal, illusionistic representation that is the concern here, but conjouring up the total effect of a place. The painter needs to visit the landscape, not for the sake of photo-realism, but in order to grasp its significant aspects. And if he or she succeeds, the painting enables the viewer, in a sense, to be in the presence of what it depicts; as the icon allows the devout viewer to be in the presence of the saint that it depicts.
So page 99 does contain a pretty clear (I hope) summary of the basic thesis of my book, although applied to the specific context of one particular tradition of painting.
Learn more about Painting and Presence at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Monica Liu's "Seeking Western Men"

Monica Liu is Assistant Professor in the Department of Justice and Society Studies at the University of St. Thomas.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Seeking Western Men: Email-Order Brides under China's Global Rise, and reported the following:
Seeking Western Men examines the phenomenon of global internet dating and cross-border marriage between Chinese women and men from English speaking Western countries. The couples do not speak each other’s language and rely on translators at commercial dating agencies to facilitate their email exchanges and face-to-face meetings. Page 99 of this book details a love triangle between Vivien, divorced Chinese woman, her American fiancé John, and her lover Kuan – a married Chinese businessman with whom she was having an extramarital affair while engaged to John. Although many couples in my study broke up over the Western men’s inability to provide for their Chinese brides, this was not the reason behind John and Vivien’s faltering relationship. Despite fulfilling all of Vivien’s financial demands, John still felt insecure, as if he was being interviewed for a job and could fail at any time.

Unlike John, who splurged thousands of dollars on Vivien, Kuan spent much less, paying only for food throughout their affair. Hence, I argue that Vivien’s attraction to Kuan was not based on an exchange of his wealth for her sexuality, but rather a feeling of sexual attraction toward money and power, which she could not replicate with John. Page 99 captures one of the key insights of the book: the rising significance of class distinction and the declining privilege associated with race, ethnicity, and nationality as an affluent capitalist class emerges in both Western and non-Western countries. Vivien’s attraction to Kuan was tied to his class position as a successful businessman and the masculinity he embodied, characterized by confidence, leadership, assertiveness, and extroversion. By contrast, John, the middle-class American who held a technical job and managed only a small team at work exhibited none of those traits.

Apart from her disinterest in John, Vivien also rejected Edmond, a white American fire fighter, whom she immediately flagged as provincial when they met in person. At the same time, she became infatuated with a British business executive of Pakistani descent. Clearly, Vivien desired men who were part of the global economic elite, and she was quick to reject nonelites, even if those men were whites from the Global North. Her experience challenges readers to rethink the relationship between race and class. In the U.S., race remains an important status marker independent of class, because ethnic minorities still hold significantly less economic, political, and social power than the white majority, despite their accomplishments at the individual level. In China however, the old racial hierarchy that once featured white men on top is crumbling, as a new capitalist class dominated by local business elites emerge, thereby making Asia home to the largest number of billionaires in the world. This book highlights how such macro-level changes in global political economy can manifest in people’s everyday decision-making in the intimate sphere, including who they choose to date and marry.
Learn more about Seeking Western Men at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2022

Jefferson Cowie's "Freedom's Dominion"

Jefferson Cowie holds the James G. Stahlman chair in history at Vanderbilt University. His books including Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, and his work has appeared in numerous outlets including Time, the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Politico.

Cowie applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Freedom's Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power, and reported the following:
The American idea of freedom is a complicated, and at times, surprisingly oppressive, idea. By studying one county in the American South, Freedom’s Dominion looks at how it was used as an ideological weapon to steal, to oppress, to dominate—and to fight federal authority whenever it got in the way. A reader opening Freedom’s Dominion to page 99 would be immediately immersed in a narrative detour into the economic foundations of the idea, a pre-historic development I call an “ancient curse.”

That page begins by tracing a prehistoric shoreline that cut across the American South and directly through Barbour County. When the waters receded, they left behind what would be known as the “Black Belt” for the color of the rich soil it left behind. For planters and speculators in the cotton economy, that buried shoreline created one of the great economic opportunities in world history: the foundation for the cotton slave economy that fed the mills of the bourgeoning industrial centers of the world.

Yet that ancient brew created not just opportunity, but what modern economists call a “resource curse.” In cultures with one major resource—be it oil, diamonds, cotton, or any other commodity—the politics and culture of that society wrap themselves around that commodity, strangling out other economic opportunities and political ideas. In such societies, the answer to any problem tends to be more exploitation of the same resource at all costs. In this case, the idea of freedom also got wrapped around that the fight for cotton land and labor.

The Page 99 Test works since it shows how this county was trapped in that ancient curse, and how, in the name of freedom, settlers pushed Indigenous people off their land; enslaved African people to work it; and resisted federal authority whenever it got in their way. In the case of the deep South, freedom meant the freedom to dominate Indigenous land and African labor in the southern frontier, a region Thomas Jefferson proclaimed to be the “Empire of Liberty.”

The limits of the Page 99 Test are also made clear. By focusing on the ancient foundation of the cotton curse, the test misses the heart of the book: the political dramas of the long history of local resistance to federal power that stretches from Indian dispossession in the 1830s to the modern civil rights era of the 1960s and beyond.
Visit Jefferson Cowie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Rick Wartzman's "Still Broke"

Rick Wartzman is head of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of Claremont Graduate University. His commentary for Fast Company was recognized by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing with its Best in Business award for 2018. He has also written for Fortune, Time, Businessweek, and many other publications. His books include The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Current Interest and named one of the best books of 2017 by strategy+business; Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History and a PEN USA Literary Award; and The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire (with Mark Arax), which won a California Book Award and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

Wartzman applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Still Broke: Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism, and reported the following:
If you open to page 99 of Still Broke: Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism, you don’t get a full sense of the story, but it does provide insight into one very important element of it: Walmart’s willingness to engage with its critics.

The page drops you into a section of the narrative in which top Walmart executives are holding secret talks with the Service Employees International Union in 2006. These conversations would ultimately result in Walmart lining up alongside the SEIU—a bitter foe—to endorse universal healthcare. “It is interesting when you actually sit down with people that you think are your enemy,” said Linda Dillman, a Walmart executive vice president who managed the company’s medical benefits, “and you find out they’re just another human being, dealing with the same things you are.”

By endorsing universal healthcare—and taking a series of actions to become a more environmentally sustainable company—Walmart was able to transform its image over the years. It has “gone from being seen as a problem to becoming a significant part of the solution,” as one observer put it. This is the retail giant’s “remarkable transformation,” as highlighted in the book’s title.

But page 99 also foreshadows where Walmart falls short—the “Still Broke” and “limits of socially conscious capitalism” language that makes up the rest of the title. As noted, Walmart and the SEIU discussed a number of issues, including whether the company would agree in the urban areas it was trying to enter to pay its workers a prevailing wage that wouldn’t undercut what labor organizers had negotiated with other supermarkets in those cities. This idea went nowhere.

Eventually, Walmart would raise its pay. But the bottom line is that the average Walmart worker still makes less than $29,000 a year—hardly a living wage. It still has workers who are on food stamps and Medicaid. Many struggle to make ends meet.

Page 99 gives a hint of how Walmart has made real progress on a number of fronts in terms of being more responsible. But putting more money into its workers’ pockets has always been the toughest step for the company to take.
Follow Rick Wartzman on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

The Page 99 Test: The End of Loyalty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2022

Stephen G. Rabe's "The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy"

Stephen G. Rabe is the Ashbel Smith Chair in History (emeritus) at the University of Texas at Dallas. He has written or edited thirteen scholarly books, including Kissinger and Latin America: Intervention, Diplomacy, and Human Rights (2020). Rabe is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Rabe applied the "Page 99 Test" to his newest book, The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy: A Study of Resistance, Courage, and Solidarity in a French Village, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains the essence of The Lost Paratroopers. Page 99 begins with a new subsection, “Paratroopers Come to Graignes.” The text then proceeds:
Of the 378 aircraft that carried the 82nd Airborne Division’s paratroopers toward Normandy, one group logically had to earn the dubious distinction of being the most off target. This was a nine-plane formation that carried the majority of the Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 507th Regiment. On these nine planes were 143 paratroopers. The distance between the villages of Amfreville and Graignes is 31.2 kilometers or about 19 miles via the N 13 highway.
An inspiring and compelling story ensued from what happened when the paratroopers found themselves lost in Graignes, Normandy, a village of 900 people. Although it speaks of a D-Day event, the book is not military history per se. It focuses on the unbreakable bond between the paratroopers and the villagers. The ranking officer decided to defend the village. Villagers were overjoyed by the decision. They went into the marshes or marais to retrieve the paratroopers’ equipment, gathered intelligence, and carried out reconnaissance missions. The women of the village launched a round-the-clock cooking campaign to feed their liberators. Village women risked their lives, surreptitiously entering German-occupied towns to obtain food supplies. The people of Graignes embraced the paratroopers, because they despised the Nazis. Middle-aged men, including the parish priest, were proud veterans of World War I. Young men, who had been in the French army, were now held as hostages in Germany. The occupying Germans were seizing other young men for forced labor in Germany. Children went hungry under the Nazi-imposed food rationing system. German troops were also stealing the region’s renowned Normande cows.

The paratroopers ultimately had to abandon the village on 11-12 June, when a battalion of Waffen—SS attacked and overran the outnumbered paratroopers. The Nazis executed wounded paratroopers and villagers, including the parish priest. The people of Graignes remained steadfast in the face of war crimes, the torching of their village, and forced exile. They helped guide 90 paratroopers to safety through the marais. A farm family hid another 21 paratroopers, including the author’s father, for three days in a barn. The rescued paratroopers went on to participate in the Normandy campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, the jump over the Rhine River, and the liberation in the Rhineland of thousands of Eastern European slave laborers. In the postwar years, the paratroopers often returned to Graignes and successfully lobbied the U.S. government to bestow highest honors on the villagers for their courage and solidarity.
Learn more about The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy at the Cambridge University Press website and contact the author at his faculty email address.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Christian Bailey's "German Jews in Love"

Christian Bailey is Assistant Professor of History at Purchase College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, German Jews in Love: A History, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 is not a bad page to read to get a flavor of my book. This caught me somewhat by surprise: a cliché about historians’ books is, after all, that while the intro and conclusion are supposed to neatly summarize the book’s arguments and its significance, the middle bits are all too often skimmed and used rather than really read. Well, what do we find on page 99: a paragraph on Jewish and Christian intermarriage that profiles the kind of people who married in and married out, and then a section on motherhood. The argument in this page, and the chapter from which it’s taken, is that Weimar Germany – that apparently tumultuous, raucous and ultra-modern experiment in German democracy – wasn’t all that different from the pre-WW1 era in terms of attitudes towards how married women should behave. As the page’s closing paragraph tells us, experts and politicians of (almost) all ideological stripes stressed women’s abiding maternal mission.

In at least one way the page illustrates a goal of the book: to explore how the dramatic shifts in Germany’s political history affected individuals’ and families’ everyday lives. This is a book about Jewish history so it’s clear that some political changes such as the Nazi takeover of the German state had a profound effect on Jewish Germans’ private lives. But, at other times, it wasn’t so obvious that the lives and values of individuals and communities shifted in sync with regime changes. This is one aspect of the broader question that’s at the heart of a book that ranges from the 1870s to the 1970s: how did Jewish women and men gain and preserve a sense of self during arguably the most turbulent century in German history. While their feelings of religious, political, national and ethnic belonging informed these Jewish Germans’ identities, I argue that by falling in love and marrying partners they loved, they gained a durable if malleable sense of who they were. This sense of self helped them to cope as they experienced social and geographical mobility, and social exclusion and forced migration. Yet, as the later chapters describe, the total invasion and destruction of private life during the Third Reich compelled many German Jewish families to rethink who they were and where they belonged.
Learn more about German Jews in Love at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Kyle Smith's "Cult of the Dead"

Kyle Smith is Associate Professor and Director of the History of Religions Program at the University of Toronto. An award-winning teacher, he is the author or co-author of five books about Christian saints and martyrs.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book tells the apocryphal story of an exchange of letters between a first-century Mesopotamian king and Jesus of Nazareth. The king had written to Jesus hoping that the Galilean wonderworker would visit his kingdom and heal him of some incurable illness. In his response, Jesus declines the king’s invitation but promises to send one of his followers instead. As the legend about the correspondence between Jesus and the king developed, Jesus’s handwritten letter itself became a talisman with the power to heal. In later versions of the story, Jesus sends not a letter but a miracle-working image of his face imprinted on cloth.

As the chapter in which this story is found explains, the most renowned relics associated with Jesus were the objects that touched him during his death: the cross, the crown of thorns, the lance of the Roman soldier, and the shroud in which he was buried. Christians, so my book explains, cared immensely for the things associated with their holy dead, be they these objects of Jesus’s passion or the very bones of the martyrs themselves.

And by focusing on the cult of these martyrs—that is, by focusing on all the objects, rituals, and stories through which centuries of Christians have cared for and remembered their saints—this book tells the story of how Christianity became (and still remains) a cult of the dead.
Visit Kyle Smith's website.

The Page 99 Test: Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 14, 2022

Simon P. James's "How Nature Matters"

Simon P. James is Professor of Philosophy at Durham University. He has written a number of articles on environmental philosophy as well as several books, including Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics, The Presence of Nature, and Environmental Philosophy: An Introduction.

James applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Nature Matters: Culture, Identity, and Environmental Value, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, just three words appear on page 99 of How Nature Matters; and, although they’re perfectly good words arranged in a very sensible way, they don’t reveal much about the book’s content. So, I’m sorry to say that the Page 99 Test doesn’t work in this case.

But here, anyway, is a brief summary of what the book’s about.

Nature is often good for us. As many environmentally-minded people say, it provides us humans with a range of valuable ecosystem services. But that, I suggest, is very far from being the whole truth about nature’s value. Canyons, mangroves and other such things can be valuable even when they aren’t good for us. And even when they do contribute to our wellbeing, they do not always do so as service-providers. In many cases, for instance, they are good for us because they are part of who we are.

To accommodate these facts, we need a new theory of nature’s value, one based on part-whole relations. In How Nature Matters I develop such a theory.

I do so by engaging with recent work in environmental philosophy as well as some cutting-edge policy-focused debates. But I also explore twelve case studies concerning (amongst other things) the creation of ski resorts, the mining of bauxite, the controversial practice of dugong hunting and the religious significance of the site where the Buddha is said to have become enlightened. The end result is, I believe, an account of how nature matters which is humane without being human-centred.
Learn more about How Nature Matters at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Charles S. Cockell's "Interplanetary Liberty"

Charles S. Cockell is Professor of Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. His scientific research includes the study of life in extreme environments, the habitability of extraterrestrial environments, and human space exploration. He has worked for NASA and the British Antarctic Survey and spent many seasons in Antarctica and the High Arctic. He received his doctorate in molecular biophysics from the University of Oxford and his BSc from the University of Bristol. As well as over 300 scientific papers and numerous popular science books, including Space on Earth, which made the case for the indivisible links between space exploration and environmentalism, he has written a number of papers and edited books on the subject of extraterrestrial liberty.

Cockell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Interplanetary Liberty: Building Free Societies in the Cosmos, and reported the following:
Can there be any freedom for the individual on the Moon or Mars where even the oxygen you breathe may be controlled by someone else? On page 99 of Interplanetary Liberty: Building Free Societies in the Cosmos I explain how centralized power in settlements constructed beyond Earth is not only inevitable, since a state of anarchy will lead to disaster in an instantaneously lethal environment, but is beneficial. Good organisational structures in space will more effectively ensure safety for everyone and success in environments in which people will be utterly dependent on technology for their air, food, water and every other commodity required to exist.

Page 99 captures the essence of the book – the tension between the need for collective organisation, yet the desire to build societies where individuals have some semblance of personal liberty. In any extreme environment where there is a high degree of inter-dependence, there is a tendency for conformity and regulations to take hold to the point of making that society tyrannical. I draw on evidence from the Israeli kibbutzim to Scottish islands to examine these challenges.

To avoid tyranny emerging from the body politic in space, we need to improve the conditions for freedom. That can be done though political and economic mechanisms that range from encouraging democratic deliberation in the political sphere to encouraging free transactions in the economic sphere. But we can also use engineering to enhance the conditions for freedom, for example by decentralizing and modularising vital supplies such as oxygen.

Beyond politics, I explore science, education, law, and art as other means by which settlements in the extremes of space can be vivified to make them places where humans can thrive. Crucial, as page 99 shows, is to accept the fact that space will require intensively collectivist activities. But as 18 th century political philosophers understood, the way to address problems of authority is not to imagine an unattainable utopia, but instead to take that reality and turn it to good ends.

Interplanetary Liberty is not a blueprint for a utopia, nor is it a book that makes that case that tyranny is inevitable beyond Earth. Rather, by assuming that tyranny will emerge in space we can put in place the checks, balances, and structures that will maximise human flourishing. That approach, I believe, will yield the most successful human polities across the cosmos.
Follow Charles Cockell on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Lisa Weaver Swartz's "Stained Glass Ceilings"

Lisa Weaver Swartz holds a PhD from the University of Notre Dame. She lives in the bluegrass region of Kentucky where she teaches sociology and writes about gender and religion.

Her ongoing research agenda expands her attention to the intersection of religion, gender, and culture to a global frame with a project interrogating faith-based humanitarian work in southeast Asia.

Weaver-Swartz applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Stained Glass Ceilings summarizes the symbolic construction of gender at the evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary. Paradoxically, Asbury invites women into all levels of leadership but also resists the language and logics of feminism.

Advancing its analysis of what I call “genderblind egalitarianism,” page 99 reads, “Rigorous academic work, much of it emerging from Asbury’s own scholars, has yielded robust biblical support for women in ministry. Official policy ensures that contemporary practice can follow suit. Women can be, and indeed are, ordained, hired, and promoted. All that needs to be done, according to Asbury’s genderblindness advocates, is to proceed with the business of genderblind unity.” The page also describes students’ ambivalence showed toward feminism: “[The students I interviewed] often mentioned women’s right to vote, for example, as a positive contribution. Quick and emphatic qualifications, however, nearly always followed. In fact, many expressed overt hostility.” Indeed, many within the community perceive feminism as inappropriately divisive.

The Page 99 Test works moderately well for this book. It succeeds in representing the book’s primary task: a critical yet empathetic analysis of gendered evangelical culture. Moreover, the page highlights the term “genderblind egalitarianism,” which is a key construct within the book. Where the Page 99 Test is weaker, however, is in its ability to reflect the book’s overall shape. The page falls near the middle of the third chapter, one of two devoted to Asbury Seminary. The book’s other two major chapters highlight another seminary community, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which takes a strikingly different approach in its construction of gender, barring women from most leadership roles. One phrase, near the beginning of the page, saves the test. Nodding briefly to the book’s comparative shape, it begins, “In striking contrast with Southern’s discourse of male headship...”

Another weakness of page 99 as a representation of the whole is that it is almost completely analytical. It does not include the stories, extended quotes from interviews, or descriptions of material culture that give this book its texture.
Visit Lisa Weaver Swartz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Michael W. Nagle's "The Forgotten Iron King of the Great Lakes"

Michael W. Nagle is a professor of history and political science at West Shore Community College in Scottville, Michigan. He is the author of Justus S. Stearns: Michigan Pine King and Kentucky Coal Baron, 1845–1933 (2015), which won the Kentucky History Award.

Nagle applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Forgotten Iron King of the Great Lakes: Eber Brock Ward, 1811-1875, and reported the following:
A reader turning to page 99 of this biography of Eber Brock Ward, would find the first page of chapter four, which is entitled “A Man of Iron and Steel.” The Page 99 Test seems to work well for my book because Eber Ward eventually became a major producer of iron and steel in the United States. Page 99 provides a transition from the first part of the book, which focuses on Ward’s early life and his early career in business, to the book’s second half where Ward established the Eureka Iron Company outside of Detroit, and then took steps to expand his business empire.

Although Eber Ward was born into a modest family, when he died in 1875, he was the richest man in Michigan. He started his career as a cabin boy working for his uncle, Samuel Ward. Eventually, he became his uncle’s protégé and ultimately his partner. Together, the Wards developed one of the largest fleets of steamboats on the Great Lakes. Eber eventually expanded his business empire to include railroads, lumber, mining, glassmaking and iron and steel production. He was the first in the United States to produce steel using the more modern Bessemer method. His operations were so expansive, in 1873 the Chicago Tribune labeled him the “Iron King of the West.”

While Ward was successful in business, his actions were often controversial. He ran his companies with an iron fist and ruthlessly dealt with anyone who dared to compete with his operations. He fought against unions and attempted to control aspects of his employees’ private lives. Ward’s family life was disappointing. He was an absent parent and unfaithful husband. Yet, he was an ardent opponent of slavery and his vessels often carried runaway slaves to freedom on the underground railroad. Ward strongly supported the Union during the Civil War and defended the rights of former slaves in the years following the war.

The book also addresses Ward’s interest in spiritualism, the battle over his estate valued at $5.3 million, and the exploits of his daughter, Clara, who gained international headlines of her own when she married a Belgian Prince. However, her marriage ended in divorce and scandal after she left her prince for a Hungarian violinist.

Many are unfamiliar with Ward’s accomplishments, but he was a true titan of industry whose business practices predated those of other business moguls, such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.
Follow Michael W. Nagle on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Jonathan Freedland's "The Escape Artist"

Journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland is a weekly columnist for the Guardian, where he edits the paper’s op-ed pages and chairs its Editorial Board. He was previously the Guardian’s Washington correspondent. In 2014 he won the George Orwell Prize for Journalism.

Freedland applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, and reported the following:
The ninety ninth page of The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World contains what might be one of the most harrowing passages of the book: a description of the mechanics of the death camp, specifically the process of ‘selection’, whereby the Nazis would assess a trainload of Jewish arrivals, deciding who would live and who would die. Those selected to live – albeit as prisoners, forced to do slave labour - would be sent to the right. Those selected to be murdered immediately, in gas chambers, would be sent to the left.

A reader who opened the book at that page could - very nearly - have a misleading impression of the book. They might think they are reading a general account of Auschwitz, albeit one written more directly and – I hope – engagingly than a regular history book. Only in the final lines of page 99 is there a hint of something else, with an appearance of the book’s central character: the Escape Artist himself, Rudolf Vrba, who at that time, in 1943, went by the name he was born with, Walter Rosenberg.

Walter is there, at the foot of the page, because he was an eye-witness to those events: a prisoner at the camp, tasked with unloading the cattle cars, he would be standing on the railway platform as the ‘selections’ unfolded, night after night. Indeed, it was that experience, which very nearly broke him, that prompted the decision that would change his life – and would lead to the saving of 200,000 lives.

For Walter realised that the Nazis were able to carry out their plan to eradicate the Jews of Europe in part because their victims had no idea what lay in store for them. The Jewish arrivals had been lied to at every stage of their journey to Auschwitz, told they were being ‘resettled’, to start new lives in the east. That’s why they lined up in relatively orderly fashion: because they were utterly ignorant of their fate. The teenage Walter decided someone had to escape and get word to the remaining Jews – and the world – of what Auschwitz meant. And he decided that person should be him. What’s more, he actually pulled it off, in what has to be the most extraordinary escape story of the second world war, a story whose pivotal moment may well be said to come on page 99 of this book.
Follow Jonathan Freedland on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The 3rd Woman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2022

Margaret K. Nelson's "Keeping Family Secrets"

Margaret K. Nelson is the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology Emerita at Middlebury College in Vermont. Her books include Like Family: Narratives of Fictive Kinship, Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, and, with Rosanna Hertz, Random Families: Genetic Strangers, Sperm Donor Siblings, and the Creation of New Kin.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Keeping Family Secrets: Shame and Silence in Memoirs from the 1950s, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens in the middle of a paragraph describing the costs to a family unit – and to each of the individual members of a family –of keeping silent about the adoption of a child born to an unwed teenager. The pain of secrecy, the text suggests, echoes through the generations. The siblings of a girl whose child vanishes without ever being claimed or named, may fear that same fate for their own. The parents who have denied their daughter’s child eventually divorce. But, the next paragraph argues, the greatest cost is to a young girl herself: she must act as if nothing happened; she can never openly acknowledge her own anguish.

I love the way the Page 99 Test both works and doesn’t work for this book. It doesn’t take too much discernment after landing on that page to understand that this book explores the consequences of keeping secrets. Because the last line stops in the middle of a sentence, a reader might be tempted to turn the page, to find out what career Lorraine Dusky held and what happened t
o her. That reader might also wonder about the other names littering the page: are Carol Schaefer, Margaret Moorman, and Ellerby real people or pseudonyms? How did the author gather these first-person accounts of keeping secrets?

But many more clues would probably be needed even to know what other questions to ask. Why does the book focus on the 1940s and 1950s? Are the secrets kept then still secrets today? What other secrets beyond unwed childbirth does the book explore? Do all family secrets have the same negative consequences? Does keeping family secrets ever have positive consequences? What family secrets are kept today and how do they shape family dynamics?
Learn more about Keeping Family Secrets at the NYU Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Parenting Out of Control.

The Page 99 Test: Like Family.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Kenneth Gross's "Dangerous Children"

Kenneth Gross’s books include The Dream of the Moving Statue, Shakespeare’s Noise, Shylock is Shakespeare, and Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life, which won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. A former fellow of the Guggenheim and Bogliasco Foundations, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Bellagio Study Center, and the American Academy in Berlin, he teaches English at the University of Rochester.

Gross applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Dangerous Children: On Seven Novels and a Story, and reported the following:
It’s a little uncanny. Page 99 of Dangerous Children turns out to be both center and side-light. That page comes in the middle of a chapter on J. M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, where I evoke a “magical boy” more cruel, creepy, unpredictable, and sad than people often remember. Like other imaginary children in the book—Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Henry James’s Maisie, or the girl-child at the center of Lolita—Peter speaks for lost and unknown childhoods. These children are dangerous (also endangered) partly because of what adults don’t understand in them, and in how they remind adults of what they don’t understand in themselves. The children show forms of play and knowledge that challenge adult visions of innocence. They have curious powers of life, continuity, and survival, but they’re also aligned with ghosts, with the world of the dead. And it’s about the life of ghosts that my 99th page mainly speaks.

The revelation is oblique because I focus there not on Peter but on a lesser-known Barrie work, the play Mary Rose. Its title character is a young mother who returns as if from the dead after twenty-one years, still the unready, half-grown girl she was when she married. She haunts and is haunted by a changed world, morphing into an angry child-spectre:
It’s hard to catch the eerie, creepy delicacy of the play. The figure of Mary Rose bears within herself, even more closely than Peter, the loss, fright, and loneliness of not growing up. To her parents, she was and continues to be like a creature who has “never really been born,” to use the phrase that so caught Samuel Beckett in C. G. Jung’s description of one of his patients. Or she’s like a being come into the world “before its time”—that’s what the nameless speaker of Beckett’s Not I, a mouth suspended in darkness, says of the woman whose history she recounts, in truth speaking of herself. The sense of being both in and out of time is here part of the loneliness of ghosts. “Please, I don’t want to be a ghost any more” says the ghost of this childish mother to her unrecognized adult son, hoping that he has power to help her. Alfred Hitchcock, who saw Barrie’s play in its original production, long wanted to make a film of Mary Rose, though he never got further than the draft of a screenplay.
At once ghost-child and ghost-mother, Mary Rose gives us a more extreme version of the uncanny child-life that Barrie conjures in Peter Pan.

At the bottom of the page I do return to the novel, to the description of Peter racing ahead of Wendy, her brothers, and the lost boys as they fly from the Neverland back to Darling’s house in London. Peter bars the nursery window so they can’t get in, wanting to keep Wendy for himself. But he can’t stop watching sad Mrs. Darling as she imagines her children’s impossible homecoming:
“It’s Wendy’s mother! She is a pretty lady, but not so pretty as my mother. Her mouth is full of thimbles, but not as so full of thimbles as my mother’s was.” ... Of course, he knew nothing whatever about his mother ... He ceased to look at her, but even then she would not let go of him. He skipped about and made funny faces, but when he stopped it was just as if she were inside him, knocking.
We see a manic, orphaned imp staring in at a window, haunted by an absent mother even as his mind is invaded by a living one. “It was just as if she were inside him, knocking.” That’s not the Peter Pan I grew up with.

In the book, even on pages filled with play such ghosts arrive.
Learn more about Dangerous Children at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 69 Test: Shylock Is Shakespeare.

My Book, The Movie: Shylock Is Shakespeare.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Una McIlvenna's "Singing the News of Death"

Una McIlvenna is Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University. A literary and cultural historian of early modern Europe, she is the author of Scandal and Reputation at the Court of Catherine de Medici (2016).

McIlvenna applied the Page 99 Test to her newest book, Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900, and reported the following:
Singing the News of Death explores the once widespread and enduring phenomenon of execution ballads, songs that told the news of crime and the often brutal public executions that the criminal faced. The book is divided into two sections: the first talks about key elements of execution ballads that are necessary to understand in order to make sense of the songs, such as the re-use of familiar melodies and the complex role of truth and fiction, and the second discusses the different crimes that are found in the ballads. Page 99 is from the first section, and falls in the middle of chapter 3, which is about the role of shame and dishonour in the public execution ritual, and how and why shame is regularly mentioned in execution ballads. The start of the page finishes off a section on the dishonorable, drunken behaviour typical of English executioners, different to the highly professional behaviour of most Continental executioners. That section of the book is important because it explains that the mere touch of the executioner could ritually ‘pollute’ the convict, with disastrous consequences for them and their family. The page then moves into a discussion of the extra-legal punishments, such as shaming penalties like charivaris and ducking stools, in which the community used public dishonour to shame members who by their (usually sexually related) behaviour threatened the order of society. I wanted to show how music was a central part of all punishment in early modern Europe, whether capital or not. In this way, page 99 is strangely not terribly representative of the book, in that it doesn’t mention executions, but instead, for example, people being forced to ride backwards on an ass through the city. But the discussion of ‘rough music’ (the English term for a charivari) does at least reinforce the central role of music in punishment, something that is key to understanding the appeal of execution ballads over such a long time period. It also helps us to understand why executions had to be public: the community’s witnessing of the dishonorable punishment would have serious ramifications in what was an honour-based society. In fact, it is once executions cease to be public, and take place behind the prison walls, that spells the demise of execution ballads after four centuries.
Visit Una McIlvenna's website and follow her on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Moheb Costandi's "Body Am I"

Moheb Costandi, trained as a neuroscientist, is a science writer based in London whose work has appeared in publications including Nature, Science, New Scientist, and Scientific American. He is the author of Neuroplasticity and 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know.

Costandi applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Body Am I: The New Science of Self-Consciousness, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book describes a now infamous 1983 study by Benjamin Libet et al, who measured the brain activity associated with voluntary action, and recorded what they called the 'readiness potential', which occurred several hundred milliseconds before study participants reported being conscious of their intention to perform the action:
This led Libet and his colleagues to conclude that “cerebral initiation of a spontaneous, freely voluntary act can begin unconsciously, that is, before there is any (at least recallable) subjective awareness that a ‘decision’ to act has already been initiated cerebrally.”
This particular study is often interpreted to mean that we do not have free will, or that free will is nothing more than an illusion. Subsequent studies have replicated these findings. More recently, however, some researchers have suggested that Libet and his colleagues interpreted their findings incorrectly, and that the readiness potential is actually noise that occurs while the brain is selecting from a repertoire of possible actions.

Body Am I is about the role of bodily awareness in self-consciousness. Bodily awareness consists of two main components: the sense of body ownership, or the feeling that one's body belongs to one's self, and the sense of agency, or the feeling that one is in control of one's body and is responsible for its actions. This underlies our sense of free will, or the capacity to choose between different courses of action.

Page 99 is in the chapter about agency, in a section about the control of voluntary movement, and so it does not give an accurate picture of the subject of the whole book. The work described on the page is intriguing, however: Libet et al's findings - and the concept of free will more generally - is debated by neuroscientists and philosophers to this day.
Visit Moheb Costandi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Andrew S. Mathews's "Trees Are Shape Shifters"

Andrew S. Mathews is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Trees Are Shape Shifters: How Cultivation, Climate Change, and Disaster Create Landscapes, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Such expert framings of climate change assume that ordinary people are ignorant, in need of education and persuasion, and it ignores the things that they already know and care about. A better approach starts by asking how people know and experience their surroundings, including, but not only, climate. As I have shown in this chapter, climate change, is for most people not called into doubt, but also for most, climate is an abstract process that is not linked to the nonhumans, to the landscape structures, or to the political scales of action to which they are committed. The case of the Monte Pisano suggests that we should study climate change politics by focusing on people’s relationships with the non humans they care about, the landscape structures they live in, and the histories they recount. In the following chapters we will begin to move out from the Monte Pisano to the politics of landscape care in Italy more broadly. As we shall see, the politics of weather/plant/soil/connections have permeated environmental politics and climate change science in Italy.

Even when, as will increasingly happen in the future, people begin to talk more about climate change, we should notice the political contexts in which they use these words and how they link them with the landscapes where they work. Ranchers in the American West, who worry about the decline of pastures and the health of their cattle in the face of drought, and who resent government oversight, should not be asked how or if they “believe in climate change.” The political scales that they attach to their experiences of environmental change may not connect with the scale of global climate change, nor does the caring for one’s surroundings always produce positive environmental change. Hill farmers in Italy who do not “believe” in climate change, as well as those who do, may find more detailed and dramatic ways of noticing and talking about environmental change, through their capacity to notice droughts, forest fires, terracing systems, and pest epidemics.
This page does an excellent job summarizing one of the key arguments of the book, that people experience and respond to environmental change as it appears in their daily lived experience. The ‘climate change’ of scientists and policy makers is a mathematical construct, the average of weather over a large scale in time and space. We all live in a world of weather: rain, clouds, sun and wind. We are experts in our own environments, and we always have to translate the expert knowledge of scientists and policymakers and see how it makes sense (or not) in terms of the environments that we know. A lot of climate policy is premised on ordinary peoples’ lack of knowledge, when in reality, ordinary people know different things from scientists and policymakers.

This section does have one critically important thing missing however. One important argument of the book is that people care about tree and landscape morphology, and that trees and landscapes can change shape in response to human care, forest fires, diseases, and disasters. I want readers to learn to notice plant and landscape morphology by looking at diagrams and examples. You could find some of these on pages 101-108, or at my own drawings of chestnut trees on page 55. Plants are amazing shape changers and they have persuaded humans to reshape landscapes also. If you learned one thing from this book, I hope that would be it!
Visit Andrew S. Mathews's website.

--Marshal Zeringue