Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gary Smith's "Distrust"

Gary Smith is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University and was an Assistant Professor there for seven years. He has won two teaching awards and written (or co-authored) more than 100 academic papers and 15 books. He is the author of The AI Delusion (2018) and co-author with Jay Cordes of The 9 Pitfalls of Data Science (2019), which won the 2020 Prose Award for Excellence in Popular Science & Popular Mathematics by the Association of American Publishers.

Smith applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Distrust: Big Data, Data-Torturing, and the Assault on Science, and reported the following:
I was skeptical when asked to try the Page 99 Test: Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.

I appreciate the power of random sampling but I also recognize the importance of sampling size. One page? Yet, if it can only be a single page, the number 99 is appealing. The initial and last pages are likely to be unrepresentative. Page 100 is closer to the middle of most books but it is a suspiciously round number. The number 99 sounds like it has been selected on the basis of some kind of scientific study. So, page 99 it is.

Here is page 99 of Distrust (the initial bracketed text is from the bottom of page 98 and is included because it is needed to understand the beginning of page 99):
[Page and Brin’s 1998 graduate school paper describing the Google algorithm anticipated the inability of search engines to distinguish between fact and] fiction and their vulnerability to manipulation by corporations peddling products:
There is virtually no control over what people can put on the web. Couple this flexibility to publish anything with the enormous influence of search engines to route traffic and companies which deliberately manipulate search engines for profit become a serious problem.
They did not anticipate manipulation for political reasons.

The easy access and wide reach of the Internet in general and social media in particular allows pretty much anyone to say pretty much anything and perhaps find a receptive audience, including such evidence-free assertions as the Earth is flat; school shootings are false-flag operations; and Bill Gates orchestrated the COVID19 crisis so that he can use vaccines to insert microchips in our bodies.

Ironically, such far-fetched nonsense is the kind of dragon that science was intended to slay, but now the dragons of fanciful delusion are more powerful than ever because of the Internet and social media that science created and developed. Like a Frankenstein monster that has gotten out of control, the Internet powers the anti-science movement. Too many people have reacted to the heroic successes of scientists in developing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with distrust, disinformation, and refusals to be vaccinated.

The costs of rejecting science are enormous, not just for scientists and anti- scientists, but for society as a whole.
I am definitely surprised by how well page 99 captures the content and style of the book. It may not be the very best page—it may not even be above-average—but it is remarkably apt. On the other hand, Distrust argues that there are three ways (disinformation, data torturing, and data mining) in which the hard-won reputation of science is being undermined. Page 99 only touches on the disinformation prong of the three-pronged assault, so it may mislead browsers into thinking that Distrust is just a book about the internet and social media.

I wager that this myopia is common. If a book covers a variety of topics or makes a complex argument, a single page is unlikely to capture the breadth of the work. On the other hand, the Page 99 test asserts that this page will reveal “the quality of the whole,” which may have more to do with the style of writing than the content. If so, then—for better or worse—I think a Page 99 Test of Distrust succeeds.
Visit Gary Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Dean King's "Guardians of the Valley"

Dean King is an award-winning author of ten nonfiction books. He crossed the Sahara on camels and in Land Rovers while researching Skeletons on the Zahara, trekked the Long March trail in the mountains of Western China for Unbound, and was shot at while researching The Feud in Appalachia. For his most recent book, Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship that Saved Yosemite, King traveled to John Muir’s boyhood homes in Dunbar, Scotland, and rural Wisconsin and spent months roaming Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.

King applied the "Page 99 Test" to Guardians of the Valley and reported the following:
Alas, page 99 of Guardians of the Valley is a service page and prelude to “Part 2: Making the Mountains Glad,” Muir’s phrase explaining his reason for founding the Sierra Club, which he will soon do. While this page, containing two brief lists of presidents and interior secretaries, does not give you a sense of the narrative style or soul of the book, it does tell you a few things.

The epic story of John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson’s efforts to create and shape Yosemite National Park and to save the American landscape take place over four decades, involving six presidents, even more interior secretaries, and countless Congressional leaders, state politicians, and powerbrokers. The political landscape is an essential element of the story. This page tells you that the action in the next seven chapters takes place during the administrations of Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley, from 1889 to 1901. Five secretaries of the interior served during that time, and Johnson would call the first of these, John Noble, in the role from 1889 to 1893, “officially the pioneer of the conservation movement in this country” (a veiled dig at the attention-grabbing “Wilderness Warrior,” Theodore Roosevelt).

Page 99 of Guardians shows that the book’s historical context is accessible and handy. If the ghost of an image on the preceding blank page tempts you to turn it, a spectacular century-old photograph of Half Dome on the other side just might hook you. And if you flip forward from page 99, you will find one of my favorite chapters, which recounts the rather humorous first meeting of Muir, the California nature savant, and Johnson, an urbane New York City magazine editor, at the grand Palace Hotel in San Francisco, followed by their groundbreaking visit to the even grander Yosemite Valley, a visit that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Dean King's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Feud.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sander van der Linden's "Foolproof"

Sander van der Linden is professor of social psychology in society at the University of Cambridge and a regular advisor to governments and social media companies on fighting misinformation. His research has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere.

Van der Linden applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Foolproof, you’ll find the following story:
There is one video, in particular, that has been linked to multiple deaths. In this viral video – which looks like grainy CCTV footage– two young boys are playing cricket near a driveway alongside a fairly empty street. After a short while, a black motorcycle appears with two individuals wearing black helmets. They approach the group of children but then suddenly make a U-turn and disappear from the frame. They reappear a few seconds later and this time the motorcycle stops next to a young boy. The boy was simply a bystander watching the other boys play cricket. The passenger then snatches the kid and wedges the boy between himself and the other passenger while quickly driving off. The other children notice and pursue the motorcycle, albeit unsuccessfully. The video ends with the children returning to the driveway conversing and expressing panic. For all intents and purposes, this looks like a genuine kidnapping.
This story is one example of a whole range of false rumours that went viral on WhatsApp in India and subsequently led to a series of violent mob lynchings. This video turned out to be fake but it nonetheless alarmed local villagers about the possible presence of kidnappers. I think the Page 99 Test does a pretty good job here of characterizing what the book is about: the harmful consequences of misinformation. In fact, page 99 just so happens to illustrate the most violent example in the book of how viral misinformation can lead a whole mob of people to violently attack innocent citizens suspected of kidnapping children. It’s also a nice example of the role of social media in spreading misinformation, which is another big theme that runs throughout the book. What page 99 doesn’t do as much is talk about solutions, though the remainder of the page details how a fact-checker ultimately uncovered that the video was misleading and presented out of context (the full video was actually part of an anti-kidnapping campaign in Pakistan). But if the reader wants to know more about evidence-based solutions grounded in our research, they’ll have to read beyond page 99!
Visit Sander van der Linden's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2023

Leslie Reperant's "Fatal Jump"

Leslie Reperant is a doctor of veterinary medicine and earned a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University. She has published her research on emerging infectious diseases in leading scientific journals, including The Lancet and Science.

Reperant applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Fatal Jump: Tracking the Origins of Pandemics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fatal Jump is the closing page of Chapter 3 on heirloom and souvenir parasites and pathogens that have afflicted humans (and other hominins) since prehistory. It opens on a world map showing the prehistoric dispersion routes of Helicobacter pylori along the migration of humans within and out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago: a pandemic that spread at the rhythm of our hunting-gathering ancestors. This spiral-shaped bacteria inhabits the lining of the stomach of more than half of the human population today, and is associated with increased risk of developing gastritis, ulcers, and cancer. Its association with humans started long ago, upon a prehistoric host jump from a mysterious animal into humans. Because the species of Helicobacter acinonychis present in the stomach of large African felids, like lions and cheetahs, is closely related to humans’ Helicobacter pylori, researchers proposed that prehistoric hunters may have acquired the bacteria after savoring some large felid stomach. But thorough analyses of the genetic sequences of these two species of Helicobacter revealed, shockingly (or perhaps not much so), that the jump had occurred in the opposite direction: the ferocious large felids acquired the bacteria after devouring prehistoric human stomachs instead, about 45,000 years ago. The remainder of page 99 reads:
So long for lions as the source of our once-zoonotic Helicobacter: our prestigious shoulder rubbing had turned ugly. The next closest relative of Helicobacter pylori and Helicobacter acinonychis is Helicobacter cetorum, found in dolphins and whales. This leads to yet more perplexing interrogations on the still enigmatic origin of Helicobacter pylori in humans and of Helicobacter cetorum in cetaceans for that matter.

Retracing the prehistoric origins of heirloom and souvenir parasites and pathogens is fraught with uncertainties, and often uncovers unexpected—and sometimes unexplainable—developments along the paths of their long associations with hominins. And yet, with languages and pottery cultures, the phylogeography of heirloom parasites and pathogens retraces the remarkable prehistoric journey of modern humans across the Earth’s continents and illuminates the enduring relationships hominins have had with some of the agents of humans’ most entrenched chronic diseases.
Fatal Jump passes the Page 99 Test fairly well. The short story of the rise of Helicobacter pylori in humans is a neat example of an unexpected jump of a zoonotic pathogen from a so-far mysterious animal—yet probably hunted for food or other resources—to humans. It illustrates well the global spread of such new associations due to the (long) mobile propensity of humans. It showcases these associations’ far-reaching consequences on today’s human health. But the end paragraph also provides a clue on what is to come. It ends on a reflection about the enduring relationships humans have had with some of the agents of our most entrenched chronic diseases. The changes that propelled humanity from prehistory into history would soon allow for the rise and spread of the agents of more devastating, acute infectious diseases.

Fatal Jump is indeed a journey, by leaps and bounds around the world and through time, that leads the reader to examine the extraordinary circumstances—evolutionary, ecological, and otherwise—that converged and gave birth to some of our most wicked plagues and pandemics, including the latest one. This journey is full of (often unsettling) surprises. In the field of emerging infectious diseases, we know to expect the unexpected. Dear prospective reader, the question I have for you is: Are you ready to meet the unexpected?
Visit Leslie Reperant's website and follow her on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Paula Marantz Cohen's "Talking Cure"

Paula Marantz Cohen is Distinguished Professor of English and Dean of the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University. Her books include Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us about Empathy; Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism; Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth; and the bestselling novel Jane Austen in Boca.

Cohen applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Talking Cure: An Essay on the Civilizing Power of Conversation, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of the chapter titled “Schools of Talk,” which gives a quick overview of various artistic and cultural groups who gathered together to converse. On this particular page, I am in the midst of a discussion of the Romantics, and make reference to the creative sibling relationships of Charles and Mary Lamb and of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. I also refer on this page to the group that gathered in Geneva one stormy night that included Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley; Mary’s half-sister Claire Claremont; Lord Byron; and Byron’s physician, John Polidori. Their conversation about galvanism, inspired by the lightning outside, led to Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein.

I can’t say that this page is particularly representative of my book as a whole. I think more characteristic are chapters that connect conversation to other, more personal and whimsical things: food and drink, French culture, seminar teaching, discussing Shakespeare on zoom, etc. In fact, the chapter in which page 99 falls was the most difficult for me to write since it is not about my own cultural observations (though it obviously it contains my selection of and take on these various groups). Along with the Romantic poets, I present mini-commentary on Socrates’ conversations, Dr. Johnson’s Literary Club, The Bloomsbury Group, The Algonquin Round Table, The Partisan Review Crowd, and others. In writing this chapter I felt obliged to cover a vast terrain in a cursory fashion and am likely to be taken to task for mistakes and omissions. Still, I think the page reflects my interest in literature and family dynamics and a bit of my sense of humor.
Visit Paula Marantz Cohen's website.

The Page 99 Test: Of Human Kindness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Guian A. McKee's "Hospital City, Health Care Nation"

Guian A. McKee is Associate Professor of Presidential Studies, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, and author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Hospital City, Health Care Nation: Race, Capital, and the Costs of American Health Care, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, Hospital City, Health Care Nation: Race, Capital, and the Costs of American Health Care, captures an important moment in the overall narrative. It describes the complex 1969 negotiations between leaders of an African American community organization and Johns Hopkins Hospital administrators over the establishment of a community-based health care organization in the East Baltimore neighborhoods surrounding the hospital. These discussions took place within the context of the social movements of the 1960s generally and the urban rebellions of April 1968 specifically – a moment of high tension in Baltimore and around the U.S. They also followed the recent implementation of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, the latter of which had experienced a troubled rollout, but which provided an important source of funding for the new program. As a result, the negotiations involved profound questions about power and financing that determined who would pay for the new health program and by whom it would be controlled.

Interestingly, the first line of page 99 concludes a comparison on the previous page to another experimental Hopkins health program in the new suburban city of Columbia, Maryland. There, Johns Hopkins had a far easier task in arranging financing because of the widespread availability of private health insurance, which offered a revenue stream for the suburban program, and the presence of corporate investment capital ready to finance its health facilities. Neither of these conditions applied in the low-income neighborhoods of East Baltimore.

While the Page 99 Test effectively captures several key themes of Hospital City, Health Care Nation, it also misses critical components of the book. It does an excellent job of highlighting two things. First, it captures the deep tensions that characterized the relationship between Johns Hopkins and the neighboring African American community, rooted in experiences of sometimes discriminatory care at the hospital, in the low wage labor that many neighborhood residents supplied for Hopkins, and above all, in an urban renewal project a decade earlier that cleared a large amount of housing but did not ultimately supply new apartments that had been promised for displaced residents (a story that is recounted in chapter 2 of the book). Second, it effectively highlights how the financing of health care in the United States has contributed to deep disparities in access to quality health care – the goal of the East Baltimore project – and in health outcomes. Although page 99 itself doesn’t make this explicit, those disparate outcomes fall heavily along lines of race and class. In this sense, the page 99 test provides a snapshot of the processes that have created racial health disparities in the United States.

Hospital City, Health Care Nation, however, is more than just a local history of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins. It moves across scales of local, regional, state, and federal to retell the story of the U.S. health care system by focusing on the economic weight and political power of hospitals and large health systems. Specifically, the book shows that this economic importance is rooted in the high costs of the U.S. health care system, which play out in both the creation of jobs and the provision of care in every community around the country. These costs and what they represent, I argue, are central to why the system has been so hard to reform, and why its inefficiencies and irrationalities persist to the present. This is examined in chapters about national debates over health care policy in the U.S, which Hospital City, Health Care Nation in turn relates back to the local context of Baltimore. As useful as the Page 99 Test is in capturing the community and racial dimensions of such relationships, it does not give the reader a sense of this larger structure and argument.
Learn more about Hospital City, Health Care Nation at the University of Pennsylvania Press website and on a book page on the website of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 17, 2023

Toby Matthiesen's "The Caliph and the Imam"

Toby Matthiesen is a Marie Curie Global Fellow at Stanford University and Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, leading a project on Sunni-Shii Relations in the Middle East. In the fall of 2023, he is joining the University of Bristol as Senior Lecturer in Global Religious Studies/Global Islam, and he has previously held fellowships at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and the LSE.

Matthiesen applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Caliph and the Imam: The Making of Sunnism and Shiism, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In fact, strongly Sunni Sufi orders like the Naqshbandiyya also expanded. A founding figure of the order, after whom it is named, Baha al-Din Naqshband Bukhari (718–791/1318–89), received patronage by Central Asian rulers, who supported a shrine complex around his tomb in Bukhara. Naqshbandis retained a strong influence on Timurid rulers and their successor states. Since they emerged in a region with a marginal Shii presence, they had no major quarrels with Shiism at the outset. Yet since the Naqshbandiyya is unique amongst Sufi orders in that it traces its spiritual lineage to the Prophet back through three chains, one of them, which in time came to be the most important one, through Abu Bakr, made it especially averse to Shii attacks on Abu Bakr. Its anti-Shiism intensified when the order spread to Herat in the fifteenth-century amidst Sunni–Shia tension there and competition with some of the pro-Alid Sufi orders mentioned above that were slowly becoming more openly Shii.

Abd al-Rahman Jami (817–898/1414–92), the poet and Naqshbandi mystic, epitomises this. He and other Naqshbandis were elegiac defenders of the Ahl al-Bayt, who, they argued, had been misappropriated by Shiism. Sultan Hussain Bayqara, who had an interest in Shiism and expanded the Ali shrine, was apparently encouraged by a Shii cleric to include the names of the Imams in prayer and on coins, and the Sultan may have seen this as an affirmation in the line of the local allegiance to the Ahl al-Bayt. However, he may have been dissuaded by Jami and other Sunnis from doing this. Still, Jami endorsed the ‘discovery’ of the Ali shrine at Mazar-i- Sharif, despite himself having just returned from a visit to the Ali shrine in Najaf on the way to the Hijaz. Jami was trying to get Hussain Bayqara to prevent Shia from ‘discovering’ more graves associated with descendants of the Imams in the area. His endorsement of the Ali shrine may have been a way to limit that practice and claim the Ahl al-Bayt for Sunnism. In a poem written for the ruler, Jami refuted Shiism. The anti-Shii turn of the Naqshbandis thus came at a time when a ruler considered adopting Shiism. Unlike many other Sufi orders, the Naqshbandiyya emphasised adherence to Islamic law and Hadith. This emphasis on the Sunna and on the order’s lineage through Abu Bakr intensified after the rise of the Safavids in Iran.
Based on a synthesis of decades of scholarship in numerous languages, The Caliph and the Imam: The Making of Sunnism and Shiism, is the first truly global and longue durée history of Sunni-Shii relations. The dispute over who should guide Muslims, the Caliph or the Imam, marks the origin of the Sunni-Shii split in Islam. Moving chronologically, my book sheds light on the many ways that it has shaped the Islamic world, outlining how over the centuries Sunnism and Shiism became Islam’s two main branches, and how Muslim Empires embraced specific sectarian identities. Focussing on connections between the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, it reveals how colonial rule and the modern state institutionalised sectarian divisions and at the same time led to pan-Islamic resistance and Sunni and Shii revivalism. It then focuses on the fall-out from the 1979 revolution in Iran and the US-led military intervention in Iraq. As I show, however, though Sunnism and Shiism have had a long and at times antagonistic history, most Muslims have led lives characterised by confessional ambiguity and peaceful co-existence. Tensions arise when sectarian identity becomes linked to politics.

A book of almost a 1000 pages can obviously not be summarised just by looking at page 99. Having said that, I think the test works quite well. Page 99 deals with a topic that can be seen as almost a secret thread throughout the book: The question of Sufism and how it fits into the story of Sunnism and Shiism. In general, Sufism often straddled the line between the two and Sufis are often thought to have at least an inclination towards Shiism. Sufis usually trace a spiritual lineage back to the Prophet, often through his offspring, the Ahl al-Bayt, the Family of the Prophet, who are especially revered by Shia. Yet, historically, most Sufis would probably have said they were Sunnis, with the exception of specifically Shii Sufi orders like the Safavids. The more I investigated this question, the more difficult it became to answer. Hence, the story of different Sufi orders and the ways in which they influenced early modern Muslim Empires and later Muslim Revivalism occupies a significant space in the book. On page 99, I introduce the Naqshbandi order, the perhaps most anti-Shii of the Sufi orders, and one that played a formidable role in Islamic history, from India to the Middle East. I then outline the role of Abd al-Rahman Jami (817–898/1414–92), the poet and Naqshbandi mystic, and how he tried to convince a Central Asian ruler to embrace the Ahl al-Bayt but not go as far as embracing Shiism. The Naqshbandi order is an important exception to the story of Sufism’s alleged closeness to Shiism, and Naqshbandis were in various contexts responsible for strong anti-Shii polemics and actions. And yet, the Naqshbandi order also saw different subbranches and iterations, some of whom even accepted Shii pupils. Later in the book I explain how such different figures as Syria’s official clergy, the Turkish Islamists of the AKP, and former Baathists in Northern Iraq all have roots in the Naqshbandi order, and yet can embrace very different kinds of politics and alliances, and sometimes even more nuanced stances towards Shiism.
Visit Toby Matthiesen's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Other Saudis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Monique McDade's "California Dreams and American Contradictions"

Monique McDade is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Kalamazoo College.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, California Dreams and American Contradictions: Women Writers and the Western Ideal, and reported the following:
On page 99 you will find a critical reading of a character often oversimplified and overlooked in Helen Hunt Jackson’s enormously successful sentimental romance, Ramona:
Aunt Ri is often discussed as Jackson’s ‘woman-centered critique’ of western American expansion. Such arguments read Aunt Ri’s benevolence towards Ramona and Alessandro as a model for how Jackson wishes popular society to treat Native American communities. However, Aunt Ri’s benevolence is still inappropriate given her intrusion upon Native American lands, and when Ramona is read as a cross-regional account of American labor anxiety in the post-Reconstruction era, Aunt Ri’s character serves as Jackson’s vision for an imperial maternalism.
The rest of the page offers a few textual examples of how Jackson’s seemingly progressive character, Aunt Ri, is rhetorically and thematically fueled by an ambivalent acceptance of Native Americans.

The Page 99 Test plays out perfectly here.

The page sets up a reading of Aunt Ri, a character many have read as Jackson’s representative of progressive politics, that pulls out the inconsistencies, complacencies, and ambivalence in western American histories of regional progress and progressive politics. The page sets a foundation for reading Aunt Ri as a character Jackson builds out of tropological progressive language that actually serves to prop up white women’s power over ethnic others rather than incorporate them into western American society as equals.

As a whole, the book “draws attention to the fundamental problems in the American literary establishment’s cooption of a ‘progressive’ rhetoric to produce and disseminate literatures about the American West from the Manifest Destiny era through the American civil rights movement” (24). In the particular discussion I offer on page 99, I critique Helen Hunt Jackson’s “Indian reform novel” as less about Native Americans and raising awareness for their displacement in the American West as it is about the particular anxieties Anglo-American women faced in the late 19th century as changing forms of labor impacted Victorian “women’s culture.” As such, Jackson’s implications of “progress” and “progressive” politics lends itself to a settler-colonial impulse that can’t help but objectify Native American identities and undermine Ramona’s and Alessandro’s claims to the land and to their humanity. The literary examples on page 99 imply that Aunt Ri—a Southern, white woman displaced after emancipation changed the social labor landscape in the South—is more prepared to “mother” the West than Ramona, effectively repurposing Aunt Ri’s disintegrating “Republican motherhood” in the South onto a western American Native American family.
Learn more about California Dreams and American Contradictions at the University of Nebraska Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Tatjana Višak's "Capacity for Welfare across Species"

Tatjana Višak has a BA in psychology, an MA in political science, and a PhD in philosophy. She has been a lecturer and researcher in philosophy at various universities across the globe over the past 20 years. She is currently working in the field of psychology. She is the author of Killing Happy Animals - Explorations in Utilitarian Ethics (2013) and editor of The Ethics of Killing Animals (2016). She has published more than 30 papers about welfare and animal ethics in scientific journals and books.

Višak applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Capacity for Welfare across Species, and reported the following:
From page 99:
for synchronic welfare. Proponents of EQU would probably feel more attracted to the relativize-to-natural-lifespan view than proponents of DIF, since EQU itself can be seen as a relativizing view. Nevertheless, I think that even in conjunction with EQU, the total-duration view has more going for it. I will further defend and apply the total-duration view in chapter 4.3.

4.3 An application of the total-duration view

In this chapter, I apply the total-duration view about how to take different lifespans into account in comparisons of welfare. (I introduced the total-duration view in chapter 4.2.) The chapter also engages with McMahan’s work on capacity for welfare across species and his notion of fortune, which I introduced and criticized in chapter 2.4.

In his paper “Eating Animals the Nice Way” Jeff McMahan (2008) explores whether there are ways of routinely using non-human animals for human consumption that are morally acceptable. McMahan ends his paper with the following consideration:
The only form of benign carnivorism that is possible now – raising animals humanely and killing them painlessly – seems morally unjustifiable because the interest the animals would have in not being killed would decisively outweigh the interest people would have in killing and eating them. It does not, however, seem morally objectionable to eat an animal that has died of natural causes, which suggests that it could be permissible to use techniques of genetic modification, when they become available, to create animals that would die naturally on a predictable schedule and in good health. It is hard to see what could be wrong with this practice … (McMahan, 2008, 75)
So, what could be wrong about creating individuals with a shorter natural lifespan? I will refer to the practice of benign animal agriculture that McMahan considers to be available now as the “mundane practice” and I will refer to the practice that may become available in the future as the “engineering practice”. McMahan says about the engineering practice that it is hard to see what would be wrong with it. He means this literally: while he would intuitively judge that the engineering practice is no improvement as
Does page 99 reveal the quality of the book?

Yes, it does. Page 99 reveals that the book

· … is written in a clear and accessible language.
· … is well-structured.
· … distinguishes different theoretical approaches and applies them to interesting practical questions.
· … engages with major work in the field.

Page 99 is roughly two thirds through the book. Readers are already familiar with the “different capacity for welfare view” (DIF) and with the “equal capacity for welfare view” (EQU). These are the main views about capacity of welfare across species that the book aims at exploring. According to DIF, different species (such as humans, dogs, and mice) have different capacities for welfare due to different cognitive and emotional capacities. In contrast, according to EQU all welfare subjects have the same capacity for welfare despite different cognitive and emotional capacities. I defend EQU in the book.

EUQ and DIF T are views about the capacity for welfare of an animal at any given point in time, but what about capacity for welfare across time? I discuss this question around page 99. Do animals with a longer lifespan have a greater capacity for lifetime welfare, simply because they live longer and can gather more good moments in their lives? According to the total-duration view (which seems plausible to me) the answer is ‘yes’.

On page 99 I propose to apply the total duration view to evaluate an imaginary form of animal agriculture that Jeff McMahan explored in his paper “Eating Animals the Nice Way”. In this imaginary practice, animals are not killed, but they are genetically modified to have a shorter lifespan and so they die at the exact age at which they would otherwise have been killed. Would this engineering practice be an improvement? On the one hand, there is no killing, which seems better. On the other hand, McMahan has the intuition that we would still harm the animals by engineering them in that way. I distinguish different theories that can explain this intuition and point out their implications.

Browsers should not expect to grasp everything that is written on page 99 upon reading only this page. They should not expect a perfect overview of the book. Expecting merely some revelations about a book’s quality, I think the Page 99 Test can deliver.
Visit Tatjana Višak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Frank Gerits's "The Ideological Scramble for Africa"

Frank Gerits is an Assistant Professor in the history of international relations at Utrecht University, a research fellow at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and an external fellow at Shanghai University. He is the coeditor of Visions of African Unity.

Gerits applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Ideological Scramble for Africa: How the Pursuit of Anticolonial Modernity Shaped a Postcolonial Order, 1945–1966, and reported the following:
Page 99 appears to the reader at a time in the book where Ghana’s use of propaganda to protest the French atomic bomb tests in the Sahara of 1959 and 1960 yields results. As Algeria was fighting for its independence, France tested its nuclear devices in the Sahara which angered African nationalists. After all, what did independence mean if empires could still use their formerly colonized territories as a testing ground? Ghana took the lead in the anti-bomb campaign because it had become independent on 6 March 1957 under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. His vision of pan-African modernity and African unity clashed with the French neo-colonial plan of continued presence on the continent. When a second device detonates on the first of April 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower feels pressured by Nkrumah and is compelled to implore French President Charles de Gaulle to stop these tests. In his conversation the U.S. president claimed the tests were driving African leaders to the Soviet Camp in the Cold War. Nkrumah’s actions also had some unintended consequences. By highlighting his message of African unity, international peace activists such as Bill Sutherland who had flocked to Accra to support the cause of peace became disillusioned. He felt Nkrumah had misused the peace movement to advance his own political cause.

Readers opening the book on page 99 would thus be introduced to the key theme of the book: the importance of African agency in the international relations of the 1950s and 1960s. It is a clear example of the ability of African leaders to break old alliances in the North, project their message of anticolonial modernity abroad and shape international relations through ideological struggle. Postcolonial African leaders did not simply play off the Cold War powers against each other to extract as many benefits as possible. Rather, they projected their own model of anticolonial modernity. What is a bit more difficult to grasp from one page is that the actions of Nkrumah were part of an ideological struggle that erupted after 1945 between Liberationists Imperialists, Communists, and Capitalists who were locked in a battle over the meaning of European modernity and the Enlightenment values. Decolonization did not only germinate modernity but also increased modernity’s complexity. In revolutionary centers in Accra, Cairo, and Dar es Salaam, an idealized “authentic” image of the past, such as the “African Personality” or Ujamaa, was held up as an important corrective to European dominated progress. The ‘rise of the Rest’ therefore has a history that predates the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and influenced diplomacy. It is that history that The Ideological Scramble for Africa attempts to capture.
Visit Frank Gerits's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 13, 2023

Molly Farneth's "The Politics of Ritual"

Molly Farneth is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Haverford College. She is the author of Hegel’s Social Ethics: Religion, Conflict, and Rituals of Reconciliation.

Farneth applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Politics of Ritual, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Politics of Ritual, I introduce the concept of “vocatives.” Vocatives are a category of speech acts in which the speaker calls another: “A vocative, then, hails a person or group. In doing so, it recognizes that person or group ... and then calls him, inviting his response. [The person hailed] can recognize the call as directed to him, or not.” I connect this concept of vocatives to what Louis Althusser calls “interpellation” into an identity or subjectivity. On Althusser’s account, “when a person hails someone or something, they are not only recognizing the already-existing identity of that person or thing; they are also contributing to the creation or constitution of that identity within particular social structures.”

Taken on its own, it isn’t immediately clear what this page has to do with the argument of the book. In that respect, the Page 99 Test doesn’t work here! But the introduction of vocatives and interpellation sets up a major theme of the book: that liturgies and rituals can work like speech acts to change the social (and political) world. For example, when a prayer leader says, “Let us pray!,” they hail an “us.” Their hail names a group, and calls to that group, inviting them to respond. The people who are hailed, I argue, can recognize or refuse the call. People can – and do! – disagree about who ought to be included in these hails and about how those hailed should respond. Their disagreements can change the ritual, or even change the group itself. As I write a few pages later, “a prayer leader who says ‘Let us pray!’ may have a particular ‘us’ in mind, but the people who hear those words need not show up or respond as that ‘us.’ Sometimes unexpected people show up. Sometimes the expected people show up but respond in an unexpected way… [This] suggests that the authority to perform a ritual, or to have one’s role or status conferred or changed through such a ritual, depends on practices of recognition (103).”

The Politics of Ritual shows how rituals create and maintain groups. Rituals regulate the boundaries of groups, and distribute social goods including power and authority. Rituals also shape the habits and dispositions of the people who participate in them. But The Politics of Ritual also shows rituals’ dynamism – the ways that people recognize, refuse, and reshape the rituals that constitute their lives together. Page 99, and its discussion of vocatives, is one piece of that bigger argument.
Follow Molly Farneth on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Hegel's Social Ethics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Maeve Kane's "Shirts Powdered Red"

Maeve Kane is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She received her PhD in American History from Cornell University.

Kane applied the "Page 99 Test" to Shirts Powdered Red: Haudenosaunee Gender, Trade, and Exchange across Three Centuries, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
After the introduction of cloth and woolen yarns, Haudenosaunee women incorporated these new materials into twined and fingerwoven fabrics alongside Indigenous plant and animal fibers. They used imported yarn to elaborate on existing Indigenous weaving techniques from the seventeenth century into the twenty-first century. Together with imported beads, the combination of technique and material created a visual vocabulary that did not previously exist and that continues to flourish in the present. Dutch and French merchants sold narrow, one and two-color woven bands out of Albany and Montreal beginning in the seventeenth century, but fingerweaving has persisted into the twenty-first century. European materials replaced plant materials, but this merely shifted the labor burden of the production of raw materials to European workers and allowed Haudenosaunee women to spend more time on decorative work. Purchasing beads and multicolored yarns from traders like Wendell, and outsourcing basic clothing production opened new design possibilities for Haudenosaunee women to elaborate on existing decorative traditions.
My first impulse was that page 99 wasn't a very accurate reflection on the book, since this is the only section where I deal with this specific kind of evidence. But after some reflection I think it does actually reflect the heart of my argument and the kinds of questions that drew me (and hopefully readers) to the project in the first place.

My book is about self-fashioning. I'm interested in how people define themselves and their communities and we all declare who we are when we get dressed every morning. There's so much written in archival records and in scholarship about what Europeans thought about non-Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I wanted to more directly see how Indigenous people in that time period thought about themselves.

The passage on page 99 is talking about relatively small, mundane objects--fingerwoven bands were often used as belts, hair ties, and stocking garters. I think what page 99 shows here is how much you can get by asking why something was made, who made it, and why the way it was made changed over time.

I start the book with an 18th century watercolor of a Mohawk woman and end with a 19th century photo of Ga:hahno Caroline Parker, a member of the Seneca Wolf clan. I think page 99 captures the distance between those two images really well. The watercolor is like a lot of European written descriptions of Indigenous people: the woman is anonymous and it's not clear if it shows a specific woman or just what the painter thought Mohawk women looked like. The photo of Parker shows her wearing clothing she made to specifically articulate her vision of Seneca tradition and push back against American definitions of savagery. In between, there's many small objects made by many different people, and what they might mean about how Haudenosaunee people saw themselves and their nations.
Visit Maeve Kane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Thomas Aiello's "Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration"

Thomas Aiello is a professor of history and Africana studies at Valdosta State University and the author of several books, including Hoops: A Cultural History of Basketball in America; The Life and Times of Louis Lomax: The Art of Deliberate Disunity; and The Grapevine of the Black South: The Scott Newspaper Syndicate in the Generation before the Civil Rights Movement.

Aiello applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration: The Cultural Geography of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration tells two different but interrelated stories. In the first, the Alabama Tribune, part of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate, describes the 1940s promises of governor-elect Chauncey Sparks who claimed to believe that “the Negro in Alabama had a right to demand justice.” The paper’s criticism of the previous governor’s race policy and its “reporting favorably without fawning on the limited concessions made by Sparks” demonstrated that “the paper was holding leaders accountable in a time and place that scholars generally assume to have been impossible.”

The second story describes the Tribune’s coverage of the Recy Taylor rape case in 1944, wherein six white men raped a black woman. All of them were acquitted of the charges by an all white all male jury. E.G. Jackson, editor of the Tribune, confronted now-governor Sparks to demand an investigation into the case, openly shared his reporting with competing papers like the Chicago Defender, and helped organize protest meetings that included leaders like E.D. Nixon and Rosa Parks, who would become more nationally prominent a decade later.

Practical Radicalism and the Great Migration spans three decades and much of the country, but page 99 does, in these two stories, encapsulate much of what can be found within its pages. On one side, the papers of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate used their coverage strategically to make a case for Black equality without drawing the ire or violence of racist demagogues and their acolytes. It was a practical radicalism that picked its spots and strategically worked to push back against an overweening Jim Crow system.

On the other side, those involved in the more than two hundred newspapers of the syndicate were more than just editors and reporters. They were Black citizens who lived the daily reality of that Jim Crow system and used their time and influence to fight against such harsh realities in protests, letters, and organizational meetings. There was a bifurcation of action in the same vein as the “double consciousness” described by W.E.B. Du Bois, wherein Black journalists in the South were careful reporters and editorialists on one hand–steering through racial waters to ensure that the message of opposition got through while the paper still managed to stay afloat–and activists on the other, taking the information they learned in the field and acting on it how they could outside the margins of the printed page to make a variety of different efforts at social justice reform.

Those efforts would look different in Michigan than they would in Alabama, different in the 1930s than in the 1940s, but the basic elements of the fight itself and the strategic way that Black journalists worked in the era remained relatively consistent throughout. Page 99, then, provides a good example of the practical radicalism that stretched north from Alabama through the Great Migration and through time in the generation before the civil rights movement.
Follow Thomas Aiello on Twitter and visit his website.

The Page 99 Test: Jim Crow's Last Stand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 10, 2023

Christopher C. Gorham's "The Confidante"

"Christopher C. Gorham holds degrees from the University of Michigan, Tufts University and Syracuse University College of Law. After practicing law for over a decade, for the last several years he has taught Modern American History at Westford Academy, outside Boston. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Literary Hub, Paper Brigade Daily, and online publications.

Gorham applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Confidante: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Modern America, and reported the following:
Readers turning to page 99 of The Confidante will be immediately plunged into a tense stand-off in the Oval Office. Just months before Pearl Harbor, Americans—and President Franklin D. Roosevelt—knew war would eventually pull in the United States. In the summer before the surprise Japanese attack on Hawaii, the nation’s factories and shipyards were firing at full-bore, cranking out tanks, ordnance, jeeps, and ships. These were good-paying jobs, but they were limited to white workers.

The preeminent Black leader of the day, A. Philip Randolph, fed up with the discrimination, called for a march on Washington. FDR knew such a march would result in violence—an embarrassing unveiling of the American caste system right at the moment Americans needed to pull together to fight fascism. The President summoned Randolph to a meeting at the White House attended by the NAACP’s Walter White, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and FDR’s top labor trouble-shooter, Anna Rosenberg.

“Something must be done now!” thundered Randolph after a bit of awkward chit-chat.

“Questions like this can’t be settled with a sledgehammer,” Roosevelt shot back. The impasse lasted an hour and left everyone in a sour mood. At that point the President directed Anna Rosenberg and the Black leaders to meet in the Cabinet room, where she was to draft an Executive Order that would persuade the civil rights leaders to call off the march.

The work she started that day became Executive Order 8802, which enforced equality in defense manufacturing, and was, in the words of historian Roger Daniels, “the first federal action against race discrimination since Reconstruction.” The march was called off; Randolph was seen as a hero by the Black press; and FDR had done what was morally right.

The show-down in the Oval office on page 99 reveals the deep trust Roosevelt had for Rosenberg. The woman he called his “Mrs. Fix-It” had done it again: she had quietly and tactfully solved a vexing problem for the President. During the war that was about to consume the USA, Anna Rosenberg would prove her worth to FDR—and to the nation—many more times.
Visit Christopher C. Gorham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Philip C. Almond's "Mary Magdalene: A Cultural History"

Philip C. Almond is Professor Emeritus in The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at The University of Queensland and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. His recent books include The Antichrist: A New Biography (2020), God: A New Biography (2018), and Afterlife: A History of Life after Death (2016).

Almond applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Mary Magdalene: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
Page 99 details the story of Mary Magdalene as a woman possessed by demons as told by the Franciscan Honorius in the fourteenth century in his work The Life of Mary Magdalene. It relates how Mary, despite the determination of her inner demons, went to Jesus, bathed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair.

This page picks up on the central thematic of the book: the relation between Mary Magdalene as the exorcized follower of Jesus, the ‘fallen woman’ who bathed the feet of Jesus, and Mary of Bethany the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It uses the interplay, often tension, and sometimes conflict between the idea of the single versus the composite Mary as the key to untangling the history of Mary in Christian thought.

It was in the year 591 that Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdalene with these two other women in the New Testament. And it was this identification within the Western Church (but not in that of the East) that allowed Mary Magdalene to be imagined not only as present at the crucifixion of Jesus and the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus, but also as a reformed prostitute, the exemplar of the Christian contemplative tradition, and the solitary desert dweller whose nakedness was covered by her hair.

This book explores the many ‘lives’ of Mary Magdalene from the time of her appearance in the New Testament to her emergence in the past seventy years as the most important Christian saint in the secular West. It details the way in which, separated from harlotry, she became a model of sanctity and, separated from sanctity, she became sensual, profane and erotic.

Thus, this book is a history of the ‘idea’ of Mary Magdalene. It is an account of how and why Christianity, with the minimal historical data about her life at its disposal, created its ideal Christian saint. It details her decisive role in the shaping of Western and Eastern religious belief and piety.
The Page 99 Test: Afterlife: A History of Life after Death.

The Page 99 Test: The Antichrist: A New Biography.

Follow Philip C. Almond on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Greta Lynn Uehling's "Everyday War"

Greta Lynn Uehling is a lecturer at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return.

Uehling applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Everyday War: The Conflict over Donbas, Ukraine, and reported the following:
Page 99 in my book provides a transition between two of the most important stories in the book. As such, the page both reveals a core insight of the book as a whole, and gestures toward two ways in which it manifests.

On page 99, browsers first encounter a portion of Oleksandra’s story. As I explain in previous pages of Everyday War, Oleksandra abandoned her university studies to raise funds and provision her father with the night vision goggles, boots, and gloves he needed to fulfill his role as a sniper in a volunteer battalion. On page 99, I call this aspect of everyday war “tactical kinship” because a close family relationship was leveraged for Ukraine’s defense at a time when the official military was relatively weak. Goggles, boots, and gloves are only seemingly mundane: Oleksandra prioritized her father’s safety with the full knowledge his targets were former neighbors and friends.

Browsers then encounter the story of a woman I call Larysa. Her son enlisted in a Ukrainian airborne division that was attempting to regain territory lost to the Russian- backed forces. He was shot down and perished near the family’s ancestral home. As I explain on page 99, the loss of his life was made more painful and problematic by the fact that Larysa’s mother had contributed funds to the Russian-backed administration, and her sister worked for that administration. Larysa decided she no longer identified as Russian or wanted to associate with her mother and sister. Family matters became secondary and the defense of Ukraine was elevated above all else.

On page 99, browsers also find a glimpse into my research. As a cultural anthropologist, I spoke with many people in Ukraine, completing approximately 150 interviews over three years of research. On page 99, I describe some of the trepidation I felt prior to meeting Larysa at a café. I was concerned about retraumatizing her if we spoke of her son, and wanted to make sure she felt comfortable. As a matter of professional ethics, I took steps to avoid causing harm to the people I spoke with throughout my work in Ukraine.

The Page 99 Test works well for my book. The only limitation is that one arrives a bit late for the telling of Oleksandra’s story, and leaves before my description of Larysa’s experience concludes. Browsers already appreciate that one can’t possibly gain a full picture on a single page.

Page 99 reveals both a central theme and two variations of Everyday War. Whereas Oleksandra’s family unified against the Russian threat, Larysa’s family was deeply divided by it. Either way, as I argue in Everyday War, families and friendships are integral to how war is waged. Far from tangents or backdrops of war, personal relationships are important to the “real” action shaping how and why Ukrainians resist Russian aggression.
Learn more about Everyday War at Greta Uehling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

David Lindsey's "Delegated Diplomacy"

David Lindsey is assistant professor of political science at Baruch College, City University of New York.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Delegated Diplomacy: How Ambassadors Establish Trust in International Relations, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Importantly, the theory of sympathies described above suggests that diplomats at intermediate sympathy levels will periodically lie. The theory of reputation for honesty suggests that any such lie should destroy a diplomat’s credibility. The sympathy theory, however, suggests that it should be possible to sustain a sympathetic reputation (and thus credibility) despite having lied, at least if sufficient other indications of sympathy are available.

The career of Prince Bandar, the long-serving Saudi Ambassador to the United States, provides a useful example of this sort of dynamic. Bandar began his diplomatic career, while serving as a special envoy before his ambassadorship, with a brazen and somewhat clumsy lie to President Carter in the Oval Office. Hoping to influence Carter’s peace efforts in the Middle East, Bandar deliberately mistranslated a letter from Arabic into English. American officials soon discovered the deception after obtaining a copy of the letter, leaving Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski “furious.” Indeed, such misrepresentations were something of a habit with Bandar; a senior American official reported years later that “Bandar’s accounts of what Arab leaders had allegedly told him had to be checked and double-checked for accuracy.”

Bandar’s deceptions went further than misrepresenting conversations. In the mid-1980s, the ambassador personally brokered a secret deal for Saudi Arabia to buy ballistic missiles from China. Not only did the ambassador lie to his American contacts about the deal, he also hoodwinked the American intelligence community into sharing sensitive information about satellite reconnaissance capabilities that allowed the Saudis to avoid detection when importing the missiles. The United States discovered the sales in 1988, and Secretary of State George Shultz was so incensed that he temporarily cut off contact with Bandar. But Bandar weathered the storm. As one of the few ambassadors with direct access to the White House, he had little need for the Secretary of State. Ironically, while Bandar was unscathed, the episode claimed the job of the American ambassador in Riyadh as collateral damage.

Not long thereafter, Bandar ascended to the peak of his influence. During the first Gulf War, the ambassador became so close to the Bush administration that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell described him as “a virtual member of Bush’s cabinet.” This extraordinary trust despite repeated acts of deception was the result of a strong underlying confidence in the sympathies of the Westernized and American-educated Bandar. David Ottaway describes the ambassador as “the most pro-American resident of the House of Saud.”
Page 99 does a remarkably good job at uncovering some of the key ideas in the book. In general, the book looks at two questions: What makes diplomats credible (i.e., when will foreign governments believe what a diplomat says)? And, when do leaders want to hire credible diplomats?

There are three basic answers to the initial question. First, diplomats might not have any independent credibility at all. A foreign interlocutor might be entirely indifferent to who is sending a message and treat a communication from an ambassador exactly the same as a foreign ministry press release. Second, a diplomat might have some measure of independent credibility by virtue of a personal reputation for honesty. That is, if a given diplomat is known for telling the truth, then his or her messages might carry added weight. Third, a diplomat might be independently credible because he or she is sympathetic towards the foreign country. Because deception can harm the host country, a sympathetic diplomat will be disinclined to "lie to a friend" so to speak.

I emphasize the third position, arguing that diplomats can add credibility and that they generally due so on the basis of sympathy rather than honesty. Page 99 is teasing out a particular implication of this perspective — that sympathetic diplomats can maintain their credibility even after lying. I briefly explore this through the career of one of America’s most famous diplomats, Bandar bin Sultan, who was both strongly pro-American and periodically dishonest. As such, the anecdote does a pretty good job of laying out one of the central debates at play in the book.

The book has many, many anecdotes. I think it’s very important to consistently apply theoretical material to the real-world, and page 99 captures this. At the same time, as a work of social science, the book has a lot more than just engaging anecdotes and you don’t get that from page 99. The key theoretical parts of the book are all worked out in rigorous, game-theoretic terms and the middle chapters test the basic predictions quantitatively. To supplement the many brief anecdotes throughout the text, the final two chapters present much more detailed, fleshed-out historical case studies of two notable diplomats.

In sum, page 99 hints at the gist of the argument and does a pretty good job showing how I’ve written the material. But there’s more to read!
Learn more about Delegated Diplomacy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 6, 2023

Ellen Hampton's "Doctors at War"

Historian and author Ellen Hampton began writing as a journalist in the 1980s in Miami and Central America before moving to France and starting a family in the 1990s. After earning a doctorate in history from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, she taught at Sciences Po and other universities, and worked until 2019 as the Paris Resident Director for the City University of New York exchange program. She has co-written film scripts and directed historical exhibits on the two World Wars, and currently serves as editor of Trinité, the magazine of The American Cathedral of Paris.

Hampton applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Doctors at War: The Clandestine Battle against the Nazi Occupation of France, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with the liberation on April 11, 1945 of Buchenwald, where several hundred doctors numbered among the 110,000 prisoners in the camp and its subcamps around the town of Weimar. A week later, Dr. Toussaint Gallet was back in Paris and working as medical supervisor at the receiving station for tens of thousands of ill and damaged returnees from concentration camps across Germany. Gallet, a gynecologist, had spent eight months at Buchenwald after being arrested by the Gestapo for resistance work. After he died in 1970, a fellow prisoner recalled Gallet's precious gift for helping others survive their bitter ordeal.
A doctor he remained in the jungle of the camp, a doctor with bare hands who could not treat the body, but a doctor to the lost, the weak, and to those who had given up," said Dr. Henri Parlanges. "How many of us found, thanks to him, the hope or simply the indispensable calm to continue to 'hold on'? How many felt stronger for having shared his strength, soothed because he could communicate his serenity? Help in overcoming weakness often meant saving a life. Many of us returned only because we had the luck, at a decisive moment, to meet an exceptional human being like our friend Gallet.
The Page 99 Test works beautifully here in the sense that Dr. Gallet is one among many doctors in the book who found themselves in the most dire circumstances of their lives, trapped in a moral labyrinth between collaboration and resistance. Many of them found an inner resilience to carry them through, whether they were organizing clandestine missions, secretly treating fallen Allied aviators, or providing false medical certificates to keep French workers from being sent to Germany. Their motto began with the eternal oath: Primum non nocere. As doctors, they had laissez-passer to circulate after curfew, and access to a broad array of contacts. But they had to be careful, there were others in the medical profession, as well as devious network infiltrators, who were only too ready to denounce resistance activity. As a Gestapo interrogator told one doctor: "You played, you lost, now you pay." Like Gallet, after Buchenwald, he counted it a personal victory over the Nazi program to have simply survived.
Visit Ellen Hampton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Jacob Bricca's "How Documentaries Work"

Jacob Bricca, ACE, is Associate Professor at the University of Arizona's School of Theatre, Film and Television. He is an award-winning documentary editor, producer, director, and scholar whose films have screened worldwide from Sundance to the Berlinale. He is the author of Documentary Editing: Principles and Practice (2018), a definitive textbook on documentary editing that is used by film schools around the world, including the USC School of Cinematic Arts, UCLA, and the MET Film School in London.

Bricca applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, How Documentaries Work, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a discussion of the precise wording of the voice-over in the PBS show Frontline by its narrator, Will Lyman. In the show, Lyman must perform his narration to straddle the line between seeming objective and yet not unfeeling, and between being a forceful storyteller and yet not too conspicuous so the audience doesn't really notice he's there. It's an example of "presence framing" in documentaries, which is something they all do to create an illusory framework for how the camera supposedly interacts with its subjects. (For instance, do the subjects in the show ignore the camera as if it's not there, acknowledge it as a presence but seem to be separate from its point of view, or seem to be the authors of their own story and in charge of the camera?)

This is a good example of the kinds of issues and ideas that are presented in the book. The book tries to interrogate the many ways in which documentaries create highly sculpted experiences for their audiences, delivering precise bits of factual information and emotional provocations at particular moments to achieve a desired effect. The reader gets to examine documentaries and other non-fiction television shows (including reality television) through a variety of lenses, including chapters on "Narrative," Meaning," "Sound," "Music," and "Title Cards," but I've taken pains to do it without academic jargon or overly theoretical language. It's kind of a behind-the-scenes, under-the-hood view of what really goes on in the construction of documentaries, and was written after interviewing dozens of top documentary directors and crafts people. It's an exciting book to read, because it will make you think about the stuff you see on Netflix, Hulu, A&E, and Criterion in a whole new light.
Visit Jacob Bricca's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 3, 2023

Jennifer Greenburg's "At War with Women"

Jennifer Greenburg is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Sheffield.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, At War with Women: Military Humanitarianism and Imperial Feminism in an Era of Permanent War, and reported the following:
If you open to page 99 of At War with Women, you are teleported to a simulation of Afghanistan on a US military base. A US Army officer is lecturing his troops about how they need to get better at making small talk with the Afghan villagers (here played by hired actors). This is important to win the so-called “battle for hearts and minds” in counterinsurgency—the military strategy at the time that allegedly focused more on winning the population’s support than eliminating the enemy. The officer encourages the soldiers to ask the villagers what kind of tea they are drinking or ask about some part of the landscape. Across the room, the head of security tells his team “you’ve got to look like you’re ready for a fight. Aggressive. Ready to go.”

The Page 99 Test works well in this case because it shows the contradiction of being what one soldier earlier in the book calls “an NGO with guns.” We see how the security force is trained to be “aggressive” and “ready to go” but in this period of the post-9/11 wars they were also supposed to carry out surveys of village needs so that the military could build schools or wells to “win hearts and minds.” On this page, we also meet Sean, a pseudonym for one of the only marines in the book who is excited about doing more civilian-oriented military tasks. Earlier in this chapter, we see how other marines feminize Sean through his association with “softer” tasks such as interacting with civilians. One of the book’s key arguments is that the military’s turn to counterinsurgency unintentionally reinforced conventional associations of combat with masculinity. We see how this happens on page 99 through the contractors who are in the simulation to teach the military how to adopt development tactics as part of their counterinsurgency doctrine. Military audiences feminize the contractors and their academic, civilian-focused material. This chapter is about how soldiers and marines come to reject the idea that they should be more like “armed social workers” on the basis of the tensions and contradictions playing out on page 99.

The page ends by stating, “The simulation also provided a window into how the canals the military team considered building were not nearly as significant an effect of the training as the shifting notions of race and gender within the DSF” (the DSF is the “district stability framework,” or the development framework contractors were teaching the military). At War with Women is about how these shifting notions of race and gender were produced through a key turning point in the post-9/11 wars. Page 99 is part of a story about how military trainings like the one on this page did not accomplish their stated aims, but they did produce enduring racist and imperialist understandings of Afghan people as children incapable of taking care of themselves. As headlines these days are more likely to cover dire poverty and insecurity in Afghanistan than the wars that produced these conditions, we would do well to consider the origins of such representations of Afghanistan and what a productive way forward might be.
Visit Jennifer Greenburg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Erica Berry's "Wolfish"

Erica Berry is a writer based in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She has an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where she was a College of Liberal Arts Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times Magazine, The Yale Review, Outside Magazine, Catapult, The Atlantic, Guernica, and elsewhere. Winner of the Steinberg Essay Prize and the Kurt Brown Prize in Nonfiction, she has received fellowships and funding from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Tin House, the Ucross Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources. A former Writer-in-Residence with the National Writers Series in Traverse City, Michigan, she is currently a Writer-in-the-Schools with Literary Arts in Portland.

Berry applied the "Page 99 Test" to Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear, her first book, and reported the following:
This page comes toward the end of the second chapter, “Girl v. Wolf,” which reckons with the creation and legacy of that story about the girl in the red cape. Who gets to play predator and who gets to play prey, and how do the stories we carry around in our minds influence our perceptions of how the world will treat us?
In rehashing Little Red, Perrault and the Brothers Grimm codified the male Western imagination of female victim. She is the girl who so often dies in horror movies, adored and innocent but streaked with a coyness and curiosity so often made to be her downfall. Someone who needs to learn a lesson. This male-sewn archetype was, admitted Charles Dickens, his first love. “I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding Hood, I should have known perfect bliss.”
I myself did not think about Little Red Riding Hood until one night when I was grabbed by a stranger on the street, and on this page, I acknowledge that even though my odds of being murdered by a stranger are low--I am likely “living one of the safest lives in history”—I went through a period of my early 20s were I could not stop catastrophizing such things, in part because of my proximity to another woman who had been murdered (who I reference on this page, but introduce earlier). “I never wanted to dwell on fear, but I was not sure how to stow it either,” I write. The thread of personal narrative in the book is in many ways the trajectory of my own relationship with fear as a young woman.

I think the Page 99 Test works! You get a sense that this is a book featuring wolves from literature and history (via cultural criticism about Little Red Riding Hood), but there’s also a reference to something that happened with real-life wolves in Alaska—alas, I’m purposely being coy—as well as a rootedness in my own life. There’s a quote from both Charles Dickens and the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife, which I think accurately speaks to the tapestry of sources I engage with. Wolfish is very much a weave of various modes of narrative (personal, historical, cultural, scientific) and this page shows that juncture. It also reveals the associative logic of the book--Little Red Riding Hood and Alaska might not be inherently connected, but because of x or y theme or occurrence, there’s a reason to tell these two stories together. I think reading a genre-crossing book like this requires a little bit of faith: the reader walks with me down a winding road into the forest, trusting they’ll be surprised and enlightened along the way.

Though this page appears right in the midst of the most specifically Little Red Riding Hood section, I return to the fairy-tale throughout the book. It was the folktale wolf story that hit closest to home for me, and, as I realized in the course of writing, that I had the hardest time abandoning entirely. I went into it wanting to free the wolf from the “big bad” label, and free Little Red from the ditzy victim label, then at some point realized that the thing that bothered me most about the story was that some amount of fear was useful to carry. A worker I met at a wolf sanctuary told me that young wolves are born fearful, that that’s what keeps them alive, and I began thinking about that in my own life too. Fairy tales are a way of teaching fear, and because I was skeptical of the narratives around the emotion I had inherited—fear is a political tool, it always benefits someone—I started looking for new cues of how to dose that emotion. Thinking about Little Red made me realize that I did not want to write about the symbolic wolf without writing about who he was supposed to be chasing…that the “symbolic girl” mattered too. The personal threads of this book unravel times when I’ve felt like prey, but also when I’ve perhaps been more of a predator. Wolves, like humans, are very capable of being both, but I try to separate the idea of being seen as a predator and actually having power. The stories we tell about wolves are a true window into our human psyches, and this is a book that seeks to peel back the truth about both the four-legged animal and our own two-legged kind.
Visit Erica Berry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue