Sunday, April 30, 2023

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg's "The Closed Book"

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg is assistant professor of Judaic studies at the University of Michigan.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Closed Book: How the Rabbis Taught the Jews (Not) to Read the Bible, and reported the following:
I certainly hope the page 99 text isn’t a completely accurate snapshot of The Closed Book! This excerpt from a literature review on page ninety-nine sounds so…specialized (read: nerdy):
Yet the circulation and consumption of biblical text in that period was also not completely unrestricted. In the process of demonstrating that “there was no outright ban” on vernacular Bible reading in the Catholic world, these researchers have simultaneously nuanced the portrait of what restriction or censorship of Bible reading looks like…This chapter will therefore likewise analyze a series of early rabbinic practices that limited quotidian engagement with biblical text. How often any individual limitation was put into practice is unclear. Indeed, some of the scenes analyzed in this chapter border on the fantastic to the eye of the modern reader. But I would maintain that it does not matter. We may still analyze these early rabbinic accounts of restrictions placed on Bible reading using a method originally advocated by Daniel Boyarin in which studying fictional “scenes of reading” can produce an “ethnography of reading.” As Annette Yoshiko Reed recently argued, the success of this method “is not predicated on the historical accuracy of the events described, inasmuch as it culls the verisimilitude of the narratives themselves, also with an eye to semantic fields of the specific terms therein used.” Verisimilitude is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. But working with Second Temple texts, Reed applies the terminology “scenes of reading” to scenarios as fanciful as angelic dictation.
Unlike this page, the book as a whole mostly analyzes primary sources—early rabbinic stories about killer Bibles that zap their unsuspecting readers with lightning or tales of ancient priests who accidentally lost (and subsequently rediscovered) the Torah. So I hope it’s an easier read than this excerpt suggests!

On the other hand, this page does capture some of the central themes of The Closed Book. The book certainly explores what it means for the Bible to be a “closed book” in different communities (that is, a book that is made inaccessible, unreadable, or simply censored). It also explores the ways in which making the Bible inaccessible as an informational document opens up other means of relating to the biblical tradition within a community—as a source of ritual power, an oral tradition, or a material locus for God’s presence.

The fact this page begins with a study of medieval Catholic censorship practices might seem a little misleading. The book is, after all, a discussion of early Jewish thought about the Bible. But early Christian thought and practice are sprinkled heavily through the book. Late antique Jews and Christians had a lot more in common when it came to the Bible and how they thought it should be used than we often assume, in this period. So it is interesting that page ninety-nine also highlights that hidden theme of Jewish-Christian relations.
Learn more about The Closed Book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Richard Fine's "The Price of Truth"

Richard Fine is Professor Emeritus in the English Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of West of Eden and James M. Cain and the American Authors' Authority.

Fine applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Price of Truth: The Journalist Who Defied Military Censors to Report the Fall of Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Price of Truth recounts the arrival of General Alfred Jodl at Allied headquarters in France and some of his initial interactions with officers of SHAEF, General Dwight Eisenhower’s command, before the German finally surrendered in the early hours of May 7, 1944. As such, this page recounts is a crucial slice of the book’s much longer tick tock of the German surrender story. It does not allude to what is the main focus of the book –not the surrender itself but what happened immediately after, when Associated Press journalist Edward Kennedy (not to be confused with the Massachusetts senator) circumvented military censorship to break the news of the final German surrender he and a small group of other journalists had just witnessed.

Kennedy acted after authorities told the press that the story would be held up for at least another day at the behest of their Russian allies. Kennedy insisted that this ban was unrelated to military security and thus illegitimate, and that it was his responsibility to report it to the American people, who had a right to know that the long war in Europe had ended. No action by an American correspondent during the entire war proved more controversial.

Other reporters in Paris accused Kennedy of betrayal; the army threatened court-martial before expelling him from Europe. When the dust settled after a heated national debate, Kennedy’s estimable career was in ruins. The episode, dramatic in its own right, also revises what we think we know about media-military relations during the Second World War, challenging the conventional view that those relations were amicable at the time and only ran off the rails later in Vietnam.
Learn more about The Price of Truth at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Aviel Roshwald's "Occupied"

Aviel Roshwald is Professor of History at Georgetown University. His books include The Endurance of Nationalism: Ancient Roots and Modern Dilemmas (2006), Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914–1923 (2001) and Estranged Bedfellows: Britain and France in the Middle East during the Second World War (1990).

Roshwald applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Occupied: European and Asian Responses to Axis Conquest, 1937–1945, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I'm pleased to report that, in the case of Occupied, the merits of the Page 99 Test are fully borne out. This page is the very first one of Chapter 3, entitled "The Shifting Parameters of the Patriotically Plausible." It introduces the theme of competing patriotisms under occupation with a discussion of Vichy French leader Philippe Pétain's notorious August 1941 radio address in which he claimed an "evil wind" was blowing across France. What he was referring to was the public's mounting disaffection from his regime and the growing activity of the Resistance movement. While casting blame on some of the usual scapegoats (such as the Freemasons and die-hard holdovers from the defunct republic), Pétain went on to claim that he would use his authority to save the French people from their own fickleness and lack of resolve.

This particular speech clearly reflected the Vichy regime's awareness of how badly its public support was eroding as the occupation dragged on. A French public which had largely supported the negotiation of an armistice the previous year was growing increasingly wary of the regime's embrace of active collaboration with Nazi Germany. Vichy's ability to function as an effective buffer against the oppressive features of German occupation was also increasingly called into question. This shift in public opinion has parallels in the cases of other countries under Axis occupation during the Second World War. Some have argued that the concept of patriotism became essentially meaningless under the extreme duress of wartime occupations, pointing out that a value invoked by the likes of the Free French and Vichy alike could hardly have any substantive content.

My argument in this section of the book is that one can after all think in terms of a shifting set of parameters for what would plausibly be recognized as patriotic conduct in the eyes of the public. Under the circumstances of catastrophic defeat in 1940, many French people accepted the negotiation of an armistice as the most patriotic thing for a government to do on behalf of the nation it led. As the experience of occupation became more difficult and the expectations about who would win the world war changed, the parameters of patriotic plausibility shifted in favor of de Gaulle and the Resistance.

This chapter falls under one, thematically defined part of this book. The book as a whole consists of two additional parts--one focused on the comparative study of civil wars under occupation and the other exploring anti-colonial nationalisms in the context of German and Japanese wartime rule. Each section includes three-to-four country case studies, always including at least one example from Asia. The eleven countries encompassed in the study are France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Thailand, Yugoslavia, Greece, northern Italy (1943-45), China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ukraine. This is, as far as I know, the first single-authored book to undertake on such a scale the comparative study of European and Asian responses to German and Japanese occupations during the Second World War.
Learn more about Occupied at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Vera Keller's "The Interlopers"

Vera Keller is Professor and Department Head of the Department of History at the University of Oregon. She is the author of three monographs, Knowledge and the Public Interest, 1575–1725 (2015), The Interlopers: Early Stuart Projects and the Undisciplining of Knowledge (2023), and Curating the Enlightenment: Johann Daniel Major and the Experimental Century (forthcoming), and over forty articles and book chapters on the development of the idea and practices of research in early modern Europe.

Keller applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Interlopers and reported the following:
From page 99:
...expectation that his new design for alum boiling vessels would pan out and provide an injection of much-needed funds. Lowe described the workers as “a multitude of poor miserable people that are ready to starve for want of means to buy bread and will not be quieted with any answer but money.” He heard that Russell was barely keeping “them from violence, which cannot long be suppressed.”

Meanwhile, Russell also wrote to Ingram in his own defense, saying that he was “forced to devise new courses” for making alum since Lowe had “failed me in delivering ashes, liquor and urine.”\ Russell claimed that he had told Lowe concerning his new design that “if he or any one disliked it when they had seen it I would disclaim all hope and interest in the works,” but that Lowe didn’t have the “patience or grace” to give Russell’s new method a chance. Lowe, Russell claimed, “pays the men with big, roaring words and no money and sets them all against me.”

In another lengthy letter in his defense to Ingram, Russell displayed some of his rhetorical skills that allowed him to stand fast against accusations of incompetence and impropriety. Russell accused Lowe of acting “like a bear robbed of her whelps . . . professing against all my courses, chafing, railing, swearing, cursing, exclaiming and what not, by which means he hath brought such an uproar in the country that it will not easily be appeased.” Russell claimed that Lowe had not been pulling his weight in the alum business. Lowe and others were supposed to act “as stewards and caters of the work, as I was to be the cook.” Alum production was “not one man’s work,” and Russell would like to see Lowe try to “hold the plough himself, as I have done all this while.” In the end, Lowe’s “great roaring against me will be but like a raging billow against a rock, dissolving in his own froth.”

Many sided with Russell against Lowe and Ingram. Lord Sheffield (who along with Bourchier had previously collaborated with Russell on a privilege for copper production in 1614) wrote to Ingram in 1619, warning “if it appear that the malice of those who oppose Mr. Russell cause these contradictions to shuffle him out of the works I hold myself tied in honour to see him righted.” Brooke and Bourchier also stuck with Russell. In 1624 Sir John Bourchier proposed restarting the alum works and pairing it with a soap works, promising that the king would enjoy a profit of 20,000 pounds a year from it; Russell would long figure in this project for soap. Brooke also partnered with Russell again for soap in 1624 and on another large-scale project for the production of saltpeter in 1626/27.
Like tech bros today, projectors moved fast and broke things. They introduced disruptive innovations in ways connected to a socially elite sense of self. Projectors pursued purposefully grand projects because their ambition itself defended their honor as members of a formerly military class now wading into enterprise. This linkage of ambition and commerce is central to my larger argument about science and capitalism. Many historians have related science to commerce, often through metaphorical "trading zones" supporting a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge between craftsmen and philosophers. These zones assume that science was built from collaboration, trust, and restraint. In Interlopers, I offer a rival model for how science developed: gleeful interloping into the domains of others, producing wild, often violent mashups of knowledge. Their lack of care for the consequences spoke to their elevated sprezzatura (lack of care) distinguishing them from the hoi polloi.

On page 99 we witness a dramatic breakdown towards the end of a failed project. Gentlemen projectors won a patent for alum, an important chemical in dyeing whose production included noxious fumes and run-off. It went poorly. One of the projectors, George Lowe, contracted Thomas Russell, a well-known projector, to turn things around. Russell made it much worse. He melted down the alum works' vessels to make new ones of his own design. Confident in his innovation, Russell awaited the infusion of capital that would allow him to pay his workmen. Instead, he had to throw out his new pans and remake the old ones at an estimated cost of 7,500 pounds. What came next was a blame game between Russell and the projector who had hired him, each outdoing the next in wonderful 17th-century insults.

Recent scholars have understood Russell as a craftsman who collaborated with a philosopher (Francis Bacon) in a "trading zone." I argue that he was a gentleman, not a craftsperson. He possessed little expertise across the many industries into which he interloped. His skills lay rather in sketching grand plans that appealed to the elite. On page 99, we not only get fine examples of his rhetoric, but also a mention of the "honor" that motivated the continued support for him. Despite Russell's recent failure with alum, Russell moved seamlessly on, with royal patronage, to two of the most infamous, intrusive, and large-scale projects of the era (soap and saltpeter), leaving behind starving workmen, broken relationships, and a polluted landscape.
Learn more about The Interlopers at the Johns Hopkins University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Ava Purkiss's "Fit Citizens"

Ava Purkiss is assistant professor of women's and gender studies and American culture at the University of Michigan.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Fit Citizens: A History of Black Women's Exercise from Post-Reconstruction to Postwar America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is toward the end of the third chapter, ‘“Plenty of Good Exercise’: Beauty, Fatness, and the Fit Black Female Body in the Interwar Years,” which examines how and why middle-class African Americans used exercise promotion and fat shaming tactics to influence Black beauty culture. Page 99 appears in a critical section of the chapter that explores how Black print culture contributed to Black anti-fat sentiment and shifting Black corporal values after WWI. I include examples from well-circulated Black newspapers, like the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Amsterdam News, to demonstrate how African American columnists encouraged exercise and admonished overeating for the sake of beauty. These columnists advised their Black readers to “count your calories,” “avoid all fat forming foods,” “walk early in the mornings and after meals,” take advantage of weight-reducing records, practice “simple calisthenics,” “work in the garden” for exercise, and avoid “eating for four” as opposed to eating for two when pregnant. Page 99 explains further:
The aforementioned articles’ invocation of evening gowns, flower gardens, and a presumed control over one’s appetite indicates a middle-class fixation with beauty and body size. Body weight, among other qualities, served as a metric to judge African Americans’ attractiveness and character. The fat and idle Black female body represented pernicious racial and gendered ideas that many (particularly elite) African Americans disdained.
I believe the Page 99 Test works well for Fit Citizens. This page explores the interplay between tropes of Black women (as so-called mammies) and the ways in which Black people rejected these tropes and worked to create alternative visions of themselves through Black physical culture. Page 99 is a snapshot of how Black women used physical exercise to challenge notions of African Americans as unfit citizens, which is the larger project of the book. This page is attentive to the intersection of race, gender, and class, noting that primarily middle-class Black women participated in anti-fat rhetoric and behavior. While the book is not exclusively concerned with middle-class African Americans, it thinks about differing levels of access to exercise based on one’s socioeconomic status and region. Finally, page 99 includes several kinds of historical actors—a woman named Cora seeking advice from beauty expert Madame Creditt-Ole, unnamed newspaper columnists, and a “hygiene author” named John A. Diaz—who all contributed to a Black beauty culture that prized thinness. This inclusion of various perspectives is reflective of the book, as numerous actors—teachers, homemakers, students, medical professionals, activists, reformers, writers, and sharecroppers—exercised for health, beauty, and recreation, and staked their own claims to physical and civic fitness.
Follow Ava Purkiss on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 24, 2023

Keisha Ray's "Black Health"

Keisha Ray received her PhD in philosophy, with a focus on bioethics, from the University of Utah. She is currently an assistant professor with the McGovern Center for Humanities & Ethics at UT Health Houston, where she also serves as the Director of the Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration. Most of Ray’s work focuses on the effects of institutional racism on Black people's health, highlighting Black people's own stories in Black health discourse, and the sociopolitical implications of biomedical enhancement for marginalized populations. Her work uniquely prioritizes simple language as a matter of access and justice.

Ray applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Black Health: The Social, Political, and Cultural Determinants of Black People's Health, and reported the following:
From page 99:
It is possible that one day we will have definitive scientific evidence for Black people’s heritable predisposition for hypertension. This evidence, however, would have to be tied to ethnicity and ancestry, not race. And heritability would likely prove to only be but one of many factors that influences their higher rates of hypertension. But until this happens, racial myths should not serve as a placeholder for what we do not know. The slavery hypertension hypothesis is another example of scientific racism in which racism, and the idea that Black people are genetically and evolutionary inferior, is used to explain meaningful, but largely social differences between the races. The problem is that scientific racism has been continuously discredited by rigorous research. Yet scientific explanations for poor health outcomes for Black people tend to be used as a replacement for more meritorious social explanations. Resigning to scientific racism instead of social causes also discourages solutions that can address the problem such as policy changes, medical intervention, and public health campaigns. The slavery hypertension myth is another instance of pathologizing Black people and not pathologizing the environments in which Black people live.
The Page 99 Test mostly works for my book. On page 99 there is an example of the entire premise of the book, which is that Black Americans have generally poor health, not because of genetics or biology, but because of racism in our social systems that create unequal access to the social goods people need for proper health. Furthermore, page 99 shows that if we continue to rely on scientific racism, the problem of Black people’s health will not be properly addressed with beneficial social and governmental solutions.

Page 99 gives the specific example of how Black people’s high rates of hypertension is often blamed on Black people’s genetics, an argument which concludes that Black people are predisposed to hypertension based on our enslaved ancestors need to retain water to survive being stolen and transported on slave ships by their White captors. The slavery hypertension hypothesis, however, ignores the research that has dispelled this myth. Additionally, the hypothesis ignores that Black people have high rates of stress related to a lack of social determinants of health like proper housing, education, income, access to clean air and water, among other social determinants of health. Also, Black people who have hypertension often live with other Black people who are subject to the same social conditions, which can create the conditions for many family members to all have hypertension, creating the façade of heritability. But page 99, also suggests that should we find out in the future that there is some biological explanation for Black people’s high rates of hypertension, then we would first have to explain it in terms of ethnicity and ancestry, not race, and secondly, we should be open to amending our views on the topic. But until then we should not rely on false racial myths as a substitute for the unknown.
Visit Keisha Ray's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Patrick Whitmarsh's "Writing Our Extinction"

Patrick Whitmarsh is Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies at Wofford College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Writing Our Extinction: Anthropocene Fiction and Vertical Science, and reported the following:
Page 99 partially features an introduction to the materials discussed in the corresponding chapter, followed by a brief description of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s experience in orbit around the earth and how his words illustrate the idea of “orbital perspective” that I examine in three literary texts: Don DeLillo’s “Human Moments in World War III,” Tim O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. As the page states:
Orbital perspective is a provocation for literary narrative, which until the availability of flight technologies could only fantasize about such views […]. The prospect of not only seeing from above but seeing from an artificially produced vantage presented a new dimension to the artifice of fiction, an opportunity to connect the literary imagination with the one being authored by vertical science.
Page 99 successfully identifies the book’s central themes: developments in vertical science (in this case, orbital technologies specifically) after World War II and literary engagements with these developments, which reveal industrial modernity as a planetary narrative that spells human extinction. The page and chapter argue that Gagarin’s orbital experience informs literary perspectives on the planet from above. The discussion of works by DeLillo, O’Brien, and Pynchon (featured briefly on the page) expresses summarily how vertical science manifests in these authors’ perspectival experiments, and that these experiments illuminate the precarious links between industrial modernity and ecological crisis.

The remainder of the book examines alternative examples of vertical narration in literary texts, including subterranean and geological imaginings in Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, planetary perspective in Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and the racial dynamics of Anthropocene geology in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (to name only three). More generally, the book argues that several works of fiction, from the 1960s to the present, recast the earth as a script and industrial science as a narrative practice—one that composes the epoch of geophysical crisis and despoilation we call the Anthropocene, and in which we can read intimations of our species’ extinction.
Follow Patrick Whitmarsh on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Stephen Kantrowitz's "Citizens of a Stolen Land"

Stephen Kantrowitz is Plaenert-Bascom and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Citizens of a Stolen Land: A Ho-Chunk History of the Nineteenth-Century United States, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Citizens of a Stolen Land recounts how a Native American leader, a Ho-Chunk man named Coming Thunder Winneshiek, responded to the arrival of United States troops sent to expel him and his people from their treaty lands in southern Minnesota in May 1863. It explores the strategies he employed to delay or halt his people’s exile: he claimed to be a longstanding friend to the United States; he underscored his people’s attachment to their home region; and he described an agreement he claimed to have made many years before with a leader of another Native nation that granted the Ho-Chunk land along the Mississippi River. Coming Thunder’s bid failed, and that spring U.S. forces deported two thousand Ho-Chunk people to a poorly provisioned camp far out on the Missouri River, in the Dakota Territory. Hundreds died of hunger and disease on the journey or shortly after arrival, and others were robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered.

Page 99 conveys one of the essential stories of Citizens of a Stolen Land: the determination and creativity of Ho-Chunk people as they tried to remain in their ancestral homelands in the western Great Lakes (including much of what is now southern Wisconsin), and the official and unofficial violence that the United States and its settlers used to strip them of their lands. But page 99 does not convey the broader implications of this story. Citizens of a Stolen Land brings together two stories we normally tell separately: the crisis of the United States during the Civil War era, and the actions of Native people and Native nations during that era. It does this by exploring how the Ho-Chunk encountered the American idea and policy “citizenship,” deduced the threat it posed to their integrity and autonomy as a people, and finally turned it to their advantage as a way to remain in their ancestral homeland despite laws and policies that demanded their exile. Citizens of a Stolen Land asks readers to reconsider the relationship between Native American history and U.S. history, and to think about the ways that citizenship, an idea we are used to thinking of in egalitarian, aspirational, and heroic terms, could also be a coercive and destructive force.
Learn more about Citizens of a Stolen Land at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 21, 2023

Frances M. Clarke and Rebecca Jo Plant's "Of Age"

Frances M. Clarke is Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney. She is the author of War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North, which jointly won the Australia Historical Association’s biennial Hancock prize for the best first book in any field of history. Rebecca Jo Plant is Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America.

They applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, Of Age: Boy Soldiers and Military Power in the Civil War Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of our book’s fifth chapter, entitled “Instructive Violence: Impressionable Minds and the Cultivation of Courage in Boys.” Here, we attempt to unravel a seeming paradox: although mid-nineteenth century Americans sentimentalized children and childhood to an extraordinary degree, they did not attempt to shield young readers from graphic depictions of violence. On the contrary, authors of children’s literature often dwelled on scenes of bloodshed and cruelty. This was especially true of works that attempted to communicate abolitionist messages—the subject of page 99. Such literature “taught that only those who could look pain and suffering in the eye could develop the inner resources that would support moral behavior.” More broadly, educational theorists believed that lessons had to seize children’s attention and grip their imagination to make lasting impressions. How better to accomplish this than with descriptions of flayed flesh or decapitated heads?

But what does all this have to do with boy soldiers? At first glance, not very much. If a reader were handed page 99 and asked to surmise the subject of our book, they might guess it to be a cultural study of juvenile literature in antebellum America. But Of Age is instead a sprawling study of underage enlistment that spans the nineteenth century while centering on the Civil War. Although it includes plenty of cultural analysis, it could also be described as legal, military, medical, and social history. In this sense, our book fails the Page 99 Test.

Still, by explaining why so many writers were willing, even eager, to expose children to violent images, we begin to account for how underage enlistment could have occurred on such a large scale during the Civil War. As we show, a full ten percent of the US forces were below the age of eighteen on enlistment. This seemingly blithe disregard for the potential effects of violence on young minds is just one piece of a larger puzzle. We also point to the lack of standardized birth certificates, the tendency to privilege size and skill over numerical age, and especially the age-integrated nature of social life. Because boys in their mid-teen years routinely studied, socialized, and labored with men of military age, many were inclined to waive off age restrictions, believing themselves fully capable of serving.

After explaining the multiple factors that paved the way for mass underage enlistment, Of Age turns to heart of the story: how did the United States and the Confederacy respectively deal with the presence of so many young people in the ranks? The answers are often surprising and counterintuitive. In the United States, attempts to grapple with the problem of underage enlistment—and the backlash that it produced among frustrated parents—made the issue a conduit for larger debates. As the federal government asserted more authority over the state-based volunteers, and as service in volunteer regiments gradually came to look more like service in the regular army, families found it difficult if not impossible to recover underage sons. In the minds of many northerners, including loyal Unionists, the government’s vise-like grip on enlisted soldiers, regardless of age, epitomized the dangers inherent in the growing consolidation of military power.
Learn more about Of Age at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Sandra Fox's "Jews of Summer"

Sandra Fox is visiting assistant professor of Hebrew Judaic Studies and Director of the Archive of the Jewish Left Project at New York University, and founder and executive producer of the Yiddish-language podcast Vaybertaytsh: A Feminist Podcast in Yiddish.

Fox applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Jews of Summer: Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book talks about camp festivals, and in particular “Color War” games at camp Hemshekh, a socialist and Yiddish-focused Jewish summer camp that was founded in 1959 by Holocaust survivors from Poland, and closed in 1980. Here’s the excerpt:
In one such play, the 1968 Chanukah group considered the “fight against assimilation” an ideal of their holiday, making a case for their particular view of secular Jewishness. “We secular Jews agree with the Jewish sages of old that Yiddishkayt—Jewishness—may be linked to ‘mayim chayim’—living, flowing water,” the script explains. “We desire movement rather than rigidity; we seek friendship and understanding rather than laws and commandments. Instead of supernatural faith and dogma, our primary concern is with and for man and his fellows. Those are the ideas embodied in our celebration of Yontefdike Teg—festive days—here at Camp Hemshekh. Through song and dance, play and story, we cherish anew the treasures of our cultural heritage.” The Shevuos team’s 1967 play, which bounced from ancient Israel to contemporary America and between English and Yiddish, similarly portrayed the immediate lessons to be gained from understanding the holiday as applied to the camp and its Yiddish-related convictions. “The children of Israel today are abandoning their culture as those who danced around the golden calf,” explained the narrator. “The commandments become the building symbol for our growing and beautiful culture, which Hemshekh is preserving in the present world.” As with the Yada, Di Yontefdike Teg emphasized Hemshekh’s vision of Jewishness, reframing the holidays to fit their Yiddishist and Bundist values.

Hemshekh’s final competitive special day, the “Olympics,” represented another common variety of color war. Hemshekh’s Olympics shared some traits with the Yada, with similar activities and teams competing against one another in a variety of games. However, instead of embodying different Yiddish authors, the teams represented different countries in the world, imbuing the day with a cosmopolitan ethic. Through the Olympics, counselors hoped campers would learn the cultures of their assigned countries as they role-played its people, drawing inspiration from their flag, songs, and customs. In socialist spirit, staff wanted campers to “understand social and economic problems of the countries represented in light of their own history.” Other kinds of Jewish camps also conducted Olympic-style special days but placed more focus on specifically Jewish communities around the world. In 1964, Swig broke campers up into teams, each representing a different country, including Israel, Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Turkey, and the United States, and instructed them to “learn about the Jewish community of its particular…
The Page 99 Test kind of worked for my book, but not completely. Page 99 talks about Color War games at Jewish summer camps. Many kinds of American camps held versions of Color War, a day or set of days in which the whole camper body is broken into teams. Each team is represented by a color (red, blue, green, white, yellow, etc), which then battles it out in games, artistic competitions, and sports until one team is declared the winner. Educational, nationalistic, and religious Jewish camps often put their own particular ideological marks on the day. The page shows how staff members at Hemshekh molded this very American camp tradition of Color War to their visions of secular Jewishness, with a tinge of socialist-imbued cosmopolitanism. Camp Hemshekh had a few different versions of Color War, one called the Hemshekhyada, which page 99 doesn’t cover, and then Di Yontefdike Teg (The Festive Days) and the Olympics, which page 99 does cover. On the Yada, the whole camp was broken into teams representing Yiddish authors; on Di Yontefdike Teg, the whole camp would be broken into teams representing a Jewish holiday -- Hanukkah, Shavuot, Passover, and Sukkot. Considering the camp promoted itself to be a bastion of secular Jewishness, Di Yontefdike Teg reflects how, in their version of Jewish secularism, holiday traditions could still play an educational role for children, helping educators pass cultural Jewishness to the next generation. The Hemshekh Olympics, on the other hand, reflected the camp’s aspiration towards cosmopolitanism, as campers were broken into teams based on countries, and would learn about their countries to cheer, make skits, and sing about them.

The test reveals a good bit about the book. The book’s chapters at the heart of the book are largely thematically arranged, assessing how Jewish camps interpreted everyday elements of life at camp to make them reflect their ideologies. Color War is just one example of that. On the other hand, no one page can reflect the diversity of the camps I studied, and how they all took certain core elements of camp life and translated it to their ideologies in certain unique ways. This page only covers the Yiddish camps, which were interesting in their own right. But to understand the full diversity of how camps used Color War, and thus how Jewish camps took all sorts of American camp activities and made them fit their ideological framework, you’d have to read the pages around it, too!
Visit Sandra Fox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Daniel R. Smith's "The Fall and Rise of the English Upper Class"

Daniel R. Smith is a Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Fall & Rise of the English Upper Class: Houses, kinship and capital since 1945, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Fall & Rise of the English Upper Class:
Stewart realises that the language of gifts – of reciprocity and balance between parties – does not work when the tables of giving and receiving are unequal and unbalanced to begin with (see Graeber, 2011). But the ethic of ‘getting on with it’ only arises when the social relations of status, hierarchy and inheritance are no longer (politically) permissible. Stewart cannot call upon ancestry or paternity to justify his power: he can only do his best. After all, his father never asked what the Queen was, he merely ‘got on with it’ and ‘did his best’.
When I noticed that page 99 was the final, short paragraph from Chapter 3 Imperial Melancholia, which is a psychoanalytic reading of Rory Stewart’s The Marches: Borderwalks with my father, I initially thought the Page 99 Test does not work. Upon re-reading the test is completely confirmed here: the themes of inheritance, father-son relations that become invested with socio-political desires, and the underlying melancholy of this process and their failures, are the central concepts in Fall and Rise.

Page 99 is discussing how Rory Stewart has responded to his high birth - heir to be Laird of Broich House in Crieff, Dragon School and Eton College, Oxford to the Foreign Office, rumoured spook, and more - over time: first an obligation to duty, to paying back his country, then on to the resigned realisation that all he can merely do is “do his best” and “get on with it.” The passage recalls an earlier discussion in The Marches between Stewart and his father. Noticing how he and his father refer to each other as if they were nothing but entry’s in Who’s Who, Stewart asks his father how he understood his imperial duties as a colonial officer. He was serving The Queen. Stewart asks “But what is the Queen?” “I never ask that…” replied his father. ‘Serves her country and does her best’ is all he can say.

As page 99 shows, this language of giving back and doing one’s best with what one has inherited reaches an impasse: how can you give back what was not a balanced exchange in the first place? Such an impasse is at the heart of the claims Fall and Rise makes: the inheritances from fathers to sons, mediated by the houses of high privilege in British society, is a model for societal unity which is, at its heart, fragmented and divided. I argue that the upper class of English society are often taken to be the model of social unity and the future of the polity, but such a model - where past informs the future, and traditions dictate what is possible - is founded upon a fundamental melancholia.

While scholars are used to framing Britain’s imperial decline to a failure of mourning, giving us the melancholic longing for lost glories of Empire that infuses our post-Brexit political landscape, Fall and Rise goes one further to say that melancholia is built in to the structure of class and societal reproduction: melancholia is a failure of inheritances, of fathers not being able to inform the present and sons being unable to realise the ideals of the past. Such is the problem of nobility, where fathers and sons become indistinguishable, and its sociological form: the further away one gets from the founding ancestor, the more the dead prevail and haunt the living. The melancholy of the upper classes covered in Fall and Rise shows us what happens when one particular class are invested with the answers of the future: the ideal is impossible to attain and the present appears as unbearable. Trying to find a way out of this problem is the central social and political task for Great Britain.
Follow Daniel Smith on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Harriet F. Senie's "Monumental Controversies"

Harriet F. Senie is a professor emerita of art history at the City College of New York and at the CUNY Graduate Center. She co-founded Public Art Dialogue, an international organization, and its journal, Public Art Dialogue. Senie is the coeditor of Teachable Monuments: Using Public Art to Spark Dialogue and Confront Controversy and author of Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11, among other books.

Senie applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents, and the Quest for National Unity, and reported the following:
Page 99 starts Chapter 9: Theodore Roosevelt’s Problematic Memorials. It introduces two key works: the equestrian statue by James Earle Fraser that was until recently in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial in a remote site in Washington DC.

Page 99 only gives a good sense of the four chapters in the book which discuss key memorials for each of the Rushmore presidents. It omits reference to the four chapters which discuss each of their problematic policy with regard to Native Americans and Blacks. There is no sense of the book’s first two chapters. Chapter 1: The Land of the Lakota Sioux addresses the culture of the Lakota Sioux on whose land Mount Rushmore sits illegally, while Chapter 2: Gutzon Borglum’s Mount Rushmore discusses the sculptor who was responsible for the selection and depiction of the four presidents based on their furthering of American expansion.

Although the focus of this book is on Mount Rushmore, its underlying purpose is to address the ongoing problem of national unity which continues to plague the country in alarming ways. We seem mired in divisive thinking in terms of “or” rather than “and,” as in Teddy Roosevelt was a good guy or a bad guy. In fact, he was both, contributing to major labor reforms and conservation, the latter at the expense of Native Americans. He was also known for his imperialist policies based on beliefs in white supremacy. The Rushmore presidents faced some of the most contentious times in our history but while they acknowledged the prevalent dissention they championed the Union, held together by accepting opposing opinions For them this was one of the basic premises of democracy: in this they thought in terms of “and” rather than “or.”
Visit Harriet F. Senie's website.

The Page 99 Test: Memorials to Shattered Myths.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 17, 2023

Adrian Johns's "The Science of Reading"

Adrian Johns is the Allan Grant Maclear Professor of History at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age.

Johns applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Science of Reading: Information, Media, and Mind in Modern America, and reported the following:
As it happens, the page 99 test works very well indeed for The Science of Reading. Someone who turns to that page will come across a key element of the book’s argument, voiced there by the first American scientist to write a major book about the scientific mystery at its heart. Edmund Burke Huey, writing in the early 1900s, pointed out that to try to understand what happens when we read is really tantamount to trying to understand what happens when we come to know anything at all. Moreover, he added, the act of perception that is at the heart of any act of reading is not merely passive. It involves an active seizing of meaning from the page. This “stupendous” issue, Huey said, could be investigated experimentally, and he implied that the science that would result would affect every aspect of modern life. That is what you find on page 99 of The Science of Reading. And the rest of the book is about the many ramifications of that startling claim, as they played out in American politics, media, technology, and culture from Huey’s day to the present. Starting in about 1890, it tells the story of how investigators sought to measure, trace, and diagnose reading practices, and how their findings increasingly affected the lives of all Americans. By the 1920s, children across the country were learning to read using techniques that came from this science, and in the Thirties social scientists mapped the resulting information economy for the first time in painstaking detail. The book goes on to show how in postwar America everything from corporate culture to artificial intelligence arose out of the beliefs about human reading that this science enshrined. It ranges from Dr Seuss to Thomas Kuhn, and from speed-reading scams to efforts to transform the efficiency of government. But at the same time as this science exerted so much influence, the image of the active, pattern-recognizing reader that Huey and his peers had created came under stringent attack. Critics charged that their elaborate theories distracted attention from the vital role played by the simple ability to parse words character by character – a skill, they insisted, that must lie at the very root of reading itself, and that they charged was being neglected by educators who, in trying to teach children to become readers in Huey’s sense, were failing to teaching the basic skill to millions. The result was proclaimed a “literacy crisis.” It sparked the so-called “reading wars” that continue to plague schools to this day, when a new generation of the Science of Reading based in neuroscience has become the lynchpin of a new campaign to reform once more how Americans learn.
Learn more about The Science of Reading at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Daniel Kiel's "The Transition"

Daniel Kiel is the FedEx Professor of Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Transition: Interpreting Justice from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas, and reported the following:
Page 99 includes one of the more provocative questions explored in The Transition, captured by James Baldwin as “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” The page describes the critique of integration as a strategy for racial justice and the alternative call from several Black leaders for “liberation schools” that would serve and be controlled by Black communities. It includes the following paragraph summarizing a discussion about the more effective strategy for using schools to further Black empowerment:
While Dr. King continued to imagine a world in which “every vestige of segregation and inferior education becomes a thing of the past and Negroes and whites study side by side in the socially healing context of the classroom,” Malcolm X was articulating Black-controlled institutions as an alternative. Rather than integrating into White institutions with norms, structures, and curricula that perpetuated an inferiority complex in Black students, Malcolm X Called for “an all-Black school, that we can control; staff it ourselves with the type of teachers that have our good at heart, with the type of books that have in them many of the missing ingredients that have produced this inferiority complex.”
Readers turning to page 99 would be introduced to a core distinction in approach between The Transition’s main characters, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, but would not meet either jurist on this page. So, in terms of ideas, the Page 99 Test strikes right to the heart of the foundational difference between the political and judicial philosophies of Marshall and Thomas, but the test fails to alert readers to the book’s protagonists or its central forum, the Supreme Court. While the ideas of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are certainly relevant, neither leader features prominently in the book. The Page 99 Test is thus a mixed bag for The Transition.

Over the past 75 years, no transition from one justice to another on the Supreme Court has entailed as wide an ideological gap as the 1991 transition from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas. The Transition explores what led these two justices to such different perspectives on a wide range of questions about American government and citizenship even though they each claim racial equality and full citizenship for African Americans as a goal. How did the sting of race-based exclusion lead Marshall to demand integration and define his belief that government must solve the inequities it had created? Likewise, what led Thomas, who had experienced integrated schooling, to insist on freedom from government on the path to self-empowerment? The Transition seeks to understand these jurists more deeply to reveal currents that continue to define the meaning of citizenship.
Follow Daniel Kiel on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Joseph Giacomelli's "Uncertain Climes"

Joseph Giacomelli is assistant professor of environmental history at Duke Kunshan University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Uncertain Climes: Debating Climate Change in Gilded Age America, and reported the following:
Surprisingly, page 99 of Uncertain Climes does not mention climate (the main topic of the book) a single time! Instead, this page, which appears near the beginning of chapter 5, introduces readers to John Warder (1812-1883), a physician and polymath who founded the American Forestry Association. Warder sought to conserve existing forests while also planting trees in arid or formerly forested regions. Before providing a biographical sketch of Warder's life and career, page 99 briefly describes how Warder's allies and colleagues reacted to his death. Some of his supporters wrote emotional tributes to Warder, and page 99 features a poem detailing how Warder "caught the everlasting sympathies/Of all the lute-lipped leaves. He held the keys/ Of nature's variant moods and solitudes." Again, this selection from the book is quite unusual, since much of Uncertain Climes focuses not on poems but on climatic reports, surveys, newspaper columns, and booster pamphlets.

Even though page 99 does not explicitly discuss climate, the following pages explain Warder's role in Gilded-Age debates about human-induced climatic changes. These contentious debates, which engulfed the US in the 1870s and 1880s, focused on whether Euro-American society could transform climatic conditions, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Like many of his fellow supporters of "forest culture," Warder cited climatic improvements as one of the main benefits of forest planting and conservation. Many of his colleagues and allies portrayed droughts and violent storms as evidence of climatic volatility caused by deforestation and other human influences. Through careful reforestation and afforestation, Warder and his allied argued, American society restore climatic and environmental equilibrium.

It is tempting to dismiss Warder's climatic writings as amateurish and nearly irrelevant, especially in light of the seemingly more scientific forms of climate science and forest management which would eventually replace forest advocacy such as Warder's. Indeed, as evidenced by the poem on page 99, Warder and his allies often appealed to romantic notions such as the variability and mystery of "nature." Yet the book argues that Warder's type of forest advocacy and climate theory was not merely the last vestige of older environmental traditions. Much of Uncertain Climes seeks to explain how the climatic beliefs of people such as Warder shaped Gilded-Age environmental and scientific knowledge as well as broader debates about the future of American capitalism and expansionism.
Learn more about Uncertain Climes at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 14, 2023

Gilberto Rosas's "Unsettling"

Gilberto Rosas is an associate professor of anthropology and Latina/o studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is the 2023 recipient of the AAHHE Sylvia Hurtado University Faculty Award. He is the author of the award winning Barrio Libre: Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals of the New Frontier.

Rosas applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Unsettling: The El Paso Massacre, Resurgent White Nationalism, and the US-Mexico Border, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Unsettling: The El Paso Massacre, Resurgent White Nationalism, and the U.S.-Mexico Border does give readers an accurate idea of the content of the book which is a meditation on how the hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border has produced conflict, trauma, and violence. The page describes a scene of what I call “necrosubjection,” how migrants who cross the border irregularly must be made dead in order to live, or, even more complexly, how they make themselves dead by experiencing brutal conditions. There is a paragraph describing a scene from a videotape. The videotape is from the Nogales police department and it shows a group of migrants making their way to Nogales, NM from Nogales, Mexico in a concrete sewer tunnel. Among them is a “chúntaro” – basically someone who is uninitiated to the ordeal of border crossing and therefore a target for victimization. He is accosted by a gang of rough youths and has a gold chain ripped off his neck by them. Nearby, another youth wields a metal pipe and strikes a migrant on the legs with it. A child screams. These migrants, by their very actions, make themselves subject to possible death. Necrosubjection. Beaten and brutalized but alive, they escape into the United States.

In the next paragraph, I quote from the 1994 Border Patrol Strategic Action Plan, “The border is where thousands of those have died; social violence will increase." The border is a site of injustice, pain, and sometimes death. It was not always this way. As I describe in my book, I grew up in El Paso, Texas and my mother’s family has deep roots there. We moved back and forth, and forth and back, over the Rio Grande, across the international boundary. We were a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, who crossed the international boundary every day at all hours. It was the way.

Today borders and their crossers provoke. They instigate. Borders—and what they portend—unsettle
Learn more about Unsettling at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Theresa Runstedtler's "Black Ball"

Theresa Runstedtler is a scholar of African American history whose research examines Black popular culture, with a particular focus on the intersection of race, masculinity, labor, and sport. She is the author of Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner: Boxing in the Shadow of the Global Color Line (2012), a book that explores the first African American world heavyweight champion’s legacy as a Black sporting hero and international anticolonial icon. Her book won the 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Prize from the Northeast Black Studies Association. Runstedtler has also published scholarly work in the Radical History Review, the Journal of World History, American Studies, the Journal of American Ethnic History, the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, and the Journal of Women’s History, and book chapters in Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance Beyond Harlem, and In the Game: Race, Identity, and Sports in the Twentieth Century. She is a professor at American University and lives in Baltimore with her husband and son.

Runstedtler applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part way through the third chapter, “Bondage,” which explores Oscar Robertson et al v. NBA, a class action lawsuit against the NBA and ABA that helped to block the merger of the two leagues and eventually brought down the reserve clause in professional basketball. In this section of the chapter, we see that white sportswriters tended to blame the majority-Black players for the intensifying labor struggles in pro ball.
As the battle heated up, white sports columnists expressed their nostalgia for a mythical NBA of the past, when the league was supposedly unencumbered by racial conflict and labor strife. “There was a time in the early days when $6000 was a top salary, and the payroll of any club did not go over the $60,000 mark,” Bill Mokray of Basketball News recalled. It was a simpler time, when white players such as Bob Cousy and Frank Ramsey purportedly signed blank contracts and let the Celtics’ management fill in their salaries. Now, troublesome NBA players, represented by high-powered agents, demanded astronomical, no-cut contracts. The payroll of the NBA champion Knicks had apparently expanded to $700,000 for the upcoming season. “Not so long ago that would have been enough to cover the complete expenses of a team, including travel, salaries, rent—and still leave a profit,” Mokray reminisced. Even when compared to other US professional sports leagues, the majority-Black NBA seemed to be totally out of line. The Philadelphia 76ers had a reported payroll of $842,000 for twelve players, he noted, but the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL had a payroll of just $450,000 for twenty-one players.

Bob Maisel, sports editor of the Baltimore Sun, agreed: “They are already easily the highest paid of any team in pro sports.” There no longer seemed to be any honor or loyalty among ballplayers. “Obviously, what they seek is to force the two leagues to keep going to ridiculous figures to acquire their services while they continue to jump back and forth offering themselves to the highest bidder.” This “burden” was hurting both the profitability and stability of professional basketball.
The Page 99 Test works well for my book. This racial dynamic, in which white sportswriters tended to side with white team owners in opposition to the majority-Black players, was common throughout the era of pro ball that the book explores. That said, this page doesn’t really reveal the agency and activism of Black players in contesting the sport’s racial and labor status quo throughout the 1970s.

“NBA and Cocaine: Nothing to Snort At,” declared the Los Angeles Times headline wryly. “There are no reliable figures on the use of cocaine by players,” writer Chris Cobbs admitted, “but estimates by people in the game range from 40 to 75%.” When that story ran in August 1980, the NBA appeared to be a league in crisis. And given that around 75% of the league’s players were African American, it appeared to be a Black crisis. This was a public relations nightmare for a majority-Black league that white sports fans already perceived as being violent, criminal, and out of control.

Yet, rather than revealing the truth of the NBA’s so-called Dark Ages, Cobbs’s sensationalistic story throws into relief the fault lines of a decade-long struggle in the NBA over the future of the sport—one that intersected with broader racial politics. As Black ball became a referendum on Black freedom, the professional game emerged as a kind of morality play about the shifting place of African Americans in U.S. society—a site where the contours of Black citizenship and belonging in the post–civil-rights era were rehashed and reshaped. The supposed decline of professional basketball became a metaphor for the first decades of racial integration in America: The rules of the game had changed, allowing more Black people onto a formerly white playing field, and now they were ruining everything.

However, in reality, this was hardly the case. As they challenged the status quo on and off the court, African American players from the 1970s laid the groundwork for the rise of the dazzling, star-laden NBA we know today.

With Afros waving in the breeze, Black players remade the professional game by infusing it with the aesthetics and ethics of African American streetball. They also leveraged the existence of the NBA’s competing league, the American Basketball Association (ABA, 1967‒1976), and turned to legal strategies and union organizing to push for better salaries and benefits, as well as more control over who they played for and under what conditions. What’s more, their growing prominence helped usher in some of the first Black coaches, general managers, and even league executives, who sought to change the NBA from within. Unfortunately, these rapid developments bred racial resentments: white fans, league officials, and sportswriters blamed Black players’ alleged pathologies (violence and drug abuse) for the NBA’s declining fortunes. Though sometimes disparaged and often disregarded, this earlier generation helped pave the way for the growth of the NBA as a global profit machine and cultural force.
Visit Theresa Runstedtler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Elaine Schattner's "From Whispers to Shouts"

Elaine Schattner is a journalist, cancer survivor, and physician who worked as a medical oncologist before completing a journalism degree at Columbia University. She is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her essays have appeared in Slate, the Atlantic, NPR, and elsewhere.

Schattner applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, From Whispers to Shouts: The Ways We Talk About Cancer, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book covers the first U.S. blow-up on cancer and smoking. In 1954, a decade before their American counterparts, British health officials recognized tobacco’s ill effects on health. When the British health minister announced a causative relationship between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, newspapers covered it variably. The Baltimore Sun placed “Sure Smoking–Lung Cancer Link” on page 1, near the bottom in an inverted “L,” framing another story: “Smoker-Grandma Dies At Age Of 101.”

This page—on the tobacco controversy—reveals two themes of my book: journalism, and confusion about cancer’s causes. In From Whispers to Shouts, I report how news about cancer has evolved. A hundred years ago, progressive journalists cooperated with cancer specialists to spread word of cancer’s curability. Today, editors and reporters question physicians, often challenging their views. Social media has further confounded the relationship between health journalists and medical experts.

The tobacco controversy is a personal highlight of my book because, in researching this episode, I was stunned by the pervasiveness and insidiousness of the tobacco lobby’s reach. Here on page 99, I tell how newspapers highlighted doubts raised by physicians and scientists about tobacco as a carcinogen. Even after researchers affiliated with the American Cancer Society published a huge study based on interviews with over 185,000 men, connecting smoking to lung cancer, doctors questioned the link. The National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Wilhelm Hueper insisted that auto fumes and air pollution were more significant causes of cancer than are cigarettes. In 1954, companies formed the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (later, Committee for Tobacco Research) to counter public discussion of tobacco’s harms. In 1964, when the U.S. Surgeon General released a formal report tying cigarettes to lung cancer in men, the tobacco industry pushed back. As I consider in Chapter 6, Americans were slow to give up smoking. The Committee for Tobacco Research and its allies opposed limits to cigarette advertising and supported research into cancer’s other causes, such as genetics. The committee paid for research into bogus psychological causes of cancer, such as suppressed emotions.

This discussion pertains to later chapters, in which I consider how some people blame cancer patients for their illness, and the book’s final chapter: “Can We Prevent Cancer?”
Visit Elaine Schattner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Michael D. Pierson's "The Wild Woman of Cincinnati"

Michael D. Pierson is professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and author of Lt. Spalding in Civil War Louisiana: A Union Officer’s Humor, Privilege, and Ambition.

Pierson applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Wild Woman of Cincinnati: Gender and Politics on the Eve of the Civil War, and reported the following:
Page 99 is pretty deep in the weeds about how we should answer one of the big questions that historians grapple with about the Civil War era: How different were the North and the South? Readers of page 99 would see details about part of my answer. By 1856 (when the Wild Woman goes on exhibit in Cincinnati), the two sections disagreed markedly about what roles women should play in their cultures.

So, does the Page 99 Test work? Yes, a little. It has a conclusion that will matter to historians. But the real fun of this book is getting to the conclusions. The story of the show, with its silent, imprisoned, supposedly feral woman at the center, is what has interested students and others that I’ve talked with about this incident over the past few years. Who was she? Was she an actor, a consenting participant in a hoax? Or was she desperately ill, traumatized by some past event and brutally exploited? How could a woman be put on exhibit for almost two months, available for anyone to stare at who had a quarter to hand to the ticket seller?

Conclusions matter, and they make the Wild Woman show historically significant. But hearing the showman tell us how he had hunted and captured the feral woman in violent combat, and how he brought her to Cincinnati, is vivid and ultimately alarming. The show’s end, too, is riveting. It was closed by a Cincinnati Judge who sent the police to shutter the exhibit and bring the Wild Woman into custody for psychiatric evaluation. Her day in court was horrific, and she ended up being committed to an Ohio asylum.

One last thing: we also miss the fun of piecing together all of this from a rather small and sometimes mystifying source base. I love weighing ambiguous or contradictory evidence, trying to distill its meanings. That’s all on other pages. So, we miss that in addition to the implausible twists and turns of the history of the show.

So, for me, I’d sum it up this way: Page 99 is all potatoes, served up with very little of the gravy that makes this history fascinating.
Learn more about The Wild Woman of Cincinnati at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 10, 2023

Tom Malleson's "Against Inequality"

Tom Malleson is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Justice & Peace Studies at King's University College at Western University. Their work focuses on egalitarianism, feminism, and radical democracy. They are Coordinator of the Real Utopias Project and their recent books include Part-Time for All: A Care Manifesto (with Jennifer Nedelsky) and After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st Century. They are also a longtime social justice activist and organizer.

Malleson applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, Against Inequality: The Practical and Ethical Case for Abolishing the Superrich, and reported the following:
The top of page 99 looks at the question of whether it’s really true that if we placed high taxes on the rich, they would immediately quit their jobs, or work significantly less (spoiler: the evidence is pretty clear that they actually wouldn’t! Most rich people are motivated by status and power just as much as the money). The bottom of the page shifts gears to talk about whether high taxes will harm productivity and investment. Here, the crucial thing to realize is that it’s wrong to think about taxation as simply taking money out of the economy, because in most cases that money will be spent by the government somewhere else, with positive benefits for the economy. This means that “from the perspective of an individual or a corporation, a tax will always feel like a cost and a burden, but for the country as a whole, a tax is better thought of not as a cost but as an internal transfer.”

The Page 99 Test gives a pretty good idea of what the book is about. The reader will see a mixture of compelling statistics alongside interesting discussion of vital issues about why inequality is so high, why taxes on the rich are so low, and what we can - and should - do to change things.

Although the Page 99 Test succeeds in giving the reader a good flavour of the book, unsurprisingly it only gives a very thin slice of all the big issues that are covered. Against Inequality: The Practical and Ethical Case for Abolishing the Superrich covers a lot of ground – we analyze the major practical arguments that are typically offered in defence of inequality (such as the idea that it’s not possible to have high taxes because the rich will always avoid them through tax havens or emigration, and the idea that even if it were possible to implement high taxes, it would be a bad idea to do so because the costs would outweigh any benefits). We also look at the major ethical justifications of inequality, particularly the idea that rich people “deserve” their income from their hard work and talent. All of these arguments are found to be deeply and utterly wrong. In fact, the book demonstrates that inequality is profoundly unjust and undeserved, and furthermore, that it’s entirely feasible to dramatically reduce inequality. Overall, the evidence is overwhelming that reducing inequality would make us all far better off. We can and we should abolish the superrich.
Visit Tom Malleson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Linda Seidel's "Vincent's Arles"

Linda Seidel is Hanna Holborn Gray Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago. She is the author of several books, including Legend in Limestone, Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, and Songs of Glory.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Vincent's Arles: As It Is and as It Was, and reported the following:
Page 99 develops a description (begun on the previous page) of the large, sculpted frieze running across the entry portal to Arles’s medieval cathedral. Diminutive figures of the blessed appear to the left of the main door, framed by a depiction of Adam and Eve at the outer end, while figures of the unredeemable, their feet covered with flames, appear on the right side. Together, the figures reinforce the theme of the portal as that of the final Judgment. Their portrayal, facing right, suggests movement in the direction of the ancient cemetery of the Alyscamps.

The page gives readers a poor idea of the whole book until (and unless) they recognize that the cover of the book shows one of Vincent’s depictions of the Alyscamps, alluded to in the book’s opening sentence. For those readers, the page reinforces the essential through line of the book: movement in and around the city’s sites at different moments in its history and the way that paintings, carvings, buildings, and ruins retain clues to, and memories of, those perambulations.

The book explores the history of Arles as a journey back into time, with moments and places from the past affecting the way in which we experience the present. That is the only way in which we come to know what has happened before us. It is also the way in which medieval pilgrims experienced devotional travel to the tombs of notable holy men such as the apostle St. James Major, whose tomb at Compostela in northwestern Spain emerged as a pre-eminent shrine in the twelfth century. Arles, the first stop on one of the roads leading to Compostela, is described in the Pilgrim’s Guide, a well-known document of the time that remains popular reading for travelers to the area today. With Arles currently being made into a shrine to the memory of Van Gogh, and ancient sites in the city being transformed as part of that process, it seemed appropriate for me to start an examination of the city’s venerable monuments with its modern-day holy man, following his footsteps through streets he regularly wandered and examining his thoughts about what he saw as recorded in the letters he wrote. A comment he made about the portal of the cathedral, and remarks about imagining figures from the past seeing some of the same things he saw, confirmed my sense of him as a vibrant guide to places that otherwise remain remote to us, his words enabling me to see things in ways I hadn’t imagined, something his paintings and drawings do for all of us.
Learn more about Vincent's Arles at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Christian G. Fritz's "Monitoring American Federalism"

Christian G. Fritz is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He is the author of American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War (2008).

Fritz applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Monitoring American Federalism: The History of State Legislative Resistance, and reported the following:
Page 99 asks the reader to consider the disturbing language used by Thomas Jefferson in his draft of the Eighth resolution of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 that expressed the state’s opposition to congressional passage of the dangerous and oppressive Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 that attacked free speech and freedom of the press. The language of the Kentucky Resolutions—and James Madison’s Virginia Resolutions of 1798—became a touchstone for proponents of nullification in the 1830s who referred to the Resolutions as the “Principles of ‘98” even as nullifiers misused Jefferson’s and Madison’s words to justify nullification and secession.

In Jefferson’s Eighth resolution he implied that individual states might be able to challenge by force laws passed by the federal government that the states deem to be unconstitutional, thus coming closest to the meaning of nullification that nullifiers would adopt. Page 99 shows that even as Jefferson used language that seemingly flirted with the idea of nullification, his draft resolutions were consistent with the position that acts of the national government that exceeded its constitutional authority rendered those acts “void” and of “no force.” Unconstitutional acts of the national government were inherently void and of no authority and not because Kentucky’s legislature had nullified them. Thus, despite Jefferson’s use of the word “nullification,” his terminology was consistent with the objectives of both the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions to identify the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts and bring attention to that fact. In concluding that the acts were void as a consequence of their unconstitutionality, Jefferson employed the same logic that Chief Justice John Marshall used a few years later in Marbury v. Madison when Marshall proclaimed that “an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.”

The Larger Context of State Legislative Resistance

The book focuses on how state legislatures, as guardians of the people’s rights, have sought—throughout our history—to monitor the distribution of powers under the Constitution using the tool of “interposition.” Interposition was a formal state protest serving to “sound the alarm” against actions of the national government perceived to be unconstitutional, designed to focus public attention and generate interstate political pressure with the objective of reversing the overreach by the national government.

Interposition emerged because the Constitution created what James Madison called a “compound republic”—neither a wholly national government nor one in which states retained their entire sovereignty. This shared sovereignty inevitably tested the balance of powers between nation and states. Moreover, the absence of clear delineation between the two levels of government meant that a static equilibrium of powers would never be a fact and would always be a source of ongoing political debate and conflict.

Monitoring American Federalism shows that the most violent rhetoric and actions concerning the equilibrium of federalism occurred: during the decades before the Civil War as Southern states feared the destruction of slavery; following Reconstruction as white supremacists fought the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution and racial equality; and during the 1950s-60s in opposition to school integration. More recently, modern forms of “neo-nullification” and “uncooperative federalism” have emerged as red or blue states seek to oppose federal laws and policies. Many of these state actions are consistent with the history of sounding the alarm interposition.

Interposition offers the important insight that the national government cannot ride roughshod over the states. At the same time, interposition does not mean that states have the power to nullify or secede, but owe a duty to the Constitution and our democratic process.
Learn more about Monitoring American Federalism at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: American Sovereigns.

--Marshal Zeringue