Thursday, November 30, 2023

Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar's "America's Black Capital"

Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar is professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music at the University of Connecticut. He earned his PhD in US history from Indiana University Bloomington and his BA in history from Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Ogbar applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, America's Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy, and reported the following:
The first full paragraph on page 99 of America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy outlines the core thesis and argument of my entire book—which is 457 pages (not counting notes and index):
…what occurred in Atlanta was an especially virulent expression of neo-Confederate politics. The legacy of the Civil War was profound in shaping virtually every aspect of the city’s character. In doing so, there emerged a particularly acute notion of racial subjugation. African Americans responded with ambitious efforts at black self-determination that did not advocate for racial integration of social space. Instead, black leadership, across generations, demanded more in the way of resources for black people than shared resources with whites.
My book, a story of the long arc Atlanta’s history, explores how the Gate City became an important cog in the Confederacy war machine in the Civil War, was left a desolation by Union bombardment and rose like a phoenix in the postbellum era. The city has had many nicknames, but none that reflect how much Atlanta has evolved than “Imperial City” of the Ku Klux Klan (in the 1920s) and the “Black Mecca” (after the early 1970s). Today, the former Confederate stronghold has more black millionaires and black-owned businesses per capita than any city in the country. The book explores how we arrive at the latest moniker from a city that was once the “heart” of the Confederacy.

Until this exercise, I had never heard of this “page 99 test.” In fact, when I first learned of it, I thought it was highly improbable and so random that it could not possibly apply to this book of eleven chapters and over 450 pages. I was clearly surprised that the 99th page captures the central argument of my book! I will be curious about the 99th page of books throughout my library now!
Learn more about America's Black Capital at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Adam Parkes's "Modernism and the Aristocracy"

Adam Parkes is Professor of English at the University of Georgia, where he has taught since 1993. His publications include Modernism and the Theater of Censorship (1996) and A Sense of Shock: The Impact of Impressionism on Modern British and Irish Writing (2011). Parkes was president of the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America in 2021-22 and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association in 2022-23.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Modernism and the Aristocracy: Monsters of English Privilege, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Initiating the novel’s falling action, the death of John Andrew [Last] also launches alternative ways of imagining aristocratic boredom, especially as it relates to the time and place of waning empire. Taken utterly for granted by Waugh’s characters, intimated by the narrator only in occasional indirect references to the “global context,” the imperial dimensions of aristocratic boredom remain largely unspoken in the first half of A Handful of Dust. Waugh may be playing on expectations created by his previous novel, Black Mischief (1932), which, as Jonathan Greenberg has argued, puts colonial-imperialist boredom front and center. But when Tony Last leaves England, the complacency underpinning such reticence is exposed to view. In Handful’s later chapters, Waugh develops a three-fold portrait linking boredom to heartless cruelty (Mrs. Rafferty), intellectual stupidity (Dr. Messinger), and animal cunning (Mr. Todd), each in turn subjecting Tony to an intolerable period of waiting. Charting an ironic history of colonial imperialism, the unholy trinity of exiles associated with these boredoms sums up what Waugh portrays not only as the lapsed condition of the British aristocracy but also as the spiritual emptiness of modern humanity as a whole.

The picture emerges gradually, as Waugh begins by consolidating Hetton’s position as the scene of interminable waiting, a purgatorial boredom. Shirking his duty to break their terrible news to [his wife] Brenda, who is still in London with Beaver, Tony sends [his friend] Jock, precipitating the cruelest of all comic moments in English fiction when Brenda, realizing that it’s her son not her lover who has died, exclaims “Oh thank God . . . ” and bursts into tears. Tony meanwhile stays at Hetton to “see” to things; almost instantly, time seems to stretch over a void. “What are you going to do while you’re waiting?” asks Mrs. Rattery, Jock’s straight-talking mistress. Echoing the Madame Sosostris episode in The Waste Land (1922), the acknowledged source of the novel’s title, Mrs. Rattery proposes playing patience, “a heartbreaking game”, as she informs Tony in a cold-hearted declaration that sounds in tune with the novel’s anti-humanist strain.
Ford is very much on target as far as my own page 99 is concerned. First, it discusses Evelyn Waugh, who (like Ford himself) appears in two separate chapters. Second, this particular page offers a fair snapshot of the manner as well as the matter of my book. It occurs in the middle of the second chapter, which pairs Waugh with the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen to examine representations of aristocratic boredom in British fiction written between the world wars.

The emphasis here is on literary responses to a more general sense of the British aristocracy – deprived of much of its traditional power, land, and purpose by social, political, and economic changes at home and in the wider global-imperial system – as marooned by history. But this is also a literary emphasis. My focus remains on the expressive opportunities that such perceptions presented to writers still trying to “make it new” (in Ezra Pound’s well-worn phrase) even if some of them (like Waugh) wanted to make the new look old. My attention is directed accordingly to the structural organization, affective design, and generic interplay of Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust as it probes the expressive possibilities of waiting: making readers wait as his characters wait through extended episodes that combine comedy, satire, and cruelty.

In this way, the account of boredom given here looks backward and forward to other chapters of my book: back to Chapter 1, which considers stupidity, and forward to Chapter 5, which dwells on cruelty and kindness. Other chapters focus on nostalgia and sophistication, which, though not explicitly present on page 99, might be inferred from my commentary on Waugh’s handling of boredom, cruelty, and stupidity.
Learn more about Modernism and the Aristocracy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Kurt Fowler's "The Rise of Digital Sex Work"

Kurt Fowler is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Abington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Rise of Digital Sex Work, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“Am I supposed to say I realize I’m privileged? I’m a white dude. There’re some sex workers who sometimes don’t have the choice. I’ll express that I’m aware of that.”

He let out a dry cough and dropped his gaze from behind his horn-rimmed glasses. “It sucks, and it’s complicated.... I’m white, I’m already high on the ladder outside of the industry. One can assume I’m fairly high-ish on the ladder within the ‘whorearchy,’ other than I make less money than almost literally everyone.”

The way Edward addressed issues of race, class, and privilege mir­rored the way the overwhelming majority of providers expressed these concerns. He realized well after describing his entrance that his personal privilege played a role in his decision to become a provider. But these contexts were largely unspoken or unrecognized in his original story.
Does the “Page 99 Test” work on my book?

I’d have to say yes, but with a caveat. The Rise of Digital Sex Work is about how, as Edward put it earlier in the novel, “certain populations” of people now have access to more choices for a safer and more profitable working environment, due to the Internet. But these issues are tied to complex social statuses like race, class, gender, education, and a host of other concerns that intersect with the decisions we make on a daily basis.

The Rise of Digital Sex Work explores not just how technology is changing society and the human experience, but the question of who benefits first and who benefits most from the proliferation of digitally facilitated business. So when taken as a microcosm of the book’s themes, does the page 99 test work? Definitely. But if taken simply as a single data point, it does limit the scope of the book’s explorations- since race is only one (in fairness, a large one) of the variables that impact people’s decisions to enter sex work, their access to resources, and the proliferation of a world-wide virtual community of providers.

Last, I’d say that page 99 does a good job of exemplifying how my conversations with workers from across the globe unfolded. Providers were casual, funny, and articulate. They always had an entertaining anecdote to support their observations and were never shy about saying the quiet part loud. As a group, sex workers showed themselves to be early adopters of any new technology that could benefit their safety and business and were a never-ending source of clever and compelling ways to find, create, and utilize apps and platforms to keep themselves safe, grow their business, and share useful information with their community.
Learn more about The Rise of Digital Sex Work at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 27, 2023

Peter Thompson's "Heir through Hope"

Peter Thompson is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Rum Punch and Revolution: Taverngoing and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia.

Thompson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Heir through Hope: Thomas Jefferson's Lifelong Investment in William Short, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Heir through Hope falls at the end of a chapter. It addresses the dying moments of the Virginian William Short’s diplomatic career, an important subsidiary component of the first half of the book. Having laid much of the groundwork for the Treaty of San Lorenzo signed between the United States and Spain in October 1795, Short was at the last moment supplanted by Thomas Pinckney. Hence references in textbooks to Pinckney’s Treaty not “Short’s Treaty”. Short resigned from foreign service. Page 99 introduces an assessment, concluded over the page, of Short’s claim to be a reliable and unjustly overlooked public servant. Short’s sense of self-worth is an important sub-theme of the book as a whole. Finally, by happy coincidence, the page contains a sentence encapsulating a very much larger theme of the book. “[Jefferson’s] message to Short was, once more, come home.”

Jefferson’s “investment” in his relationship with William Short emerges from the consideration of three questions implicit on page 99. Why did Jefferson want William Short to abandon Europe? Why hadn’t Short followed Jefferson’s previous entreaties? What did Jefferson and Short mean by “home”? Jefferson believed that residence abroad exposed an American to moral hazards that corroded decent republican values. From 1795 Short found himself in a tug of love between his “father and friend,” Thomas Jefferson, and his French mistress, the widowed Duchess Rosalie de la Rochefoucauld. In a covert use of Short’s money Jefferson purchased an estate close to Monticello for the younger man. Rosalie extended a substantial loan to Short that helped allow him to live a genteel life in Paris as her acknowledged partner. Short enjoyed French society, especially that of the liberal aristocratic world to which had been introduced by Jefferson as well as Rosalie in the last days of the ancien regime. Yet Short did not believe his life in France had alienated him from American values. Crucially he was reluctant to marry a French aristocrat. For both men “home” meant Virginia. When Short returned to the United States in 1802 he did not settle on the farm Jefferson had bought him. Short’s actions hurt both men. Jefferson’s affection for the man he dubbed, uniquely, his “adoptive son,” was genuine. The greater hurt caused Jefferson by Short’s disinclination to settle in Virginia lay in a fundamental political disagreement. Both men understood that slavery in their home state would not be abolished and could only be ameliorated. Jefferson believed that with amelioration through rational farming and artisanal training in place, Virginia could continue to lead the nation as small producer state, promoting and protecting popular democracy, in the face of threats to his vision of America posed by the commercial and manufacturing interests of the North. Short didn’t buy into this but Jefferson could not let the matter rest. To his dying days Jefferson, acting out of a quasi-parental sense of “tough love,” continued his efforts to set Short straight.
Learn more about Heir through Hope at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Caitlin Killian's "Failing Moms"

Caitlin Killian is Professor of Sociology at Drew University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Failing Moms: Social Condemnation and Criminalization of Mothers, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Failing Moms is both a good example of key themes in the book and too focused on pregnancy examples to get a telling sense of the whole book. The top of page 99 describes a woman who was held at a drug treatment facility for 78 days during her pregnancy despite the fact that she had taken one Vicodin for pain before she realized she was pregnant and had not consumed any drugs afterwards. Even though she had already stopped using drugs, she was held against her will allegedly to protect her fetus. This extended, in-patient mandate resulted in her being laid off and the subsequent loss of her home prior to giving birth. Making a mother-to-be lose her job and home prior to the arrival of her baby is clearly detrimental not just to the woman but to her child. It is important to note that she had no legal representation when she was ordered to drug treatment; only her fetus had a lawyer. This case illustrates that actions taken due to fixating on the fetus’ supposed best interests while ignoring the realities of the gestating person not only lead to violating the latter’s rights, but can easily cause more harm than good for both mother and child.

The bottom of page 99 introduces readers to some of the problems around cursory comprehension of the relationship between alcohol use during pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). While the typical understanding, encouraged by public health pronouncements, is that any amount of alcohol during pregnancy could be dangerous and that all women are equally at risk, science does not show this. Not only do other variables such as social class, poor nutrition, length of alcoholism, and pattern of drinking, especially binge drinking, likely interact with alcohol to determine outcome, but there is no data to support cautioning women against an occasional drink during pregnancy. Overblown warnings about alcohol consumption during pregnancy intentionally target all women, when concerns actually apply to only a small subset. This, coupled with the fact that women who do suffer from substance abuse problems are too often criminalized rather than aided, and consequences such as women receiving substandard prenatal care and giving birth in prison cells, belie that these approaches are in the interest of anyone’s health.

These examples do typify arguments in the book about mothers being held to extreme, often nonsensical, standards, the social control of women, and how maltreating mothers is rarely in the best interest of their children. However, the book situates mothering historically and culturally to challenge current beliefs about moms and discusses a plethora of other cases beyond substance abuse and pregnancy. In fact, the goal of the book is to highlight unfair treatment of moms across situations and the life cycle to illustrate the pervasiveness of this phenomenon. The double standards begin before a pregnancy is even en-route as women are cautioned about how everything they do affects their reproductive outcomes, but men are not warned about how their age, exposure to toxins, or substance use affects their offspring. Once a parent, women almost never feel they are doing a good enough job at mothering because the expectations are impossibly high. This contributes to mothers exhausting themselves emotionally and physically. If something does go seriously wrong, mothers can face criminal penalties and losing parental rights even if they were not the one to cause the harm. When women lose their children at the hands of social services or go to jail yet men who fail to protect their children in the same ways do not, it becomes clear that this is more about gendered expectations of parents than about safeguarding children.

By targeting vulnerable moms (those who abuse drugs, experience domestic violence, or have been to jail), we ultimately hurt all mothers, even those not suffering from these issues. In making some moms “bad moms,” all mothers face charges (societal or legal) of not doing enough or making a bad choice. While moms of color and poor moms face the most risk, mothers of all socioeconomic levels and races are finding themselves questioned by child services, berated by law enforcement, and charged with crimes they did not even know they had committed. If we actually care about children’s well-being, we need to back mothers, relax our expectations of them, and provide all moms with concrete support in the form of better policies. The book thus proposes solutions for better taking care of mothers and valuing families.
Visit Caitlin Killian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Paul B. Thompson's "From Silo to Spoon"

Paul B. Thompson is a philosopher of technology and the environment. He has held joint professorships in departments of philosophy and in college of agricultures at Texas A&M University, Purdue University and Michigan State University, where he is now Professor Emeritus. Thompson was the inaugural occupant of the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State, where he taught courses in environmental science and sustainability, as well as philosophy. In addition to award winning books such as From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone (2015), Thompson authored over 200 research articles and book chapters.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Silo to Spoon: Local and Global Food Ethics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of From Silo to Spoon: Local and Global Food Ethics is wrapping up Chapter 4 on the ethics of locavorism—trying to eat foods produced within 100 miles of where you live. I’m arguing that other philosophers writing on locavorism have mistakenly assumed that the ethic is about making better dietary choices. Instead, we should see it as an invitation to explore alternative paths to identity formation and social engagement. The idea of food sovereignty contributes to this exploration.

The book starts with four case studies in food ethics: the food movement, food aid, locavorism and food labels. In each case, I make contrasts between an ethics of persuasion (where the philosopher already knows what is right) and an ethics of enquiry, where the goal is to avoid judging too quickly. Both are performed in the context of unreflective processes of social control. Social control gives power and force to ethical claims but it can also distort them or allow them to be co-opted. Page 99 is making an important pivot from discussing a particular problem in food ethics to more general questions in an environmental philosophy of agriculture.

The second half of the book uses food-related themes to take up more fundamental moral issues: the very idea of pollution or sustainability, and the sense in which any ethic relies implicitly on our sense of a shared history, a history in which food systems have played an underappreciated role. It is most evident the first person plural: any claim about what “we” do or think reflects an unspoken background necessary for social cognition. I am a philosophical pragmatist in thinking this background is inescapable, but also that we (whoever we are) must be willing to use all the tools at our disposal in questioning whether we are the people we really want to be. I argue that focusing on food production is a powerful way to bring environmental issues deeply into the heart of social identity formation.

But there are other questions, too. The final chapter attempts to begin a conversation with others who have seen racial division as the element of our history—what we presume when we say “we”—in need of challenge and correction. Prioritization of food and the privilege given to certain forms of farming and food production have clearly contributed to “the racial contract”, as described by philosopher Charles Mills. The chapter examines forms of structural racism in food systems, and expresses hope that an examination of agrarian thought can create a richer exchange of views between environmental ethics and the philosophy of race.
Learn more about From Silo to Spoon at the Oxford University Press website.

-Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2023

Sheila Bock's "Claiming Space"

Sheila Bock is a folklorist and associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is an award-winning teacher and coeditor of Narrative Culture and has published numerous articles and book chapters.

Bock applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Claiming Space: Performing the Personal through Decorated Mortarboards, and reported the following:
Page 99 features an image of a decorated graduation cap. The text around the top edges of this particular cap reads “#RUNNIN’ REBEL” (referencing the mascot of the institution where the graduate earned his undergraduate degree) and “#FUTURE DEVIL” (referencing the mascot of the school where the graduate intends to pursue his studies). The center of the flat top of the mortarboard presents a list of degrees in a checklist format in big, bold text: “B.S. B.A.”, “Master’s,” and “PA.” Next to the text “B.S. B.A.” is a giant check mark. The two other degrees listed have a blank box next to them, indicating that they will ultimately be checked as the graduate continues on in his educational journey.

The text on that page begins by identifying how “Decorated caps often align the individual graduates who wear them with the widely circulating narrative of the American dream, foregrounding its key tenets that also converge with folk ideas central to US worldview identified by folklorists, including individualism, optimism, unlimited good, and orientation to the future.” After providing a range of examples of what this looks like in practice, it highlights how “this future-oriented worldview is central to the graduation ceremony as a whole, apparent even in the term used to describe it: commencement, meaning beginning.”

This page does illustrate one key idea in the book as a whole, specifically that the forms of personal expression we see on display via decorated mortarboards are, in fact, always larger than personal. In other words, these visual and material performances of the personal work to position graduates in relation to broader discourses surrounding higher education in the United States. At the same time, readers who look only at this page would not get any sense of the book’s extensive attention to the creative ways in which graduates claim the communicative space of their mortarboards in the culturally significant ritual of commencement to speak back to – and often complicate – these broader discourses. Readers would also miss the voices and perspectives of graduates from diverse backgrounds that are presented throughout the book, voices and perspectives that offer important insights into how graduates “on the ground” grapple with complicated understandings of the purpose and value of higher education.
Learn more about Claiming Space at the Utah State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Michael Serazio's "The Authenticity Industries"

Michael Serazio is a journalist and Associate Professor of Communication at Boston College. In addition to writing for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and elsewhere, he is the author of The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture (2019) and Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (2013).

Serazio applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Authenticity Industries: Keeping it "Real" in Media, Culture, and Politics, and reported the following:
As random samples go, you could probably do a lot worse in terms of page 99 serving as a representative window into The Authenticity Industries: Keeping it "Real" in Media, Culture, and Politics. The reader arrives there at the conclusion to a chapter that just looked at how authenticity functions, idealistically and strategically, within pop music. That story, traced over the 30 or so pages that precede it, is one of a particular media industry that had long upheld authenticity as an artistic ideal, but, as digital technology decimated economic fortunes, it had to capitulate to commercialism in the form of branded sponsorships galore. Broadly speaking, that’s a microcosm of one of the book's core arguments. It’s a study of the tension between marketplace motives and authentic cultural forms that represent the antithesis of that. When revenues were healthy and times were good, musicians could resist “selling out,” but when those fell apart, that posture was revealed to be the product of privilege. Elsewhere in the book, those same dynamics and tensions are on display. In the case of social media influencers, they have to balance between being true to their organic content (i.e., their everyday, banal lives) and accommodating product placement. For politicians, the issue of “selling out” revolves around the suspected influence that big-dollar donors wield in the aftermath of Citizens United and the way that influence potentially corrupts true principles once deeply held. To be honest, the book never really arrives at a conclusion as to whether “selling out” still carries a stigma or represents a phrase of disparagement. From the landscape of pop music, as we see on page 99, selling out is necessary and a means to survival in tumultuous times for a particular media industry – one of several that the book explores in backstage detail.
Learn more about The Authenticity Industries at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

David W. Houpt's "To Organize the Sovereign People"

David W. Houpt is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, To Organize the Sovereign People: Political Mobilization in Revolutionary Pennsylvania, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces the debates over Pennsylvanians’ use of town meetings and other forms of popular forms of political mobilization to try and convince President George Washington to withhold his signature from the Jay Treaty. Federalists rejected the notion that town meetings could represent the will of the people and argued that, under the Constitution, citizens expressed their will exclusively through the ballot box. Critics of the treaty, in contrast, believed that the people always had a right to assert their sovereignty directly.

This page does actually give the reader a fairly good idea of what the book as a whole is about, so the test was successful.

Although it is only a snapshot in a much larger exploration of the relationship between shifting understandings of the nature of popular sovereignty and evolving approaches to political mobilization, the debates over the Jay Treaty represented a key turning point in this story. In essence, opponents of the treaty argued that the adoption of new state and federal constitutions did not fundamentally alter the relationship between the people and their government while Federalists claimed that the new governments established elections as the only legitimate expression of the will of the people. I argue that the failure to prevent to adoption of the Treaty, in conjunction with the outbreak of the Whiskey Rebellion, convinced critics of the Federalists to abandon efforts to engage the people directly in the deliberative process and instead focus on coalition building and winning elections. This shift in strategy is what laid the foundation for the emergence of the Republican Party. In the following chapters I demonstrate how Republicans harnessed existing forms of popular mobilization to build a statewide network of like-minded men who focused on turning out voters on election day. Although this shift in strategy came at the expense of a more participatory form of democracy, Republicans’ focus on winning elections ultimately succeeded where other more direct forms of mobilization had failed. Ultimately, the book provides an important new perspective on how the struggle to define the meaning and scope of democracy in the years following the Declaration of Independence.
Learn more about To Organize the Sovereign People at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 20, 2023

Richard Abel's "Our Country/Whose Country?"

Richard Abel is Emeritus Professor of International Cinema and Media at the University of Michigan. The most recent of his dozen books is Movie Mavens: US Newspaper Women Take on the Movies, 1914-1923 (2021). His essays have appeared in scores of journals and been translated into five languages. He received the 2014 SCMS Distinguished Career Achievement Award and the 2017 Jean Mitry Award.

Abel applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Our Country/Whose Country?: Early Westerns and Travel Films as Stories of Settler Colonialism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of this book introduces a half-dozen two-reel William S. Hart films (1914-1915), whose spaces, characters, and stories would prove characteristic of his short films and features. Hart’s westerns were set in the last stages of settler colonialism, in landscapes defined by deserts and mountains, gulches and canyons, full of sage brush and cacti, seemingly empty (Indians usually were absent) except for small, roughly built frontier towns with crowded saloons and dance halls. For an extreme expression of those landscapes, see the intertitles that open The Silent Man (1917): “Primordial desolation, a huge waste . . . . a trackless solitude.” A production photo of that film’s opening is reproduced at the top of the page. Hart’s character often was an outlaw, yet sometimes a figure of authority, if not always respectable, who controlled or sought to control the inhabitants and resources of an emerging, predominantly white male community. His rivals were white men, from gamblers and womanizers to other outlaws; and most of the women also were white, the prime agents of his transformation into a “good bad man.”

Surprisingly, of the several hundred pages in my book, page 99 serves nicely to introduce a browser to what the book is about. That would not be the case, however, in my other books on American silent cinema.

Page 99 offers a neat summary of the similarities and differences in westerns before and after 1914, initially in those of William. S. Hart. Earlier short films tracked white settlers moving westward across the North American continent in the face of resistance by Indigenous peoples and Mexicans. “American Progress” (a painting reproduced on the front cover) assumed the continent was an allegedly “empty land” of plains, mountains, and deserts in need of “civilizing” —that is, rich in resources for exploitation. Indian pictures were prominent, with characters ranging from warriors and “Noble Savages” to victims of white violence and “in-between” figures like “mixed-descent” families or the sacrificial “Indian maiden”—all guiltily nostalgic figures of the “Vanishing American.” Cowboy films were frequent too, featuring the heroic “good bad man” exemplified by Broncho Billy, an outlaw transformed by a woman. By 1914, Hart’s westerns were set in the last stages of settler colonialism, in landscapes—from scattered ranches and stagecoach waystations to mining company sites and small, roughly built frontier towns—now rarely harassed by Indians or Mexicans (Blacks were hardly visible). In short films and then in features, Hart reinvented the “good bad man” as a stoic figure of virile masculinity, skilled with a gun in confronting white villains who threatened to control frontier towns. A production still from The Silent Man (1917) shows Hart as a miner crossing a “trackless” desert towards a town where he will seek vengeance for being fleeced of his gold. Other westerns from the mid and late 1910s featured white male stars such as Harry Carey, Tom Mix, and Douglas Fairbanks, whose often comic or tongue-in-cheek stories staged a transformation of “American Progress,” in which the white supremacy of westward expansion was settled once and for all. Overall, the book argues that early westerns constitute a singularly significant collection of cultural artifacts that, through the lens of settler colonialism, reveal the very ideological foundations of our country.
Learn more about Our Country/Whose Country? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Jared McDonald's "Feeling Their Pain"

Jared McDonald is an assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington. His research examines how Americans process political information, update their preferences, and hold politicians accountable in the modern polarized era. He is the co-author of Citizens of the World: Political Engagement and Policy Attitudes of Millennials across the Globe (2023). His other work has been featured in The Journal of Politics, Public Administration Review, Political Behavior, American Politics Research, Electoral Studies, Gender & Politics, Politics, Groups, & Identities, and The Journal of Experimental Political Science, among others.

McDonald applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Feeling Their Pain: Why Voters Want Leaders Who Care, and reported the following:
Readers of Feeling Their Pain: Why Voters want Leaders Who Care will be bewildered if they flip directly to page 99. They will find a random page out of the technical appendix in chapter 3, which has some fairly obscure information regarding an experiment that is described in the chapter.

A reader flipping to this page might gain some useful knowledge about the book. They would discern that it is an empirical research book, one in which arguments are not simply supported with cherry-picked anecdotes but tested rigorously. Yet they would fail to understand the primary purpose of the book, and furthermore might erroneously assume that the book is too dense and too technical for the average person to understand. Technical appendices are used so that the main text of the chapter can focus on the non-technical substance and convey findings to a broad audience.

Those willing to read the entire book (or even all of Chapter 3) would find evidence not only that voters want compassionate leaders (as the book’s title suggests), but an explanation for why voters view some politicians as empathetic while others are “aloof” or “unfeeling.” In an era where candidates communicate directly to voters via social media and often emphasize aspects of their personality or background, campaign messaging is more important than ever.

My core argument is that voters believe politicians “care about people like them” if they identify a commonality that suggests those politicians can walk a mile in their shoes. This could be a shared experience, such as when Joe Biden related to Gold Star Families by discussing the loss of his son Beau, who had served in the U.S. military. It could be a shared emotion, such as when Donald Trump connected with white working-class voters with a sense of anger toward status quo politics. Or it could be a shared identity, such as race, gender, or religion.

The best way to make this case is by asking people to rate how they feel about candidates for office who either share or lack these commonalities. That means using experiments, and the skeptical reader will want to know how those experiments were run. Hence the technical appendix.
Learn more about Feeling Their Pain at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Zahra Hankir's "Eyeliner: A Cultural History"

Zahra Hankir, a Lebanese British journalist and the editor of Our Women on the Ground, writes about the intersection of politics, culture, and society, particularly in the broader Middle East. Her work has appeared in publications including Condé Nast Traveler, The Observer Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, BBC News, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus. She was awarded a Jack R. Howard Fellowship inInternational Journalism to attend the Columbia Journalism School and holds degrees in politics and Middle Eastern studies.

Hankir applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eyeliner: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses the cultural and personal significance of eyeliner, or sormeh, to Iranian women, reflecting the cosmetic's aesthetic and medicinal values. One woman describes how sormeh brings life to a "soulless state" and accentuates the natural beauty of "black and beautiful eyes," which are considered a defining feature of Iranian women. Another woman expresses a deep affinity for eyeliner, also saying that she feels "soulless" without it. She notes, however, that many young Iranian women have distorted their beauty by relying on cosmetic surgery; she favors a "natural" look with minimal enhancements. The text also mentions that while some Iranian women are cautious about how they apply eyeliner in public, they are influenced by both local and Western celebrities.

Page 99 offers a glimpse into the specific cultural context of eyeliner (sormeh) in Iran and its significance to Iranian women. It touches on themes of identity, tradition, beauty standards, and the influence of celebrities both within and outside of Iran. After reading the page, I'd imagine that readers might gain an understanding of how eyeliner is more than a cosmetic product; it's a symbol of personal and cultural expression, and a commentary on societal attitudes towards beauty. That said, I do think this is just a snapshot into the book's overall themes and the breadth of the topics covered.

The gist of my book is that there is more to eyeliner than meets the eye. Eyeliner transcends aesthetics; it exists at the intersection of beauty, power, religion, and race. It conveys messages about identity, heritage and spirituality, and it can even be political or rebellious (especially among diasporic communities). It can guard against the evil eye and ward off malevolent spirits, and it can protect against the glare of the sun. While different communities and cultures around the world have worn eyeliner in different ways, it is also an intersectional product that unites us. The book additionally seeks to uplift and celebrate the cultural traditions of communities of color especially, seeing as eyeliner originated in Ancient Egypt and is used widely in multifaceted ways across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Visit Zahra Hankir's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Stephen J. Rockwell's "The Presidency and the American State"

Stephen J. Rockwell is Professor of Political Science at St. Joseph’s University, New York, and the author of Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century.

Rockwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Presidency and the American State: Leadership and Decision Making in the Adams, Grant, and Taft Administrations, and reported the following:
This is the second time I’ve been invited to take the Page 99 Test, and to Ford Madox Ford’s credit this is the second time that my page 99 reveals quite a bit about my book.

Page 99 of The Presidency and the American State finds the book’s discussion in transition. The page concludes a discussion of Presdent Ulysses S. Grant’s use of public communication to head off an effort to move the nation’s capital to St. Louis. Grant used a speech to firefighters outside the White House to publicize his commitment to keeping the capital in Washington, DC. Page 99 challenges scholarship about the rhetorical presidency, in particular studies that argue that nineteenth-century presidents rarely used public rhetoric to influence policy.

The end of page 99 turns to Grant’s domestic policy agenda and his approach to leadership and decision making. I quote Grant, from his Memoirs: “I had never looked at a [textbook] copy of tactics from the time of my graduation [from West Point].... I found no trouble in giving commands that would take my regiment where I wanted it to go and carry it round all obstacles.”

The first part of page 99 captures a main theme of the book: Presidents Grant, John Quincy Adams, and William Howard Taft pursued their objectives through the extensive use of what are too often believed to be characteristically “modern” tools—public communication, legislative and administrative leadership, and unilateral executive action. After his speech to the firefighters, for example, Grant successfully pressured Congress to fund new construction in DC, and he appointed like-minded administrative leaders to oversee the effort.

The second part of page 99 captures the book’s other main theme: different approaches to presidential leadership and decision making. Grant is what I call a “principled innovator,” driven by his values and beliefs about what was right—and how best to achieve it—moreso than by the dictates of established tactics, rules, and procedures. John Quincy Adams, by contrast, was deeply committed to laws, rules, and procedures as guides to action—what I call a “procedurist.” President Adams relied on established protocols to push effectively for internal improvements, to staunchly uphold federal treaties with Native nations against encroachment by state leaders, and to fight slavery.

William Howard Taft was what I call a synthesist. He combined principled innovation to tackle new issues in the Progressive Era even as he worked to build new laws and procedures to govern action in the future. President Taft secured enduring innovations in personal and corporate taxation, campaign finance reform, conservation, and many other issues. Taft was an indispensable figure in setting the foundation for the American century.

Page 99 thus nicely captures the core of my book’s findings about the relationship between the robust American state and the vibrant presidency before the New Deal.
Learn more about The Presidency and the American State at the University of Virginia Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2023

Kelley Fong's "Investigating Families"

Kelley Fong is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, studying families and the state systems and policies that affect them. Her research and teaching interests include poverty, inequality, social policy, children and youth, education, and family life.

Fong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her first book, Investigating Families: Motherhood in the Shadow of Child Protective Services, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Investigating Families captures the oftentimes unspoken – yet always looming – power that U.S. Child Protective Services (CPS) has over parents, especially poor parents and parents of color. This page is part of a section describing how CPS gets parents to disclose personal information and open up their homes to a government agency that can take their children. Parents have the right to decline to speak with investigators, so why do so many do so given the risks? As page 99 details, mothers under investigation ascertain – correctly – that not cooperating with CPS can have dire consequences. As one mother told me, she never considered denying the investigator entry to her home, “because I know what could happen… They can get ahold of a judge. They can get orders… I’m going to cooperate with you because, at the end of the day, you’re not going to take my kids.”

This page speaks to a key theme of the book overall. On paper, CPS may seem kindler, gentler, more service-oriented than, say, police. After all, CPS investigators do not carry guns or handcuffs. As such, parents under CPS investigation typically do not enjoy the same legal protections as people questioned by the police, such as the right to an attorney. And yet, as this page underscores, CPS holds immense coercive power. Investigators do not have to wield this power through direct threats or force, as parents know what the agency can do and decide that complying will best serve their families’ interests. CPS is thus able to gain entrée into the intimate, private lives of the families it investigates.

From reading this page alone, however, readers might not see some of the broader context in which these investigations are taking place, described elsewhere in the book. Specifically, the families subject to CPS’s surveillance are not few and far between, nor are they a random draw. CPS investigates millions of families each year, primarily poor families and disproportionately Black and Native American families. The agency is largely responding to situations involving family adversity, such as domestic violence, addiction, and homelessness. The book draws on my fieldwork with CPS investigators, mothers, and mandatory reporters to show how turning to CPS in these situations ultimately perpetuates families’ marginality and reinforces existing inequalities.
Visit Kelley Fong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Jesse Spafford's "Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Moral Tyranny"

Jesse Spafford is a Lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington. His work explores debates between libertarians, socialists, and anarchists over the moral status of the market and the state, and he is the author of a number of articles in journals including Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.

Spafford applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Social Anarchism and the Rejection of Moral Tyranny, and reported the following:
The text from page 99 of my book is a bit technical, but I will still reproduce it here rather than summarize, as an adequate synopsis that provided all of the relevant context would make this post far too long:
[The non-existence] test has little bearing on the appropriation of external natural resources, as there does not appear to be any case where the costsFC imposed by exclusionary claims would equally obtain in the world where the appropriator never existed. In other words, when it comes to external appropriation, the imposed costsFC – that is, all of the various costsFC discussed in the previous section – still pass the nonexistence test, with the associated acts of appropriation thereby violating the Lockean proviso. Thus, the nonexistence test does not undermine the previous section’s denial that people have acquired or will acquire external property.

By contrast, when it comes to people appropriating their own bodies, the nonexistence test entails that the proviso is necessarily satisfied – at least, if self-appropriation is taken to establish the claims posited by ASO (i.e., claims against any actions that initiate bodily contact without generating unique supplemental benefit). To see why this is the case, consider the scenario where P’s body is unowned (due to her never having previously appropriated it) and Q is in desperate need of a new kidney. Suppose that P then self-appropriates, thereby acquiring a claim against Q that Q not take one of her kidneys. In this case, P’s self-appropriation leaves Q worse offFC relative to the world where P has no such claim: Absent such a claim, a fully compliant Q would have taken one of P’s kidneys, thereby avoiding the pain and suffering of kidney failure (while a fully compliant Q would now suffer these costs given P’s claim against this action). However, as far as the Lockean proviso is concerned, the question is not whether Q is left worse offFC relative to the world where some alternative moral facts obtain. Rather, the question is whether Q is left worse offFC relative to the world where P did not exist – that is, whether the costsFC she incurs pass the nonexistence test. And, notably, these costsFC fail this test, as in the counterfactual world where P never existed, a fully compliant Q would be just as disadvantaged as she would be in the self-appropriation world where she complies with P’s established claims. Specifically, in both worlds, she does not get the kidney and suffers the associated costs. Thus, these costsFC do not count when assessing whether P’s self-appropriation leaves Q worse offFC in a way that would violate the Lockean proviso. This, in turn, implies that the establishment of a claim against kidney harvesting via self- appropriation does not entail a violation of the proviso.
So, does the Page 99 Test work for my book? The answer to this question depends on how the test is interpreted. If the question is whether page 99 is representative of the style of the book, the answer is yes, as the book is similarly technical and argumentation-dense throughout.

If the question is whether the subject matter discussed on the page is representative of the broader book, the answer is a more qualified yes. I answer the question affirmatively because this page presents a crucial move in the argument for one of the main theses of the book: the self-ownership thesis. This thesis holds that each person owns herself in a moral sense—i.e., she has the same rights over her body that she would have over a fully owned thing. Most importantly, this includes rights against other people touching her body, where such rights include rights against assault, organ harvesting, etc. But how do people come to have such self-ownership rights? My suggestion is that people acquire ownership over their own bodies by asserting their self-ownership; however, such acquisition must also satisfy the Lockean proviso referenced in the text: an act of property acquisition succeeds only if no one would be left worse off due to having to comply with the established property rights. Page 99 seeks to establish that acquiring self-ownership would not leave people worse off in this way. Thus, the argument of page 99 is central to establishing this thesis of the book.

This is just a “qualified” yes because the self-ownership thesis is only one of five major theses that compose the anarchist position that I defend. Additionally, I argue that (1) people have no obligation to obey the laws of the state because they have never consented to being governed in this way; (2) the Lockean proviso is an appropriate constraint on the acquisition of private property; (3) that persons lack property rights over any external objects aside from their bodies; and (4) that persons, instead, have egalitarian rights over resources. Finally, I argue that the anarchist position can be entirely derived from what I call the “moral tyranny constraint,” which holds that a moral theory is unacceptable if it allows people to discretionarily leave others worse off. Given that page 99 is only advancing a defense of the self-ownership thesis and not these other theses, it provides only a limited window into what the book argues.

Finally, if the question is whether the reader would be able to grasp the argument of the book just by reading page 99, the answer is probably no. The page employs numerous technical terms that have been defined earlier in the book. Without this context, the reader will likely find it difficult to understand the argument presented on page 99.
Visit Jesse Spafford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 10, 2023

Elizabeth M. Miller's "Thicker Than Water"

Elizabeth M. Miller is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on social and evolutionary explanations for variation in maternal and infant physiology.

Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Thicker Than Water: A Social and Evolutionary Study of Iron Deficiency in Women, and reported the following:
Readers, my book, Thicker than Water: A Social and Evolutionary Study of Iron Deficiency in Women, absolutely fails the Page 99 Test. You will only get a tiny idea of the entire book just by reading the 99th page. However, this page provides a brief discussion of a neat anthropological concept, which, I am pleased to say, is a consistent feature throughout the book. Page 99 discusses Sally Slocum’s classic 1975 article, “Woman the gatherer: Male bias in anthropology.” In her article, she critiques the old hypothesis “Man the Hunter,” which states that the evolution of human features – like big brains – occurred because men hunted animals for meat with the stone tools that, of course, they used their big brains to make. Slocum uses this article as a springboard to discuss how there is gender bias not just in who is studied in human evolution, but who is doing the studying and the types of questions they ask. Since she wrote the article, the “Man the Hunter” hypothesis has been discredited for several reasons. However, it lives on in the popular imagination.

The reason this particular story is on this particular 99th page is because it is embedded in Chapter 5, a wide-ranging chapter that broadly addresses the role of diet and the microbiome in the absorption of iron. Page 99 is part of a discussion of gendered foods. Frequently, meat is seen as food for men. It’s not a human universal, but it is common to see more meat consumed by men across cultures for a variety of reasons. This is a big problem for women’s iron levels. Meat contains high quantities of bioavailable iron, and women, especially pregnant women, need lots of iron. Gendered beliefs about meat eating may be keeping women from the nutrition they need. This is why hypotheses like “Man the Hunter” have broader social ramifications beyond the ivory tower – they confirm already-existing biases about the types of food women should eat.

This is only a tiny point in a whole book about women and their iron physiology. Why is it written by an anthropologist and not a nutrition scientist or a physician? The answer is inspired by Sally Slocum: I ask interesting questions that are unique to my experiences as a scientist. Why not see what I have to say?
Learn more about Thicker Than Water at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Alison Halsall's "Growing Up Graphic"

Alison Halsall is Associate Professor of Humanities at York University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Growing Up Graphic: The Comics of Children in Crisis, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Growing Up Graphic: The Comics of Children in Crisis takes a reader into a chapter about Indigenous comics in Canada that explore the enduring violence of settler colonialism, the Indian Residential School system, and its legacy of intergenerational trauma in graphic narratives written for young readers. David Alexander Robertson’s masterful series Tales of Big Spirit (2014—16) reframes history from a distinctly Indigenous perspective, bringing the forgotten (or silenced) history of the Beothuk people into the present by means of young Jessie, who learns the value of reclaimed history.

This page addresses many of the central assertions that I make about the particular affordances of graphic narratives about crises, challenges, and predicaments, a new trend that my book identifies in literature for young readers. Growing Up Graphic, drawing on a resource base of more than fifty graphic narratives (originally written in English or translated into that language), considers graphic texts for and about children and youth from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, varied regions of the world, and wide-ranging gender identities and levels of ability. These texts contest images of childhood victimization, passivity, and helplessness, presenting instead children as actors who attempt to make sense of the challenges that affect them. Specifically, it highlights visual representations of a range of young people, including child soldiers, migrants, Indigenous peoples in Canada, queers, and young people living with impairments and/or undergoing particular medical life events. As page 99 confirms, many of these comics rely on a desire to expose readers to some lived realities that young people living all over the world might tackle. Robertson’s comic The Ballad of Nancy April, featured on page 99, exemplifies the particular abilities that comics have to “speak beyond linguistic, cultural, and intergenerational gaps,” to translate across cultures in an effort to bring up issues of discussion between and among different audiences. As alternative and often subversive forms of storytelling, Indigenous comics such as this one present visual and narrative opportunities to truth-tell, to reflect on and resist Canada’s history of colonialism, allowing readers to immerse themselves in vivid verbal and visual sensory fields.

Page 99 aligns with this project’s larger commitment to showcase how the multimodal affordances of comics enhance the persuasiveness of these visual stories, offering insight into “society’s soul through the way in which it treats its children,” as Mandela discussed in his 1995 speech to launch the Mandela Children’s Fund. In focusing on the experiences of children and youth, their challenges and hardships, comics remind readers, parents, librarians, and critics that young people are as deeply shaped by the political decisions made by the national governments, international organizations, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that govern their existence and identities as are adults. As persuasive tools for knowledge-building, the comics that Growing Up Graphic studies have the potential to educate readers about their own rights and global humanitarian issues and can inspire those who want to become individual agents of right activism.
Learn more about Growing Up Graphic at the Ohio State University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Livia Arndal Woods's "Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel"

Livia Arndal Woods is Associate Professor of English at University of Illinois at Springfield.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel is an early part of my book's third chapter ("Diagnosis"). It lands us in the middle of a theoretical section that establishes what I term "free indirect diagnosis:" a play on free indirect discourse that captures the texture of realist narrative engagements with medical perspective. Although page 99 doesn't use the phases "free indirect discourse" or "free indirect diagnosis," it does explore the idea of discourse (I say, "Discourse seems to organize information about a preexisting phenomenon while that organization also produces the very phenomenon it describes") in order to demonstrate the way mid-Victorian conventions for veiling the pregnant body "invite the creation of a discourse of pregnancy because [they] establishes a literary space in which pregnancy seems...unseen, unsaid, unknown."

In terms of thematic content, page 99 represents some of the key concerns of my book: narrative techniques for representation, readerly modes of understanding, and an investment in the 19th C medicalization of reproductive bodies. Nonetheless, I don't think the Page 99 Test works very well for my book. Of course, the first book of a literary scholar (which is what this is) is going to contain...densities. I wrote, primarily, for an audience of fellow humanities PhDs and the ideas I explore are inextricably connected to specific, often esoteric conversations in my field. But I hope that most of the pages in my book are less dense and less reliant on a pre-existing understanding of specialized vocabularies than this one. Indeed, the key intervention of my book is an argument for what I call "somatic reading," a mode of reading with attention to the body that not only doesn't require specialized training but that is, perhaps, a little easier to access without it.

It's hardly the case that most pages of my book include examples of somatic reading, include - in other words - readings of Victorian novels that rely, in part, on my own embodied experiences or what I perceive about the embodied experiences of others. Nonetheless, such pages are those that I would consider to be paradigmatic of this book. Such readings matter to me not only because I think they help us read pregnancy in the Victorian novel (which really doesn't want to be read) well, but because they help us read in ways that feel meaningful.
Learn more about Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel at the Ohio State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Alexandra Homolar's "The Uncertainty Doctrine"

Alexandra Homolar is Professor of International Security in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. Her research interests lie at the intersection of security, language and political psychology. Her work has been widely published in journals such as Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, Journal of Strategic Studies, and Review of International Studies.

Homolar applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Uncertainty Doctrine: Narrative Politics and US Hard Power after the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Uncertainty Doctrine is the fourth page of Chapter Four titled ‘Wars on Multiple Fronts’. Its main paragraphs focus on describing how, when Communist rule in Eastern Europe ended with astonishing speed and the Berlin Wall collapsed overnight in 1989, the basis of US force planning for forty years became obsolete. That is, in the absence of a powerful enemy opposed to American security interests and ideals, the threat scenarios and contingencies that had underwritten US defense strategy for nearly half a century suddenly lost their political purchasing power. Force planners abruptly found themselves in a domestic setting increasingly weary of sustaining a large defense sector, with Congress and the public increasingly demanding a rethink of US defense policy and the reduction of military budgets. But, so the main argument on page 99 goes, even if interpreting the new world order was marked by struggles between ‘preservers’ and ‘innovators’ over the direction of US defense policy, the opportunity to achieve a far-reaching revision of US defense priorities did not translate into a substantial change in force planning and military organization. Page 99 then explains how the remainder of Chapter Four shows in detail that the process of negotiating the post–Cold War reorientation of US defense strategy fostered, for the most part, window dressing for strategic models that resembled Cold War templates and carried over entrenched interests within the defense planning community. While the security narratives of the Cold War no longer made sense, key elements persisted to direct force planning far into the future. Hedging against uncertainty emerged as a useful policy tool and as an ideational resource in defense policymaking processes to simply ‘go on’ despite a moment of fundamental rupture.

If a browser opened The Uncertainty Doctrine on Page 99, readers would get an excellent idea of the entire book. As it is perhaps one of the very best single pages that both browsers and readers could land on at random to find a summary of the central argument of the book, the test worked surprisingly well in this case.

The Uncertainty Doctrine tells the story of how the transition from the ‘before’ to the ‘after’ of the Cold War took place in US defense policy. It was motivated by trying to understand what I have termed ‘the case of the missing peace dividend’, a puzzle that I spent the better part of two decades trying to unravel. Despite persistent claims that defense spending cuts after the end of the Cold War hollowed out the US military and undermined the opportunities provided by the ‘unipolar moment’, this did not happen. The entire accumulated ‘peace dividend’ from the fall of the Berlin Wall until US defense spending sharply increased again after 1998 before skyrocketing during the Global War on Terror equated to less than nine months of the annual US defense budget for 1989.

The main focus of The Uncertainty Doctrine is going through the messy ‘middle parts’ of how we got to where we are at the end of the post-Cold War interregnum, paying particular attention to the discursive negotiation processes that took place within the US defense establishment. By taking a step back in history, by rummaging through its dustbin, the book shows how political agents engaged in hard-fought contests over owning the narrative of what the post-Cold War world looked like and what this meant in practice for the US. It explains that narrative politics – defined here as the discursive contests over what plots, characters, and meanings should define the New World Order – instead of events in the international environment shaped the orientation of US hard power after America triumphed over its arch enemy after forty years of conflict. While narrative politics may not always matter in US defense policy, at moments of rupture it can be decisive in why some strategic responses prevail over possible alternatives.
Learn more about The Uncertainty Doctrine at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 6, 2023

Brian Blankenship's "The Burden-Sharing Dilemma"

Brian D. Blankenship is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Burden-Sharing Dilemma: Coercive Diplomacy in US Alliance Politics, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss how developments during the late 1960s and early 1970s shaped South Korea’s fear of being abandoned by the United States. These notably included the withdrawal of the U.S. Seventh Infantry Division from the country and antiwar sentiment in the United States in the wake of the Vietnam War. The end of the page begins discussing U.S. efforts to encourage South Korea to assume more responsibility for its own defense.

Page 99 offers a nice snapshot of the book, which develops a theory to explain the conditions under which the United States is willing and able to encourage allies to assume more responsibility for their own defense. The book argues that the United States is more likely to solicit allied defense contributions when the threat environment is more severe, when its resources are constrained, and from allies that are moderate-sized – large enough to meaningfully contribute, but not so large that they could afford to leave the alliance. Its efforts are more likely to succeed, in turn, when allies fear the possibility of being abandoned by the United States. South Korea represents a “sweet spot” case of an ally that by the mid-1970s was of moderate size and intensely feared abandonment. As a result, the United States was willing and able to solicit a great deal of defense contributions from South Korea over the course of the 1970s.

Elsewhere in the book, I extend this theory to explain the cases of West Germany, Japan, and Iceland during the Cold War. West Germany represents a case of a large, powerful ally that was also in a precarious security environment, while Japan represents a large, powerful ally that had a comparatively low perception of threat. As a result, U.S. policymakers were far more circumspect in seeking contributions from Japan than West Germany, and their efforts to do so were less successful. Iceland, meanwhile, was largely insulated from U.S. pressure owing to its small size and relatively benign threat environment.
Visit Brian Blankenship's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Xuelei Huang's "Scents of China"

Xuelei Huang is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at The University of Edinburgh.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Scents of China: A Modern History of Smell, and reported the following:
There are only five words on page 99: PART II SMELLSCAPES IN FLUX. I was disappointed, until I suddenly realised how well the test actually works for my book. The five (or rather, three) words, in fact, captures the essence of the 298-page book in its own precise and even poetic way. In a nutshell, my book traces the changing smellscapes in modern China, intertwined with many drastic shifts in socio-political spheres and bodily norms and sensibilities. A broader point my book makes is concerned with the fluidity of smell perception and the inconsistency of the sensorial realm.

To what extent is the argument about the amorphous state of the smellscape important? This question should be discussed in the context of the master narrative of olfactory modernity forged first by Alain Corbin (in The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination). Corbin’s intellectual pursuit unveils how the now internalized olfactory codes—deodorized environments and bodies, a distaste for strong-smelling perfumes, etc. —were developed under the rubric of ‘modernity’. Ultimately the goal of the modern olfactory revolution seems to be about redefining what is foul and what is fragrant, or in other words, about reorganising smellscapes according to a new set of rules. China is inescapably tied to such an olfactory revolution, but in actual historical practices, are smells governable according to a certain blueprint? Part II of my book, starting from page 99, tries to answer this question.

The two chapters in this part track how different social actors enforced the ‘deodorization’ law within Chinese smellscapes, and how colonial capitalism promoted mass-manufactured perfumes in relation to hygiene and health, contributing to the technologies of the modern body. However, paradoxes emerged during these processes, just as malodours resurfaced outside the zone of modernization. Much of the content after page 99 shows how volatile molecules in our environments and indeterminate neurons in our brains encounter in myriad ways, making programmed olfactory modernity not entirely sustainable.

Smellscapes are constantly in flux, crossing borders and defying definitions. It’s a matter of common sense that can be easily forgotten, or repressed by our rational mind. That is the message on page 99, which also reverberates throughout my whole book.
Learn more about Scents of China at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Seung-hoon Jeong's "Biopolitical Ethics in Global Cinema"

Seung-hoon Jeong is Assistant Professor of Film and Electronic Arts at California State University Long Beach. He is the author of Cinematic Interfaces: Film Theory after New Media, co-translator of the Korean edition of Jacques Derrida's Acts of Literature, and co-editor of The Global Auteur: The Politics of Authorship in 21st Century Cinema and Thomas Elsaesser's posthumous book The Mind-Game Film: Distributed Agency, Time Travel, and Productive Pathology.

Jeong applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Biopolitical Ethics in Global Cinema, and reported the following:
Page 98 (instead of page 99, the “Part II” title page) is the last page of Chapter 3 “Sovereign Agents’ Biopolitical Abjection in the Spy Film,” where the James Bond series and the Jason Bourne series are comparatively analyzed. Most of the page content is the following paragraph:
It is clear where Bond and Bourne meet and part. Secret agencies as a protective gear of global systems driven by info-capitalist tech-networking inevitably generate symptoms of precarious labor and bare life, and agents as competitive professionals, once excluded, can turn into dangerous hackers or whistleblowers. Bond, particularly in Skyfall, undergoes abjection too (evoking On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [Peter Hunt, 1969], For Your Eyes Only [John Glen, 1981], and especially Licence to Kill) but fights against such terrorist abject-agents by repeatedly reaffirming the sovereign agency of supralegal power. Conversely, while Bourne’s former network agency is more globalized and corrupted at the same time, his traumatic abjection puts him under harsher conditions of bare life in a radically normalized emergency with no room for the hedonistic privileges of the early Bonds. His cognitive-corporeal struggle with a lost memory and threatening space nonetheless unfolds as a convoluted journey for self-discovery in the form of terrorist resistance to the unethical system that trained him. In sum, the continuation of the Bond and Bourne series, in opposing ways, tells us that the sovereign system and the abject agent are inseparable and that their antagonistic hide-and-seek network has no outside. This cinematic logic allegorizes the impossibility of one’s ultimate release from the global system, leaving only the fantasy of choice: Bond or Bourne? A blue pill or a red pill?
As seen above, this page provides a concise overview of the conclusion to Chapter 3. It encapsulates a fundamental facet of global cinema discussed earlier in the book, if not the gist of the whole book, and thus turns out to be partly pertinent to the Page 99 Test.

This chapter reevaluates the psychoanalytic theory of “abjection” within a biopolitical framework. It redefines abjection as the community’s supralegal exercise of sovereign power over its members, who are consequently degraded into the abject, or what Giorgio Agamben terms “bare lives” cast out of the law. In this context, the abject can potentially become an agent who pursues reintegration into the community or resistance against it. The chapter extensively explores this concept of “abject agency” in global mainstream cinema, shedding light on the spy genre represented by the James Bond series. More specifically, close attention is paid to Skyfall (2012), which signifies the secret agent’s identity crisis within the post-9/11 context of a schizophrenic digital terror landscape. Both Bond and his adversary find themselves internally excluded from their agency, MI6, leading to divergent outcomes: sovereign reaffirmation and terrorist revenge. A comparable analysis is extended to Jason Bourne, the ex-CIA agent in the Bourne series. He undergoes a similar process of abjection but does not become a vengeful terrorist or a sovereign agent. Instead, he represents a symptom of a perpetual mind game between sovereign power and its never-dying abject. This comparative examination allows for a cognitive mapping of the contemporary spy genre reflecting today’s global system of sovereignty and abjection.
Learn more about Biopolitical Ethics in Global Cinema at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue