Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Michael Hunter's "Atheists and Atheism before the Enlightenment"

Michael Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is well known for his publications on Robert Boyle and on the early Royal Society and its milieu. His books include The Decline of Magic: Britain in the Enlightenment (2020).

Hunter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Atheists and Atheism before the Enlightenment: The English and Scottish Experience, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Atheists and Atheism before the Enlightenment represents a climactic moment in the book – the trial and condemnation to death of Thomas Aikenhead, one the ‘atheists’ in Scotland and England whose case-studies the volume presents. This verdict was reached on 24 December 1696 and Aikenhead was hanged on 8 January 1697, a cruel and shocking event which still reverberates today. Yet it is possible to understand the outrage that he caused in strait-laced Presbyterian Scotland by his caustic attack on Christianity, which he claimed would be extinct by 1800. He labelled the New Testament ‘the History of the Impostor Christ’, dismissing Christ’s miracles as ‘pranks’ and rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity as absurd. He even claimed that Mahomet was to be preferred to Jesus, writing off the Old Testament as ‘Ezra’s Fables’, concocted by the ancient scribe of that name. Aikenhead perfectly encapsulates what my book describes as the ‘assurance’ of atheists, their bold and confident presentation of their views, frequently in public. This is also exemplified by the other cases on which the book focuses, namely the Cambridge cleric, Tinkler Ducket, expelled from the university in 1739 for his openly-expressed atheist opinions, and the Scottish physician, Archibald Pitcairne, who, although reputedly ‘a great mocker of religion’, prudently kept to himself Pitcairneana, the manuscript dialogue in which he advocated a fully atheistic viewpoint (it was published only in the 21st century). My book also deals more briefly with other irreligious figures of the time, including perhaps the most notorious of all, the Elizabethan dramatist, Christopher Marlowe, as divulged in the infamous ‘Baines note’. All these men were notable for their swagger and bravado. Their attitude contrasts strongly with the doubts expressed privately, and often with acute embarrassment, by Christians of their day -- although the two phenomena have sometimes been wrongly conflated. In retrospect, such ‘true infidels’ as Aikenhead deserve to be celebrated for their courage and steadfastness against overwhelming opposition.
Learn more about Atheists and Atheism before the Enlightenment at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Decline of Magic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 30, 2023

Simon Devereaux's "Execution, State and Society in England, 1660–1900"

Simon Devereaux is Associate Professor of History at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Execution, State and Society in England, 1660–1900, and reported the following:
Readers of Execution, State and Society will find little to read on page 99, but much to contemplate. The page contains two images of executions at Tyburn: the first from 1678, the second from 1747. The contrast between the two goes to the heart of the book’s central argument – that the emergence of a particularly intensive urban culture in England after 1660 explains changing attitudes towards the nature and purposes of capital punishment in that country. The 1678 image suggests that the people then attending London executions were respectable and properly attentive to the sad but necessary example of the gallows. Hogarth’s image from seventy years later suggests a meaningless ritual now staged before a raucous plebeian mob. There’s no compelling reason to believe that either image presents the literal reality of Tyburn executions in their respective times. The contrast between the two simply bespeaks the emergence of a self-consciously urbane critique, not so much of execution itself, as of the sorts of people who, in a swiftly and massively growing London (by 1747, the largest city in Europe), were now believed to be the principal audience for such displays. The belief that the Tyburn execution ritual was now devoid of moral or practical purpose, in turn, would inspire the adoption of an entirely urbanized execution ritual staged immediately outside Newgate prison in 1783, the dramaturgy of which would be adopted in virtually all other English towns by 1830. Where continental cities responded to execution crowds by pushing executions further and further beyond the bounds of respectable urban areas, the rulers of a distinctively urbanized England adopted an execution ritual conducted in the heart of the nation’s many large cities and towns. Execution, State and Society explains why the people who made such decisions thought the new urban ritual might work and its, at best, only qualified success.
Learn more about Execution, State and Society in England, 1660–1900 at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Michael Lusztig's "The Republican Hero"

Michael Lusztig is Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of The Culturalist Challenge to Liberal Republicanism, among other books.

Lusztig applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Republican Hero: From Homer to Batman, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, my book fails the Page 99 Test.

The only full paragraph on page 99 reads:
Even considering Urban’s injunction that crusaders be motivated solely by devotion, such Manichean justification failed to alleviate all churchmen’s concerns about the sanctity of violence in the name of God. Difficult to ignore was the thuggish brutality practiced by bands of knightly marauders, more piratical than pious, whose primary interests in taking the cross involved plunder under the protective camouflage of good Christian cause (Kaeuper 2009, 11-17). And while it may have been Pope Gregory VII’s assertion that sin was an inevitable consequence of just warfare, others pursued more high-minded means of reconciling crusading and Christianity (Kaeuper 2009, 13). Some clerics sought to constrain martial exuberance by playing upon the ubiquitous medieval fear of posthumous fate, extracting premiums in piety for what Eamon Duffy calls “post-mortem fire insurance” (quoted in Kaeuper 2009, 18). But takers of the cross often tended towards piety on their own terms, convincing themselves that acquisition of wealth, honor and other worldly benefits enjoyed inoculation from sin so long as such bounty was but a happy externality of the pursuit of spiritual justice (Kaeuper 2009, 20).
As I say, this page fails the test. It speaks to an example of Christian heroism, but that is only a small element of the book.

As a book on political theory it is pretty hard for one page to capture the essence of the book. The overall tenor is to rebut the oft-heard claim that we live in a post-heroic age. The book identifies four hero-types, each of which could be considered central to the republicanism of a particular age. My book suggests that unlike previous ages, the modern age balances all four of these hero-types and hence could be considered not the least heroic age, but the most.

As to why this page is interesting, I guess it depends on how interested one is in medieval Christianity. The chivalric age inspired a heroic archetype – the knight errant – whose submission to lady love and fidelity to courtly (unconsummated) love served as a metaphor for submission to God and postlapsarian man’s unrealized reconciliation with God. At the same time, the chivalric knight fired the popular imagination creating a hero of romance literature – sort of a Christian superhero of his time who spoke to the imperative not for truth, justice and the American way, but rather loyalty, social order and faith.
Learn more about The Republican Hero at the State University of New York Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Alan Bollard's "Economists in the Cold War"

Alan Bollard is a Professor of Economics at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He formerly managed APEC, the largest regional economic integration organization in the world, and was previously the New Zealand Reserve Bank Governor, Secretary of the New Zealand Treasury, and Chairman of the New Zealand Commerce Commission. He is the author of Economists at War (2019) and A Few Hares to Chase: The Life and Economics of Bill Philips (2016).

Bollard applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Economists in the Cold War: How a Handful of Economists Fought the Battle of Ideas, and reported the following:
Open the book at page 99 and plunge straight into the world of the Cold War, where US Senator Joseph McCarthy is hunting down alleged Communist sympathisers, where the CIA is calculating the capability of economies behind the Iron Curtain, where the FBI is tracking ‘ultra-liberal reformist economists in the corridors of power. Think Washington is in bad shape today? The early 1950s were a very rough time in Washington. But it was worse in Moscow, where economists were cowed into subservience by Stalin’s threats of the gulag or worse.

Economists in the Cold War is an account of seven international economists and their opponents on the other side of the ideological curtain. From the 1945 Potsdam Conference in Germany to the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile there was a fight between central planning and markets, between Marxism and Capitalism. It was a challenging time for economists – rebuilding after wartime destruction, working on de-colonisation, helping new civilian economies, and dealing with the implications of nuclear capability.

On page 99 we hear about genius Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann and his ‘game theory’ that lead to the ‘mutually-assured destruction’ MAD strategies of the nuclear powers. Jump to page 199 and there is brilliant Cambridge Professor Joan Robinson who shone an unrealistically bright light on the Communists in the Soviet Union and China. And on page 299 is the story of clever but divisive Argentinian economist Raul Prebisch and why the Americans hated his ideas for the Third World.

All part of the handful of economists fighting the Cold War battle of ideas.
Learn more about Economists in the Cold War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 27, 2023

Kenneth A. Reinert's "The Lure of Economic Nationalism"

Kenneth A. Reinert is Professor of Public Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government of George Mason University. He is the author of An Introduction to International Economics: New Perspectives on the World Economy (2012, 2020) and No Small Hope: Towards the Universal Provision of Basic Goods (2018).

Reinert applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lure of Economic Nationalism: Beyond Zero Sum, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Lure of Economic Nationalism is the first page of a chapter entitled “The Brexit Blunder.” This is fortuitous because Brexit serves as an important test case for the thesis of the book, namely that economic nationalism tends to lead to worse economic outcomes. That has certainly been the case for Brexit as an increasing portion of the British population has come to realize.

Page 99 mentions the 1992 Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union (EU) in which the United Kingdom was a founding member. Economic research has always shown that the UK’s membership in the EU has had significant benefits. Nonetheless, in January 2013, responding to a perceived rising tide of British opinion, Conservative UK Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a referendum on British membership in the European Union (EU). Cameron launched a years-long campaign that culminated in a June 2016 Brexit vote in which the British people voted to leave the EU. Prime Minister Cameron resigned with his political career in tatters.

Page 99 also mentions the populist movement known as Euroscepticism (with roots in the UK Independence Party), which launched the Brexit project. Euroscepticism is a populist political movement that pits “the people” against “the elites.” In this movement, “the people” are often defined in ethnonationalist terms, in the case of Brexit as the “real English.” This is important because many economic nationalist movements are, at the same time, ethnonationalist movements. Indeed, an entire chapter of The Lure of Economic Nationalism is devoted to ethnonationalism.

The path to Brexit was tortuous and is still evolving, but it became an official event with efforts of the past Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get Brexit done.” It became a reality in 2021, but events since then have reinforced the warnings of economists and the business community that leaving the EU would be anti-growth and economically problematic. Unfortunately, the UK will be dealing with the fallout of this unfortunate decision for the foreseeable future.
Learn more about The Lure of Economic Nationalism at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: No Small Hope.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Marlene L. Daut's "Awakening the Ashes"

Marlene L. Daut is professor of French and African American studies at Yale University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Awakening the Ashes: An Intellectual History of the Haitian Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Awakening the Ashes falls at the beginning of the fourth chapter of the book (there are nine total) called “Revolution.” This is a core chapter since I detail the world historical events of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803), which in inaugurating the Age of Abolition took the world from slavery to freedom.

This page contains grim reaction to the February 1791 executions of two early revolutionaries who argued for equal rights for free men of color, Vincent Ogé and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes. Their torture by the French colonists—who tied them to a wheel, broke every bone in their bodies, chopped off their heads, and then put them on pikes to serve as a “warning”— has long been considered one of the major catalysts for the ensuing slave rebellion that erupted in August 1791. Another free man of color, Pierre Labuissonnière, reacted to the deaths by averring that this “punishment” was “without example,” also insisting that “the most ferocious cannibals have never done anything of the sort.” The colonists’ torture of these men became emblematic in Haitian thought of the cruelty of the French toward not just the free men of color, but the entire African population of the island, the majority of whom the French were enslaving. Yet although some of the enslaved were deeply affected by the executions, in the end, it was their everyday suffering that compelled them to engage in revolution and in so doing risk their own lives for freedom.

But page 99 also takes seriously Labuissonnière’s claim that the manner of the executions was without precedent. I draw on an impactful line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Morts sans sépulture (The Unburied Dead), a mid-twentieth-century play that takes place in Nazi-occupied France: “Is there any reason to go on living when there exist men who will beat you until the bones in your body break?” I use this scene to talk about how human beings torturing other human beings is an “existential problem of the highest order” that unites these two different moments in time. On this same page we glimpse the early nineteenth-century Haitian thinker Charles Hérard-Dumesle referring to the genocidal tactics the French army used to try to end the revolution as a “holocaust of blood.” A reader who stopped at page 99 though would not experience how the Haitian revolutionaries eventually triumphed against the French to become the first nation to permanently abolish slavery. However, this page does force confrontation with one of the central paradoxes of every revolution: counter-violence as the path to liberation. Sitting prominently on the page is a quote from independent Haiti’s founder and first head of state, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who issued this firm warning to France: “Tremble, tyrants….our daggers are sharpened, your tortures are ready.”
Learn more about Awakening the Ashes at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Margaret Hillenbrand's "On the Edge"

Margaret Hillenbrand is professor of modern Chinese literature and culture at the University of Oxford. Her books include Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China (2020).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China, and reported the following:
Page 99 in its entirety:
… amid the ruins, Anna Tsing writes: “We hear about precarity in the news every day … But most of the time we imagine such precarity to be an exception to how the world works. It’s what ‘drops out’ from the system. What if . . . precarity is the condition of our time—or to put it another way, what if our time is ripe for sensing precarity?” ­­ Here, I am interested in a further connected question: What if we were to substitute the word “waste” for “precarity” in this quotation? Or rather better, what if we were to consider the ways in which precarity, waste, and the ragpicker as an avatar for zombie citizenship constitute an organically linked method for coming to terms with the present, in China as much as in other places, during an epoch in which so many are “dropping out” from the system—falling off the cliff edge, in other words? To consider these as indissociable forces in the making of the present is to notice their many zones of overlap. To be precarious is to feel futureless. It is to live at the mercy of other people and greater powers, occupying transient ground and subsisting with no forward direction except downward. This is also the space-time of the dump, whose locations shift arbitrarily and whose temporality is at best cyclical rather than teleological—and often simply stalled. When Nicolas Bourriaud writes that “an object is said to be precarious if it has no definitive status and an uncertain future or final destiny,” ­he could just as easily have been describing waste. Yi Jie’s father makes this same point in Plastic China when he describes how he and his family moved from Sichuan, where they lived at the “mercy of nature” (kaotian chifan 靠天吃饭), to Shandong, where they now live at the mercy of refuse—their futures suspended in limbo, poised just above the void. More than this, their status as ragpickers—as people sans papiers and without labor contracts who live in perimeter settlements and manually process the effluvia of their social “betters”—exemplifies in extremis the condition of zombie citizenship. As people caught in the half-death of bare life, the decitizenized, like Bourriaud’s precarious objects, have neither “definite status” nor “final destiny.” Unlike middle-class recyclers in today’s China, who are lauded for their citizenly virtue, ragpickers “have been pinned as intractably unmodern, undisciplined, unsanitary.” ­ As the civic undead, they are fated, like waste, to move through cycles of atrophy at the “mercy of nature” until their rights decompose entirely—as occurred with the Xinjian evictions after the Daxing fire, when the already immiserated became the utterly disenfranchised.

Precarity and underclass belonging are also growing. These states of being encompass ever greater numbers in their orbit of uncertainty, just as landfills…
The Page 99 Test works pretty well for On the Edge. Although this page contains some specific information about a recent Chinese documentary – Plastic China – which the casual browser of page 99 probably won’t have heard of, most of the page gets to the crux of what my book is about.

On page 99, I refer to the two core ideas through which the book conceptualizes what it means to be precarious in 21st-century China. The first of these is zombie citizenship: a state of abject exile from the shelter of the law in which a substantial minority of Chinese workers –well over 300 million people – currently exist, even though they theoretically enjoy full rights under the national constitution. These are people chained by toil yet simultaneously cut loose from the safeguards of the law. The second concept is the cliff edge: the idea that the fear of tumbling into zombie citizenship menaces not just the nation’s vast underclass but also those from the more comfortable classes who at first sight seem far more secure. The book charts the plunge from precarity to zombie citizenship to expulsion, and it argues that those who find themselves on this downward path share feelings of rage and dread that vent themselves in volatile cultural forms.

Page 99 offers a clear portal to the core points of the book because it zeroes in on two linked emblems which illustrate this descent into exile: waste and the figure of the waste-picker. Refuse, I argue on page 99, is a murky entity. It has no fixed shape, purpose, or future, and the people who process it are inevitably tinged by that same grim logic. Waste-pickers who live and work among detritus on the borderlands of big cities embody the hard limits of precarious experience, the point at which insecurity and inequality shade over into social banishment. In my book, I consider a range of cultural practices created by people on the edge in China: from poets on the Foxconn factory floor to construction workers who perform suicidal protest from urban rooftops when their wages are denied. But perhaps none embodies the fear or fact of expulsion more poignantly than the 11-year-old waste-picker – the protagonist of Plastic China – who makes art from garbage to assert her right to personhood amid the miasma of decay.
Learn more about On the Edge at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Xaq Frohlich's "From Label to Table"

Xaq Frohlich is an Associate Professor of History of Technology in the Department of History at Auburn University. His research centers on risk communication, food as a liminal object that bridges the environment and human health, and socially responsible consumption. His book, From Label to Table: Regulating Food in America in the Information Age, is a history of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food labeling policies and a study in the relationship between public institutions, private market actors, and the consumer politics surrounding food, diet, and health.

Frohlich received his Ph.D. from the Program in History, Anthropology, and STS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to From Label to Table and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book describes how in 1969, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientist Jacqueline Verrett went public with concerns about the safety of the artificial sweetener cyclamate, based on her chick embryo studies showing deformities. This led to controversy and, initially, a rebuttal from the FDA Commissioner of her public statement. A week later, however, further evidence emerged of carcinogenic effects in other studies, leading to cyclamate's removal from the FDA's GRAS list of “generally recognized as safe” food additives, effectively banning it and impacting a wide variety of products including the iconically pink drink, Tab soda.

The Page 99 Test does not work well for my book. This page is a bit of an outlier for the book as a whole. It appears in a section, “The FDA’s bittersweet ban on cyclamate,” discussing the cyclamate controversy that highlights disagreements within the scientific community on risk management in food markets, and explains how the controversy led to the resignation of the FDA Commissioner. However, most of Chapter 3, where page 99 appears, is focused on the FDA’s involvement in broader debates about hunger in America and the public soul searching that surrounded the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Indeed, such prominent ingredient bans by the FDA are fairly uncommon. Most of my book, From Label to Table, describes FDA’s efforts to steer food markets backstage through rules about labeling that allow producers to use food additives so long as they’re properly labeled, so that consumers can decide for themselves about health risks.

On the other hand, page 99’s discussion of this pivotal moment for the FDA, which resulted in an unpopular ingredient ban, does highlight some of the high stakes of FDA decisions. It also helps to set the stage for the subsequent chapters where the FDA faces serious public and political backlash about its food policies. The FDA’s move towards informative labeling in the 1970s, most significantly the introduction of ingredients and nutrition labeling, was partly a response to public outcry and industry complaints about how it had handled the cyclamate affair.

So while page 99 gives readers a taste of some important recurring themes of my book — disputes among scientific experts about how to weigh risks with popular food products, doubts among regulators about how best to handle public relations — I hope they’ll read on. Some of the best material (such as where that familiar “Nutrition Facts” panel came from) is yet to come.
Visit Xaq Frohlich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 23, 2023

Christina L. Boyd, Paul M. Collins, Jr., and Lori A. Ringhand's "Supreme Bias"

Christina L. Boyd is Professor of Political Science and Thomas P. & M. Jean Lauth Public Affairs Professor at the University of Georgia. Paul M. Collins, Jr. is Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Lori A. Ringhand is J. Alton Hosch Professor of Law and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Supreme Bias: Gender and Race in U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings, and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book does two things. First, it summarizes why we believe that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will question the ability of women and people of color to be impartial in cases involving issues senators believe the nominees have some sort of special expertise with. For female Supreme Court nominees, this is abortion rights and gender discrimination. For nominees of color, this is racial discrimination and crime. Second, it introduces the idea that this form of bias is likely to be lessened if the questioning senator and the nominee share the same political party affiliation. “In other words, shared party provides a set of common expectations for the senator and nominee that may help avoid the strong activation of out-group biases. By contrast, when the nominee hails from the opposite party as the senator, stereotypes are likely to be magnified.”

Page 99 provides an excellent representation of our book. Supreme Bias is motivated by the desire to figure out if female nominees and nominees of color to the U.S. Supreme Court face a different path to the Court than more traditional white male nominees. To investigate this, we focus our attention on the most visible part of the Supreme Court confirmation process: the hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee. These hearings are followed by millions of Americans and provide important insight into how senators treat potential members of our nation’s highest Court.

We provide evidence that members of the Judiciary Committee – who are overwhelmingly white men – demonstrate subtle forms of gender and racial bias as they question women and people of color. For instance, compared to white male nominees, women and people of color have their competence questioned more, are more frequently interrupted, are described in less positive terms, and – as page 99 suggests – are asked more questions in areas they are stereotyped to have special experience with.

In addition to revealing the extent of these forms of gender and racial bias, Supreme Bias devotes special attention to discussing the implications of our findings and suggests ways that these forms of bias might be remedied in future confirmation hearings.
Learn more about Supreme Bias at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Emily McTernan's "On Taking Offence"

Emily McTernan is a political philosopher and an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, University College London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, On Taking Offence, and reported the following:
On page 99, I address the relation between taking offence and blame. I consider whether taking offence might even be a form of blame on theories that see blame as a matter of modifying our relations, as protest, or as signalling our commitment to moral norms. Both blaming and taking offence can signal our commitment to certain norms, and both can protest our treatment and demand acknowledgement of our standing.

But there is also a crucial dissimilarity: offence is primarily about social, and not moral, matters. Offence is taken at an affront to our social standing as we perceive it. In the preceding chapters, I have defended taking offence as one way to stand up for one’s social standing. So, taking offence does protest another’s treatment of us, and makes a claim for acknowledgement of standing, but of our social standing. I have argued that taking offence also often signals our commitment to, but sometimes rejection of, particular social norms, especially around what is appropriate around here or what is expected behaviour: regarding what is rude, disrespectful or improper, as compared to what demonstrates respect and consideration.

These social norms have moral and political significance. They enable us to behave in ways that can be understood to express respect and consideration, as Cheshire Calhoun, Amy Olberding and Sarah Buss have argued. But they also very often pattern our social interactions in ways that realise inequalities in social standing. Offence, I have argued in earlier chapters, is socially valuable because it can sometimes resist, in a small but potent way, such unequal patterning of social relations. Offence sometimes reinforces, but can sometimes renegotiate, the underlying social norms.

The two practices of offence and blame then run in parallel, but they are not the same, I conclude on page 99. We do sometimes both blame and take offence: some transgressions of social norms about what it is acceptable to say or do are also transgressions of moral norms given the kind, degree, or target of the disrespect involved. But we need not take the other party to be blameworthy in order to take offence: page 99 offers the cases of the offence caused by online chatbots, young children, and the innocently offensive. This echoes the broader theme of the chapter that to determine whether offence is justified what counts is not the offending party’s intentions or intended meaning but, rather, how their act functions in its broader social context: does it, or does it not, affront someone’s sense of their social standing.

When I first turned to page 99, I initially thought the test failed to tell the reader much about the book. The page appears in the fourth chapter where, after three chapters analysing what offence is and does and making the case for its positive value, I address some potential limits on justified offence-taking. The remaining chapters then proceed to examine offensive comedy, offence-taking and its regulation on social media, and when taking offence is a civic virtue. The page’s discussion of the relation between blame and offence, while addressing whether we need to be blameworthy for what we have done in order for another to justifiably be offended by it, appears as a minor aside.

Yet it turns out that in this aside some key themes of the book do emerge: that offence is a potent piece of our social interactions, one that resists another’s affront and signals to others too that we ought not be treated or regarded like that. As a result, I argue in the book, taking offence can be a good thing: it is a way to negotiate our social standing and the patterning of everyday inequalities. Sometimes, to take offence can be an act of insubordination against a social hierarchy.
Visit Emily McTernan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Steven Conn's "The Lies of the Land"

Steven Conn is the W. E. Smith Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of many books, including Nothing Succeeds Like Failure: The Sad History of American Business Schools.

Conn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lies of the Land: Seeing Rural America for What It Is―and Isn’t, and reported the following:
On page 99 I discuss changes in the design of manufacturing plants that reoriented them from vertical to horizontal. That change, in turn, made rural "greenfield" sites even more attractive to manufacturers and encouraged them to relocate out of urban centers and into rural spaces after World War II.

Page 99 gives a nice glimpse into the subject of this section of the book: rural industrialization. Other parts of this section look at how the Federal government encouraged (and subsidized) rural industrialization and examine the auto industry as perhaps the best example of the move out of cities and into the countryside. Rural industrialization might strike some as an oxymoron but efforts to industrialize rural America have been ongoing since the 1930s transforming rural spaces in the process.

In other sections of the book I examine how three other forces have had similarly transformative effects on rural America: the military, large corporations, and mass suburbanization. Readers will discover that, far from being imposed on rural America. these transformations were embraced by rural people, and that rural America is just as enmeshed in American modernization as metropolitan America and always has been.
Learn more about The Lies of the Land the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: History's Shadow.

The Page 99 Test: Americans Against the City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 20, 2023

Christopher Bosso's "Why SNAP Works"

Christopher Bosso is Professor of Public Policy and Politics in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, Boston.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why SNAP Works: A Political History―and Defense―of the Food Stamp Program, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While antihunger advocates expressed concerns about budget-driven income-cutoff limits for free stamps, the Senate in September 1969 adopted the administration’s proposals through a set of amendments to the Food Stamp Act. But movement stopped at House Agriculture, where [Chairman] Bob Poage declared that he was holding the amendments hostage, in trade for concessions on commodity programs when the Farm Bill went up for reauthorization the following year. Poage and other farm-bloc House Democrats were concerned that under stricter budget constraints more funds for food stamps would be at the expense of farm programs, so tying the two into a single legislative package would keep urban Democrats in the fold against Republican opposition to spending on either… For Poage and other House Committee on Agriculture members, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot: an ever-shrinking cohort of House members from farming areas needed nutrition programs to keep their commodity supports, and the Food Stamp Program was their bargaining chip.
Page 99 in Why SNAP Works unspools the political calculations House members representing farming areas were making in late 1969 as their urban counterparts sought to expand the Food Stamp Program in response to renewed national attention to hunger in America. New president Richard Nixon was about to convene the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, part of his effort to get in front of the domestic hunger issue – and to head off George McGovern, a likely challenger in 1972. The Food Stamp Program was first authorized in 1964 only after urban House Democrats stonewalled a cotton and wheat support bill sought by their rural colleagues, who initially opposed a “welfare” program for poor people. While the southern conservatives who dominated the House Agriculture Committee ultimately relented in voting for the Food Stamp Act, they kept the program on a short leash despite evidence of widespread need. By 1969, however, the power dynamics had changed; rural conservatives saw their political power shrinking as the nation urbanized and understood that any continued congressional support for farm programs depended on making deals with Food Stamp Program supporters. This “food programs + farm programs” bargain would be formalized in 1973 when Congress nested the Food Stamp Act within the Farm Bill, and fifty years later remains the pivot point of legislative support for what is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In this regard, Page 99 shows the initial stages of what would be a decades-long dynamic, a forced marriage of awkward partners that continues to explain SNAP’s remarkable political resilience.

Page 99 is, fortunately, an accurate reflection of the book’s focus on the politics of food stamps / SNAP over the program’s long history, and an indicator of the political calculations that continue to define the program’s remarkable resilience.
Learn more about Why SNAP Works at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Dan Stone's "Fate Unknown"

Dan Stone is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he has taught since 1999. Prior to that, he was a Junior Research Fellow at New College, Oxford.

Stone applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fate Unknown: Tracing the Missing after World War II and the Holocaust, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fate Unknown, in the middle of chapter 2, includes a discussion of a series of letters exchanged by a girl, originally from Poland, who had been sent in 1942, at the age of ten, to Germany to be "Germanized" under the Nazi regime, and her mother, who had survived the war as a forced labourer and had returned to Poland. The girl had been fostered by a German couple and, by the later 1940s, had apparently come to love them as her parents, and refused to go back to Poland, much to her mother's anger and frustration. The mother was being assisted by the International Tracing Service (ITS), the body established by the Allies to assist people find their loved ones after World War II, in light of the immense death and displacement caused by the war. The page cites the mother's anguished letters to her daughter and explains how the ITS was investigating the legality of the foster parents' adoption of the girl, seeking ways to have her forcibly removed, a goal in which it ultimately failed. Once she turned 18, the girl could no longer be regarded as subject to the rule of parens patriae (effectively, the state as parent or guardian) and was able to make up her own mind - which was to remain in Germany.

This vignette reveals in miniature the theme of the book: the ways in which missing people were located (or not) by the ITS and the ways in which their "cases" were then handled. The majority of searches were unsuccessful, meaning that no trace of a person could be found, or were successful but with the conclusion that the person being sought was dead. Although there are many such cases like the one described on page 99, statistically they were rare, given the scale of the destruction that occurred during the war. Fate Unknown details the institutional history of the ITS up to the present day (it continues to work as a tracing service, as well as now being a "memory institution" in Germany) and then shows how researchers can use the archive to investigate the trajectories of individuals through the systems of persecution established by the Nazis and to write about aspects of the Holocaust that are lesser known. These include the sub-camps, i.e., the slave labour camps attached to the main concentration camps (Dachau, Gross-Rosen, etc.), the death marches (the forced evacuation of inmates in the face of the advance of the Red Army near the end of the war), the displaced persons camps set up to house the survivors, and the process of migration, whether repatriation or resettlement to a third country. The Child Search Branch, which was originally a separate body, receives a chapter to itself, as the search for missing children or the care given to unaccompanied children in postwar Europe, was perhaps the most emotionally challenging part of the ITS's work. The archives of the tracing process - that's to say, the files opened people whenever a search request was sent in to ITS - are immensely helpful in this regard; in many cases, they contain photographs, testimonies, legal statements and documents relating to incarceration and postwar migration.

The ITS archive (housed by what is now called the Arolsen Archives) is the largest archive in the world relating to the Nazi crimes. Containing over 30 million documents, many of them original to ITS, the material is overwhelming, yet immensely valuable. In Fate Unknown, I have brought to light many stories of individuals' paths through the Nazi camp system and shown how their lives after the war took so long to be rebuilt, using the wartime and tracing records of ITS. I hope that the book will encourage other scholars to make use of this extraordinary archive.
Learn more about Fate Unknown at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Goodbye to All That?.

The Page 99 Test: The Liberation of the Camps.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Stephen R. Bown's "Dominion"

Stephen R. Bown has written many books on the history of exploration, science, and ideas--including books on the medical mystery of scurvy, the Treaty of Tordesillas, the lives of Captain George Vancouver and of Roald Amundsen and a doomed Russian sea voyage. His books have been published in multiple English-speaking territories, translated into nine languages and shortlisted for many awards. He has won the BC Book Prize, the Alberta Book Award, the William Mills Prize for Polar Books. His book The Island of Blue Foxes, about Vitus Bering's voyage to Alaska, was shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. Born in Ottawa, he now live near Banff in the Canadian Rockies.

Bown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dominion: The Railway and the Rise of Canada, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is magic, at least for Dominion. I'm sure there would be other good pages but page 99 actually does capture the style and attitude of Dominion.

I'm a fairly irreverent writer of history. I appreciate the absurdity of many things that went on in the past - which were no less silly and annoying as people and their politics are today. Dominion is about the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway - an undertaking as ambitious, adventurous and corrupt as the construction of the Transcontinental Railway to the south in the US. It was a monumental undertaking that took over 15 years to complete and is often considered the defining nation-building enterprise that allowed for the existence of Canada as an independent nation that stretched from Montreal and Toronto to the Pacific, and was the foundation of the city of Vancouver which was a little nothing saw mill at the future railway's terminus. The great irony is that most of the railway's senior management from Cornelius Van Horne at the top, to Major A.B. Rogers the great and famous surveyor, to the respected engineering contractor Andrew Onderdonck (as well as much of the general workforce) were actually American citizens. Americans built the great Canadian railway.

Page 99 details a different irony: the absurdity of the choice of William McDougall as the new Lieutenant-Governor, who was sent out to lay claim to the western prairies for the new country of Canada in 1870. The first irony is that there was no way to get to this land without travelling through the U.S, which already had railroads west into Minnesota. The second is that he was probably the least suitable person to be chosen for the delicate job of a diplomat with the Metis people, as he was "a pompous and inflexible man chosen for his perceived ability to knock some sense into the 'wild' Metis and bring them to an acceptance of the new order." He was so infuriating and annoying toward them that he caused Louis Riel's Red River Rebellion and nearly Canada's loss of the territory to the U.S. How is it that, then as now, sometimes the most unsuitable candidates are appointed into senior government positions of authority? A recurring interest of mine.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

The Page 99 Test: White Eskimo.

My Book, The Movie: Island of the Blue Foxes.

The Page 99 Test: Island of the Blue Foxes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2023

David Menconi's "Oh, Didn't They Ramble"

The 2019 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, David Menconi was a staff writer at the Raleigh News & Observer for 28 years. He has also written for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, and the New York Times.

Menconi applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“I looked at those records and said, ‘Oh yeah, I know reggae,’” Wilson recounted in 2021. “‘Hey, you should put out Studio One, too.’”

In the can-do Rounder circle, making such a suggestion was tantamount to volunteering to do it, and liable to lead to the founders deputizing you to make it so. That’s pretty much how it played out, too.
This scene captured on page 99 of Oh, Didn’t They Ramble happened in 1982, which was a key transitional time for Rounder Records. Blues-rock guitarist George Thorogood’s surprising late-1970s commercial breakthrough had fattened the label’s coffers, which actually led to some tension when the label’s employees unionized. But the upside of all that money coming in was that it gave Rounder the means to expand beyond the old-time folk and bluegrass that had been its initial trademark – to various flavors of world music, including reggae. That perfectly fit the Rounder founders’ overriding ethos, putting out “stuff we like,” which was how Thorogood wound up recording there in the first place. So Rounder started up a subsidiary imprint specializing in reggae, Heartbeat Records.

The other thing it evokes is the hands-on nature of Rounder Records, an attitude that started at the top. The speaker quoted, Chris Wilson, had been an informal part of Rounder’s circle for years, often drafted into helping out. He soon found himself hired to run Heartbeat under the title Vice President of A&R – or as he put it, “Doer Of Everything,” mostly because almost no one else on Rounder’s staff knew enough about reggae to promote it effectively.

During the 25 years Wilson would run Heartbeat, he oversaw more than 300 albums, starting with the reissue series he suggested. Studio One was essentially Jamaica’s equivalent to Motown Records, putting out major works by everybody from Bob Marley on down. Heartbeat’s Studio One series would run to more than 60 volumes, including multiple reggae Christmas albums.

A few years after Heartbeat started up, Rounder signed a teenage fiddler from Illinois named Alison Krauss, who was winning Grammy Awards and selling multi-platinum by the mid-1990s. And Rounder invested the money in putting out obscure-yet-worthy fare like more Heartbeat Records releases.
Visit the author’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

The Page 99 Test: Step It Up and Go.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Peter S. Henne's "Religious Appeals in Power Politics"

Peter S. Henne is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of Middle East Studies in the Global and Regional Studies Program at the University of Vermont.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Religious Appeals in Power Politics, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Vladimir Putin was credible as a speaker on far-right religious causes. In America, many conservatives see Putin as “defending sovereign nationhood…and traditional values” against “multiculturalism” and “nontraditional sexual identity.” Prominent conservative Pat Buchanan called on Western conservatives to back Putin as a champion “against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite." Steve Bannon spoke before a meeting of European conservatives, and argued that the West “should focus more on Putin’s promotion of ‘traditionalism’ and values that support ‘the underpinnings of nationalism.’” And the number of US Republicans who see Putin as very unfavorable went from 51 percent in 2014 to 10 percent in 2016. Some have noted Buchanan’s support for Putin is due to the view that Putin is “standing up for traditional values against Western cultural elites.” Similarly, evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Larry Jacobs back Putin as he is “on our [sic] side in the war against secularism and sexual decadence,” with some calling him a “moral compass.” There are some signs of US evangelicals “leaning on Russia for support” as a “model” to institute laws in line with conservative Christian values.

There are numerous other examples of Putin’s credibility on religious issues among American conservatives. Putin’s ability to “portray himself as a defender of traditional social values,” and as a “religiously devout alternative to Western countries” has “drawn praise” from “like-minded American activists.” For many US conservatives, Putin “personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.” As one expert put it, Putin is the “true defender of Christian values,” and America is the one that is “decadent.” Experts have argued that Putin’s “religious, nationalist turn” inspired alt-right figures in America. The President of the World Council of Families said that “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world,” while others noted that they look to “Russia as having the potential to ‘save’ Western civilization.” Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch with ties to pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, is also closely connected with US evangelicals.

Just as in the United States, these efforts seemed to have resonated with far-right Europeans. One participant in the above conference said he saw the event as “pushing the fight back against liberalism” and “the destruction of traditional values including Christianity;” he argued that “Russia is about tradition and Christianity.” One Russian analyst argued that “Putin embodies mostly the model that can be envied and is envied by many in the West," and that “in the eyes of millions of Europeans and Americans, Putin is the man who embodies those traditional and also conservative values.” Many populist parties in Europe see Putin as an “ally” because he shares their concern over immigration, globalization, and Islamic radicalism; they “perceive” his actions as a “defense for strong traditional values.”
This provides half the story of my book. I argue that states often draw on religious appeals when dealing with international crises. These appeals have significant impacts on international relations, and can build coalitions with like-minded audiences. I demonstrate this with in-depth case studies of Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Egypt in the 1960s, the United States’ religious outreach during the Global War on Terrorism, and Russia’s efforts to gain control over its neighbors. Page 99 discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to create a coalition with far-right forces in Europe and the United States, with the goal of undermining opposition to his aggressive foreign policy. One of the ways he has done this is through appeals to “traditional” or conservative Christian values.

Yet, as I said, that is only half the story. I also argue that, more often than not, these religious appeals backfire on the states using them. They increase tensions in already tense situations. They can be get turned around and redirected by their targets in a way that harms the state initially using the religious appeals. And they are often poorly-formulated, leading to a waste of resources. A reading browsing only page 99 would get the sense that religious appeals are pretty effective, whereas most of my evidence (including for Russia) finds they are an unwieldy if impactful foreign policy tool.
Learn more about Religious Appeals in Power Politics at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2023

Kate Marshall's "Novels by Aliens"

Kate Marshall is associate dean of Research and Strategic Initiatives, director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction.

Marshall applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Novels by Aliens: Weird Tales and the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Novels by Aliens falls at the exact midpoint between the book’s six chapters, on the last page of the third, “Cosmic Realism.” In this chapter, I have used a genre term coined by the novelist Marilynne Robinson to explore the nonhuman longings of contemporary realist narrative.

Half of this page is taken up by what may be the book’s longest block quote – a long passage from the end of Teju Cole’s Open City where the narrator, Julius, looks up at the stars. He realizes that he sees light from stars long dead, and darkness where a future will emerge, and wishes he “could meet that unseen starlight halfway, starlight that was unreachable because my entire being was caught up in a blind spot.” I argue that this image is the formal fantasy of the novel, tying it to others from the period. Instead of the panpsychic sentience favored by novelists like Robinson, who seek ways of locating consciousness everywhere, Cole’s narrator shows the other side of that materialist impulse: a desire to eliminate the human perspective or consciousness.

This final page of the chapter is a marvelous waystation for the book – it mentioned the three key generic impulses I track throughout: the weird, cosmic realism, and science and pseudoscience fiction. I see this in its engagement with the cosmic as well as a kind of catastrophic science, and also in the final sentence, which argues that cosmic realism “reveals how bound our simultaneously increasing desires for more and weirder definitions of realist novels have been to our desires for more and weirder definitions of objects.”
Learn more about Novels by Aliens at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Matthew Tokeshi's "Campaigning While Black"

Matthew Tokeshi is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Williams College. His research focuses on the role of racial prejudice in U.S. campaigns.

Tokeshi applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Campaigning While Black: Black Candidates, White Majorities, and the Quest for Political Office, and reported the following:
Campaigning While Black is about how anti-Black prejudice influences the electoral prospects of Black candidates running for governor or U.S. senator from 2000 to 2020. Readers who open the book to page 99 would see the first page of a chapter on the campaigns of two such Black candidates: Cory Booker, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey in 2013 and Anthony Brown, who ran for governor of Maryland in 2014.

Page 99 introduces the idea that Booker and Brown faced a significant number of attacks on racialized themes such as crime, sexual misbehavior, and economic redistribution. Earlier in the book, I show that all six Black candidates from 2000 to 2018 who either won or came within ten percentage points of winning faced more attacks on these racialized themes than comparable white candidates. In that sense, page 99’s mention of the heavily racialized campaign environment faced by Booker and Brown would give the reader a good idea of the campaign dynamics faced by all Black candidates running for high-level office in recent decades who had a good chance to win.

However, a reader who stopped at page 99 would miss much of what makes my analysis distinctive. For one, the reader would miss all of the empirical tests I conduct to show that attacks on racialized themes actually increase the salience of anti-Black prejudice in voters’ candidate evaluations – a process known to racial politics scholars as “racial priming.” The reader would also miss my broader analysis of the role of racial prejudice in the campaigns for all Black candidates for governor and U.S. senator from 2000 to 2020, as well as my in-depth focus on the candidacies of Deval Patrick, Harold Ford, Jr., Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Kamala Harris. And finally, the reader would miss my consideration of an important, but overlooked aspect of racial communication: rebuttals to racial attacks. By mapping the range of rebuttals used by Black candidates and measuring their effects, later chapters of my book address not only the conditions that activate racial animosity, but also strategies for neutralizing that activation.

In sum, I’d say page 99 offers a good picture of the book’s larger theme of the racialization of Black candidates. But readers who want to see empirical tests of the book’s claims, a wider range of case studies, and an analysis of rebuttals need to read on!
Visit Matthew Tokeshi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Stefan Schöberlein's "Writing the Brain"

Stefan Schöberlein is Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. He has edited Walt Whitman's New Orleans, co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Walt Whitman, and published literary translations into German. He has served as president of the Digital Americanists Society and is currently a contributing editor of the Walt Whitman Archive.

Schöberlein applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Writing the Brain: Material Minds and Literature, 1800-1880, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book takes us right to an 1889 illustration from a British edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, depicting the famous “Fall at Lyme” episode. An unconscious woman is being attended by two men, while a third man clutches his head in anguish. The image is accompanied by half a paragraph on craniology—which, though, short, would give the reader a decent idea of the gist of the book: materialist (and often determinist) readings of the mind through the organ of the brain, emphasizing transatlantic connections between literature and science.

“Craniology” or “phrenology” is today, of course, rightly understood to be a pseudoscientific fraud and had numerous outspoken critics in its day. Still, it remains one of the earliest theories to describe the brain not as a coherent whole but as a system of somewhat independent brain regions. It is also a theory that quite openly denied free will, replacing it with an organic determinism while also inaugurating the modern self-help craze (especially in the United States). As such, discourse around it was vibrant and left a broad cultural imprint from Charles Dickens in the UK to Walt Whitman in the US.

Yet, while phrenology was the most prominent, early materialist theory of the mind, it was by no means the only one. My other chapters interrogate diverse neuro-materialist concepts and conundrums in tandem with broad literary trends: from hemispheric minds and the Gothic, to Racial Science and Realism, and, finally, to technophile newspaper fiction and brain neurons.

Still, my book hopes to go beyond influence studies and not only trace how science influenced literature but also how literature (and technology) provided structuring metaphors to the scientific discovery, tracing, for instance, a long history of the Neuron Doctrine in periodical fiction and Romantic poetry.

The book features many illustrations, novel readings of canonical texts from both sides of the Atlantic, and a number of textual (re)discoveries.
Visit Stefan Schöberlein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2023

Timothy Recuber's "The Digital Departed"

Timothy Recuber is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Smith College in Northampton, MA, studying mass media, digital culture, emotions, the self, and collective memory. He is the author of Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster, winner of the Outstanding Recent Contribution Award from the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Emotions section.

Recuber applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Digital Departed: How We Face Death, Commemorate Life, and Chase Virtual Immortality, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Such quotes hint at the therapeutic qualities of blogging, but also at the ways that the confrontation with mortality affects the very essence of selfhood. Certainly, the affordances of blogging outlined earlier, its encouragement of regular periods of introspection amid a supportive audience, have much in common with more traditional forms of therapeutic encounter. Moreover, reframing terminal illness as something positive could be a way to combat the many stigmas associated with death and dying. Yet very few of the blog posts in the sample discussed such stigmas directly. Instead, what became clear again and again in these blogs was the transformative capacity of blogging a terminal illness. It was not just that anxieties were salved in the process of writing them down, or that order was made out of the chaos of a terminal diagnosis by creating these narratives, though undoubtedly these were important effects. The capacity to craft a new self was an even more powerful factor.
Page 99 appears in the middle of the book’s third chapter, called “Suffering, the Self, and Narrative Freedom in Blogs of the Terminally Ill.” This chapter begins to really flesh out some of the main arguments in the book. One of these arguments can be seen in the quote above, namely, that digital confrontations with one’s own mortality have the capacity to transform one’s sense of self. In this particular chapter, my evidence consists of words from a sample of 927 posts by twenty different terminally ill bloggers. These quotes are beautiful, heartbreaking, sometimes mundane, and often profound, but taken together they show people grappling with and changing their senses of self through regular writing and introspection about their terminal illnesses.

On the one hand this is a social constructionist take on the self—many of the blogs in my sample spoke explicitly about this self-transformation or recreation in the face of impending mortality, so in a sense I am simply tracking an emergent norm about how selfhood works in this particular context. At the same time, the book’s major argument is about the ways that digital media technologies have reenchanted the self. This means, in essence, that they have brought a sense of magic, wonder, or mystery back to the modern project of selfhood. Jumping off from this point, later in the chapter I play around with the concept of the digital soul. I argue that the vision of selfhood put forth in blogs of the terminally ill has a lot in common with certain theological views in which the soul is made through human suffering. In the book’s later chapters, I look at other ways in which people have used digital media technologies to create posthumous legacies for themselves or to try to continue communicating with their loved ones after death. What these things have in common with blogs of the terminally ill is the sense that one’s digital self might be transubstantiated into a kind of digital soul, a testament to who one was in life that, at least in some small way, transcends one’s corporeal death.

So all in all I think that page 99 is a pretty good representation of the kinds of evidence that appear throughout the book and of where the rest of the book is headed.
Visit Timothy Recuber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Russ Castronovo's "American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability"

Russ Castronovo is the Tom Paine Professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His books include Fathering the Nation, Necro Citizenship, Beautiful Democracy, and Propaganda 1776.

Castronovo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability centers on one of the conceptual origin points for this book as whole. In his fairytale about the creation of property, John Locke famously asked readers to imagine a hunter chasing rabbit. As this page from the book’s third chapter explains, Locke draws a startling conclusion that “when the hunter discovers, tracks, and pursues the rabbit, he ‘hath begun a property.’ He does not even have to catch it, for Locke, pursuit creates property.”

This simple story became important for me because I wanted to understand how something could become property even before one has it in one’s hot little hands. The answer, as I discovered in the course. of writing this book is that there is an intimate connection among security, surveillance, and property. Here, I start to untangle this conceptual mystery by turning to white renditions of the frontier, contending that James Fenimore Cooper’s novels disclose the settler colonial logic by which the carving out of property from the wilderness is essential to white ideas about security. In short, I can report that American Insecurity passes the Page 99 Test with flying colors.

And yet, it gives the false impression that the book is wholly concerned with literary and historical episodes from another century. The surveillance programs of the 21st century, the algorithms that pinpoint our locations and predict our behaviors, and the contemporary anxieties about terrorism and crime that make individuals so frequently feel insecure are big part of this book. In this way, American Insecurity sets up a dialogue between earlier instances of vulnerability and present-day fears in an effort to understand how and why so much of our democratic energy has been sacrificed to security.
Learn more about American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability at the Princeton University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Propaganda 1776.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Asher D. Cutter's "Evolving Tomorrow"

Asher D. Cutter is a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, Canada. A former Fulbright Scholar, Cutter trained at Tufts University, USA, James Cook University, Australia, the University of Arizona, USA, and the University of Edinburgh, UK. He authored the textbook A Primer of Molecular Population Genetics (2019) as well as nearly 100 scientific articles on the topics of genome evolution, population genetics, speciation, and the biology of Caenorhabditis nematode roundworms.

Cutter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Evolving Tomorrow: Genetic Engineering and the Evolutionary Future of the Anthropocene, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the last page in a chapter titled “Genetic welding”, and does a good job of touching on some of the key themes explored in my book Evolving Tomorrow as a whole. This page points out how a cutting-edge version of genetic engineering presents a new and distinct force of evolution that has the potential to shape the DNA of entire species in the wild. It includes a quote by writer Elizabeth Kolbert that states, “In a world of synthetic gene drives, the border between the human and the natural, between the laboratory and the wild, already deeply blurred, all but dissolves.” Page 99 also lays out a brief roadmap for how later parts of the book will explore some of the complications that this provocative idea presents, for example, in relation to ethics and ecosystem alterations and if we were to alter the genomes of our own human species. One aspect of this page that is not representative of the book overall is that much of the rest of the book presents stories of interesting biology of organisms and the natural world, or about laboratory research, or about bioethical quandaries. As the final page of a chapter, page 99 does not provide this sense of compelling storytelling that I hope is found throughout many of the other pages in the book. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that Evolving Tomorrow passes the Page 99 Test.
Learn more about Evolving Tomorrow at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 6, 2023

Robert W. Rix's "The Vanished Settlers of Greenland"

Robert W. Rix is Associate Professor and Director of Research at the University of Copenhagen. He is widely known for his prolific publication profile in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century studies. This includes areas such as politics, religion, language, nationalism, and print culture. Rix has also published on earlier periods, for example, The Barbarian North in Medieval Imagination Ethnicity, Legend, and Literature (2014).

Rix applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Vanished Settlers of Greenland: In Search of a Legend and Its Legacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a discussion of the Dutch lawyer and historian Jan Jacob Mauricius and his tract, Naleesing over Groenland voor de historie van den Noorweeschen Erik [Rereading Greenland’s History concerning the Norwegian Erik], which he published in the early 1740s.

Mauricius criticizes the history of Erik the Red’s arrival in Greenland in the late tenth century to spearhead a purported large-scale colonization of Greenland. Mauricius had political motives for opposing this widely accepted narrative. The tract was published in the wake of a 1739 skirmish between a Danish naval vessel and four Dutch ships at Disko Bay over fishing rights. The battle was quickly over and resulted in Dutch surrender. Mauricius challenges Danish-Norwegian claims to all of Greenland (including its waters), defending the rights of all nations to the profitable whaling and fishing industry. Therefore, in a series of ‘discourses’, he sets out to prove that Danish historical claims to Greenland are based on spurious sagas and legends. Mauricius’ primary argument is that historians, allegedly sponsored by the Danish crown, have perpetuated an exaggerated legend about Erik the Red’s control over Greenland.

The Page 99 Test both works and it doesn’t. The argument that underpins the examination on page 99 is that Danish history writing at the time was more than just a straightforward reproduction of facts about the past; rather it aimed to construct a collective memory of Greenland that served a national agenda. This analysis is representative of the chapter as a whole, which deals with the political motives behind seventeenth- and eighteenth-century historiography. The analysis also gives the accidental browser who opens the book on this page a fair impression of what is at stake throughout the book. Controversy over rights to use Greenland and its waters centered on the history of the erstwhile settlers who were known to have farmed the land the centuries. However, contact with the colonists, who were considered subjects of the Dano-Norwegian crown, had been completely lost since the early fifteenth century. The book shows how Greenland was not only a Danish matter; it became a contested territory associated with colonial as well as semi-utopian desires throughout Europe and North America.

In some sense, the Page 99 Test would never fully succeed because of the disciplinary breadth and wide timespan the book covers. I track the mystery of the vanished Greenland colonists and the many theories of where they could be found from the late sixteenth century to the 1920s. The memory of Greenland’s “lost colony” was transmitted, interpreted, and negotiated not only in political discourses but also through numerous literary representations. Especially in the second half of the book, the focus is on novels and magazine stories (often adventure tales of the pulp fiction variety) that imagine explorers discovering the descendants of the lost colonists. In The Vanished Settlers of Greenland: In Search of a Legend and Its Legacy, I examine how the ‘lost colony’ lived on in Western imagination and attained an extensive narrative afterlife. The Dutch controversy over the accuracy of Greenland’s colonial history on page 99 is only one example of this.
Learn more about The Vanished Settlers of Greenland at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue