Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Brian M. Ingrassia's "Speed Capital"

Brian M. Ingrassia is an associate professor of history at West Texas A&M University and the author of The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Speed Capital: Indianapolis Auto Racing and the Making of Modern America, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a typical page of Speed Capital, but not necessarily an exceptional one. It discusses the 300-mile sweepstakes race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1916. That was the only time, from May 1911 to the present, when the big race was shorter than 500 miles. (It was not held 1917-1918 or 1942-1945.) That page also discusses how Indianapolis became a place for testing automotive technologies, including some that never materialized: in this case, a fuel substitute called "Zoline," which was really a con-man's clever scheme!

Page 99 imparts the book's flavor, but not the full range of courses. Speed Capital uses the story of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's early years to illustrate connections between modern transportation technologies, popular culture, capitalism, and geography. The title is a double entendre: Indianapolis was the capital of speed, but its history conveys how people devised rituals to facilitate and exhibit the speedy movement of capital. The book starts with the idea of "space annihilation": automotive speedways utilized and popularized technologies that elided the tyranny of space and time. Early on, Indianapolis's speedway was a place for both automobility and aviation. But after World War I it narrowed, becoming a place mainly for motor sport. The track also became a site for traditions and nostalgia—for looking back with fondness to earlier eras of technological transformation and popular spectacle. The speedway and its museum, which opened in the 1950s, soon became a site for a different kind of space annihilation: eliminating distance between present and past.

Page 99 briefly mentions Carl Graham Fisher, the primary founder of the speedway. Fisher is a significant yet somewhat overlooked figure in American history, and his life story is a narrative thread running through Speed Capital. Other pages more successfully invoke Fisher and Indianapolis's connections to farther-off places, including Chicago, Detroit, Miami, and New York. Many people traveled from these and other places—from all over the nation and the world—to see the famous races. The book also discusses how Fisher spearheaded important transcontinental routes, namely the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, and even famously transformed a South Florida sandbar into the popular resort town of Miami Beach. Basically, I argue, Fisher taught Americans how to enjoy cars as well as how to use them to consume geographical space.
Learn more about Speed Capital at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 29, 2024

Rosamund Johnston's "Red Tape"

Rosamund Johnston is a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET) at the University of Vienna.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Red Tape: Radio and Politics in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1969, and reported the following:
Readers who open at page 99 of this book will be met with two young journalists, Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund, who became radio celebrities in postwar Czechoslovakia. This page explores the reasons for their fame, suggesting that it hinged upon their youth, desirability, and ultimately their appeal to socialist politicians and listeners both.

I am delighted that these two are foregrounded by the Page 99 Test: they were in fact the first journalists I wrote about for this book and, as such, set the framework for the rest of Red Tape. They helped me answer the question I posed throughout which was: why might people genuinely like and look forward to censored and propaganda-tinged socialist radio? And they form part of the answer, which I found to be on account of the relationships that listeners fostered with reporters such as Hanzelka and Zikmund through the medium of radio (hearing their voices at a regular time several times a week, writing to them with feedback about their work, and then finding their letters in some ways incorporated into the fabric of the pair’s reports). Hanzelka and Zikmund were broadcasting during Stalinism, and their example shows the responsiveness of radio to listeners’ concerns at that time. They also show that there was more to Stalinist radio than the murderous show-trials (which I write about in other chapters, but which I am delighted are not front and center here).

I was not always able to take a biographical approach to the history of radio in socialist Czechoslovakia—sometimes it made more sense to think about technologies (such as the tape in the title, for example) and how these served to reconfigure listeners’ expectations of the medium. But I always felt the most at home being led through the period by reporters such as Hanzelka and Zikmund and the fan-mail that was addressed to them. In this sense, this page represents some of my favorite lines of inquiry and sources used in this book. Here, I am specifically writing about the generation to which Hanzelka and Zikmund belonged, which, I argue throughout, shaped postwar radio and the rhetorical environment of socialism’s first two decades in Czechoslovakia. When they and their peers (all by now middle-aged) were pushed out of Czechoslovak Radio in the wake of the Soviet-led invasion in 1968—events captured in the final chapter of this book—then, I argue, radio finally ceded its “dominance” to television.
Visit Rosamund Johnston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 27, 2024

David W. Congdon's "Who Is a True Christian?"

David W. Congdon is a Senior Editor at the University Press of Kansas, where he acquires new titles in political science, and an Instructor at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. His books include The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology (2015, which won the Rudolf Bultmann Prize in Hermeneutics from the Philipps University of Marburg), and he is the editor of Varieties of Christian Universalism: Exploring Four Views (2023).

Congdon applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Who Is a True Christian?: Contesting Religious Identity in American Culture, and reported the following:
Here is what I found on page 99 of my book, Who Is a True Christian? Contesting Religious Identity in American Culture:
Newman provides seven tests to determine whether a development is the continuation or the corruption of the idea of Christianity, and the rest of the book applies these tests to particular points of doctrinal controversy. But as David Bentley Hart acknowledges, “these criteria amount to little more than a transparently forced ideological reconstruction of the historical narrative,” requiring both “willful narrative creativity” and “selective ignorance regarding those historical data that the preferred narrative cannot assimilate.” Reducing the complexity of history to the adaptability of an idea made it all too easy for Newman to reconstruct an account of Christian history that supported his argument, and any reconstruction under these presuppositions is “self-evidently specious,” an exercise in “saving the appearances.” Newman’s Essay is a stunning work of historical eisegesis, a retrospective reading of the past that already knows where history leads – namely, to his own position. His failure is thus an instructive one, serving as a cautionary tale for all those people, whether church leaders or Supreme Court justices, who wish to use history to prove the rightness of their beliefs.
To my surprise, the Page 99 Test works rather well for Who Is a True Christian? This page is my analysis of John Henry Newman’s effort to establish historical continuity between the origins of Christianity and Roman Catholic orthodoxy in the nineteenth century. Newman was a prominent figure at the time, but he has become especially important in the last several decades, not only as an inspiration for many converts to Rome but also as an intellectual lodestar for Protestants seeking to prove their fidelity to the ancient rule of faith (regula fidei).

The problem, as I show (with some help from David Bentley Hart), is that Newman’s reconstruction of this history is a convenient just-so story that all too easily leads directly to his own position, as if his account of Christianity were foreordained from the beginning. Newman failed to consider that he could have constructed such a narrative for any version of Christianity. It is always possible to trace how later developments emerge from earlier ones, and if you already know how history ends, the path to get there can seem inevitable.

This passage is particularly fitting as a summary of my book, since I connect Newman’s misuse of history to church leaders and Supreme Court justices—highlighting the way my book joins theological and political history. The quest for “true Christianity” has a political counterpart in the quest for the “true America.” Theologians pursue “historic Christianity” while justices and politicians pursue the “original America.” I suggest in my book that both quests are best abandoned. With respect to religion, I propose replacing the exclusionary pursuit of true Christianity with the open-ended, pluralistic search for new Christianities. Perhaps the same might apply in politics.

The Page 99 Test highlights whether a book remains focused on a clear thesis, and I made an effort to keep the material in my book tethered to my central argument. While not every page in my book would succeed as well as this one, I am pleasantly surprised with how well this page captured a central theme of my work.
Visit David W. Congdon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 26, 2024

Anna S. Mueller & Seth Abrutyn's "Life under Pressure"

Anna S. Mueller is Luther Dana Waterman Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a leading expert on youth suicide and suicide prevention in schools, and her work has helped families, schools, and communities understand how social environments generate risk of suicide and why youth suicide clusters emerge and persist. Her work on youth suicide has received numerous awards for its contributions to knowledge, including the Edwin Shneidman Early Career Award from the American Association of Suicidology. In 2020, she was named one of Science News's "Top 10 Early Career Scientists to Watch."

Seth Abrutyn is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. Abrutyn specializes in youth suicide and is also a general sociologist whose research rests at the intersection of mental health, emotions, social psychology, and culture, and which has won several national awards. His overarching goals as a social scientist are to merge sociological theory with the public imagination in hopes of making accessible sociological tools in the service of solving social problems.

Mueller and Abrutyn applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Life under Pressure: The Social Roots of Youth Suicide and What to Do About Them, and reported the following:
Page 99:
level, so I must be doing terribly with my life.’ So, I think that’s something that happened a lot.”

That must have been hard to hear for kids who were struggling to get by, more so because so many of the youth who died by suicide had been among those high achievers— the kids who embodied Poplar Grove’s ideals. Krista said her friend Michelle had been “trying to find worth in things that she felt, like, she could never do perfectly.” Poignantly, she concluded, “I guess she felt like there was no reason to keep living, because nothing was giving her the worth that she wanted.” Perfectionism in a tight- knit community where everybody knows your business, the ideal youth is visible and known, and yet the standards of perfection are a moving target, is a dangerous cultural directive: anything short of an always- out- of- reach “perfect” may feel like a shameful failure.

Thus far, we have looked at the stories of young women who struggled with the painful mismatch between who they thought they were and who they thought they should be. We also found, more prevalent among the young men we got to know through interviews with families and friends, that youth suicides coincided with instances in which youth had more concrete evidence of their “failure,” such as tangles with the law. Young men, however, were not immune to the agony of measuring themselves against perfection and believing they came up short. Meet Brian. Brian was dreamy. Handsome. Artistic. Smart. Sociable. “He was really cool,” shared his friend Chloe. “Kind of introverted. Super- hot, you know? Blond hair, blue eyes, really artsy. . . . And he was a really nice sensitive sweet guy.” Brian’s father Bruce made less of the young man’s looks, perhaps, but said much the same: “He always had girlfriends and he was pretty sensitive with those relationships . . . he took things to heart and— but he was also happy- go- lucky, damn the torpedoes, did stuff he shouldn’t do, [tried to] get away with it.” Bruce laughed, maybe remembering some
The Page 99 Test works well for introducing our book to a reader.

This passage is a small window into one of the central reasons we found for youth suicide clusters and their perpetuation. As the preceding section concludes, the pressure youth were under – in short, to achieve academically, athletically, and socially – stands out in the story of Michelle, one of the more popular suicide victims in Poplar Grove. The nuance also stands out: perfection is not something that is actually achieved, but an on going project whose standards are perceived to be always moving. Not hitting those standards, not just for Michelle, robs youth of a sense of value despite the rich, rewarding (from the outside) lives they live. The dilemma youth face, then, is that perfection in achievement is not a black or white attribute. Rather, it requires one to be in perpetual motion, but, as other research in sociology has demonstrated, this motion must appear—on the outside at least—as easy and routine. Kids in Poplar Grove, both the ideal youth and those who fell outside of the cream of the crop, all felt the endless push of an achievement hamster wheel.

Consequently, as the second half of the passage illuminates: youth feared failure more than anything else. They lived in a heightened state of awareness most of the time, irrationally (from the outside) sensing failure was imminent; and that one B would ruin their lives. That many youth were struggling with mental health issues made things worse, because showing any signs of imperfection would violate the goal of achievement and represent failure. So, the truth was many kids felt like they were failing even when their school record, parent’s social media accounts, and standing among their peers reflected a successful youth. In the end, shame, or the emotional response to the belief that one is not meeting others’ expectations and that they are a contemptuous person as a result, was a pervasive response that only amplified the challenges of adolescence, leading to greater emotional distress.

Ultimately, youth suicide clusters because kids get trapped in these perfection-failure-shame cycles. They see a friend or classmate die by suicide, and they explain it through this lens of “pressure-to-be-perfect can cause suicide.” They can identify with that person’s pain, even if their own pain or situation isn’t identical. Suicide becomes a cultural script for expressing emotional distress instead of the sort of help-seeking behaviors that might alleviate this distress.
Visit Anna S. Mueller's website and Seth Abrutyn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Peter Carruthers's "Human Motives"

Peter Carruthers is Distinguished University Professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland, where he has worked since 2001. He previously held appointments at a number of universities in the UK. He has published widely across many areas of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, including work on cognitive architecture, the role of language in thought, self-knowledge, consciousness, the mentality of animals, and meta-cognition. His most recent books are The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us About the Nature of Human Thought (2015) and Human and Animal Minds: The Consciousness Questions Laid to Rest (2019).

Carruthers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Human Motives: Hedonism, Altruism, and the Science of Affect, and reported the following:
Page 99 advances a particular theory of what pleasure and displeasure really are. Rather than being intrinsic felt qualities of experience, or a sort of “hedonic gloss” that attaches to experience (as many philosophers and others assume), they are better understood as perception-like representations of value. Pleasure attaching to the taste of a ripe strawberry, for example, represents it in a fine-grained perception-like way as good (to some degree), and in consequence makes continued eating seem choice-worthy. But what are these values and disvalues that are represented by degrees of pleasure and displeasure? Page 99 suggests that they are best understood in evolutionary terms, as adaptive values and disvalues (to be cashed out in terms of inclusive fitness). This answers a problem that had been raised previously in the chapter, that since values don’t really exist as part of the natural world, they can’t be represented correctly or incorrectly. Page 99 points out this problem evaporates if the values in question are cashed out in terms of biological inclusive fitness.

A reader who opens the book to read just page 99 won’t get a good idea of what the book as a whole is about, I’m afraid. But he or she will have landed on a crucial node in the overall argument. The book aims to refute a new and powerful, scientifically grounded, form of motivational hedonism. (This is the view that all human actions are really taken to secure pleasure and avoid displeasure.) The new hedonism argues on very good grounds that pleasure and displeasure are the common-currency of all human and animal decision making, enabling seemingly incommensurable things to be traded off against one another. (Is it worth getting stung by the bees to extract the honey from the hive? Here pain is pitted against pleasure.) As a result, it seems that genuine altruism is impossible. When I act to save someone’s life, I am really acting because I anticipate that saving the life will make me feel good, or because not acting will make me feel bad, or both. While accepting the common-currency idea, I argue that because pleasure and displeasure are really representations of value, altruism is possible after all (and frequently actual). When acting to save the life, I act because doing so strikes me as an intrinsically valuable thing to do (this is what the anticipated pleasure really is), not because I think it will make me feel good. The goal of the book is to flesh out this account in detail, to defend it against alternatives, and to show how it provides the best interpretation of the underlying affective science.
Learn more about Human Motives at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Colleen Taylor's "Irish Materialisms"

Colleen Taylor is Assistant Professor of English and Irish Studeis at Boston College in Massachusetts, USA. She has been the recipient of research fellowships from the Keough-Naughton Institute at the University of Notre Dame, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Irish Research Council. Taylor has taught English and Irish Studies at Notre Dame, University College Cork, and Boston College and has published articles in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Eire-Ireland, Tulsa Studies, Persuasions, and the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Romantic-Era Women's Writing. Her research specializes in eighteenth-century studies, Ireland, new materialism, and the environmental humanities.

Taylor applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Irish Materialisms: The Nonhuman and the Making of Colonial Ireland, 1690–1830, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of the chapter on Flax, which details the steps in the eighteenth-century Irish linen manufacture, Ireland's sole and most important industry in the century. It takes part in my wider analysis that the introduction of linen as a proto-industry in Ireland contributed to Britain's paternalist model of Irish colonialism: namely that British influence could improve and civilize Irish character. The discussion on page 99 focuses on industry improvements to make the linen bleaching process more efficient, specifically the addition of alkaline chemicals like sulfuric acid. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the whiteness of Irish linen became an increasingly important selling point, as the addition of alkaline solutions streamlined the industry's final step of bleaching flax. Although sulfuric acid ostensibly improved the bleaching process in comparison to older, more time-consuming processes involving buttermilk, the acid ultimately altered and damaged flax's naturally brown fibers at the molecular level. As I write on page 99: "When flax is bleached, when it sheds its brown oils in response to an oxidizing agent, it loses some of its matter and is permanently, irrevocably altered--a fact that implicitly extends to ideas about white fabric's correlative cultural ideal: purity" (99).

Yes, the Page 99 Test does work for my book. The example displayed on page 99 (bleaching flax in the linen manufacture) effectively demonstrates one of my central arguments: that material details metaphorically correlate to wider socio-cultural processes in Britain's colonial wheelhouse (in this instance, bleaching flax and cultural cleanliness). This page marks an important step in the book's wider story, which moves between coins, linen, mud, and pigs. Page 99's discussion exemplifies that the way materiality was treated in Ireland speaks to the ways the Irish character was colonized under a British government. Readers jumping to page 99 might be surprised, but they would get a sense of the book's new materialist methodology--of reading the metaphoric resonance of real, material details--and this new methodology's relevance for Irish studies.

Irish Materialisms argues that small material details mobilized big ideas in colonial Ireland. On page 99 the two extremes of this paradigm come together: the smallest material object discussed in the book (a molecule) and perhaps the biggest or most controversial idea in the argument (race). In the pages that follow, I move from discussing to the whiteness of flax linen to the deemed necessity of "cleansing" or "whitening" the Irish character, as expressed in British ideology, from its lazy, slovenly, "piggish" nature to the civil, white, and implicitly more "human" ideals of English society. That Irish flax could be treated with outside forces and bleached into whiteness implicitly said the same of Irish character: that it could be whitened, Anglicized, and improved through sometimes violent processes. Thus, the way objects were discussed in colonial Ireland mattered in powerful ways, as something as small as a flax molecule can articulate. As I argue throughout the rest of the book, reading matter deeply not only helps us better understand the functionality of colonial stereotypes, but it also guides us to retroactively read Irish colonial resistance with and through those same materials: coins, flax, spinning wheels, mud, and pigs.
Learn more about Irish Materialisms at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kristalyn Marie Shefveland "Selling Vero Beach"

Kristalyn Marie Shefveland is associate professor of American history at the University of Southern Indiana. She is the author of Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646–1722.

Shefveland applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Vero Beach: Settler Myths in the Land of the Aís and Seminole, and reported the following:
Page 99 picks up on a story of a Swedish émigré to the lower Indian River Lagoon in SE Florida and his successful attempts, after much hardship, to grow pineapples along the Atlantic Ridge. Excerpt from page:
Abundance came in time but an examination of the letters from the Hallstrom homestead tell quite the story of the realities of farming in the region and what settlers faced in Oslo and along the Atlantic Ridge, from heartbreak to success in the bright sun laden fields of South Florida. To this one can add the intrigue of family scandals, in this the Hallstrom’s are uncharacteristically open in their letters about their concerns and feelings, providing a unique window into their experiences. Axel Hallstrom was one of ten children from Skane in southernmost Sweden, thusly his correspondence involved many of his extended kin and family across the world.
Missing from this page, but would be found on surrounding pages, is that Axel Hallstrom found success on lands maintained by the Seminole, particularly the relatives of Tom Tiger, and that many settlers to the region chose to farm in the Tiger Hammock in part because it was already cultivated and filled with rich soil. Transformed entirely, the Tiger Hammock became Hallstrom space, a testament to settler memory, but this is also a form of Native erasure and further research is necessary to understand the longer history of the landscape, the story of the Seminole peoples whose original cultivation of the land likely made success for the Viking settlement possible.

While the Page 99 Test doesn’t necessarily work, per se, it reveals an interesting element to the story, a window into one settler family and their efforts in the Atlantic Ridge. The top of the page includes references to success from booster literature, but the lead to the next page hints at family discord and the strain of a transatlantic endeavor on the Hallstrom family.
Learn more about Selling Vero Beach at the University Press of Florida website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 22, 2024

Regina Kunzel's "In the Shadow of Diagnosis"

Regina Kunzel, Larned Professor of History and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, is an historian of the modern United States with interests in histories of gender and sexuality, queer history, the history of psychiatry, and the history of incarceration. She is the author of Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality and Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890 to 1945.

Kunzel applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In the Shadow of Diagnosis: Psychiatric Power and Queer Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of In the Shadow of Diagnosis considers queer people’s resistance to psychiatric authority and treatment in the mid-20th-century U.S., and to psychiatrists’ insistence that homosexuality was a treatable mental illness in particular. It features evidence from the archival collection that inspired and enabled the book: a rich and remarkable set of previously unexamined case files from Saint Elizabeths Hospital, the federal hospital for the mentally ill in Washington, D.C., in which psychiatrist Benjamin Karpman asked his patients to write autobiographies, journals, responses to questionnaires, and reviews of psychiatric texts. Page 99 includes one of my favorite lines drawn from one of those files. Frustrated by a lesbian who expressed “her profound skepticism with respect to all psychoanalytic findings and her intense resistance to all forms of psychic therapy,” Karpman acknowledged that “actually she does not want therapy. What she wants is either a social revolution which will permit her neurosis to be accepted, or a secret means of securing sexual gratification.”

Page 99 highlights gratifying stories of queer resilience and resistance. But to focus on resistance alone would require that we read the historical record very selectively and ignore evidence of the deep effects of stigma on queer and gender-nonconforming people that I explore beyond this page. The history of the encounter of queer people with psychiatry offers up resistance, to be sure. But it should not surprise us that for many, psychiatric thinking and treatment instilled, compounded, and consolidated a sense of stigma and shame. Others engaged psychiatry in more ambivalent and complex ways. One of the book’s challenging claims is that while psychiatry’s capture of queerness was far from complete, it is impossible to conceive of modern queer life sealed off from the influence of psychiatric thinking or stripped entirely clean of its assumptions.

Page 99 doesn’t shed light on another big claim of the book: that psychiatrists’ claim to expertise over homosexuality and gender variance underwrote the expansion of their power and authority at mid-century, used to broker some of their most important and strategic collaborations with the state. And so a story often told within the confines of the history of medicine or the history of the oppression of gay men and lesbians is also a story about American state and carceral power. In this history, (putatively) therapeutic and carceral spaces, practices, and logics blend and blur.
Learn more about In the Shadow of Diagnosis at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Criminal Intimacy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Charles Trueheart's "Diplomats at War"

Charles Trueheart is a former foreign correspondent of the Washington Post, a former Associate Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard, and a former Director of the American Library in Paris.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Diplomats at War: Friendship and Betrayal on the Brink of the Vietnam Conflict, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Diplomats at War: Friendship and Betrayal on the Brink of the Vietnam Conflict, a third of the way into the book, happens to introduce one of the themes of this history/memoir of Vietnam during the Kennedy administration: the outsized role of US news correspondents in shaping the gloomy narrative of an alliance that was not working.

The most famous of these correspondents was David Halberstam, whose book The Best and the Brightest, published nearly a dozen years later, charted the series of hubristic misjudgments that led the United States into a ten-year war. My page 99 introduces Homer Bigart, Halberstam’s predecessor as the New York Times correspondent in Saigon, and a model of the skeptical reporting that would undermine the optimistic progress reports the US government was producing for public consumption. Bigart famously coined a phrase describing the American reliance on the flawed governance of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, pronounced Ziem: “Sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem.”

To quote a salient passage about the US reporters from page 99, “The presidents of the United States and South Vietnam, and their entourages, were being driven crazy by their reporting. They thought it was inaccurate. They thought it was tendentious. They thought it was simplistic. But at least some Americans knew it was accurate.”

Although the focus of Diplomats at War is on the ranking US Foreign Service officers in Saigon at the time – US ambassador Frederick Nolting and deputy chief of mission William Trueheart, my godfather and father, respectively – their stormy relationship to the press corps is an important element in the narrative, and not a bad glimpse of the forces shaping historic outcomes in Vietnam more than sixty years ago.
Visit Charles Trueheart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Douglas Dowland's "We, Us, and Them"

Douglas Dowland is Associate Professor of English at Ohio Northern University and the author of Weak Nationalisms: Affect and Nonfiction in Postwar America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We, Us, and Them: Affect and American Nonfiction from Vietnam to Trump, and reported the following:
Much of my research focuses around synecdoche: the rhetorical tactic of substituting a part for a whole. This makes the Page 99 Test all the more fascinating to me, as it’s an exercise in synecdoche itself. Can page 99 give the reader an idea of a book overall? Can one page speak for an entire book?

For mine, the answer is, yes, I believe so! On page 99 of We, Us, and Them, you’ll find me winding down a chapter focused on the writer James Baldwin. What I’ve tried to do throughout the book is offer a counterintuitive narrative to our understanding of several American authors. Earlier in the book, I explored how John Steinbeck’s enthusiasm for the Vietnam War was derived mostly from his importing of the American story onto South Vietnam. I also explored how Hunter S. Thompson’s bilious reading of America was not so much driven by a countercultural impulse but more by good old-fashioned populism.

By page 99, I’ve finished perhaps my most counterintuitive move. For the previous twenty pages, I explore a book by James Baldwin that almost all critics have dismissed, The Evidence of Things Not Seen. My argument is that critics simply missed the point of the book – to them, Baldwin had written poorly and betrayed his legacy. But to me, Baldwin’s book is not a disaster but a conclusion: going farther, it is Baldwin’s stepping away from the premises of both his reputation and of his decades-long insistence that justice could be done, that African-Americans could be treated as equals in the United States. My thesis is that he realizes the futility of America as a nation and that his book is a practice in the art of futility. His giving up is thus exactly the point that critics miss, if only because it pulls from under their feet the idea of what I call “James Baldwin,” not so much the man, but the reputation white critics built for him.

Thus I write on page 99:
What if [Baldwin] is no longer interested in seeking to reason with white critics or white people, or whiteness altogether? What if he no longer cares if he has produced ample reasons that justify his anger to critics, or expended energy appealing to the decent and humane when those appeals go perpetually unenacted? What if he does not want to be together with us? And, ultimately, what if he no longer believes that white America, or America entirely, is worthy of his patience, his intellect, his identity, or his voice?
To me, Baldwin’s book is an “affective exit from America. It is a rejection of loyalty to the nation that does not nurture but only threatens him.”

All said, there is much that can be derived from page 99, and that itself says something about the power of synecdoche. In my book, it’s a page that gets to the point of the book entire – that how authors write about America reveal the strong affects at work in their depictions, we see the presumptions and frustrations that emerge when they employ three deceptively simple words: we, us, and them.
Learn more about We, Us, and Them at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2024

David Kinley's "The Liberty Paradox"

David Kinley is the inaugural Chair of Human Rights Law at the University of Sydney, a founding member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, and an Expert Member of Doughty Street Chambers in London. He is the author of Necessary Evil: How to Fix Finance by Saving Human Rights and the coauthor of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Kinley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Liberty Paradox: Living with the Responsibilities of Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Liberty Paradox deals with happiness. What are our freedoms and responsibilities in its pursuit and how do we negotiate them individually and collectively?

Specifically, the page tells us that in handling “the slings and arrows of fortune, however outrageous,” our “capacity for adaptation” is critical to securing happiness. And adaptation, in turn, boils down to how well we manage expectations, not only in the banality of everyday existence but also when fate changes our circumstances extraordinarily. One might suppose, for example, that winning the lottery or suffering a paralyzing injury will inexorably, fundamentally, and lastingly change our levels of happiness. Yet that appears not to be the case in practice. Apparently, we all have what psychologists call a set point of happiness, “to which we nearly always return, regardless of what befalls us in the meantime.” As a result, counterintuitively, “the world is not short of wealthy whingers and paralyzed optimists.”

In terms of the book’s central argument – that liberty’s paradox lies in it necessarily comprising both freedom and responsibility – page 99 reflects one of the enduring conundrums of that relationship. Namely, that while our freedom to choose what makes us happy is always hemmed in by our commensurate responsibility to recognize and respect our neighbor’s freedom to do the same (and all that delicate equilibrium entails), each of us also possesses personal predilections for self-awareness, empathy, and law-abidingness that significantly influence how we process the relationship internally and how we express it publicly. In this respect, much the same can said of the other realms of human life covered in the book – health, wealth, work, security, voice, love, and death. Liberty while living in the company of others is a bargain into which all of us must enter for each of us to enjoy.
Learn more about The Liberty Paradox at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Thomas M. Larkin's "The China Firm"

Thomas M. Larkin is assistant professor of the history of the United States of America and the world at the University of Prince Edward Island.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his book, The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of British Colonial Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The China Firm begins halfway through a paragraph discussing the nostalgia Americans in nineteenth-century China felt during annual Fourth of July celebrations. The rest of the page describes how such celebrations were a source of friction between American inhabitants of Hong Kong and their British peers; it concludes by switching gears to introduce the expensive social rituals that the port’s American elite performed daily, beginning with an account of riding culture in the colony. The three paragraphs on this page take the reader through themes at the heart of the book: patriotism and nostalgia; Anglo-American tension and amity; class and social performance. To put it simply, the Page 99 Test works.

Expanded upon further throughout the rest of the chapter, the anecdotes on page 99 point to the balancing act that overshadowed American attempts to navigate British colonial and semi-colonial space along the China coast. American elites arriving in nineteenth-century China recognised the social, economic, and diplomatic value of becoming accepted amongst British society, but their efforts to do so were often inflected by their heightened sense of national identity, antecedent tensions between Britain and the United States playing out on a global scale, and their ability to perform the requisite markers of success. The Fourth of July was, for example, an important opportunity to express one’s national pride, but how the broader colonial community reacted was subject to wider circumstances. When things were swell between the American and British communities, the British joined in the revelry; when tensions flared, as they did during the American Civil War, acerbic British commenters in the port’s China Mail newspaper derided the day as an ‘inordinate national vanity.’ We see, then, on page 99, a brief instance reflecting the calibrated performance Americans sustained as they were ‘made’ in and helped ‘make’ British colonial society in China.
Learn more about The China Firm at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Hajar Yazdiha's "The Struggle for the People’s King"

Hajar Yazdiha is assistant professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her first book, The Struggle for the People’s King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 concludes a chapter on battles over civil rights memory between the progressive LGBTQ movement and the conservative family values movement. This page describes how each group had worked to claim the memory of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement to take the moral high ground in their political battles.

More importantly, this page describes the consequences of these strategies where conservative groups increasingly use Dr. King to frame themselves as the new oppressed minorities fighting for their rights. As I write on page 99,
As conservative groups attempted to both discredit progressive groups’ claims to civil rights memory and establish their own claims to memory, rainbow coalitions were forming to challenge the reactionary right-wing movements that were gaining popularity in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.
It's incredible how well the Page 99 Test works here! Though we’re only getting a snapshot from one of the cases in the book (other chapters take on different social movements), the takeaways about the co-optation of civil rights memory are a throughline. From page 99 we get a sense of how the book explores the political misuses of Dr. King and how they matter for contemporary politics.

One of the major takeaways of The Struggle for the People’s King is that the political misuses of Dr. King and civil rights memory are not just rhetorical. These are intentional political strategies and they have powerful effects. These misuses of memory don’t just change the way we collectively remember the racial past. They also shape the way we make sense of the present, tackle social problems together, and direct action toward the future. This is where the real danger of historical revisionism lies, in its capacity to evade social reality.

There is a popular way of understanding the divisive nature of American political culture as a matter of polarization. My book shows that it is not that we are polarized into different sides of the same coin. Through the politics of historical revisionism, we have diverged in our conceptions of social reality. We are living on different planes.

Despite this grim reality, at the core of The Struggle for the People’s King are these perennial questions about identity and belonging. What does it take to feel like we belong, to a community, to a nation, and to one another? How does our understanding of our place in society, our connection to its past, shape our imaginations of what type of society may be possible?

Dr. King said, “The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes open.” My book is an invitation to readers to confront the past, present, and future with eyes wide open, to come together in community, to be visionaries.
Visit Hajar Yazdiha's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Matthew Holmes's "The Graft Hybrid"

Matthew Holmes is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental History at the University of Stavanger, where he examines the modern history of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) in urban spaces. His previous postdoc position at the University of Cambridge investigated science and agriculture in the British Empire. Holmes's new book, The Graft Hybrid: Challenging Twentieth-Century Genetics, explores the creation of chimeral plants and animals. He also publishes on the history of biotechnology, morphology, and natural history.

Holmes applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Graft Hybrid and reported the following:
Although page 99 of The Graft Hybrid does not engage with the book’s titular subject, it does provide an entry point to one of the greatest controversies in the history of biology: whether grafting different plants and animals together could produce new species. Page 99 introduces a botanical power couple, Mabel Rayner and William Neilson Jones, lecturers at Bedford College, London. In 1920 Rayner and Neilson Jones published a textbook that described the famous experiments of Gregor Mendel on pea plants. Mendelian genetics, they claimed, had great practical promise for breeding new plants and animals for agriculture. Grafting only received a brief mention.

Reading page 99 alone would give a one-sided view of The Graft Hybrid, and indeed, of the history of biology itself. Alternatives to Mendelian genetics as an agricultural tool persisted across the twentieth century. One of these alternatives was graft hybridization. Over the course of the twentieth century, biologists from around the world claimed to have been able to artificially create an extraordinary array of new species: from strangely colored chickens and salamanders to potato-tomato hybrids. If we read beyond page 99, we find that Neilson Jones also published an influential 1934 book titled Plant Chimaeras and Graft Hybrids. In it, he claimed that it was theoretically possible for the cells of grafted plants to fuse together to create new hybrid species.

The story of the graft hybrid has many twists and turns, which Neilson Jones experienced. While the first edition of his book on graft hybrids was widely praised, its second edition – released in 1969 – was harshly criticized. In the Soviet Union, genetics was under attack as a bourgeois science, with graft hybridization promoted in its stead. Neilson Jones’s fall from grace reflects the larger argument of my book, which demonstrates that belief in the existence of graft hybrids was scientifically respectable until the “Lysenko affair” in the Soviet Union divided biology along ideological lines.
Visit Matthew Holmes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2024

Eileen M. Hunt's "The First Last Man"

Eileen M. Hunt is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Artificial Life After Frankenstein and Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child: Political Philosophy in "Frankenstein."

Hunt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The First Last Man: Mary Shelley and the Postapocalyptic Imagination, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The First Last Man: Mary Shelley and the Postapocalyptic Imagination is the center of the book. On this page you will find some of the core and controversial themes of my third book on Mary Shelley (and of Mary Shelley's own life!): incest, love triangles, and how they spread wider social conflicts including the metaphorical plague of war. In the following passage drawn from page 99, I describe how the teenage Mary Shelley became obsessed with the figure of Oedipus from the time she eloped with Percy Shelley in 1814, when she was just 16 and he was 21 and married to another woman. Sometime in the couple's first year together, Mary Shelley wrote down and modified a quote from the original ancient Greek from Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes in the endpapers of her first journal book, which she co-kept with Percy:
The original meaning of the journal’s Greek quote adapted from Aeschylus, however, might be inferred from its probable writing in Mary Shelley’s hand, and its placement at the very back of her first notebook, which ends in May 1815. Her copying and modification of this passage from Seven Against Thebes would suggest that she was a quick study. Perhaps it was Shelley’s guilt over disobeying her father Godwin during her elopement that inspired her preoccupation with the choral lament of the “heavy fate” of Oedipus. In 1834, Shelley disclosed in passing to the woman who nursed her, Maria Gisborne, that her stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont noticed “long before” she was fourteen that she had an “excessive & romantic attachment to my Father.” Mary Jane may have attempted to purge the family of a younger female rival for Godwin’s attention by helping to arrange for the adolescent’s departure in 1812 to live with the Baxter family in Scotland.

Akin to the exposure of the infant Oedipus by his parents, Shelley’s youthful exile would backfire upon her family. Upon her first return to London from Dundee, in November 1812, she met Percy at a dinner party at her father’s table. Upon her next return, in 1814, they fell in love, courted on her mother’s grave, and ran away to France with Mary Jane’s daughter Claire.

But Mary and Percy’s scandalous three-way elopement with her stepsister did more than anger their joint father-figure Godwin and his second wife. It infused an incestuous and conflictive dynamic in their romantic relationship from the very start. As she filled the final pages of her first journal book in the spring of 1815, Shelley’s cursive grew ever larger and more uncontrolled.
Page 99 of The First Last Man doesn't tell you the whole story of this study of how Mary Shelley's 1826 novel, The Last Man, helped to generate the modern genre of postapocalyptic pandemic literature, film, and television. But it does give you a lot of reasons to pick up the book and read it: to figure out why and how the deeper interpersonal conflicts of Mary Shelley's complex familial and romantic life—especially with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, her father William Godwin, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont—led her to develop not just one, but two, of the major sources for contemporary political science fiction: Frankenstein and The Last Man!
Learn more about The First Last Man at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kashshaf Ghani's "Sufi Rituals and Practices"

Kashshaf Ghani is an Assistant Professor in the School of Historical Studies at Nalanda University, India. He specializes in pre-modern South Asia, covering the period 1000-1800, focusing on the history of Sufism, its practices, interactions, networks, and regional experiences. He is also interested in Indo-Persian histories, interreligious interactions, history and culture of the Persianate world, and Asian interconnections. Ghani studied History at Presidency College, Kolkata, and the University of Calcutta, where he completed his PhD. He has held teaching and research positions at Aliah University, Kolkata; University of Calcutta; The Asiatic Society, Kolkata; Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris; Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin; and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata.

Ghani applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sufi Rituals and Practices: Experiences from South Asia, 1200-1450, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a chapter that translates, for the first time, for English readers the 14th century treatise of Usul al-Sama by Maulana Fakhr al-Din Zarradi, who defended, through 10 principles, the Sufi practice of sama – listening to music and poetry for spiritual ecstasy.

Page 99 concludes the third principle which discusses the qualities of musical instruments – like duff, and the kind of emotions it creates in the heart of the listener. If duff is played while reciting good messages, then it is considered lawful. On the other hand if the playing of duff accompanies wine drinking, it will give rise to improper thoughts. Hence in such occasions musical instruments are forbidden. Rather than the sound of instruments, Sufi saints in sama are enraptured by poetry and verses, that are recited by the singer.

The fourth principle begins by elaborating on the quality of poetry and verse, the best of which constitute well-measured and rhythmical verses. The clarity in the latter is brought about by the reciter, who should be an individual of pure heart. It is by the blessing of the divine – considered the real creator of the poetry – that the heart of the listener is inclined in love and passion, towards God. Good voice is a blessing of God, in the sense that it leaves a beneficial impression on the heart of the listener. The grace of God descends on the listener when his mind and body is in harmony.

The page thus captures the end and beginning of two core issues that concern the practice of sama – the concluding points on the use of musical instruments like duff, and beginning the discussion on the recitation of poetry and verse. This page helps the reader connect to the main concerns of the book – historically situate the importance of Sufi rituals; the formalization of core Sufi rituals like sama and zikr; their role in the institutionalization of Sufi traditions in South Asia; along with the contribution of important Sufi masters, disciples and texts in consolidating the traditions of Sufi ritual like sama.
Visit Kashshaf Ghani's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Nathaniel Wiewora's "Sins of Christendom"

Nathaniel Wiewora is an associate professor of history at Harding University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sins of Christendom: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Evangelicalism, and reported the following:
On page 99, I look at the ways antebellum evangelicals honed in on the physical depictions of Mormonism's golden plates as a way to express disapproval and doubt concerning Mormonism's origin story. They stated incredulity about the size, weight, and shape of the golden plates. Concluding that the plates would have weighed several hundred pounds, these evangelicals wondered how Joseph Smith would have ever been able to carry them. This disbelief over the material existence of the golden plates went along with evangelical doubt about the true authorship of Mormonism's founding writ. Antebellum evangelicals assumed the Book of Mormon had human origins, but they also thought it must have been the work of someone other than Joseph Smith.

The Page 99 Test gives an incomplete picture of the argument in Sins of Christendom. Page 99 occurs in the middle of a larger chapter, where evangelicals claimed the Book of Mormon was uncanonical. In addition to the physical characteristics of the Book of Mormon, evangelicals pointed out the ways, they believed, that Joseph Smith had copied the appearance and content of the Bible, as well as plagiarizing his revelation from preexisting sources. What page 99 does not reveal is how this detailed concern with the veracity of the Book of Mormon reveals much more than mere religious intolerance. The antebellum criticisms about the ways Mormonism used and abused scripture resonated within evangelicalism because they faced many of the same debates and dilemmas about the uses and abuses of their own sacred texts. Focused on proving that the Book of Mormon was not an ancient document, evangelicals at the same time grappled with a growing feeling that their own Bible was itself a product of history. The overlapping nature of these charges against Mormonism’s scriptural practices and internal tensions over how to read and understand the Bible allowed evangelicals concerned about how their coreligionists mishandled scripture to use Mormonism as a foil to mark out the boundaries of how one should correctly read and interpret the Bible.

Page 99 lays out the content of antebellum evangelical anti-Mormonism, but this book is really not about the criticisms themselves. My book examines how evangelicals used religious intolerance. Evangelicals responded to their initial contact with Mormonism with predictable religious animus, but anti-Mormonism had wide ranging consequences in antebellum America. Heresy hunting shaped evangelical beliefs and practices. In their earliest years of encounter, evangelicals developed a diverse and vibrant anti-Mormonism. Evangelicals simultaneously disagreed with their coreligionists over the same complaints they levelled against Mormonism. The sense that Mormonism was too similar to their own faith displayed and deepened divisions within the evangelical movement. They accused each other of being like the followers of Joseph Smith in order to define orthodox evangelical beliefs and practices.
Learn more about Sins of Christendom at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 12, 2024

Stephanie Lawson's "Regional Politics in Oceania"

Stephanie Lawson is Professor Emerita of Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University; Honorary Professor in Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University; and Senior Research Associate, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg. She has previously held teaching and research positions at the University of New England, the Australian National University, the University of East Anglia, and the University of Birmingham as well as other visiting positions. She is a past president of the Australian Political Studies Association, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and the current President of the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association. Her publications span the fields of comparative and international politics, normative theory and Pacific Studies on issues ranging from nationalism and ethnic politics to the theorization of democracy and human rights in cross-cultural settings. Her books include Culture and Context in World Politics (2006), Theories of International Relations: Contending Approaches to World Politics (2015), and International Relations (4th edn, 2023).

Lawson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her most recent book, Regional Politics in Oceania: From Colonialism and Cold War to the Pacific Century, and reported the following:
I was quite disappointed when I opened page 99 of my book and found part of a detailed discussion of the politics surrounding the establishment and early years of Oceania’s first substantive regional organization – the South Pacific Commission – in the early post-war period. It was certainly not a page that would strike a reader, casual or expert or something in between, with anything approaching fascination. Even so, it is an essential part of a longer account of the difficulties facing the region’s major colonial powers of the time – the UK, the USA, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand – in reconciling their different interests in coming together to create what has turned out to be an extremely important organization (since re-named the Pacific Community) that lies at the heart of coordinated service delivery and technical assistance for the people of the Pacific Islands.

Page 99 provides observations on French attitudes that were very much at variance with those of most of the other colonizing powers. France was to pursue strategies that strongly resisted decolonization while the UK, Australia and New Zealand became much more attuned to the ‘wind of change’ that started blowing from the 1960s onward. Although undoubtedly paternalistic, the latter three had, from the beginning, supported Indigenous participation and greater agency in political affairs. The US position, however, was closer to that of the French – one reason among others why much of the Micronesian sub-region was the slowest to gain at least some measure of independence.

One important theme raised by page 99, and well-illustrated by the fuller account, is that the colonizing powers were not all lined up on one side of a colonizer/colonized divide, all following the same imperial script. Nor were the colonized territories at one in resistance to colonialism. They, too, had different standpoints and interests and, difficult as it may be to conceive now, some even resisted decolonization.

Page 99, however, hints at only one aspect of a longer, and much broader, account of the world’s largest geographical region – often now referred to as the ‘Blue continent’. In addition to canvassing aspects of regionalism from a comparative perspective, the book charts the story of the region from the earliest Indigenous settlements, over thousands of years, through to the period of European exploration from the late sixteenth century and then to the formal colonization of most island groups by the late nineteenth century. Of special interest is the division of the broad region into the sub-regions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, a division that has its origins in European racial thinking but which Indigenous islanders have made their own. In addition to investigating key aspects of Indigenous social and political organization within these sub-regions, the book also delves into the politics of subregional organization and the Melanesia/Polynesia divide in particular.

In turn, these accounts contribute insights into a politics of identity as played out between the sub-regions as well as between the Pacific Island Countries on the one hand, and Australia and New Zealand on the other. The latter remain members of both the Pacific Community (as do the USA and France) as well as of the region’s premier political organization, the Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971 primarily to provide island leaders with a venue for political discussions which the French (and to a lesser extent the USA) would not allow in the older organization.

In the early independence period, a broad discourse developed under the rubric of a ‘Pacific Way’ also came to suggest a common identity shared by all Pacific Islanders but also implied that they ‘did things differently’ (at least vis-à-vis Western ways) when it came to political practices at local, national and regional levels. This has been an important theme in discussions about culture and democracy in the region. The emergence of a ‘Melanesian Way’, however, demonstrated tensions and contradictions underlying the catch-all ‘Pacific Way’ which tended to privilege Polynesian identity and did not resonate widely in Micronesia either.

There are also more recent issues concerning security, political economy and geopolitics all of which raise concerns about neo-colonialism in the region. This involves not only ‘traditional’ colonial powers, but also newer actors – China in particular. Indonesia’s colonization of West Papua and the outcomes for Indigenous Melanesians there also casts a very different light on some of the book’s key themes.

Above all, the book is designed to provide not just a detailed account of the history and politics of the broad region (which draws as well on important anthropological work), but to provide a critical perspective on many of the assumptions embodied in a range of works that tend to see issues of colonialism and hegemony, identity and agency, in two-dimensional terms.
Learn more about Regional Politics in Oceania at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Julia Kindt's "The Trojan Horse and Other Stories"

Julia Kindt is Professor of Ancient History, ARC Future Fellow (2018-22), a member of the Sydney Environment Institute, and elected fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She is a contributor to TLS, the Australian Book Review, Meanjin, History Today, the Conversation, and other magazines. The first woman appointed full professor in Classics and Ancient History at Sydney University, she is a historian of ancient Greece with a broad interest in the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the ancient world and a particular expertise in the history of ideas (including religion, historiography, and classical reception studies). She was a member of the ARC College of Experts (2019-2022) and is senior editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religions (ORE), Associate editor in the editorial collective of Public Humanities (a new journal published by Cambridge University Press), and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Ancient Historyand Antichthon.

Kindt's highly regarded books include Rethinking Greek Religion (2013) and Revisiting Delphi. Religion and Storytelling in Ancient Greece (2016).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Trojan Horse and Other Stories: Ten Ancient Creatures That Make Us Human, and reported the following:
Flipping forward and opening The Trojan Horse on page 99 will get you right into the thick of the fascinating story of the Cyclops Polyphemus and his encounter with Odysseus as represented in Homer’s Odyssey. I show that the way in which the Cyclops features in Homer’s famous story anticipates and reverberates not only with later philosophical views on the scope and limits of what it means to be human; the story of Odysseus’ run in with Polyphemus also foreshadows some of the tropes in which certain humans are typecast as ‘other’ and ‘less than human’ in much more recent times. This applies for example to the Cyclops’ man-eating habit and to the fact that he cannot seem to tolerate wine – two stereotypes about human ‘otherness’ that feature in many ethnographic accounts of distant peoples well into the twentieth century. I point out that the consumption of wine as a marker of humanity also features in various other chapters of the book (and the human-animal entanglements they depict) for example in a painting of the Minotaur by Pablo Picasso and in Joseph Kafka’s account of Red Peter, an ape who becomes socialised as a human.

Yes, the Page 99 Test works. Really well actually. The sample page touches upon several themes central to the book. In discussing the problematic humanity of the Cyclops the page directly points to the questions at the core of the book: what makes us human? What (if anything) sets us apart from all other creatures in the world? The contrast between the clever wit of Odysseus and the dim-witted Polyphemus (who is easily tricked by Odysseus into letting Odysseus and his comrades escape from his island) references a powerful argument made by certain ancient and modern thinkers: that the human stands out from all other creatures through the presence of logos (ancient Greek for ‘speech’ but also ‘reason’). This position originated with the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle but became one of the most influential and widely-shared arguments made for human exceptionalism and superiority. And yet, as I show in this book, the ancient Greek and Roman world also featured a large array of other thinkers who used narrative and storytelling to push back on this argument and to showcase the many ways in which humans and other animals are alike.

At the same time, the forward-facing cross-references to Picasso and Kafka on the sample page provide an inkling as to how the book is structured: the book has ten chapters each of which revolves around a single ancient creature which, like the Cyclops Polyphemus, sits uneasily between human and animal: The Sphinx, Xanthus (Achilles’ speaking horse), the lion of Androclus, the Trojan Horse, the Trojan boar, the political bee, the Socratic gadfly, the Minotaur, and the Shearwaters of Diomedea. Each chapter starts from the ancient stories that brought the creature in question alive; each chapter then sets out to follow the trail of the creature into the modern world and into the work of a modern thinker who speaks to the question of what makes us human. The figure of the Sphinx, for example makes, an appearance in the works of the Viennese physician and inventor of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and the Socratic gadfly (which first emerges in Plato’s account of Socrates’ trial) helps to define the politically engaged citizen in the oeuvre of the famous political theorist Hannah Arendt. Overall, then, the book shows how views first articulated in the ancient Greek and Roman world have shaped and continue to shape modern (Western) conceptions of the human.
Learn more about The Trojan Horse and Other Stories at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Jodi Magness's "Jerusalem through the Ages"

Jodi Magness is Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of numerous books, including Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth, The Archaeology of the Holy Land from the Destruction of Solomon's Temple to the Muslim Conquest, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, and The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Magness applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Jerusalem through the Ages: From Its Beginnings to the Crusades, and reported the following:
Readers who open my book to page 99 will probably find themselves somewhat lost. This page is in the middle of the chapter on Judahite Jerusalem, which focuses on the year 587 BCE, shortly before the city’s destruction by the Babylonians. The book introduces readers to Jerusalem by presenting the history and archaeology of the city in different periods, from its beginnings to the Crusades. Without the preceding historical and archaeological framework for Judahite Jerusalem, most readers probably will not be able to understand or appreciate the discussion on page 99, which describes inscribed seals, bullae, and stone capitals from a late Iron Age public building recently excavated to the south of the Temple Mount. Among these is a stone seal that belonged to a woman named Elihana daughter of Gael. Seals (which were used to seal documents by making an impression into a lump of clay) and bullae (clay sealings - that is, lumps of clay impressed with a seal) bearing female names are rare because ancient Israelite families were patriarchal. Most women did not own seals since they did not conduct business in their own name. The Elihana seal and other finds were discovered among the debris that filled the public building, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

The Page 99 premise is intriguing, but Jerusalem’s story is so rich and complex that I doubt any one page in my book can convey an accurate impression of the overall contents. I hope that readers of this blog will discover this for themselves by reading the entire book, or, at least, the chapters on periods of interest to them.
Visit Jodi Magness's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Micah McKay's "Trash and Limits in Latin American Culture"

Micah McKay, assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Alabama, is coeditor of Environmental Cultural Studies Through Time: The Luso-Hispanic World.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trash and Limits in Latin American Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Trash and Limits in Latin American Culture introduces readers to the Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec’s 1992 novel El aire, which I analyze as an example of what I call “trash works”: works of literary fiction from Latin America that meditate on the relationship between trash and work. El aire tells the story of a man named Barroso, who loses his job and spends most of the novel looking at and dealing with different kinds of trash, whether it be the old newspapers and food containers piling up in his apartment, the glass people scavenge from garbage cans, or the slums that are popping up on the rooftops of middle- and upper-class apartment buildings in Chejfec’s strangely imagined Buenos Aires.

While page 99 is narrowly focused on teasing out some of the plot points of a single novel, it does manage to suggest a crucial theme with which I engage throughout the book: the relationship between waste and space. I talk about how Barroso wanders around the city making note of where trash may or may not be found, lists specific kinds of trash, and becomes bewildered by what for him is the encroachment of trash spaces (slums) on the city. What trash does in specific spaces—both real spaces and representational ones, like novels and films—is, in large part, what Trash and Limits in Latin American Culture is about. In this sense, page 99 is representative of the book as a whole. However, another key feature of the book that this page does not emphasize is the kind of thinking that trash allows us to do when it shows up (or when we look for it) in cultural production. I argue that because trash is itself a material form that comes into being in the ambiguous limit or frontier between categories like value and uselessness, representations of trash in Latin American culture help us see the limits of normative conceptualizations of the human, community, waste management, and environmental activism. I hope readers who are intrigued by page 99 will follow the logic of trash on the preceding and following pages as it guides them along these limits.
Learn more about Trash and Limits in Latin American Culture at the University Press of Florida website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 8, 2024

Ray E. Boomhower's "The Ultimate Protest"

Ray E. Boomhower is a senior editor at the Indiana Historical Society Press. His books include The Soldier's Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle, Dispatches from the Pacific: The World War II Reporting of Robert L. Sherrod, and Richard Tregaskis: Reporting Under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Ultimate Protest: Malcolm W. Browne, Thich Quang Duc, and the News Photograph That Stunned the World, and reported the following:
What’s on page 99 of The Ultimate Protest: Malcolm W. Browne, Thich Quang Duc, and the News Photograph That Stunned the World?

Photo, caption: Quang Duc on fire—the Browne photo that is most widely known today.

Initially, I was disappointed to learn that when I turned to page 99 of my Malcolm W. Browne biography, it fell within the photo spread included in the book. Astonishingly, however, the photograph on page would give any reader a very good insight into what the book is about, as it is the image that became known around the world as “The Ultimate Protest.” It is one of a series of images captured on film by Browne, the Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press, on June 11, 1963, as Buddhist monk Quang Duc sacrificed his life to protest the alleged anti-Buddhist policies of the Catholic-dominated administration of South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem.

Browne, who had been tipped off about the demonstration the evening before, was the only Western reporter on the scene to photograph the horrific event. Although the monk, as he burned, uttered no sound nor changed his position, Browne could see that his “features were contorted with agony” and could hear as he worked moans from the crowd that had gathered, as well as the ragged chanting from the approximately 300 yellow-robed monks and gray-robed Buddhist nuns who had joined the protest.

The photo stands as a keystone of Browne’s character as a reporter—a willingness to be on the scene when news broke and a determination to tell the truth no matter what the danger, avoiding becoming what he called being “a brainless journalistic cheer leader.” Believing himself to be a “conscientious newsman,” Browne set tried to set aside his “personal views when reporting events,” instead trying to “emulate the detachment of a camera lens” when he covered a story.

During his time covering the Vietnam War, Browne had been determined to provide his readers “a continuous, honest assessment of the situation” of what he called “a puzzling war,” believing as well that officials in Vietnam—both Vietnamese and American—should try to do the same. After all, he noted, Vietnam had been too important to “look at through rose-colored glasses.”

Journalists, Browne acknowledged, were fallible, but he asked his readers to show some understanding. “When you really get into almost any subject it turns out to be much more complicated and confusing than you thought,” he pointed out. “For journalists, life and work are a continuous learning process, and although we often get it wrong to start with, sometimes the second draft is better.

Getting his photographs of the monk’s sacrifice had not been easy. With the aid of a “pigeon,” a regular passenger on a commercial flight willing to act as a courier to avoid censorship by South Vietnamese government officials, Browne’s exposed film made its way from the AP bureau in Saigon to a transmission point in Manila. Upon finishing their fifteen-hour-, twenty-minute odyssey, Browne’s images were edited and distributed from the New York office to AP member newspapers in the United States and around the world.

The image used by most newspapers was a tightly cropped one showing Quang Duc engulfed in flames with the Austin and a small number of the monks in attendance in the background. Later, Browne’s full sequence, including the expanded view of the self-immolation, described by AP’s editors as “The Ultimate Protest,” the photo featured in full on page 99, became available for publication.

From Lawrence, Kansas, to Cumberland, Maryland, from Bluefield, West Virginia, to Colorado Spring, Colorado, readers retrieved their morning and afternoon newspapers and were confronted with the photo of Quang Duc engulfed in flames at the intersection of two main streets in Saigon, Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet. “That picture put the Vietnam War on the front page more than anything else that happened before. That’s where the story stayed for the next 10 years or more,” noted Hal Buell, then AP deputy photo editor in New York.

Although Browne noted that millions of words had been written about the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam, his pictures possessed “an incomparable impact.” A group of clergymen in the United States used the photograph for full-page advertisements in the New York Times and Washington Post decrying American military aid to a country that denied most of its citizens religious freedoms. Vietnamese Buddhist leaders emblazoned the image on placards they carried during demonstrations. Officials in Communist China used the image for their own propaganda purposes, distributing copies throughout Southeast Asia and attributing the monk’s death to the work of “the U.S. imperialist aggressors and their Diemist lackeys.”

Browne’s photograph has become one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War, standing alongside two other searing AP photographs that have been burned into the collective American conscience—Eddie Adams’s “Saigon Execution,” his graphic shot of a suspected Viet Cong guerrilla being summarily executed at point-blank range by a South Vietnamese police chief and Nick Ut’s “Terror of War,” showing a naked, nine-year-old girl screaming as she runs down a road with her skin burned from a South Vietnamese napalm bombing that mistakenly hit her village.

Quang Duc’s sacrifice weighed on Browne, who died on August 27, 2012. “I don’t think many journalists take pleasure from human suffering,” he noted, but he did have to admit to “having sometimes profited from others’ pain.” Although by no means intentional on his part, that fact did not help, Browne noted. “Journalists inadvertently influence events they cover, and although the effects are sometimes for the good, they can also be tragic,” he said. “Either way, when death is the outcome, psychic scars remain.”

There were other deaths that Browne witnessed in Vietnam—losses that became mere “footnotes” in the history of the war compared to the “theater of the horrible” that Quang Duc’s sacrifice represented for his cause. Browne, however, never forgot them.
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The Page 99 Test: Richard Tregaskis.

--Marshal Zeringue