Sunday, July 30, 2023

Alan Philps's "The Red Hotel"

Alan Philps served as Moscow correspondent for Reuters and the Daily Telegraph. He has been foreign editor of the Telegraph and Editor of The World Today, the Chatham House magazine. His book The Boy from Baby House 10 captured the mood of Russia in the 1990s through the experience of an abandoned child. It has been translated into five languages, turned into an NBC documentary and the film rights are currently optioned by Footprint Films.

Philps applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Red Hotel: Moscow 1941, the Metropol Hotel, and the Untold Story of Stalin's Propaganda War, and reported the following:
Page 99 covers the last evening of an organised press trip ‘to the Smolensk Front’ for the American and British journalists in Moscow. It turned out to be more of a kindergarten crocodile than a snapshot of the Red Army’s fight against the Nazi invader. The journalists never got to the front or heard a shot fired in anger, but they did enjoy nightly banquets with heaps of caviar, dishes of quails in sour cream, delicately wrapped chocolates and gallons of vodka.

Vernon Bartlett, the senior member of the press pack, has worked out that these delicacies were not an indication of the logistical prowess of the Red Army but had been secretly brought from Moscow in one of the press pack’s cars. Bartlett is itching to tell his hosts that the journalists would rather have eaten buckwheat groats and rye bread with the soldiers, but he holds his tongue.

‘This was not the moment to point out that sharing the officers’ usual rations would have suited the guests better than the Potemkin banquets that had been set before them. As required, he gave fulsome thanks to the Red Army for their hospitality, and proposed toasts to the flourishing of the Anglo-Soviet alliance.’

The only woman reporter, the British communist Charlotte Haldane, has come to Moscow full of passion to record the exploits of the heroic Red Army under Stalin’s wise leadership. But she is unnerved by the sight of a procession of starving peasants dressed in rags. They must be collaborators, she thinks, being punished for working with the Germans. A Red army officer puts her right: ‘They were peasants who were still resisting collectivisation, putting their energies into the tiny family plots they were allowed to keep and grudgingly giving to the collective the minimum of labour they would get away with.’ This was a very different view of Soviet agriculture from the images of apple-cheeked peasant women clutching abundant sheaves of wheat that she had seen in the pages of the Daily Worker.

Page 99 marks a crucial stage in the correspondents’ realisation that they are being duped and manipulated to present a sanitized version of Stalin’s Russia. It is a pivotal moment in the narrative. A browser who had read the book cover and then turned to page 99 would nod and think: yes, this is what I was expecting. In that respect, the Page 99 test applies to this book. But would this browser be inspired to buy the book by the words on page 99? I’m not sure. There are other passages where the moral dilemmas and unheroic compromises of the correspondents are presented more starkly and with more pathos, pages where the browser would not just nod, but exclaim: ‘I hadn’t expected that! This is a book I must buy.’

One strand of the book absent from page 99 is the role of the visiting correspondents’ Soviet ‘secretary-translators’, the women on whom the reporters – almost all men – relied for real news, companionship and a lot more. The Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where the journalists lived, worked and downed their vodka, was a magical island in the grim greyness of Stalin’s Russia, where fraternisation between westerners and Soviet women was tolerated, even encouraged, by Stalin’s secret police. The relationships that sprang up, and the price paid by some of the brave translators for sharing forbidden secrets, these are the elements that provide the book’s narrative drive and that I would have liked the browser to stumble upon.
Visit Alan Philps's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Boy from Baby House 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 28, 2023

Doris L. Bergen's "Between God and Hitler"

Doris L. Bergen is the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on issues of religion, gender, and ethnicity in the Holocaust and World War II and comparatively in other cases of extreme violence. Her publications include War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, now going into its fourth edition, with translations into Polish and Ukrainian. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has taught in Canada, the USA, Germany, Poland, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Bergen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Between God and Hitler: Military Chaplains in Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
On page 99, readers find themselves with the German military chaplains in defeated France in the late summer of 1940. Chaplains' reports, submitted up the chain of command, gave glowing accounts of their ministry during and after the invasion. Yet in the midst of the Wehrmacht's triumph, chaplains conveyed mixed messages. They were overworked, they complained, left with inadequate support to address the mental and physical needs of wounded soldiers. Although they were responsible for seeing to the proper burial of the dead, they lacked access to the vehicles and fuel that would allow them to do their job. Some chaplains' reports hinted that their superiors deliberately undermined them: without the means to reach the combat troops, they easily fell suspect to the charge of not really caring about the men. Meanwhile, chaplains also criticized the soldiers they served. When not fighting, they observed, most German soldiers behaved badly, plundering homes and cheating the locals. The chaplains were too few in number, they lamented, to stop the rot. Page 99 captures one key theme, but it is not representative of the book as a whole. The precarious situation of the Wehrmacht chaplains is important, and I argue that their insecurity about their place within the Nazi system is one of the reasons they tried so hard to prove their worth. But page 99 draws solely on sources produced by the chaplains themselves. Throughout the book, I complicate and interrogate chaplains’ narratives by providing other perspectives, for example, from Jews targeted in the German war of annihilation.

My book is organized chronologically, and the chapter in which page 99 falls, on the conquests of Poland and France, is followed by the explosion of violence in the German assault on Soviet territory in 1941. That next chapter, titled "Saving Christianity, Killing Jews," analyzes chaplains’ direct encounter with the mass murder of Jews, including children, and the destruction of Soviet POWs and civilians. Chaplains’ acquiescence, their willingness to preach God’s unconditional love to the agents of genocide, was not an aberration. The habit of cooperation, going back to the early years of Hitler’s rule and deepened in the brutal attacks on Germany's neighbors in 1939 and 1940, proved hard to break, and the higher the stakes became, the less likely it was that chaplains would venture out of the ruts of their well-worn path. Page 99, with its quotidian grumblings from chaplains in occupied France, is part of the explanation why the Wehrmacht chaplains would continue to serve loyally, even after seeing fellow Germans burn villages along with their inhabitants in Greece, watching partisans be hanged in Yugoslavia, and witnessing mass shootings of Jews in Lithuania and Ukraine.
Learn more about Between God and Hitler at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Campbell F. Scribner's "A is for Arson"

Campbell F. Scribner is Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. He is the author of The Fight for Local Control and the coauthor of Spare the Rod.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Is for Arson: A History of Vandalism in American Education, and reported the following:
From page 99:
If the true goal of education is for the student to recognize herself as autonomous, to discover the meeting point between the world and the individual life, then education cannot be conceived of simply as linear growth and the mastery of skills. It requires the development of interiority, the suspension of certainty, and the possibility of negation, which Sartre (following Heidegger) associates with destruction.
Readers will learn a lot by turning to page 99 of A is for Arson! Most importantly, that while it is a work of academic history—with insights into evolving interpretations of property destruction and various attempts to control it—the book has a deeply existentialist bent. Whereas Part I examines school property damage as a form of politics and resistance (by students, parents, taxpayers, and sometimes teachers), that argument is unlikely to surprise critical readers. Page 99 comes in the introduction to Part II, when the voice and structure of the book take an unexpected and wholly original turn. Four essays blend historical and philosophical insights to explore the experience of vandalism in the past and ask whether breakage or defacement themselves had any educational value. The essays use thinkers such as Heidegger, Jaspers, Arendt, and Nietzsche to analyze doodles in nineteenth-century textbooks, initials carved into desks in the 1920s, smutty messages on bathroom walls in the 1960s, and orgies of window-breaking in the 1970s. In each case, the essays offer conjectural arguments about the development of selfhood outside of the official curriculum. Thus, A is for Arson tries to take children seriously not only as historical agents who exercise power and engage in political struggle, but as individuals coming into being through emotion and wonder.
Learn more about A Is for Arson at the Cornell University Press website and follow Scribner on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: The Fight for Local Control.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Mark Gregory Pegg's "Beatrice's Last Smile"

Mark Gregory Pegg is Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom and The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Beatrice's Last Smile: A New History of the Middle Ages, and reported the following:
The mother of Gregory, bishop of Tours, scolded him around the turn of the seventh century for only daydreaming about the “deeds of saints” and not writing (and preaching) of these miraculous exploits in the speech of common people. “Therefore, don’t hesitate and don’t delay doing this,” she told her son, “because you will be faulted if you are silent.” As Christ “chose not orators but fishermen, not philosophers but common men [rustici],” so Gregory, like a new apostle, would spread news of saints and their “splendid deeds of power” in the everyday Latin still spoken throughout much of Merovingian Gaul. And so he wrote his Seven Books of Miracles (Libri septem miraculorum) as a literary and spiritual experiment in rusticitas — ordinary speech for describing the extraordinary. For Gregory, saints as dead holy men (who often had been bishops like him in life) joined heaven and earth at their tombs. Their corpses were like high-energy conduits humming with and radiating the power of God from on high, as well as relaying prayers up to heaven from supplicants. They were at once lifeless in their tombs and brilliantly alive in paradise. Gregory reconfigured every miraculous event throughout Gaul as a manifestation of one of these very special dead persons, so that there was no longer any paganism or superstition, just a lack of awareness of who really caused wonder and redemption in the world.

Gregory of Tours and what is now known as the cult of the saints is what I write about on page ninety-nine in my book, Beatrice’s Last Smile: A New History of the Middle Ages. The title comes from Dante Alighieri’s early fourteenth-century Divine Comedy when Beatrice (whom he loved in his youth before her early death) smiles at him one last time in paradise — a smile that reveals to him the meaning of love and the universe, indeed all existence that ever was and ever will be. Beatrice’s last smile encapsulates the history of the Middle Ages because it evokes the ebb and flow of holiness and humanity in the living of a life that shaped the medieval West. This ebb and flow is described on page ninety-nine for Gregory of Tours and his saints.

In this sense, Ford Madox Ford’s observation about page ninety-nine works quite well for Beatrice’s Last Smile: A New History of the Middle Ages.
Learn more about Beatrice's Last Smile at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Matthew Titolo's "Privatization and Its Discontents"

Matthew Titolo is Professor of Law at the West Virginia University College of Law. He researches nineteenth-century American legal and political history and teaches American legal history as well as commercial law courses.

Titolo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Privatization and Its Discontents: Infrastructure, Law, and American Democracy, and reported the following:
Infrastructure and privatization have both been persistent themes in modern political debates over the role of government in the economy. Scholars writing about these issues today situate them in the frame of networks, platforms or utilities to map the public and private forces that materialize the market state. Privatization and Its Discontents situates this debate in the American context as a problem for law, politics and the economy from the 18th century down to our own time. The book brings sweeping themes of infrastructure and the public-private divide into conversation with statutes, court decisions and intellectual history to situate infrastructure at the center of American statecraft, and maps the conflicting ideas of the public good, markets and political democracy that shape modern liberalism.

The book is an extended historical essay on the development of infrastructure in its various forms throughout American history. It begins with a broad overview of Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton on political economy, public goods and the state. As the book progresses it uses historical documents to bring the story to life in a detailed way. When we apply our Page 99 Test, it illustrates the level of care for close reading of legal texts that substantiates the book’s larger project.

Page 99 begins in the middle of a long quote from a New Hampshire court decision from the 1850s. It falls roughly in the middle of Chapter 3 in a 6-chapter book. On page 99 I am discussing how state governments used the power of eminent domain to build infrastructures as varied as canals, railroads and turnpikes, illustrating how the market state was itself an extended public-private venture. So, in that sense, page 99 is a nice illustration of the book’s broader themes.

However, a reader turning to page 99 to get an idea of the book as a whole would probably miss the interdisciplinary nature of the project. Page 99 shows Privatization and Its Discontents as a book about legal history, which it is. But it is also a book about the broader ideas that shape our contemporary infrastructure politics. Thus, the Page 99 Test passes, but only barely. The reader will get a lot of detailed legal analysis in this book, so in that sense the test is helpful in this case. But a complete read of the book would reveal how those details tie into larger historical currents that are not apparent on page 99.
Learn more about Privatization and Its Discontents at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 21, 2023

Marcia C. Inhorn's "Motherhood on Ice"

Marcia C. Inhorn is the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs in the Department of Anthropology and The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, where she serves as Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies.

Inhorn applied the “Page 99 Test” to her newest book, Motherhood on Ice: The Mating Gap and Why Women Freeze Their Eggs, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Motherhood on Ice tells the story of Sita, a humanitarian health care worker who has tried dating apps, speed dating, matchmaking, and “arranged introductions,” but has yet to find a committed reproductive partner, particularly within her Indian-American community. Sita laments the “quality” of the men who “ping” her on dating apps, finding their focus on her physical appearance to be both superficial and sexist.

The Page 99 Test works in some ways for Motherhood on Ice because the partnership problems facing Sita are the very reason why American women are now freezing their eggs in record numbers. Sita’s story exemplifies the “mating gap,” or the lack of eligible, educated, and equal male partners available for marriage and childbearing.

In some ways, Sita is representative of the hundred-plus women in this book. She is a highly educated professional woman in her late thirties, who has frozen her eggs because she longs for—but has yet to achieve—the “three P’s” of partnership, pregnancy, and parenthood. Sita has certainly not undertaken egg freezing for career planning purposes. Like most women who freeze their eggs, Sita is well established in her career and can afford the high costs of a $10,000-15,000 egg freezing cycle. Sita is also not intentionally “deferring,” “delaying,” or “postponing” her fertility. Like most women who freeze their eggs, Sita wishes she had children now. But Sita is stuck in “reproductive waithood,” waiting for a suitable mate to come along. This mating gap reflects an underappreciated, but growing gender-based educational disparity in the United States. To wit, college-educated American women now outnumber college-educated American men by the millions, especially between ages 22 to 39, the prime reproductive years. Such educational disparities are particularly pronounced in U.S. minority communities, which is why college-educated American women of many racial and religious backgrounds are now freezing their eggs in the absence of educated male partners. In essence, egg freezing is a stop-gap technological solution to a gender-based social problem well beyond women’s individual control. But, for those who can afford it, egg freezing also offers new reproductive choices, hopes, and opportunities—giving women like Sita a costly chance to hold onto their motherhood dreams.
Visit Marcia C. Inhorn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Kevin Killeen's "The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought"

Kevin Killeen is Professor in English and Early Modern Literature at the Universityof York. His books include The Political Bible in Early Modern England (2017).

Killeen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought: Natural Philosophy and the Poetics of the Ineffable, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought describes how seventeenth century readers in Reformation Europe encountered, quite sceptically, the theological and poetic gymnastics of a fifth-century mystic, Dionysius the Areopagite, together with other figures who grapple with 'negative theology', what cannot be said about the divine, except by negation. In some ways, then, the page is untypical, in looking at a florid patristic figure and a medieval legacy, but the Renaissance is a magpie era, pilfering and recycling the past, plundering its resources shamelessly.

The book is an account of such plundering, how early modern thought was at one and the same time suspicious of and enamoured by the acrobatic paradoxes and the 'rousing impossibilities' of negative theology. Even while the Protestant North often considered the mystical to be bogus, mere Catholic candy floss, it remained impressed with its elegant poetics, its toolkit for imagining what lay just beyond the thinkable. And it borrowed this inherited set of logic-twisting strategies to think about the natural world, and natural philosophy. Science too, it turned out, needed its epistemological ruses. Reason and logic, the era discovered, could only take you so far.

As such, the book looks at the porous hinterlands of religion, science and the literary and addresses how early modern natural philosophy encountered its own set of unknowables - the physics of creation, the infinitesimal, the limits of reason - and how it concocted ways to speak about these elusive realms, and the forbidding complexity of a world that remained shot through with mystery.
Learn more about The Unknowable in Early Modern Thought at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Josh Milburn's "Food, Justice, and Animals"

Josh Milburn is a British philosopher and a Lecturer in Political Philosophy at Loughborough University. He has previously worked at the University of Sheffield, the University of York, and Queen's University (in Canada), before which he studied at Queen's University Belfast and Lancaster University. He is the author of Just Fodder: The Ethics of Feeding Animals (2022), and the regular host of the animal studies podcast Knowing Animals.

Milburn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Food, Justice, and Animals: Feeding the World Respectfully, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Food, Justice, and Animals: Feeding the World Respectfully starts to introduce the technology of precision fermentation, and especially cultivated dairy. It reads as follows:
I return to cultivated meat in Chapter 5. For now, let us turn to consider cellular agriculture beyond meat. In an important sense, it is non-meat cellular agriculture that has established itself first. As already noted, for example, Impossible Foods’s haem and Geltor’s collagen have been available for years, and fermentation-based rennet has been available for decades. But more striking than these cell-cultured additives is the existence of cultivated milk. Perfect Day is an American company that has been producing cultivated dairy proteins since 2019—available to consumers in ice cream, milk drinks, and more. Cultivated dairy products are thus available (if likely unfamiliar) to Americans. Other companies focus on other dairy products. The German company Formo, for example—although their products are not, at time of writing, commercially available—produces cheese.

The technologies of precision fermentation used by makers of cultivated milk are simpler than the technologies used for cultivated meat. Cultivated dairy producers genetically modify non-animal cells (say, yeasts) to produce organic compounds (say, casein, a milk protein) via fermentation. The producers thus do not need animals. At most, some understanding of animal genetic makeup is required. (Unsurprisingly given their commercial significance, cattle genetics are already very well-known to humans.)

At the risk of oversimplifying, the process uses brewing technologies that have been relatively familiar to humans for millennia; the only high-tech part is the initial genetic modification. The Good Food Institute carefully distinguishes traditional fermentation from biomass fermentation and precision fermentation technologies. An example of the first is turning soybeans into tempeh. The second creates foods’ bulk—food scientists ferment fungi, for example, to produce Quorn’s plant-based meats. It is the third with which I am presently concerned: genetic modification allows for the creation of cell-level factories to produce particular proteins (or similar). But even the genetic technologies are accessible compared the technologies used for cultivated meat. Indeed, some of the first people to explore cultivated dairy…
And that’s where the page ends.

In many ways, this page is typical of the book: there’s talk of plant-based meat, cultivated meat, cultivated milk, and so on. These are the kinds of approaches to food production that this book explores at length.

But in other ways, this page is not typical. Simply put, this is a work of political philosophy. Page 99 gives the impression that it’s a book about the current state of novel food industries. But, really, it’s a book examining the reasons for and against particular methods of food production. It is thus making the case for a food system that we should collectively try to create.

The book’s central claim is that recognizing that animals have rights doesn’t mean that we must give up animal foods if we can produce these foods without disrespecting animals’ rights. And this involves close analysis of the ethics of products like cultivated milk – milk created without the need for cows, and so milk produced without the rights-violating horrors of the contemporary milk industry.

So, starting on page 100, Food, Justice, and Animals moves on from introducing precision fermentation and starts to closely examine the ethics of cultivated milk, responding to several arguments against the technology. Crucially, I suggest that these arguments fall short, meaning that we don’t have to choose between respecting animal rights and continuing to consume dairy. With products like cultivated milk, we can choose a third path: We can collectively continue to eat animal products (including dairy products), while collectively ending the violence against animals in the contemporary food industry (including the violence in contemporary dairy production).
Visit Josh Milburn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Bettina Varwig's "Music in the Flesh"

Bettina Varwig is professor of music history and fellow of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge. She is author of Histories of Heinrich Schütz and editor of Rethinking Bach.

Varwig applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Music in the Flesh: An Early Modern Musical Physiology, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Hier bey dieser kleinen Sehnen
Soll man mit Verwundrung sehn,
Wie viel Aest aus ihr sich dehnen,
Ja den gantzen Leib durchgehn,
Die nicht nur in Gaum und Munde,
Zähnen, Augen, Nas’ und Schlunde
Sich zertheilen; sondern auch
In der Brust und in dem Bauch.

Ja so gar bis in die Füsse
Sollen kleine Zweige gehn,
Wannenher ich leichtlich schliesse,
Wie die Wirckungen geschehn,
Welche die Music erreget,
Da der Ton das Ohr uns schläget,
Und im Nervchen, das er rührt,
Durch den gantzen Leib sich führt.

We should marvel at this little nerve strand, how many branches extend from it and go through the whole body, parting not only in the mouth and palate, teeth, eyes, nose, and throat, but also in the chest and stomach. Little branches are even said to extend into the feet. From this I easily deduce how the effects arise that music incites, when a sound hits our ear and passes through the whole body via the nerve strand that it touches.
This is a poem by the eighteenth-century German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes, about the workings of the human auditory nerve. The poem takes up the better part of page 99 – and it goes right to the heart of the matter. Page 99 Test result: positive!

My book aims to reimagine the musical experiences of early modern Europeans: how music affected them in body, soul and spirit. To this end, I set out to reconstruct the physiology of their musicking bodies. I argue that this physiology is grounded less in the Cartesian notion of the body as a solid, inert container of an immaterial mind, and more in the idea of human bodies as volatile, in flux, agential, and entangled with spirit and soul in inextricable ways. These early modern body-souls were susceptible to penetration from outside forces such as (musical) soundwaves. The process of hearing did not merely involve soundwaves entering the ear and being transported to the brain to be decoded there. Soundwaves could suffuse and affect the whole body, the limbs, the inner organs, the vital spirits and thereby the thoughts, feelings and actions of those they permeated.

Brockes’s poem offers a poeticized vision of this physiology of hearing. He explains why we feel compelled to tap our foot when we hear music, a phenomenon that is still being investigated in embodied cognition research today. The physiology sketched in his poem could serve to elucidate all sorts of other striking effects of music on these early modern bodies: from melting their ear wax to ravishing the heart and drawing the soul out of the body. To my early modern listeners, music could taste (sweet or vinegary); it could smell (ungodly song stank); and it could touch and transform all parts of a their body-soul. What might happen to us as listeners today if we tried hearing this music with our whole bodies like that?
Learn more about Music in the Flesh at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Rory Naismith's "Making Money in the Early Middle Ages"

Rory Naismith is professor of early medieval English history at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Corpus Christi College. He is the author of Early Medieval Britain, c. 500–1000, Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London, and Money and Power in Anglo-Saxon England: The Southern English Kingdoms, 757–865.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Making Money in the Early Middle Ages, and reported the following:
On page 99, the reader of Making Money in the Early Middle Ages is dropped into the midst of a discussion of how peasant farmers paid their rent in eastern France during the ninth century. This involved a mix of three things: labour (such as cutting hay and digging up vines), payments in kind (usually foodstuffs that the farmers had grown themselves) and payments in coined money. Surveys that detail these payments are a vital window onto how the bedrock of early medieval society worked. They show that a wide range of people used the silver denarii (pennies) that made up the currency at this time, and if tenants were required by their landlord to pay some or all of the rent in cash, that meant they had to use markets to get it, and in the process may well have done business on their own account too.

Another side of these payments I highlight on page 99 is the very complicated picture revealed by these surveys. Individual households within the same settlement owed significantly different amounts or proportions of money, produce and work to the landlord. That is in large part because these renders were an expression of status, a gauge of the relationship between tenant and lord. Broadly speaking, paying a higher proportion of the rent in cash was more favourable for the tenant, as it maximised their flexibility. Money was thus a signal of status as well as a transfer of value. This role was accentuated rather than diminished by the relatively small amount of cash in circulation during the early Middle Ages (approximately the sixth to the eleventh centuries). It meant that using coin was a statement, not the default, and the handover of coin tended to be a formal, public event.

Page 99 is therefore actually a good way into the larger themes of the book. My overall goal was to explain why people made and used coined money at a time of scarcity, and one of the answers was that it continued to be an important tool in expressing relations between people, as well as a factor – albeit often a small one – in more directly economic activities.
Follow Rory Naismith on Facebook and Threads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Shira Shmuely's "The Bureaucracy of Empathy"

Shira Shmuely is Assistant Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Bureaucracy of Empathy: Law, Vivisection, and Animal Pain in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In December 1881, Roy applied to the Home Office for a certificate B, which would allow him to keep dogs and other animals alive after inoculating them with distemper, a virus affecting respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. The operation consisted “simply” in piercing “slightly with a needle […] a minute portion of the skin.” The effects of the operation “if any, will be to cause a disease which all or nearly all dogs suffer at one period of their life and which seldom or never attacks the same animal twice.” Lushington deferred his decision maintaining that the application was incomplete, and asked Roy to duly submit a signed certificate.
If reading page 99 gives you the impression that this book is packed with old letters, forms, and administrative memos about suffering animals, that’s because it is! The project aims to unearth from nineteenth-century official and unofficial documents the concept of (animal) pain. The Cruelty to Animals Act (1876) stipulated that any experiment “calculated to give pain” to a living animal should adhere to a set of requirements. The above peek into page 99 demonstrates how the Act was implemented on the ground in a daily bureaucratic routine. Here we see the beginning of a long correspondence in which a civil servant (here home office undersecretary Lushington) negotiated with a scientist (pathologist and animal experimenter Charles Roy) the terms of his experiments. Inoculation research challenged scientists and civil servants on whether a lab-induced disease constituted an experiment under the Act. It therefore contributes to our understanding of what legislators and the scientific community meant when they referred to pain.
Follow Shira Shmuely on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Lindsey Dodd's "Feeling Memory"

Lindsey Dodd is reader in modern European history at the University of Huddersfield. She is the author of French Children Under the Allied Bombs, 1940–1945: An Oral History (2016) and coeditor of Vichy France and Everyday Life: Confronting the Challenges of Wartime (2018). She is also part of the editorial team for the journal Oral History.

Dodd applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Feeling Memory: Remembering Wartime Childhoods in France, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Édith’s family lost their possessions and their home in an air raid on Cambrai in 1944; this followed the devastating death of her brother also under the bombs. Édith’s mother was ill with depression, did not claim any compensation, and with her three remaining children struggled in the aftermath of these calamities. Édith described her clothing: “We’d pull in our sleeves like this, to do that [tucking her sleeves around her elbows, and holding her arms close to her body to hide the imagined holes]. To go to school. To go to Communion. It’s not much fun, when you’ve got holes in your shoes, to get down on your knees.” The priest told her to have humility in the face of her suffering, and the nuns berated her sister (Édith left school as soon as she could) for the state of her clothing. Their poverty – and their mother’s incapacity – was exposed to public view, and judgement was cast on their failure to live up to expectations of propriety and humility. Édith told the story with a smile; but why tell it at all unless it communicated something – about injustice, pain, shame – to the listener?
Page 99 is somewhat representative of my approach to thinking about personal memories of the Second World War as lived by children in France. On this page, we encounter three young girls – Édith, Simone, and Lucienne – whose experiences of upheaval generated lasting emotional responses. It is through the narration of such experiences that we can, to some extent, read the emotional landscape of the past. We may not come to know how the past felt, but by listening with care we can feel our way into worlds beyond our own. Memories are made of feeling. This idea is present on page 99 and underpins the whole book.

In other ways, it is not representative. Its focus is on three experiences of shame which are linked to the destitution caused by bombing. I’ve dealt with bombing before. So a cursory glance at page 99 might lead readers to think ‘Another book about bombing!’ But while the allied bombing of France during the Second World War does feature in Feeling Memory, my underlying goal was to explore and do justice to the lives beyond bombing that even those children who were bombed lived.

Feeling Memory draws on a wider corpus of recorded oral histories in geographical and social terms than page 99 might suggest. The book uses the stories of contented children, bereaved children, Jewish children of different backgrounds, children who were refugees, children who were interned, rich and poor, rural and urban, children who were happily evacuated, children who joked, laughed, danced… collected frogs, played wargames, mocked their teachers, ate carrot jam, made up lies, saw things they shouldn’t have, got angry, got scared, and chose to recount their stories years later.

Page 99 falls within the first part of the book ‘Memories Felt’, in a chapter called ‘Affects and Intensities’ that tracks how affective states are indirectly communicated through the shape and content of memory stories. As on page 99, I take the anecdotes people tell as droplets of meaning: they say something beyond the specifics of the situation. Often, that something is about feeling, and it matters. ‘Memories Felt’ is followed by three more parts: ‘Memories Located’, ‘Memories Told’ and ‘Memories Lived’. Together these illuminate a felt realm of experience which is both a collective story of war through children’s eyes and an expression of deep individuation.
Learn more about Feeling Memory at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Stephen Legg's "Round Table Conference Geographies"

Stephen Legg is Professor of Historical Geography at University of Nottingham, England. He is a specialist on interwar colonial India with a particular interest in the politics of urban space within imperial and international frames. He has analyzed these spaces and frames through drawing upon theoretical approaches from memory scholarship, postcolonialism, political theory and governmentality studies. He published the co-edited volume (with Deana Heath) South Asian Governmentalities: Michel Foucault and the Question of Postcolonial Orderings (2018). Some of his other publications are Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities (2007), Prostitution and the Ends of Empire: Scale, Governmentalities, and Interwar India (2014) and the edited collection Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos (2011).

Legg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Round Table Conference Geographies: Constituting Colonial India in Interwar London, and reported the following:
This book fails the Page 99 Test but is on the cusp of it working brilliantly. Between the introduction and conclusion (both subtitled “Squaring Round Tables”) the book features four sections, each divided by a title page. Page 99 is one of these and features only the text “II CONFERENCE INFRASTRUCTURES”. Though low on content, this is the precise point of a gear change in the book. Section I (GEOGRAPHICAL IMAGINATIONS) focuses on the weightier issues at the heart of the early-1930s conference that this book focuses on: what would India’s future place in the British Empire be? Would it be as a commonwealth dominion? How had the 1920s constitutional experiment with devolution played out? How would Muslim and Hindu religious communities be managed in any new constitution? Page 98 summarises the failure to overcome religious divisions at the conference and looks forward to the work that follows.

From page 98:
...‘Communal Award’, issued in 1932 (and discussed in Chapter 10). The conference method had failed.

This chapter has traced the arc of this failure, through opening informal conferencing to the formation of the committee. This formal body failed at the first and second sessions to produce concord, after which informal conferencing continued to work away at a compromise that many felt the conference had been designed to prevent. Informal meetings were a part of the broader conference throughout, as later examples of the delegates’ social centre (Chapter 7), dining and residing (Chapter 8), and domestic entertainments (Chapter 9) will illustrate. But the minorities question was the one most directed to informal politicking and with the least successful results. The account above has privileged the records of Moonje, due to his significance and his diligent diarising. This risks presenting a view of an over-communalised Indian delegation. But for a conference premised on discussion and concord, influential and intransigent delegates could and did cause major disruption. As such, the minorities question split the method, spaces and people of the conference. This had been predicted by many of those at the conference, but also by many beyond it. On 21 October 1931 Sapru’s Liberal Federation colleague D. G. Dalvi wrote to him from Bombay, capturing the despondency of the second session, but also the darting between formal and informal spaces:

The communities meet, discuss a little in the open meeting, sharp differences manifest themselves and then, they retire behind the pardah to adjust their differences. No question of importance is treated as finally solved. One aspect is handled, dropped awhile and another is taken in hand.
The rest of the book focuses, in contrast, on the conference as a lived space, and page 99 is the exact dividing line between the earlier and latter foci. The INFRASTRUCTURES are those of method (how the conference was organised), staff (who helped the delegates do their work) and place (how the Tudor Palace of St James was turned into a modern conference venue). Later sections look at London as a conference city, and how the Round Table Conference was represented. I examine why it is that the conference was unanimously branded a failure, despite it having such wide-ranging impacts. I argue that the conference was, effectively, sacrificed, so that actors from across the political spectrum could ditch their earlier commitments and move on. So, the conference failed but, in its own way, it worked. It therefore fits, I suppose, that page 99 both fulfils and frustrates Ford Madox Ford’s test.
Visit Stephen Legg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 10, 2023

Denise Demetriou's "Phoenicians among Others"

Denise Demetriou is Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego, where she holds the Gerry and Jeannie Ranglas Chair in Ancient Greek History. Her previous publications include Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean: The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia.

Demetriou applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Phoenicians among Others: Why Migrants Mattered in the Ancient Mediterranean, and reported the following:
Mobility and migration, both in antiquity and today, challenge migrants and states: migrants mobilize adaptive strategies to encourage a sense of membership and belonging and construct new identities, host and home states employ different policies to promote or regulate migration, and migrants transform both themselves and the societies they join. Phoenicians Among Others examines the case of Phoenician immigrants who settled in Greek states, Egypt, Carthage, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Malta, from the fourth to the first centuries BCE.

Page 99 contains the end of the introduction to a chapter on various rewards – monetized, honorific, legal, and residency and citizenship – that Greek states granted to migrants. Fittingly, this page contains one of the main arguments of the book: that processes like that of granting honors and privileges to foreigners and immigrants led to the creation of multiple social statuses that migrants could inhabit along a fluid spectrum of participatory membership in a political community. The last paragraph of the introduction on page 99 also hints at something developed later in the chapter: that in granting such awards Greek states favored the wealthiest of foreigners – those who could afford to repeatedly bestow lavish gifts on their host states –thereby exacerbating inequalities within their societies.

The book argues that Phoenician immigrants (and migrants more broadly) living among Greeks, Carthaginians, and Egyptians transformed Mediterranean societies. Though technically without any direct political say in their host states, the evidence presented in the book shows that with innovative strategies, such as the creation of trade associations, they opened doors through which they could participate in politics. The negotiation of issues of taxation arising from immigration and the need to manage the limits of citizenship and domicile ultimately broadened what it meant to be a resident and even a citizen of a state. Over time, products of migration such as tombstones or religious dedications in foreign alphabets, temples dedicated to foreign gods, names of individuals that sounded Greek or Egyptian but were actually Phoenician became integrated into the social fabric of society, changed how cities looked, and altered the daily sounds of communities. In the ancient Mediterranean, mobility and migration created polities comprising a diverse population with different religions, languages, and institutions that came together to form coherent civic bodies in which immigrants and citizens alike were integral and contributing members.
Learn more about Phoenicians among Others at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Paul Hansbury's "Belarus in Crisis"

Paul Hansbury works with a number of Belarusian organizations, including Sense Analytics, a political consultancy, and the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations, a think tank. He also teaches International Relations. He was educated at Birkbeck, University of London (BA) and St Antony's College, University of Oxford (MSc, DPhil).

Hansbury applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Belarus in Crisis: From Domestic Unrest to the Russia-Ukraine War, and reported the following:
We begin mid-word, on page 99, and the reader has to trail back to the previous page to complete the unexpected adjective describing Belarus’s long-serving dictator – supplicant.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly thirty years, heavily reliant on Russia for political and economic succor. This page is part of a discussion about the loans Russia gave to support Belarus’s economy after the latter’s political crisis in 2020. This passage explains that, unhappy with Belarus’s profligacy, it made economic sense for Russia to pursue deeper economic integration with Belarus as a form of control. It also suggests that Russia was not fully committed to Lukashenka at a time of political turmoil in Belarus, and that the Kremlin might have thrown its weight behind a rival Belarusian political actor were they proposing economic policies it deemed more favorable. The page goes on to show the extent of Russia’s control over the banking sector in Belarus, noting that Russian entities own three of the seven ‘systemically important’ banks in Belarus.

Page 99 brings out a key theme in the book: the enormous extent of Russia’s influence in Belarus. On this page the economic relationship is being assessed, but elsewhere the book discusses Russia’s dominance of the information space and other forms of political control. In the popular imagination, Belarus’s dictator is little other than Vladimir Putin’s puppet and the country no more than a Russian protectorate, and this page gives some evidence for that belief in terms of economic dependency.

The page is less representative of the book as a whole, though. Belarus in Crisis is focused on the street demonstrations that almost toppled Lukashenka after a rigged presidential election in 2020. It takes the story of Belarus’s political crisis through to the country’s involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian war (in February 2022, some of Russia’s forces invaded Ukraine from Belarus). The reader of page 99 might think the book is about economics, which is hardly so.

This unrepresentativeness stems from the book’s structure. The book comprises a chronological narrative, interspersed with ‘interludes’ which illuminate a particular aspect of the country. Since page 99 falls on an interlude (‘The Economy’), it perhaps won’t give the reader a strong idea of the main narrative – although the page does make a number of important points and supports them with arguments and evidence.

Even in the interlude on the economy there are more piquant passages, such as those discussing Belarus’s role in the illegal EU tobacco trade, as a small arms dealer, or profiteering on Russian hydrocarbons. I think, therefore, that Belarus in Crisis gives a mixed performance on the Page 99 Test.
Visit Paul Hansbury's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 7, 2023

Stephen G. F. Hall's "The Authoritarian International"

Stephen G. F. Hall is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Russian and Post-Soviet Politics in the Department of Politics, Language and International Studies (PoLIS) at the University of Bath.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Authoritarian International: Tracing How Authoritarian Regimes Learn in the Post-Soviet Space, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While the Ukrainian protests had not been the fascist coup that the Russian government painted these events as, there had been small groups of right-wing paramilitaries at the protests, such as Pravy Sektor. On the one hand, the crackdown on 25 March was a signal to the EU that the authorities were reacting to a political opposition – rather than the citizenry – as 25 March is a traditional day of opposition protest. However, the crackdown was not as extreme as in the past (Preiherman, 2017a; 2017b; Shraibman, 2017a).

On the other hand, the link between Belyi Legion and Pravy Sektor was a signal to Russia that the Belarusian authorities remained a close ally and were dealing with a possible Belarusian Maidan. Even before 25 March, the KDB had ‘discovered’ the Belyi legion and had begun arresting opposition activists (, 2017). At the same time, the authorities ran programmes on television linking the Euromaidan in Ukraine and the current war in Donbas – coupled with montages of the 1991–2001 war in Yugoslavia – to emphasise that protests lead to violence (Shraibman, 2017b). This was an effective tool in reducing the numbers of people who would go protest.

While the 2017 protests were the first state-wide demonstrations since Lukashenka became president in 1994, the authorities appear not to have learnt much from these events. Improved relations with the EU coupled with reticence at closer integration with Russia meant that a full crackdown was something beyond the regime. The leadership could not afford to alienate the EU and leave itself isolated and further dependent on Russia. There were further restrictions placed on media outlets and, in late 2017, Internet users had to prove their identity when posting a comment online (Wilson, 2021: 268). There was an increase in spending on security – although that had begun with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and this spending was focused on stopping little green men or Colour Revolutions, both of which would be considered to have Russian involvement (Wilson, 2021: 270). The limited repression instigated by the authorities created an issue for the future as the crackdown was not as coercive as it had been in the past.
Page 99 begins with an analysis of the Belarusian regime's reaction to the Ukrainian EuroMaidan to try to balance between the European Union (EU) – and wider West – on the one hand, and Russia on the other. Although the Belarusian regime has largely remained aligned to the Russian authorities, it has performed a balancing act to try to maintain independence for fear that Belarus could be consumed by Russia. This was especially so after the Annexation of Crimea when the Belarusian government feared Belarus could be next. The page analyses how the Belarusian authorities dealt with the 2017 trying to balance between repressing sufficiently to placate Russian fears that Belarus was not about to have a Maidan as Ukraine did in 2013-2014, and not use such obvious repression – targeted on direct opposition groups – to mollify the EU, thereby not breaking off relations with Brussels. While page 99 does not directly spell out that authoritarian regimes learn from one another and previous domestic events to hold onto power, it does allude to learning and highlights adaptation, through the case of Belarus. Consequently, the page 99 test would stand up to scrutiny for the book as the reader would get a sense of the balancing of the Belarusian regime and the different practices of authoritarian survival.
Visit Stephen G. F. Hall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Farley Grubb's "The Continental Dollar"

Farley Grubb is professor of economics at the University of Delaware and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Continental Dollar: How the American Revolution Was Financed with Paper Money, and reported the following:
On page 99 the reader would glean that the book was about the United States at the end of the Revolution, circa 1780. That it had something to do with loans and finance, and that Madison claimed something that was questionable. Issues relating to present value, time-discounting, and the denominational structure of financial instruments appear to matter. Two-thirds of page 99 is a table listing numbers for individual US states, and so the reader would glean that the book likely employed lots of quantitative data.

Thus, page 99 gets the reader into the correct ballpark with a generally accurate notion of the space and time involved, what teams are playing, and which sport is being played. But the reader is only in the upper deck of the ballpark and so cannot see the nuances of the game, who is at bat, how the pitches go, which players are in which positions, or how the managers’ strategies unfold that affect how the game plays out.

Most scholarly books have one original idea or contribution in the middle of the book with the rest of the book being filler made up of permutations or summaries of material pulled from the already existing secondary literature. My book has original evidence and analysis in every chapter throughout the entire book. Looking at one page does not give that sense of expansive originality across a breath of topics dealing with financing the American Revolution that comprise the book in total.
Learn more about The Continental Dollar at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Alan E. Steinweis's "The People’s Dictatorship"

Alan E. Steinweis is Professor of History and Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The People's Dictatorship: A History of Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
The People’s Dictatorship: A History of Nazi Germany offers students and non-specialist readers an accessibly written and relatively short introduction to a large and dynamic area of scholarship. Contrary to what many from outside the field might expect, Nazi Germany remains a lively area of research, with many young historians focusing on previously neglected questions relating to sexuality, the rituals of everyday life, the social impact of the air war, and the end phase of World War Two, just to name a few key thematic areas. My book draws upon this recent scholarship, as well as upon new and recent research on older topics, most notably Nazi racial policy, eugenics, and the persecution and murder of the Jews.

Page 99 contains the opening paragraphs of chapter 5, which is titled “Nazi Society, 1933-1939.” This chapter encompasses the subjects of masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, women, youth, education, and higher education. Nazi policies in these areas embodied continuity with the past, but one that was overlaid with Nazism’s cult of masculinity, its glorification of motherhood, and its cultivation of racially healthy young people. The chapter shows how the incessant propaganda and frequent, heavy-handed attempts to mobilize the population behind this intended shift in ideological consciousness appealed to many Germans, but also often met with reluctance and sometimes generated pushback. These responses were based sometimes on ideological opposition, sometimes on irritation with inconvenience, and sometimes on discomfort with the official imposition of a suffocating conformity. Even though dissent and even acts of resistance were more common than is frequently understood by non-specialists, never did the objections amount to a widespread fundamental rejection of the system.

In recent years, a good deal of scholarship has been framed around the notion of the “People’s Community,” the Nazi version of which envisaged a harmonious society marked by an end to class conflict, racial impurity, and the corrupting influences of “World Jewry.” Playing off “People’s Community” as a Nazi concept and slogan, my book proposes “People’s Dictatorship” (which was not a Nazi phrase) as a label for encapsulating a period of German history defined by a repressive totalitarian regime that enjoyed significant popular support. Because the text on Page 99 introduces and summarizes the complex ways in which this dictatorship functioned regarding sexuality, the family, and education, I would say that my book does, in fact, pass the Page 99 Test.
Learn more about The People's Dictatorship at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Kristallnacht 1938.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 3, 2023

Asad L. Asad's "Engage and Evade"

Asad L. Asad is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. His scholarly interests encompass social stratification; race, ethnicity, and immigration; surveillance and social control; and health. Asad's current research agenda considers how institutional categories—in particular, citizenship and legal status—matter for multiple forms of inequality.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Engage and Evade: How Latino Immigrant Families Manage Surveillance in Everyday Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is part of the opening anecdote for Chapter 3, entitled “Good Immigrants, or Good Parents?” It summarizes the experiences of two partners, Samuel and Selena, who are both undocumented immigrants and who share several U.S.-born children. It describes Selena’s trip to a nearby emergency room in Dallas, Texas, where a nurse offered her a pregnancy test and determined that Selena was pregnant. That nurse encouraged Selena to sign up for various forms of public assistance immediately thereafter and brought in a hospital social worker to facilitate that process. I note how Selena described herself as hesitant to apply for this support because, as an undocumented immigrant, she is excluded from most forms of public assistance. Yet Selena is more than just an undocumented immigrant in the United States; as a parent to a future U.S. citizen, she wanted to show the nurse and the social worker that she and Samuel were “doing everything we can so our kids can do better than us.” These efforts became more important a few years after the couple’s third child was born, whom doctors eventually diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. The couple, already struggling to make ends meet because of the multiple and overlapping hardships associated with being undocumented in the United States, began receiving more public assistance on behalf of their child to keep their family afloat during the child’s treatment. The page ends with Samuel’s response to my question as to whether he worries about receiving so many public goods as an undocumented immigrant; he corrects me to note that he and Selena receive nothing; only their U.S.-born children do.

Overall, I think this page would offer a casual browser of the book a solid idea of its central tensions. Broadly, the book documents the different ways that undocumented immigrants with young children must engage with or evade relatively-empowered authorities in societal institutions that monitor them every day. Whereas the preceding chapter focuses on how they manage their relationships with the police, employers, and tax authorities (which a reader would not realize by turning only to page 99), the chapter introduced on page 99 focuses on authorities the undocumented immigrants I interviewed had long sought to avoid: among them, medical personnel, as well as teachers and social workers and caseworkers. For much of their lives in the United States, they could and did do that, even at great personal cost to their own health and well-being. But, when they went on to have children, such avoidance became riskier. It is true that the federal government and many state governments exclude undocumented immigrants from public assistance, and the people I talked with were aware of these exclusions. These exclusions did not apply to their U.S.-born children, though. And, even when undocumented immigrants would have preferred to not receive public assistance for their children, those in my study recognized that they were not just undocumented but also poor, racialized minorities facing undue scrutiny of their parenting from authorities who regularly monitor their children’s well-being. Therein emerges the book’s central point: that undocumented immigrants with young children do not avoid mainstream institutions wholesale; rather, they avoid particular interactions with them as they try to meet the multiple and sometimes competing expectations that they believe institutional authorities hold them to in their daily lives.
Visit Asad L. Asad's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 2, 2023

David Alan Parnell's "Belisarius & Antonina"

David Alan Parnell is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Northwest and author of Justinian's Men: Careers and Relationships of Byzantine Army Officers, ca. 518-610.

Parnell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Belisarius & Antonina drops the reader right into the middle of a battle outside Rome in 537 AD:
Of all these assaults, Vittigis’ personal attack on the Praenestine Gate was the most serious. Here, Belisarius’ officers Bessas and Peranios were in command of the defense, and they sent a request for Belisarius to come personally to assist. When Belisarius arrived, he sent a small force of soldiers under Cyprian to distract some of the Goths attempting to breach the wall, and then he opened the gate and sent out the majority of his army in a sally against the Gothic forces. Whether by design or chance, the Roman soldiers still at the Salarian Gate also sallied forth at this time, and the result was a complete rout of the attacking Gothic army. The Goths turned their backs and fled, and the Romans chased them, slaughtering those whom they could reach and also burning their abandoned siege towers. Procopius writes that 30,000 Goths died in this battle, which is probably an exaggeration, just like his claim that the Gothic army consisted of 150,000 soldiers. However, if the total numbers are ignored and the ratio is instead examined, Procopius is claiming that the Goths lost a fifth of their army in this attack, which is not an impossible casualty rate. Such a defeat would have still left the Goths with an army comfortably larger than the Romans, but chastised enough to avoid further open battles, which is in fact exactly what happened. This was such a significant victory for Belisarius that Vittigis would not attempt another general assault of the city for the remainder of the long siege.
While suitably dramatic, the contents of page 99 do not really give the reader a good idea of Belisarius & Antonina as a whole. Belisarius was a prominent Roman general, and he fought many battles such as this one. So, in that sense, this page is representative of Belisarius’ career. But the book is not just about Belisarius’ career: it is an examination of the marriage and partnership of Belisarius and his wife Antonina. And here we get to the crux of the problem with page 99: Antonina is nowhere to be seen on this page! She does appear on the very next page, however. The reader only looking at page 99 may conclude that Belisarius & Antonina is a work of military history. It is that, but it is also a social and gender history. Other chapters describe the marriage of Belisarius and Antonina, their children, and their personal arguments. Still others focus on Antonina herself. She was a political operative of considerable skill. In one particularly striking episode, she befriends the daughter of a political enemy, and uses that friendship to entrap the enemy into treason, which causes him to get fired and disgraced. While page 99 gives a good idea of the military career of Belisarius, the book shows that he was well matched in skill by his clever and successful wife.
Learn more about Belisarius & Antonina at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue