Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Matthew J. C. Clark's "Bjarki, Not Bjarki"

Matthew J. C. Clark received his BA in religious studies from Middlebury College in 2004 and his MFA in Nonfiction Writing from The University of Iowa in 2009. He is a MacDowell Fellow and has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and The Maine Arts Commission. His writing has appeared in The Morning News, Ecotone, The Antioch Review, The Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, The Seneca Review, and True Story, among other places.

Clark applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bjarki, Not Bjarki: On Floorboards, Love, and Irreconcilable Differences, and reported the following:
From page 99 of Bjarki, Not Bjarki:
…The wonton soup was like nothing I had ever tasted. This awareness arose in me, it seemed, nondualistically, and with it came the feeling that I was imitating something. A book maybe. But, I said, what I want to make clear is that I am not saying that I do or do not like eggplants. It’s just that now (some of the time) I can accept the diversity of my feelings for them. In fact, I’ll admit, I like their decorative potential. Metaphorically and phonetically, they’re stupendous. Baba ghanoush, ratatouille, etc., etc.

And Bjarki—god bless him, he was nodding along like he had no idea what I was talking about.

He said, How long is The Book going to be?

I swear, Tourette’s appeals to me. It has its own perfections. I love chopsticks and Tootsie Rolls and dragonflies. I love sunshine and whiskey and the way blue sky leaks into a daytime moon, flooding its craters so that the satellite appears transparent. I love purple too and smelling and your enjoying face. I have never been as cool as I wanted to be…
Page 99 of Bjarki, Not Bjarki passes the Page 99 Test! (I love passing tests.) You know, this project started as a magazine style essay about a young man in Maine (Bjarki) who manufactures the world’s widest, purest, most metaphorical pine floorboards you can buy. Only now do I see that The Book turned into a book about me figuring out (or failing to figure out) (or trying to figure out) how to love the world. In this scene, on page 99, Bjarki and I are at a Thai restaurant in central Maine. I am feeling frustrated by my inability to connect with him. And then, suddenly, despite all of my judgements about his political views and his blustering bravado, when Bjarki asks me how long The Book is going to be, I find myself loving him. It happens without me even trying to love him. We might even wonder if maybe I have loved him all along and that it was this dinner and his question that revealed that love to me?

Of course, there’s all kinds of double entendre going on with the eggplant, except that in someways (most ways) the eggplant is a red herring (a redplant?). I sort of want the reader to be disoriented by the eggplant (Did you know that an eggplant, like a banana, is classified as a berry (But what is a berry)?), unsure of why she’s reading about eggplants in a book (ostensibly) about floors. We make so many assumptions and judgements in our lives, have so many strong feelings about each other, about Politics—whatever they are—about the nature of an eggplant, etc. What if we were able to put aside those assumptions and judgements and feelings and were actually able to see the eggplant as an eggplant?
Visit Matthew J. C. Clark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Shaun Gallagher's "The Self and its Disorders"

Shaun Gallagher is the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis, and Professorial Fellow at the School of Liberal Arts, University of Wollongong. He was a Humboldt Foundation Anneliese Maier Research Fellow (2012-18) and has held Honorary Professorships at Tromsø University (Norway), Durham (UK), and Copenhagen (DK), as well as visiting positions at Cambridge, Lyon, Paris, Berlin, Oxford, and Rome. His areas of research include phenomenology, philosophy of mind, embodied cognition, social cognition, and concepts of self. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

Gallagher applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Self and its Disorders, and reported the following:
The Self and its Disorders presents the case for understanding mental disorders specifically as disorders of the self. This is not a new theory, but my approach to it is new, because I conceive of the self as a self-pattern. The self-pattern consists of a set of diverse processes including bodily, experiential, affective, cognitive, social, normative and narrative processes integrated by their dynamical relations. In several chapters I explain the “pattern theory of self,” I take a deep dive into what the concept of pattern means, and I outline a method for studying the self-pattern. Page 99 falls within Chapter 4, entitled “Dynamical Relations in the Self-pattern and Psychopathology” where I’m exploring the dynamical links between the various processes that make up a self-pattern and how they can go wrong in cases of psychiatric disorders. After looking at some problems with a strictly neuroscientific account of psychopathological changes I consider an alternative approach which involves an analysis of narrative processes in the self-pattern. My claim is that self-narrative reflects all of the other factors that make up the self-pattern, and that we can map out atypical alterations in their dynamical relations by analyzing both the form and content of narratives.

On page 99 I’m in the middle of analyzing an example of a narrative of someone who is experiencing regret about a past action. The affective processes involved in regret can lead to changes in two other aspects of the self-pattern, the sense of agency for one’s action, and the sense of ownership, i.e., the sense that the past action, and the present regret, are one’s own. Despite some constancy in the sense of ownership, for example, my sense of agency changes from the experience of control over my action to a lack of control over the regret since I seem unable to avoid my regret about that action. Regret can also change self-related social/normative processes. For example, my self-narrative may reflect my identification with the values and expectations of others (“I really should be regretful about what I did”) which in turn may increase my emotional suffering. On page 99 I cite some research that shows how this kind of dynamic can, in some cases, lead to further physical and affective changes including anxiety, insomnia and depression, and thence to additional changes in self-narrative.

My book involves much more about narrative than represented on page 99; it also involves much more than discussions of narrative analysis. Later chapters address various types of therapeutic interventions, including deep brain stimulation, mindfulness meditation, the use of AI in therapeutic contexts, as well as the effects of practices of torture and solitary confinement on the self-pattern. Accordingly, although page 99 does not provide a good sense of the overall topic, it does put you right in the middle of things, so I don’t think you would regret reading it.
Learn more about The Self and its Disorders at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 29, 2024

Laura Pappano's "School Moms"

Laura Pappano is an award-winning journalist and author who has written about K-12 and higher education for over 30 years. A former education columnist for The Boston Globe, Pappano has written about education for The New York Times, The Hechinger Report, Harvard Education Letter, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author or co-author of three books, The Connection Gap: Why Americans Feel So Alone, Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports, and Inside School Turnarounds.

Pappano applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Battle for Public Education, and reported the following:
Page 99 of School Moms puts us right in Peggy McIntosh’s home overlooking the Charles River in Waltham and captures what made her famous: Examples of the “unearned assets” she described in her well-known and regarded essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” That essay — and McIntosh’s use of “white privilege” — has years after she framed it, been misunderstood and weaponized by the far-right.

McIntosh describes that just as she noticed that some people faced disadvantages because of skin color, she saw advantages that she observed were the result of being white (like: if she is pulled over by a police officer it is not because of her skin color). She also on page 99 delves into how classrooms operate, including that, “a class ‘is a mix of students;’ if the teacher has good relationship skills, it enables discussions ‘in which different students say different things about what they think and feel—and nobody wins. A teacher who is companionable to the students often says, ‘Let’s toss some ideas around…’ which, she says, “is part of the aim of education.”

That sense of comfort and trust that educators create is essential to learning. The Page 99 Test is not perfect, but it does reveal a key point of the book: That attacks on public education are coming from people who don’t understand how schools and classrooms actually work. In School Moms, I connect the dots and get underneath the outrage by breaking down, for example, what Social Emotional Learning is, and how and why it came to be. (No, it does not replace math, it makes students able to focus on the math instead of who stole the glitter pen).

McIntosh and the dive into “white privilege” are at the heart of the chapter “How Weaponizing CRT Disrupts Learning.” It details the time I spent with Matthew Hawn in Sullivan County, TN who was fired for teaching about “white privilege” in his 11th grade Contemporary Issues class. It digs into how a popular Black principal in Texas was fired for no reason other than someone accusing him in a public meeting of “the implementation of critical race theory.”

It also details how the far-right activist Christopher Rufo turned “Critical Race Theory” from a graduate school framework to analyze complexities and contradictions within the law, to “a brand category.” On Twitter, Rufo explained: “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in a newspaper and immediately think ‘Critical Race Theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” Which he did — much to our collective detriment.
Visit Laura Pappano's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Kim Hong Nguyen's "Mean Girl Feminism"

Kim Hong Nguyen is an associate professor of communication arts at the University of Waterloo and the editor of Rhetoric in Neoliberalism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mean Girl Feminism: How White Feminists Gaslight, Gatekeep, and Girlboss, and reported the following:
Mean Girl Feminism: How White Feminists Gaslight, Gatekeep, and Girlboss examines the ways in which gender performativity operates as resistance. The book argues that mean girl feminism encourages white subjects to believe that their tone (e.g. say it with snark and sarcasm!), attitude (e.g. be bitchy!), and other communicative cues will help them successfully navigate interpersonal dynamics and relations of power. Such aggressive performances are interpreted as evidence of one’s social commitment to and identity as a feminist. Thus, mean girl feminism collaborates with neoliberalism in ways that most problematically optimize particular forms of articulateness, all the while further diminishing the subaltern’s capacity to speak.

Page 99 of the book is located in the conclusion where I am summarizing and discussing strategies and suggestions to challenge mean girl feminism. Page 99 gestures to the importance of thinking through mean girl feminism as the current state of feminism: “Where traditional femininity might emphasize innocence and niceness, mean girl feminism encourages women to interpret Collins’ figure of the Bitch and Ahmed’s figure of the feminist killjoy as if they are an identity category to be performed, a personhood that has assumed permanence—a defiant attitude, the unsmiling face.” Additionally, I look to Jessie Daniel Ames as an important figure to consider. To this extent, page 99 is a great page for those who seeking a shortcut into the action-oriented discussion about what can be done or what is next.
Learn more about Mean Girl Feminism at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 26, 2024

Christoph Adami's "The Evolution of Biological Information"

Christoph Adami is professor of microbiology and molecular genetics & physics as well as astronomy at Michigan State University. A pioneer in the application of methods from information theory to the study of evolution, he designed the Avida system that launched the use of digital life as a tool for investigating basic questions in evolutionary biology. He is the author of the textbook Introduction to Artificial Life.

Adami applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Evolution of Biological Information: How Evolution Creates Complexity, from Viruses to Brains, and reported the following:
Page 99 in my book has two Exercises in it. Literally, it's part of the problem set at the end of the chapter "Information Theory in Biology". There are two exercises on this page: the first one asks you to do a number of calculations that allow you to derive the information transmission capacity of a class of channels that often arise in biology. The second exercise asks you to calculate the capacity of the communication channel that cotton plants use to alert a type of wasp that the pest (that is presently biting their leaves) is precisely the kind that the wasp likes to lay their eggs in. As you pick up your jaw from the floor ("Excuse me, plants don't talk!") let me explain. The plant does not like it that its leaves are being dined upon. What could it possibly do? It turns out that there are two types of "pests" (they are really caterpillars) that attack these plant leaves, and only one of them will actually, when injected with wasp eggs, bring forth larvae of the wasp (a highly unfortunate event for the caterpillar). Trouble is, the wasp cannot visually distinguish between the two, so in the absence of some helpful info, half the time its brood would be doomed. This helpful info: that's what the plant provides. The bite of the caterpillar includes a substance that is very specific to it. The plant's molecular system then synthesizes a terpene (an aromatic compound) that is specific to that particular bite. Terpenes (think turpentine) are not only highly aromatic but also highly volatile: you can smell them from far away. And so evolution has taken advantage of this situation: the wasp can distinguish the different smells released by the bitten leaf (whether it was bitten by the preferred, or the decoy, herbivore), and will then only lay its eggs in the type that will bear its offspring. Thus, the plant signals to the wasp: "this one here, put your eggs into them" (so that the bugs may die and stop eating my leaves). In Chapter 3, enough data is given to the reader that they can calculate that about a third of a bit is sent to the wasp by the plant, but this is already sufficient so that the wasp selects the correct target about 80% of the time, which is a vast improvement over the 50% you would get in the absence of the herbaceous hint.

So is this exercise emblematic of the whole book? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Yes, in the sense that there is math in the book, and that you can use this math to calculate information, and in the sense that even though this is only a tiny example of how information is crucial to all living things, it is a good example: information is used to gain fitness, to make more offspring. The better your ability to discriminate between good and bad (for you), the more offspring you'll have. You might immediately ask: "But if this is true, why only 80%, surely getting a full bit (thus giving 100% accurate discrimination) would be even better? The answer to this is yes, but there are diminishing returns. It turns out that there is enough information in the signal for the wasp to distinguish perfectly (in theory). The bottleneck is in the wasp's smell: to make it a more accurate detector would require a significant "investment" in more complex molecular machinery. At some point, the cost outweighs the benefits. I would wager (even though this has yet to be proven) that the 80% accuracy is just at the point where no net gain (in overall fitness) is possible.

No, in the sense that the book's themes are far grander than the information exchanged between living things. In my book, I discuss how information allows you to understand every facet of biology better: how information about the world an organism lives in is a good measure of the complexity of the organism, how this information grows (on average) during the evolutionary process, how information is used by organisms (including animals and ourselves) to cooperate, and how information processing is crucial to understand intelligence (chapter 9). I even outline (in chapter 7) how information is key to understanding how life may have arisen in the first place, and how cancer is basically the outcome of a "failure to communicate" (chapter 10). So, page 99 gives a good glimpse of the book, but an imperfect one. It is a set of mathematical exercises, but only a bit more than half the chapters have math. It is about information in biology, but the book's scope is far grander: it tries to make the case that (to borrow a well-known line) nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of information.
Learn more about The Evolution of Biological Information at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Jürgen Buchenau's "The Sonoran Dynasty in Mexico"

Jürgen Buchenau is Dowd Term Chair of Capitalism Studies and a professor of history and director of capitalism studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century; The Last Caudillo: Alvaro Obregón and the Mexican Revolution; and Mexican Mosaic: A Brief History of Mexico.

Buchenau applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Sonoran Dynasty in Mexico: Revolution, Reform, and Repression, and reported the following:
From page 99 [footnotes omitted]:
Arizona, where they would “encounter a difficult situation shameful to our race.” Sure enough, Arizona authorities broke a strike in Bisbee and arrested twelve hundred miners, most of them immigrants. Behind this bluster, Calles used the good offices of the manager of the Moctezuma Copper Company in Nacozari to negotiate. When the CCCC rebuffed these attempts, Calles traveled to Mexico City to consult with Carranza and left Cesáreo Soriano in charge as interim governor.

Calles authorized Soriano to roll back some reforms to facilitate a solution. Arguing that the promulgation of article 123 of the new federal constitution made the Cámara Obrera obsolete, Soriano closed it to the acclaim of Calles, who believed that radical agitators from the Industrial Workers of the World had infiltrated the workforce of the copper mines.116 The gesture worked: on November 17, 1917, the CCCC resumed operations. Calles rewarded the CCCC by cracking down on activists. In January 1918 he ordered the execution of Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara, the vice president of the American Federation of Labor in Arizona.

The ongoing Yaqui War also posed a serious challenge. In October 1917 state authorities massacred seventy broncos, and Yaqui rebels retaliated by attacking trains and stealing cattle from Yori farmers. On October 24 Soriano and Calles, who once again served as zone commander, promised an “energetic, definitive, and, if necessary, terrible campaign against that relatively insignificant group of individuals who are hostile to any civilizing influence.” They even resumed the deportation of Yaqui rebels, this time to central Mexico. But the Yaqui refused to be cowed. Borrowing from the Zapatistas’ Plan de Ayala, in February 1918 Yaqui leaders published a manifesto under the motto of Tierra y Libertad (land and liberty).

Calles’s posture toward the Yaqui contrasted with a relatively tolerant position regarding the Chinese community, compared to that of other leaders in Sonora. As the home of one-third of all Chinese residents of the nation, Sonora became a hotbed of anti-Chinese sentiment at a time when popular xenophobia primarily targeted Spaniards and Chinese immigrants, especially merchants and moneylenders. In January 1918 Calles ordered the presidente municipal of the town of Magdalena to “give protection to those foreigners [or] you will suffer the consequences.” This statement questions the assertion of one historian that Calles “enthusiastically embraced anti-Chinese racism.”
Page 99 is an excellent example of one of the themes in my book represented in the subtitle: repression. The page describes the measures the Sonoran group took to repress their opponents, especially the Catholic Church and the Yaqui--and this theme reverberates in the entire book. The bottom of the page, dealing with anti-Chinese racism, also represents an important theme in the book, which is the ability of my protagonists to triangulate the political landscape. In the end, to this modernizing and nationalist group, the Chinese were marginally more acceptable than Indigenous or Catholic Mexicans who stood in the way of the Mexico they were imagining: a secular, modern nation. So, all in all, the browser's shortcut works well in revealing important themes in the book.

Obviously, the other two themes--revolution and reform--receive no attention on page 99, because that page is concerned with repression. Those themes are better discussed in the remainder of the book. The discussion of the Chinese and labor would also misrepresent the interpretation of the book if the reader were to fail to read the rest of the book. In the late 1920s, the Sonoran group turned against the Chinese. When Calles's son, Rodolfo, was governor of Sonora, he expelled the entire Chinese population, in contrast to his father's relative toleration a decade earlier. Also, as interior secretary and president, Calles forged an alliance with organized labor, and particularly the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM) under the leadership of Luis Napoleón Morones. While he still repressed more radical labor organizations that refused to cow to his government, the alliance with the CROM is noteworthy for its ability to co-opt a significant part of the labor movement, in exchange for concessions. A decade earlier, in Sonora, this co-optation was represented by Governor Adolfo de la Huerta's creation of the Cámara Obrera, or Worker's Chamber.

In all, I believe the Page 99 Test works fairly well for this book.
Learn more about The Sonoran Dynasty in Mexico at the University of Nebraska Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Dane Kennedy's "Mungo Park’s Ghost"

Dane Kennedy is a historian of the British imperial world who has written eight books, including The Last Blank Spaces: Exploring Africa and Australia (2013), and has edited or co-edited three others. An emeritus professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University, he has served as Director of the National History Center and President of the North American Conference of British Studies and he has been awarded Guggenheim and National Humanities Center fellowships.

Kennedy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mungo Park's Ghost: The Haunted Hubris of British Explorers in Nineteenth-Century Africa, and reported the following:
What a reader will find on page 99 of my book, Mungo Park’s Ghost, is an account of the crisis that confronted Captain Thomas Campbell, commander of the expedition the British sent into the West African interior in 1817 to trace the course of the Niger River, only three weeks after he and his men had set out on their journey. The horses, donkeys, and other pack animals they used to carry the caravan’s supplies, arms, and gifts were dying off at an alarming rate, slowing their progress to a crawl. Campbell tried to recruit African porters to meet the expedition’s needs, but this wasn’t possible without the permission of the local almamy (ruler), whose suspicions of the expedition’s intentions caused him to prohibit their hire. As a result, it dawned on Campbell that “our situation… is very perilous.”

Several of the book’s main themes can be discerned from this page. One is the logistical challenges that confronted so many British explorers in Africa. Both iterations of this expedition—the first under Campbell’s leadership, the second under the command of Major William Gray—were reliant on large teams of pack animals, and both ground to a halt when those beasts of burden succumbed to diseases, predators, and poisonous plants. The other theme that page 99 reveals is the power wielded by African rulers. While stock losses exposed the expedition’s vulnerability, the almamy actively exploited it. Implicit in this outcome is a third theme—this expedition, like so many of those that preceded and followed it, failed to achieve its objectives. Each of these themes runs through the book, which recounts the fate of Campbell’s (and Gray’s) Niger expedition and its sister expedition up the Congo River.

It would be simplistic, of course, to claim that a single page (or, in this case, a half-page, since an image takes up the top portion of page 99) can reveal the intentions of an entire book. Other important themes run through Mungo Park’s Ghost. One is evoked by the title itself: Mungo Park’s pioneering journeys through West Africa transformed him into a romantic hero whose reputation haunted many of the British explorers who followed in his wake. Another theme is the enduring impact that slavery and the slave trade exerted on these explorers’ efforts to penetrate the African continent. And a third is Britain’s imperial ambitions, which spurred it to expend many lives and much treasure in Africa in its pursuit of power and profit. While the annals of exploration invariably highlight the adventures of Mungo Park, David Livingstone, and a few other famous explorers, the obscure expeditions of forgotten figures like Thomas Campbell may offer the most revealing insights into this overly romanticized subject.
Learn more about Mungo Park's Ghost at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Luke William Hunt's "Police Deception and Dishonesty"

Luke William Hunt is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, where he teaches in the department's Jurisprudence Track. After graduating from law school, he was a law clerk for a federal judge in Virginia. He then worked as an FBI Special Agent in Virginia and Washington, D.C., followed by his doctoral work in philosophy at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Retrieval of Liberalism in Policing; The Police Identity Crisis: Hero, Warrior, Guardian, Algorithm; and Police Deception and Dishonesty – The Logic of Lying.

Hunt applied the “Page 99 Test” to Police Deception and Dishonesty – The Logic of Lying and reported the following:
From page 99:
[W]hen members of the public engage in criminality over the course of fulfilling social contractual obligations, we might say the police have the right to rescind their end of the deal—bringing the police and the public to a pre-contract state of nature (and state of war), so to speak. Indeed, that’s how things tend to look in the real world. But this line of argument is deficient…as illustrated by the next analogy to contract law.

The police have what we might call a preexisting duty to engage with the public in good faith. The preexisting duty rule simply means that performance of a preexisting duty is not a valid basis of the bargain in a contract. Suppose there is a murder and a $10,000 reward for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of the murderer. Now suppose the lead detective on the case finds a key piece of evidence; he promptly schedules a press conference and offers the evidence in exchange for the reward. This would of course be absurd, and the doctrine of preexisting duties establishes that public officers such as the police, whose efforts were made in the performance of official duty, are not entitled to share in rewards. There is no “consideration” (basis of the bargain) for the offeror’s promise of a reward because the police had a duty to do the work anyway.

The analogy is not perfect, but it’s reasonable to think that the state’s duty of good faith is not contingent upon the public’s criminality…. [T]he nature and existence of political society is based upon reciprocation that necessitates good faith; this suggests that good faith reciprocation is a sort of preexisting duty. … [S]ocietal deviance can be a correlative of institutional force and fraud. Instead of focusing exclusively on those who are so-called social deviants, we can turn out attention to the institutions that motivate some of that (reasonable) deviance.

If the police foster an environment of deception, dishonesty, and bad faith, they exacerbate fear, distrust, and deviance. So when we think of public deviance and criminality as a “breach” of the social contract, we should pause and consider the possibility of a prior failure by the state [to fulfill its preexisting duties].
I was worried that I might find irrelevant nonsense buried on page 99, but the Page 99 Test works. The above excerpt illustrates how the book draws upon the norms of contract law as a way to understand the normative foundations of the police institution.

Suppose I’m charged with a crime, and subsequently agree to do something for the police (gather evidence, testify, confess) in exchange for a (potentially) reduced sentence. If my agreement is based on a material misrepresentation by the police, then it sounds like I was subjected to a fraudulent bargaining process. The norms of contract law illuminate that point. More abstractly: Societal arrangements modeled on the ideal of a social contract—agreements between the government and the governed regarding security—are relational in nature even if they cannot be captured exhaustively in a literal contract. Persons are conceived as entrusting certain tasks (governing, judging, policing) to agents of the state, and it is through this entrustment that persons can be thought of has having a right to be secured in good faith and free from fraud.

The second half of the book applies these ideas to real-world cases studies focusing on legal and philosophical analysis (including analysis of rare cases in which fraudulent policing might be justified).
Visit Luke William Hunt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 22, 2024

Grant Olwage's "Paul Robeson's Voices"

Grant Olwage is a music historian and lecturer in the Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the editor of Composing Apartheid and has written extensively on the Black voice, race, choral cultures, and coloniality. His writing on Paul Robeson's singing, voice, and musical arts has appeared widely.

Olwage applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Paul Robeson's Voices, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds the reader in the thick of a discussion on how Robeson’s voice was heard as a ‘natural’ voice. This is attributed to Robeson’s singing of what critics considered ‘simple’ music, which included African American spirituals but also folk songs from around the world; and to his plain singing of this repertoire, which was devoid of artifice. Page 99, however, complicates this: Robeson’s race, it argues, was key to understanding his voice as natural, and more than this, it suggests, aesthetics – Robeson’s simple singing – was imbued with ethics: his voice was an expression of his sincerity, an authentic expression of Robeson’s person. And finally, the page notes that Robeson’s simple singing marked a broader shift in the 1920s and 1930s, from a preference for virtuosic performance to one that favored “more intimate styles that privileged the vocalist’s genuine feelings.” Robeson’s singing was thoroughly contemporary.

Page 99 thus gives the browser some idea of key topics and arguments the book makes; although it doesn’t give much indication of the variety and scope of content. The test works insofar that it shows how listeners (critics, fans, and professionals: voice teachers and sound engineers) are involved in producing voices as much as singers. The critics’ varied accounts of Robeson’s natural voice ranged from (racist) claims that he sang naturally because he was Black to nuanced accounts of how Robeson artistically constructed a natural aesthetic; that is, that Robeson’s simple singing was intentionally worked on and performed. Another core idea of the book that page 99 illustrates is that voices are multiply, collectively constructed; and hence the plural in the book’s title, Paul Robeson’s Voices. Different critics heard Robeson’s voice differently, and attributed different meanings to it. The variety of these meanings is not captured on page 99, and include, inter alia, the many political voices – radical, official, protesting, heroic – Robeson performed. Page 99 also gestures at a fundamental point the book makes: the voice envoices modes of subjectivity, expressing both social and individual identities. On page 99 the browser gets a glimpse of how the voice partakes in the social construction of race, and elsewhere in the book other identities are the book’s subject: family, church communities, cosmopolitan ones, technologically-mediated ones, and more. Page 99 doesn’t – and one page can’t – describe the richly varied means by which Robeson shaped his sense of self and politics through song during the greater part of the first half of the twentieth century, and in the process how he revised many of the practices of concert singing, which the book details, but the page is a window into how Robeson sang plurally, and how his listeners variously heard-understood his vocality.
Learn more about Paul Robeson's Voices at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Julia F. Irwin's "Catastrophic Diplomacy"

Julia F. Irwin is the T. Harry Williams Professor of History at Louisiana State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Catastrophic Diplomacy: US Foreign Disaster Assistance in the American Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book recounts a major and highly destructive disaster in Guatemala City, triggered by a series of earthquakes during December 1917 and January 1918. After briefly narrating the onset of this catastrophe, page 99 goes to describe the initial U.S. response to the crisis, including the reactions of U.S. diplomats in Guatemala City and U.S. State Department officials in Washington. The U.S. relief effort that subsequently unfolded in Guatemala, I argue, was not simply a benevolent response to Guatemalan suffering. It was also motivated by U.S. strategic, diplomatic, and economic interests in the country, which were heightened due to U.S. involvement in the First World War.

In this case, the Page 99 Test offers a fairly good indication of the major themes and arguments that lie at the heart of Catastrophic Diplomacy. The one potential snag is that a reader might come away thinking this book is about U.S.—Guatemalan relations or the First World War; in reality, the U.S. response to the disaster in Guatemala is just one of many case studies I cover in my book. Where the Page 99 Test does succeed is in providing a snapshot of the political motivations driving U.S. humanitarian actions, a central point of my book. These sorts of motivations were by no means unique to Central America in 1917–18. To the contrary, as the rest of my book argues, U.S. foreign disaster assistance has always been a political act in some way, shape, or form. Throughout the 20th century, my book demonstrates, U.S. humanitarian operations were guided by a complex mixture of strategic, diplomatic, and moral concerns. Their goal was not only to ameliorate the suffering of disaster survivors, but also – and often, more importantly – to promote U.S. interests in other nations and empires. To support these arguments, my book examines the history of U.S. responses to dozens of disasters in all parts of the 20th century world. Focusing on sudden catastrophes caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural hazards, it examines how and why the U.S. government embraced foreign disaster aid as an instrument of its foreign policy. In the process, it shows the importance of humanitarian assistance to the history of U.S. international relations.
Learn more about Catastrophic Diplomacy at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Anto Mohsin's "Electrifying Indonesia"

Anto Mohsin is an assistant professor in residence in the liberal arts program at Northwestern University in Qatar and an affiliated faculty member of Northwestern University’s Science in Human Culture program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Electrifying Indonesia: Technology and Social Justice in National Development, and reported the following:
When browsers open my book to page 99, they will read something that doesn’t immediately seem to have anything to do with electrification. There are three paragraphs on this page. The first paragraph recounts a brief history of oil exploration and exploitation in Indonesia to provide a context of the country’s oil production and the windfall profits that the Indonesian government derived from selling crude oil to the global market. The second paragraph details how the revenues from the oil sale were used, among other things, to subsidize oil prices for domestic consumptions. The resulting “cheap oil” and the country-wide network of oil delivery infrastructure were used to power numerous diesel-fueled power plants (DPPs). Finally, the last paragraph discusses the Indonesian state-owned electric company (Perusahaan Listrik Negara or PLN)’s financial and technical rationale in choosing DPPs as their main technological choice of providing electricity in many areas in the country. By the end of the 1990s, thousands of DPPs dotted Indonesia’s map and without which electricity would only be available in urban areas and selected regions.

The information on page 99 is part of chapter 4 titled “Java-Centrism and the Two Grid Systems” in which I discuss how the Indonesian New Order government (1966-1998) focused on the construction of Indonesia’s electric infrastructure in Java by building the country’s first sophisticated island-wide power grid. Elsewhere outside this heavily populated island, the New Order regime installed DPPs, which were not all networked into one system, but nonetheless formed a “grid” since they were run by PLN. These two grids made up the electric landscape of Indonesia and remains largely so to this day.

Browsers will notice that Ford’s Page 99 Test doesn’t quite work with my book. Indonesia’s brief history of fossil fuel extraction at the top of this page belies the subject of the book, which is about the sociopolitical history of electrification in the country. For Indonesia, natural resource extraction is, of course, connected with electrification, but it is not the central argument of the book.

Succinctly, the book argues that the provision of electricity in New Order Indonesia was made available to citizens in exchange for supporting the government electorally and politically. Electorally, electrifying villages helped “electrify,” so to speak, villagers to come out and cast their votes for the government-backed political party Golkar. Politically, bringing electricity to the rural areas helped support the New Order government’s development agenda to create a Pancasila society (i.e., a just society based on the ideals of the state ideology). Although the New Order government managed to gain the electoral support that it sought (Golkar always won most votes during the general elections), it fell short of achieving “social justice for all Indonesians” through electrification.

PLN tried its best to marshal its limited resources to bring electricity to the masses. Building DPPs was one of its efforts to do so. However, its maneuverability was constrained since it had to answer to the government who used electricity and other promised material benefits to create a patron-client relationship with the populace.

Nation building, national development, and social justice are the three themes that the book addresses. More Indonesians today have recognized the importance of electricity in their lives and in the life of the nation. As such, the Indonesian people have increasingly been exerting their voices in the country’s development projects including electrification. This is a far cry from being a passive citizenry when they were mostly treated as the recipients of government handouts. However, it remains to be seen how the relationship between electricity and social justice will unfold in the future.
Learn more about Electrifying Indonesia at the University of Wisconsin Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 19, 2024

Jennifer Saltzstein's "Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France"

Jennifer Saltzstein is a Presidential Professor of Musicology at the University of Oklahoma. She is author of The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry (2013) and editor of Musical Culture in the World of Adam de la Halle (2019). She is the recipient of both the Summer Stipend (2014) and year-long Fellowship (2016–2017) of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2018, she was honored with the H. Colin Slim Award by the American Musicological Society for her article, “Rape and Repentance in Two Medieval Motets” (Journal of the American Musicological Society, 2017).

Saltzstein applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France: Toward an Environmental History, and reported the following:
Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France explores how medieval song expressed relationships between people and their environments. Informed by environmental history and harnessing musicological and ecocritical approaches, I draw connections between the nature imagery that pervades songs written by the trouvères of northern France and the physical terrain and climate of the lands on which their authors lived. The songwriters I profile in the book use of nature imagery as realistic, aspirational, or nostalgic.

Page 99 occurs in my book’s third chapter, “In the Meadows: Feeling the Landscape in the Songs of the Knightly Trouvères.” This chapter explores love songs written by a group of knights during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Many of the figures I explore were battle-hardened warriors. They nonetheless write songs that appear to be in their own voices in which they walk out onto a beautiful, expansive landscape and sing in emotional language about love. In most cases, the songs are set in springtime and the sensory delights of singing birds, fresh air, flowers, and meadows inspire the song’s speaker to think of their beloved and often to sing. This device has been called the “nature opening” (Natureingang in German) and I show that it is especially loved by knightly songwriters. Through extensive research in the field of environmental history I establish that the landscapes described by knightly trouvères are often a realistic reflection of land management practices on medieval lordly estates (land knights either held or wished to hold).

Page 99 focuses on such a song by the Châtelain de Couci, a knight who likely fought in the third and fourth crusades. This song’s form is in two distinct parts (musicologists call it pedes cum cauda form), the first part (the pedes) uses the “nature opening” while in the second (the cauda), the speaker cries out with emotion over his love. I present a melodic transcription of the music accompanying this passage, arguing “The restrained pedes contrast sharply with the speaker’s emotional outpouring in the cauda on the exclamation ‘Alas’!” In this song and others I highlight, the songwriters use changes in the melody in ways that encourage listeners to feel the shift from their description of the landscape to the expression of emotion.

The Page 99 Test works for my book. The device I describe on page 99 is central to the argument of chapter 3, in which I show that knightly songwriters used the “nature opening” in ways that expressed a key aspect of their identity—the intertwining of land, love, and song. The approach I adopt in chapter 3 is representative other chapters of Song, Landscape, and Identity, which explore how medieval songs demonstrate the intertwining of landscape and identity formation for other medieval social groups (clergymen, noblewomen, peasants, and city dwellers). My book shows that the intertwining of landscape and identity pervades medieval songs of many genres written by many different types of people. It also shows that many of these songs are nostalgic in the way the represent the land. My book is set temporally during the shift between the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age, and the songs I explore show that once images of land are tied to identity, they become culturally durable, often persisting even when the management of that land or the state of the climate changes.
Learn more about Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Laurie Johnson's "Leicester's Men and their Plays"

Laurie Johnson is Professor of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Leicester's Men and their Plays: An Early Elizabethan Playing Company and its Legacy, and reported the following:
With Leicester’s Men and Their Plays, I attempted to follow the model established by other book-length studies of early modern playing companies, such as Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean’s The Queen’s Men and their Plays (1998) while tackling the issue of the relative paucity of surviving records from the era. If Shakespeare scholars have long grappled with the low survival rate for documents from Shakespeare’s life and career, the study of a company that flourished for three decades before Shakespeare even began his theatrical career is faced with an even lower survival rate. This book thus also features a host of explanations about historical and literary method -- how to meaningfully fill in the gaps in the documentary record. Page 99 catches me, as it happens, in just such a moment, attempting to make connections between various seemingly unrelated pieces of evidence to reconstruct in part the company’s early repertory from 1559 to 1568. We know the company featured at Elizabeth’s court revels during these years and also that they toured more extensively than any other company of this early era, yet we know next to nothing about the plays upon which they built their dominance of playing at the time. Here, I extend Paul Whitfield White’s claim that Leicester’s Men were the most likely company to have performed the plays of William Wager, and identify other plays of similar kinds from the era.

The page begins thus:
Elisabetta Tarantino argues that Trial was not written by Wager but counts it among earlier examples of plays that deploy “literary nonsense” in their Vice characters, a tradition on which Wager’s plays evidently build. If Trial is not by Wager, then, his willingness to copy elements of this play in his writing for Leicester’s Men nevertheless lends credence to the idea that Trial was performed by the same company, with one member being particularly adept at playing Vice figures. If Perkin had indeed been an assistant to the Lord of Misrule in the royal entertainments of 1552-3, this experience may well have equipped him for just such a specialisation in the early plays of this company. By looking similarly for other plays from which Wager may have drawn inspiration, it may be possible to reconstruct some sense of the early plays used by Dudley’s company. The inventory taken of John Dudley’s possessions between 1545 and 1551, in which a copy of Walshe’s Conjectures is recorded, offers some clues.
I proceed to then outline these clues, identify titles to which these clues point, and develop a further argument for why Leicester’s Men might be the strongest contender to have played each one. While this section of the book captures me in the moment of addressing questions about the company’s plays, each chapter also examines significant milestones that we now associate with Shakespearean playing companies in general, to understand how Leicester’s Men developed the playing company business model in response to various circumstances they encountered over the course of three decades. I explore the role of women in keeping the company together for that duration while also explaining how and why the company adopted the first large London playhouse (the Red Lion, 1567) as well as the first amphitheatre-style playhouse (the Theatre, 1576), and why they developed the shareholder system and playing apprentices system. As I argue, while records may be sparse, they are not non-existent, and there is enough material to help us to overturn some of our old assumptions about playing in England before Shakespeare.
Learn more about Leicester's Men and their Plays at the Cambridge University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Scott Gac's "Born in Blood"

Scott Gac is Professor of History and American Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut and the author of Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Born in Blood: Violence and the Making of America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In October, one month after Millard Fillmore signed the new law [the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850], William P. Newman, a Baptist clergyman, fugitive slave, and now advocate of violent, Black resistance to federal authority, wrote to Frederick Douglass, “It may be properly asked, would not the Devil do well to rent out hell and move to the United States, and rival, if possible, President Fillmore.”

The Compromise [of 1850] placed the fate of enslaved Black individuals and the political processes to manage the legality of slavery safely in White hands. The new Fugitive Slave Law undeniably involved the federal government as a guarantor of the cruelties and Black dispossession required to maintain the slave system; popular sovereignty undeniably empowered White male voters in the territories to make decisions that would affect Black individuals and families. From this viewpoint, the Compromise of 1850 is among the most blatant acts in support of hostile racial difference in United States history.

Among the most vocal supporters of White superiority in Congress, Senator Dodge could not imagine that the growing regional dispute over human enslavement would “embroil the States in a war in which American blood is shed by American hands.” (Notably, Dodge used the term “American’ to signal ‘White.’) But in December 1853, he helped to create exactly such a scenario. Dodge introduced a bill “to organize the territory of Nebraska; which was read the first and second times, by unanimous consent, and referred to the Committee on Territories.’ By January 1854, the bill further asserted that both the 1793 and 1850 fugitive slave laws would be “in full force within the limits of said Territory” and made clear other expectations. “In order to avoid misconstruction,” it read, “the true intent and meaning of this act, so far as the question of slavery is concerned,” is that “the people residing” in any states created from the territory will make decisions regarding slavery. In its final wording, this clause upheld the premise of “non-intervention by Congress with slavery” and declared “the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions”—the southern euphemism for slavery—“in their own way.”

The recent Fugitive Slave Law had increased federal force in support of human enslavement. This bill sought the near opposite. It favored individuals and locales over the authority of the United States. In short, political supporters of slavery secured the violence of the United States and the violence of individuals to protect and expand human bondage in the nation.
While Born in Blood covers more than one hundred years of United States history from 1750 to 1900, page 99 nonetheless provides an excellent window into the book. It showcases insights about democracy and violence in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the time of the Compromise of 1850 (which included a new Fugitive Slave Act), the White male electorate in America had expanded to include nearly all White men. At the same time, however, White political leaders had removed the right to vote for Black men, who had had such a right in northern states such as Connecticut and New York. In and around election days, the newly enlarged and Whitened American electorate engaged in relentless revelry, fanatical partisanship, and physical intimidation to menace political opponents. Indeed, the 1850 United States was one of the largest slave societies in human history and its violent, White democracy was the cornerstone of the nation’s political practice. Ultimately, I believe that to fully grasp violence in America, one must consider how Whiteness—or White superiority—has influenced violent acts committed by individuals and the national state. This is a central tenet that brings together the three major parts of the book and on page 99 it is clearly on display.
Visit Scott Gac's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "So Fetch"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s writing takes readers behind the scenes of major moments in pop culture history and examines the lasting impact that our favorite TV shows, music, and movies have on our society and psyches. She investigates why pop culture matters deeply, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Seinfeld, to Sex and the City and Mean Girls, to Beyoncé, Taylor, and Barbie. She has written eight books, including the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia, When Women Invented Television, Sex and the City and Us, and So Fetch: The Making of Mean Girls (And Why We're Still So Obsessed with It).

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to So Fetch and reported the following:
Page 99 of So Fetch talks about all of the young Canadians who played the high schoolers surrounding the main characters in Mean Girls. The film was shot in Toronto, so most of the ancillary roles went to locals. Many of them knew each other, both from growing up together and from seeing each other on auditions, which gave them a real high school energy. To me, it’s perfect that this is my page 99. The Canadians are among my favorite parts of the book. I’m always drawn to the people on the outskirts of productions, the less-appreciated ones who make the whole thing work. Particularly in Mean Girls, these ancillary roles were critical because Tina Fey’s script was bursting with one-liners to the point where almost everyone got at least one memorable moment or line. Even more interestingly in the case of Mean Girls, many of these Canadians would become lastingly famous for their one-liners because the movie, which came out in 2004 at the beginning of the social media era, was a foundational text for the memes and GIFs that would define Web 2.0 and Millennial culture. There was Stefanie Drummond as Bethany Byrd, innocently explaining that she used super-jumbo tampons because, she said, “I can’t help it if I’ve got a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina.” There was Jonathan Malen calling his mom on his cell phone during a school-wide meltdown and crying, “Mom, can you come pick me up? I’m scared.”

Hearteningly, the relationships on the set of Mean Girls appear to have been the opposite of the relationships at the center of the film. Fey and director Mark Waters created a supportive and collaborative environment that made most of the young actors feel seen, appreciated, and warm toward each other. Many reported that there was little hierarchy between, say, the high-schoolers in general and the Plastics who were the main characters, played by the then-famous Lindsay Lohan and the future-famous Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lacey Chabert. They all played catch and indulged in pranks between takes. (Two of the Canadian boys convinced the Plastics that because milk came in bags, or “bladders,” in Canada, they actually drank it through a straw stuck right into the bag, like a giant Capri Sun. They then had to demonstrate this and essentially got drunk on milk.) Waters encouraged each actor to do many, many takes, right in a row, of their major lines, which might be one reason the lines came out so well in the final cut; there were a lot of options to choose from.

Because those lines were so good, and because they ended up fueling endless GIFs and memes in the decades to come, those Canadian actors had to grapple with a very strange kind of fame. In one strange example, internet sleuths identified actor David Reale as the guy who played Glen Coco, the character famous for getting four candy cane grams, even though he had no lines and was not credited in the film. (He’d wandered onto set to say hi to friends that day and ended up pulled into a few scenes, his face barely visible.) But someone online cared enough to compare his profile to that of Reale, a working actor who has appeared in TV series such as Murdoch Mysteries and The Boys. Others found themselves trending under very specific circumstances: Malen’s “Mom, can you pick me up?” line became ubiquitous during one year’s Met Gala as celebrities walked the carpet in their outlandish outfits. Miranda Edwards’ line, “I’m from Michigan,” delivered when a teacher presumes she’s from Africa because she’s Black, has soared during difficult discussions about race relations.

The Canadian high-schoolers’ arc reflects the wider arc of the movie, from its origins with real-life school kids in Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes, to Fey’s adaptation of it, to the high school world it created onscreen that so many Millennials related to that it became a bedrock of internet culture. Mean Girls has continued to catch on with new generations, both as a film and as an online phenomenon. It has since turned into a hit Broadway musical and, now, a movie version of that musical. As such, it shows few signs of slowing down on its way to classic status.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Seinfeldia.

The Page 99 Test: Sex and the City and Us.

The Page 99 Test: Pop Star Goddesses.

The Page 99 Test: When Women Invented Television.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2024

Jennifer M. Black's "Branding Trust"

Jennifer Black is a historian of visual and material culture, with a particular focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. She holds a PhD in American History and Visual Studies from the University of Southern California, as well as an MA in Public History and a BA in Art History from Western Michigan University. Her research examines ways in which people interact with images and objects, and the power of visual and material culture to influence trends in politics, the law, and society. In addition to teaching a variety of courses in American history, public history, and visual culture at Misericordia University, she also serves as Book Reviews Editor for H-Material Culture, and was recently elected to the Board of Editors for Enterprise & Society.

Black applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Branding Trust: Advertising and Trademarks in Nineteenth-Century America, and reported the following:
Branding Trust examines the uneven development of advertising practices, and in particular, branding strategies, over the course of the nineteenth century in the US. Beginning with the emergence of the first advertising agent in the 1840s, the book traces the ways in which middle-class ideas of character and honor permeated advertising practices, helping manufacturers cultivate rapport with the public. Turning to newspapers, patent-medicine almanacs, testimonials, advertising trade cards, posters, and store displays, the book shows how visual media helped to communicate messages of trustworthiness, by drawing upon potent cultural symbols and ideas. Rooting out fraudulent and counterfeit products went hand-in-hand with building consumers’ trust. Trademarks and their regulation helped to solve this problem; the book traces the evolution of trademark protections in the United States as well, pointing to the parallel influence of middle-class ideas on this important legal aspect of America’s modern consumer society.

Page 99 takes us to the middle of chapter three, “Visual Texts: Design and Novelty Across America’s Newspapers.” In this chapter, I trace the changing look of newspaper advertising from 1830-1900, comparing urban newspapers like the New York Tribune with smaller newspapers produced in rural areas. Perhaps surprisingly, printers in rural areas were a primary driving force in advancing graphic design innovations throughout the nineteenth century, as they were more flexible in allowing new and unusual fonts and designs on the newspaper page. In contrast, large urban newspapers conformed to particular trade conventions centered around orderly, rigid columns of small type, devoid of images.

On page 99, I discuss the introduction of large, building-sized billboards that papered American cities in the 1850s, and the synergy among printers of different media. As I point out,
These posters created a visual spectacle on the city streets, and they pushed newspaper printers to craft more attractive advertisements that would better compete for the public’s attention. By the 1850s, the printing industry had been primed for exponential growth. Transportation improvements and industrialization had ushered in the rapid flow of knowledge between the cities and growing rural communities, while the increasingly literate public craved information in larger quantities. Steam-powered printing presses and new papermaking techniques… economized the publishing industry and gave printers a ready supply of materials. …As the printing industry grew, publishers began offering new literary magazines, a greater variety of ephemera, expanded newspaper editions, and collectible chromolithograph prints. The established and aspiring middle classes devoured these printed materials. Chromolithograph firms supplied cheap, novelty images to a public yearning for colorful images, while newspaper publishers and job printers rapidly papered American cities and hamlets with black-and-white dailies, handbills, magazines, and other media. In light of these developments, advertising seemed poised to take off in the 1850s, but economic constraints and the Agate Rule continued to structure newspaper advertising, especially in major American cities.
This snippet is somewhat useful for understanding chapter three, summarizing some of the key developments and gesturing forward to the importance of chromolithographs and public tastes (the key topic of chapter four). Yet overall, the page does not adequately represent the complexity of the book. First, the reader would not get an adequate taste of the variety of visual strategies deployed by advertisers—though there are 75 images in the book, no images appear on page 99 (but there are useful examples for chapter three on pages 97, 98, and 102). Moreover, a reader turning only to this page might be misled to believe that the book focuses primarily on newspapers, and thus would miss out on the expanded discussion of other media, the underlying influence of middle-class ideals, and the evolution of trademark law.
Visit Jennifer M. Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Benjamin L. Alpers's "Happy Days"

Benjamin L. Alpers is a Reach for Excellence Associate Professor of History in the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s–1950s.

Alpers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Happy Days: Images of the Pre-Sixties Past in Seventies America, and reported the following:
Happy Days is about Americans in the 1970s thinking about the past as a way of processing the changes in American life that we associate with the Sixties.

A reader turning to page 99 of Happy Days would find themselves in the middle of Chapter 2, “Rip Van Marlowe: Seventies Noir and the Pre-Sixties Past.” As it turns out, page 99 summarizes a key part of the argument of Chapter 2, which in turn is representative of the larger project of the book.

A major figure in this chapter is Paul Schrader, who started the 1970s as a film critic, by the middle of the decade transitioned to writing screenplays, and, by decade’s end, had started to direct as well. One of Schrader’s most famous works of criticism is the essay “Notes on Film Noir” (1972). In “Notes,” Schrader predicts (accurately, it turned out) that American interest in the classic noirs of the 1940s would grow during the 1970s, as “the Forties may be to the Seventies what the Thirties were to the Sixties,” as in both cases a decade in which the “political mood harden[ed]” following the radical hopes of its predecessor. The 1970s did, indeed, see a revival of interest in noir, among audiences, critics and filmmakers, who began to make the movies that would we now call “neo-noir.”

The chief focus of Chapter 2 is the figure of the hardboiled private investigator (PI), who in many of these neo-noirs is identified as a man from the past (the chapter’s title is film director Robert Altman’s description of the version of Raymond Chandler’s famous PI Philip Marlowe that appears in Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973)). Many 1970s neo-noirs placed a PI protagonist, with his out-of-date values, in the world of the 1970s and interrogated whether his version of masculinity could still function.

Page 99 is setting up a discussion of two noir-inflected films with screenplays by Paul Schrader, The Yakuza (1974) and Rolling Thunder (1977):
Both [Harry] Kilmer [the protagonist of The Yakuza] and [Charles] Rane [the protagonist of Rolling Thunder] are also presented as men whose values are rooted in the past. Kilmer is an American who believes in old Japanese values in a Seventies Japan that is rapidly rejecting them; Rane is a decorated military veteran in a Seventies America that seems only to pay lip service to honor, patriotism, and family, values to which Rane himself is deeply committed. In both cases, the past values in which the characters believe both contribute to their sense of alienation from the Seventies world in which they find themselves and lead them to the cleansing acts of violence with which they respond to this world. Both The Yakuza and Rolling Thunder, then, present stories about protagonists rooted in the past who confront Seventies social decay and successfully respond to that decay with violence. Like The Long Goodbye, they repurpose the legacy of film noir to comment on how America, and the world, have been changed by the Sixties.
While page 99 would give the reader a good sense of the heart of the argument of Chapter 2, given the book’s essayistic approach, the reader wouldn’t know that its other chapters concern Fifties nostalgia, the Bicentennial, and the legacy of slavery in Alex Haley’s Roots and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. The chapters share a focus on Americans looking to the past to understand the present. But each of these excursions is distinct.
Learn more about Happy Days at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2024

John Horgan's "Terrorist Minds"

John Horgan is Distinguished University Professor in Georgia State University’s Department of Psychology, where he directs the Violent Extremism Research Group. He is frequently consulted by law enforcement and national security agencies, and he has testified before Congress. His many books include The Psychology of Terrorism (second edition, 2014) and Divided We Stand: The Strategy and Psychology of Ireland’s Dissident Terrorists (2012).

Horgan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Terrorist Minds: The Psychology of Violent Extremism from Al-Qaeda to the Far Right, and reported the following:
I’m a psychologist who has spent twenty-five years studying the behavior of people who engage in terrorism. This book is the culmination of what I have learned in that time. It’s about who becomes a terrorist and why. Page 99 will land you in the middle of the book, about half-way through a journey into what chapter 4 calls the terrorist mindset. By "mindset," I mean the ways in which terrorists think and talk about themselves and their actions. On this page, the reader is presented with a summary of what terrorists have in common. Those features include a widely shared, deep-rooted desire to correct an injustice against what they feel is an oppressed community. The impulse to act, using violence against civilians to promote their aims, is what separates the mere radical from the terrorist. Though many people who engage in terrorism belong to groups or organizations, the decision to engage in an act of violence is the culmination of a gradual process that leads someone to consider the pros and cons of what they are about to do. We know from interviews with terrorists that would-be “fighters” are aware of the profound risks (to themselves) associated with what they do. And yet, they are not deterred. On the contrary. Spurred on by moral outrage, self-righteousness, and a firm belief in the effectiveness of their actions (at least in the short term), they find themselves in a psychological space where wanting to fight alongside their fellow believers, on behalf of a community to which they might not even belong, becomes impossible to resist. What appears in page 99 is the culmination of an argument that terrorist behavior is acquired. It is learned. Nobody is born with a terrorist mindset. It takes time, effort, and work, to acquire, nurture and sustain it. What follows page 99 is how that process unfolds, and, for many, eventually ends.
Learn more about Terrorist Minds at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Divided We Stand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2024

Sara Rahnama's "The Future Is Feminist"

Sara Rahnama is an Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Program for the Study of the Middle East & North Africa at Morgan State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Future Is Feminist: Women and Social Change in Interwar Algeria, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Future is Feminist: Women and Social Change in Interwar Algeria is a shockingly good introduction to the book as a whole. The page opens, “Discussions about women were a forum to assert not only compatibility between Islam and women’s rights but also their ability to access progress as Muslims.” The page goes on to explain how Algerian commentators used news from the Middle East and new readings of Islamic knowledge to claim Europe had no monopoly on women’s rights. As one Algerian author wrote which is quoted on page 99, “The progress of civilization is not Christian, not Oriental or Occidental, but universal.”

This is a great introduction to some of the major themes of the book, as the book explores not just Algerian Muslim feminism itself, but how Algerians used feminist discussions as a way to push back against French colonial claims that Muslims deserved their secondary status as colonial subjects because of their misogyny. The book is equally about the feminism itself, as well as the ideological moves the feminism enabled Algerian commentators to engage in wherein they reordered the world on their own terms. While the book focuses on interwar colonial Algeria, it remains relevant today, as commentators globally continue to traffic stereotypes about Muslims. The idea of a clash of civilizations between the civilized West and barbaric East, in which the East’s barbarism is reflected by their treatment of women, thus remains in circulation when politically convenient. The Future is Feminist offers a closer look at a historic moment when Muslims in Algeria wrote back against these depictions through articulations of their own Muslim feminism.
Visit Sara Rahnama's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Ryan Darr's "The Best Effect"

Ryan Darr is a postdoctoral research associate in religion, ecology, and expressive culture at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music and a lecturer in the Yale Divinity School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Best Effect: Theology and the Origins of Consequentialism, and reported the following:
On page 99, the reader will find me in summary mode, drawing together the insights of Part I. Fortunately, these insights are among the most important of the book. I have just compared the ethical visions of the two central characters of Part I, Henry More and Richard Cumberland. Halfway down the page, I make a transition from treating More and Cumberland as distinct intellectual figures to grouping them togethes representatives of a new ethical vision. “Moving forward,” I write, “I will largely set aside More and Cumberland’s differences and focus on the shared moral vision, the consequentialist moral cosmology.”

The consequentialist moral cosmology is perhaps the most important idea of the book. It’s my name for an innovative moral vision, which is embedded in a theological cosmology, that emerges in the seventeenth century. As I explain in the final paragraph of page 99, the following three elements define the consequentialist moral cosmology:
(1) A consequentialist view of morality according to which the right action is the one that contributes most to a maximally good state of the world. (2) A view of divine morality according to which God acts according to the same consequentialist principles as rational creatures. (3) An account of divine authority over rational creatures grounded in the fact that God shares the same end as rational creatures and is best able to direct them on how to pursue it.
The dominant approach to theological ethics in the seventeenth century is one in which God and all rational creatures ought to act for the sake of the final end, which is God. I call this a theocentric moral cosmology. The innovative twist offered by the consequentialist moral cosmology is that God and all rational creatures ought to act for the sake of the best outcome – or, as Richard Cumberland terms it, the “best effect” – which is a world of maximal perfection and happiness. Here we find the first articulation of consequentialism, a view that, contrary to the popular narrative, does not begin with Jeremy Bentham but has a long theological history prior to the eighteenth-century secular variant.

So what happens to the consequentialist moral cosmology? Notice the second element above: God must also be a consequentialist. If God is morally perfect, then God must maximize the goodness of the world. And here lies the central problem. God is, after all, usually considered omnipotent. So how could the world contain so much evil and suffering? Reading ahead from page 99, the reader will find the consequentialist moral cosmology stumbling over a new and particularly pernicious version of the problem of evil.

The Page 99 Test, then, offers a genuine glimpse into the central ideas of the book. The one thing it completely misses is the more constructive ambitions of the book. Most of the book consists of a historical narrative of the rise and fall of theological consequentialism. In the conclusion, however, I shift from historian to ethicist, arguing that the history outlined in the book demonstrates both the ongoing weaknesses of a consequentialist approach to ethics and the possibility of a better way of understanding what it means to act for the sake of what is good and best.
Learn more about The Best Effect at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue