Friday, May 31, 2024

Roger Crowley's "Spice"

Roger Crowley is a narrative historian of the early modern period. His celebrated books include City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire and Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire.

Crowley applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Spice: The 16th-Century Contest that Shaped the Modern World, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a vivid eyewitness account of the torture and execution of Portuguese sailors in China, at the port of Canton in 1517, told from their letters smuggled out of the country. I have to say it makes for rather ghastly reading!

Page 99 says nothing directly about the European quest for spices in the world – the book’s central theme – but it is integral to the larger issue laid out in the sub-title – that the quest for spices shaped the modern world through countless interactions with peoples beyond Europe. It is also an example of the book’s emphasis on eyewitness history. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach China by sea. And here they received a profound culture shock. They completely misread the protocols tied up with China. As misunderstandings grew, the Chinese, who had closed their borders to foreigners, became increasingly suspicious of these incomers. For readers, the page 99 test of the account of the fates of these captured Portuguese is a reliable sample of the book’s narrative approach.

Spice is a history of six crucial decades in the sixteenth century – from 1511, when the Portuguese first reached the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, in the Malay Archipelago through to 1571 when the Spanish created a trading hub in Manila in the Philippines.

The Moluccas were destined to become the focus of intense rivalry for the spice trade – first between Portugal and Spain, later with other European maritime powers, that led to contests with the Ottoman empires and contact with China and Japan.

The competitive attempts on the Spice Islands, driven by sophisticated sailing ships, increased skills of navigation and information gathering, and fast-firing cannons, gave a definitive shape to the planet’s seas and continents. In the process Europeans proved that the world was spherical, spanned the Pacific Ocean, created Manila, the world’s first global city, and linked up the oceans – ‘the world encompassed’ in Drake’s phrase. While the great land empires of China and India remained aloof, the spice voyages created maritime empires across distances unmatched in human history and gave birth to global trade. It shifted Europe from the margins to the centre: its maritime empires would dominate the planet for half a millennium.
Visit Roger Crowley's website.

Writers Read: Roger Crowley (December 2015).

The Page 99 Test: Conquerors.

The Page 99 Test: The Accursed Tower.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Hannah Spahn's "Black Reason, White Feeling"

Hannah Spahn is Professor of American Studies at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and the author of Thomas Jefferson, Time, and History.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Black Reason, White Feeling: The Jeffersonian Enlightenment in the African American Tradition, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book has in its first line the title of a new subsection called "Rational Liberty." This section is part of chapter 5, "The Lessons of Reason," which makes the case that the hermeneutics of the Declaration of Independence were decisively transformed by the strong concepts of reason, knowledge, and principle that were emphasized by African American intellectuals from the 1770s to the 1850s and beyond. As shown in this chapter, these concepts gradually overwrote the original emphasis on feeling, opinion, and assent that had characterized Jefferson's version of the Declaration, thus gradually endowing the document with the universalist meanings that have become familiar today. On page 99, I discuss the term rational liberty in the work of a successful Philadelphia businessman and Patriot veteran from the revolutionary war, James Forten, who used it in his Series of Letters by a Man of Color (1813) to illustrate the universalism of his interpretation of both the Declaration and the Pennsylvania Constitution. In his view, the ideals of universal liberty and equality expressed in these documents embraced "the Indian and the European, the Savage and the Saint, the Peruvian and the Laplander, the white Man and the African."

In discussing the transformative power of African American concepts of reason and rational liberty, page 99 is indeed representative of the book's larger argument, which may be boiled down to the claim, essentially, that reason is better than its reputation in the humanities. For a long time, the default approach to reason in disciplines such as literary or cultural studies has consisted in the tendency to conflate it with concepts such as "instrumental rationality" and discuss the Enlightenment mainly as the cynical project of elite white men who appealed to reason not to liberate, but to rule and oppress the rest of the world. In its aim to develop a more nuanced approach, my book overlaps with, but also departs from, the work of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who has recently used the term rational liberty in the title of the second volume of his extensive history of faith and knowledge (Vernünftige Freiheit: Spuren des Diskurses über Glauben und Wissen / Rational Liberty: Traces of the Discourse of Faith and Knowledge, 2019). Habermas's discussion of rational liberty does not include either Jefferson, Forten, or the African American tradition. By contrast, I argue that the modern relationship between faith and knowledge needs to be explained in its specific historical constellation in the American context. And in the formative decades of the United States, it was not Kant or Hegel, but writers such as Wheatley, Jefferson, or Forten who defined this relationship. Jefferson sought to silence Wheatley's stance by describing it as the pre-Enlightened product of "religion" – a prejudice that has continued to inform clichés about the African American tradition. Ironically, Jefferson's Declaration still referenced "nature's God" directly, whereas thinkers such as Lemuel Haynes or James Forten went a step further: while their Enlightenment arguments were likewise embedded in a Christian worldview, they already referred to the political, man-made document of the Declaration of Independence as the normative foundation of their claims, thus continuing Wheatley's emphasis on the rational "principle" of universal liberty and transferring the ideal of universal human rights into the secular present of American modernity.
Learn more about Black Reason, White Feeling at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Claire Horisk's "Dangerous Jokes"

Claire Horisk is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri, specializing in philosophy of language. Her current research focuses on how language shapes society. Her published work also includes articles about the nature of truth, theories of meaning, contextualism, and animal communication.

Horisk applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Dangerous Jokes: How Racism and Sexism Weaponize Humor, and reported the following:
Page 99 is in the midst of a discussion of one of the more controversial claims in Dangerous Jokes. You know how people sometimes feel guilty if they listen to derogatory jokes, or slurs, or hate speech? Page 99 is part of Chapter 8, where I argue that guilt about listening to that kind of thing can be appropriate---because at least sometimes, when we listen to someone belittling others, we are doing something wrong. I also argue that the thought that sometimes accompanies that guilt, that you should have said something, is often well-founded. But it’s not true that the only thing you did wrong was not saying anything. Saying something is a way of atoning for listening; even if you said something to challenge the speaker, when you listened in the first place you did something wrong. Speaking up is just a way of making amends.

The book is accessible to a general reader. One reviewer---my mother!---said it is ‘approachable.’ Page 99 is heavier going than much of the book, and it won’t make sense in isolation---you would either need to have already read some stuff earlier in the book, or to have some background in philosophy of language, in order to understand it. So, if you read only page 99, you might put the book down. Start at the start, and you will find that the book is both interesting and readable. For example, people often think that it’s OK to tell a joke about your own social group, but not about someone else’s social group. But in Dangerous Jokes, you will discover that telling a joke about one’s own social group is more harmful than telling a joke about someone else’s social group.

For May 2024, Chapter 11 “The racist uncle, and other awkward situations,” is available as a free download on the Oxford University Press website. That chapter, rather than page 99, would give a reader a better sense of whether this is a book that would interest them.
Learn more about Dangerous Jokes at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Chloe Wigston Smith's "Novels, Needleworks, and Empire"

Chloe Wigston Smith is professor of eighteenth-century literature at the University of York, where she teaches in the Department of English and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies. She is the author of Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel.

Wigston Smith applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Novels, Needleworks, and Empire: Material Entanglements in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World, and reported the following:
Page 99 is one of thirty-eight illustrations, most of which show needlework pieces made by women and girls in eighteenth-century Britain and America. On page 99, however, readers will encounter a hand-colored print, titled “An Emblem of America.” As a print, this illustration is a bit of an outlier when it comes to the material objects that I include across my five chapters, but its appearance on page 99 speaks to the kind of visual, material, and literary entanglements that I trace across the whole.

Page 99 falls about mid-way through chapter two, “Small Marks in Thread,” which studies the material expression of makers on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s the most heavily illustrated chapter and gets to the heart of my story about the images of the Atlantic world that found their way into the hands of women and girls in Britain and early America—in the objects they made, the books they held, the stories they read. In it, I look at the practice of marking textiles and linens in thread, and propose that this utilitarian form of needlework supported feminine ownership and possession. The chapter centers on the sampler, a type of needlework that taught girls and young women how to shape letters and numbers with their needles. Girls often added their names and ages to their sampler (as well as other brief biographical details) and I’m interested in how this practice encouraged marks of possession. I include detailed discussions of needleworks created by African American girls (including Mary Emiston and Mary D’Silver), as well as a few pieces made by North American Indigenous girls (such as Christeen Baker).

The illustration on page 99 was the visual source for an embroidered picture made by the white Ann Leap in 1801 (Leap had completed a sampler two years earlier). “An Emblem of America” was one of four prints that depicted the continents (John Fairburn also produced “An Emblem of Africa,” “An Emblem of Asia,” and “An Emblem of Europe”). “An Emblem of America” was transfer printed onto jugs made in Liverpool, designed for export to the American market. My comparison of Leap’s needlework with the print and creamware jugs makes me think that Leap used the jug instead of the print as her source, which she probably saw and perhaps used in her father’s tavern in Alexandra, Virginia. I show how Leap didn’t exactly replicate her source image, but rather made her own adaptations and changes. My comparison of these three objects (print, jug, and needlework) reflects my focus across the book to take seriously needlework’s dynamic connections to print and visual culture. Makers, I argue, didn’t repeat what they saw or read, but used their needles to engage in broader political and cultural conversations that moved beyond the borders of home and nation. Experimentation, in thread, was key to their revisions to texts and images, and so in this way, page 99 underlines the imaginative and creative entanglements between visual culture and material culture, which I discuss across my book.
Learn more about Novels, Needleworks, and Empire at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 27, 2024

Carl Öhman's "The Afterlife of Data"

Carl Öhman is assistant professor of political science at Uppsala University, Sweden.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Afterlife of Data: What Happens to Your Information When You Die and Why You Should Care, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Cemeteries may not in themselves be society’s most lucrative businesses, but they have unique capacity to forge bonds between people and the soil in which their departed loved ones lie buried. When this “soil” is a for-profit online platform rather than a geographical space, that bond may prove highly profitable. People will stay on Facebook, or at least continue to care for its existence, because it is where their loved ones, living or dead, are to be found.

It is unlikely that Facebook’s memorialization feature is part of some elaborate plan with the intention to appropriate central cultural functions in society. But the takeaway here is not that the tech giants have some hidden agenda in their appropriation of features from the digital afterlife start-up scene. It is that every business that stores its users’ personal data will eventually, whether it intends to or not, become stewards of their digital remains. This could be seen as a burden, in that the digital remains may need to be destroyed, which may turn out to be rather costly. But it could also be turned into a rare opportunity to become even more intertwined with the social fabric of society. Make no mistake, any rational for-profit firm will choose the latter. And this is why the monetization of the online dead is related to you, even if you are not planning on subscribing to a posthumous chatbot service and have no intention of using online memorials. Insofar as you use the internet, you are leaving some trail of information behind, especially if you are using social media. Indeed, even the most passive user produces a ton of information every time they log in. And when you die, these data will still be there, stewarded under the same logic that governs all businesses—the logic of profit.

Critiquing the Industry

Many people feel an intuitive unease about making a business out of our relationship to the dead. Indeed, controversies over mixing death and business go a long way back. Though this instinct may be justified, it is no justification in and of itself. If something is morally questionable, one must ensure that the explanation of why and how it is questionable makes sense before doing anything about it. …
The above excerpt is from chapter 3 “The Rise of the Digital Afterlife Industry” in The Afterlife of Data (though first and last sentences are from the adjacent pages). I’m honestly quite shocked by how well it captures many of the book’s central themes: the fact that the online presence of the departed is by and large mediated by a commercial logic; the ways in which this may be problematic; the fact that the phenomenon relates to all our personal data, even those data trails we leave unconsciously; the societal dimensions of this matter, and so on. Though the argument I present in the book is of course much more detailed, these themes do a pretty good job of summarizing the book’s key argument—that we should all care about our digital afterlives, because we are all members of a society that will be greatly affected by their fate.

The one thing that is not captured here, however, is the broader civilizational change that comes with this development. As I argue in the book’s opening chapter, the relationship between the living and the dead is at the core of human civilization. As such, any technological disruption of how we relate to the past and its inhabitants—the dead—will also disrupt our way of relating to ourselves. As philosopher Patrick Stokes writes about the book, “the digital dead sit at the intersection of fundamental historical, economic, and cultural forces.” This is why our stewardship of the online dead is such an important matter, because our online privacy is intimately intertwined with theirs.

Now, I realise that this may all sound terribly abstract, but the book is actually quite an accessible (and short) read—I promise. Go check it out!
Learn more about The Afterlife of Data at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Andrew L. Erdman's "Beautiful"

Andrew L. Erdman is a writer living and working in the New York City area. He is the author of Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguay and has also written comedy for the stage, TV, and online platforms. He has a doctorate in theatre studies from the City University of New York, a master's in social work from Yeshiva University, and psychoanalytic training from the Contemporary Freudian Society.

Erdman applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Beautiful: The Story of Julian Eltinge, America's Greatest Female Impersonator, and reported the following:
Page 99. A photograph: Julian Eltinge and his mother sitting on a rustic, log bench at his gentleman-farmer country home in Fort Salonga on the North Shore of Long Island, fifty miles east of New York City. The gender impressionist scored big in vaudeville and made enough bank to buy this lovely property for himself (and his mom) in 1908, though he spent a few years improving and renovating it. By 1910, it was his beloved sanctuary and retreat, as well as a place for his theatrical peeps to get together and take in some country air and lots of gin.

As one stray fiber can eventually unravel your nice, new sweater, so one page, bearing even “just” an illustration and caption cannot but reflect the whole book, somehow. Julian Eltinge’s dad beat him for his love of theatre and for brilliantly playing-up women. The kid didn’t budge, though. His mother loved and encouraged the boy from childhood. In 1900, Julian Eltinge—rhymes with “belting,” thank you very much—made his way to the top of semiprofessional cross-dressed musicals starring the sons of Boston’s high society. From there, he was eventually able to jump into bigtime vaudeville; by 1906, Julian Eltinge was a hot ticket. Though far from his professional and financial peak, he was successful enough to buy a farm retreat for himself and his mother—and get an apartment for his now-impecunious dad over in Manhattan. Dad had dragged his family around the Americas in search of a fabled, frontier dream of goldmine riches that never came to pass. Along the way, Julian got to hone his theatrical and entrepreneurial skills. It turned out the son was the real goldmine, combining unrivaled transvestic talents with song, dance, and genuine stage “rizz” (as the kids are saying lately). Julian rewarded himself and his mother, Julia, quite handsomely. Beautifully, as it were. Then as now, having a nice li’l estate out on Long Island marked one’s ascendence into New York royalty. But this was not the flashy Great Neck/West Egg of Gatsby nor even the East Hampton of our Spielbergian era. It was lower-profile, more countrified, and appealed to other artist and creative types in Julian’s day and beyond. (The area was humble and lowkey enough that working families also enjoyed bungalow colonies on the nearby Long Island Sound.) This picture says, “I made it,” in so many ways. In the decade to come, he’d trade it for a sumptuous-but-tasteful Spanish Colonial/Moorish palazzo atop an aerie overlooking what is now called the Silverlake Reservoir in Los Angeles. The bohemian hood was called Edendale at the time and was home to several early Hollywood studios.
Visit Andrew L. Erdman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Queen of Vaudeville.

My Book, The Movie: Queen of Vaudeville.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 25, 2024

T.V. Paul's "The Unfinished Quest"

T.V. Paul is James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His books include Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era (2018); The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World (2013); Globalization and the National Security State (with Norrin M. Ripsman, 2010); The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons (2009); and India in the World Order: Searching for Major-Power Status (with Baldev Raj Nayar, 2002). He is the lead editor of The Oxford Handbook of Peaceful Change in International Relations (2021).

Paul applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Unfinished Quest: India's Search for Major Power Status from Nehru to Modi, and reported the following:
Page 99 is actually a very important one in the book. It happened to be the opening page of Chapter 5 of the book which discusses the Great Powers and their responses to India’s rise. A full quotation from the page reads:
In January 2020, I met former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence in New Delhi for an informal discussion. Singh was the primary architect, along with President George W. Bush, of the 2005 U.S.-India Nuclear Accord. I asked him what the key motives behind the deal were, and he answered that the main aim was to remove India from the “nuclear apartheid” to which it had been subjected for over four decades by the nuclear powers, especially the United States. The implication was that the material benefits from the deal (i.e., acquisition of nuclear power plants from the United States and other supplier states) was secondary, but the accommodation of India as a de facto nuclear power was the prime objective, showing its status value in both symbolic and substantive dimensions.

As rising powers wish to be accepted as coequals, or to surpass the established powers, it is incumbent upon the latter to accept the new state into their fold, so that peaceful power transitions are made possible. Like other social-status settings, peer group acceptance is pivotal to status acquisition by a new power. In the past, in the majority of cases of status contestation, great power war was the outcome, as the established powers refused to accept newcomers with material capabilities and status ambitions into their fold, generating much resentment and eventually violence. As Graham Allison states, 12 out of the 16 power transitions during the past 500 years have occurred through wars. Although some cases, like the U.K.-U.S. transition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stand out as examples of peaceful status accommodation, war has been the lingua franca of great power accommodation or decline. As political scientist John Vasquez puts it: “The price of world power is death.” New power configurations were often recognized as a result of wars and were accomplished in the immediate postwar settlement when new institutions were created in which the winners were given a leading role. The states whom the winners did not want to be included were denied their privileged position. The 1815 Vienna, 1919 Versailles, 1945 Yalta/Potsdam/ San Francisco settlements, following the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II, respectively, often neglected the claims of the defeated, except in the case, where vanquished France restored its status as a European great power through deft diplomacy.
Indeed, page 99 tells a lot about The Unfinished Quest, in particular the challenge of a new rising power getting accommodated by status quo great powers and included in their ranks. In the past, most power transitions led to wars, and a few such as the UK-US and US-China cases, happened peacefully partially due to balance of power reasons. This problem of peer-group acceptance is something that has major resonance in India’s case, as the opening sentence in page 99 discusses India’s efforts at nuclear acquisition that produced the most virulent opposition from the P-5 states and the pivotal role the 2005 US-India nuclear accord plays in India’s partial status accommodation. The international challenge for India was that it missed two crucial events when new powers were accommodated. The first was the 1945 San Francisco meeting that formed the UN and its key organ, the Security Council. India was still a colony and the British opposed efforts at adding India as a permanent member despite the fact that some 2.5 million Indians fought alongside the British and Allied forces. The second occasion was in 1968 when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was concluded that gave nuclear weapon states the right to keep their weapons while depriving others the right to acquire them. India, not having tested its weapon, was placed in the category of non-nuclear state with lower rights and ever since then India became the most vociferous critique of the Treaty and the regime. The special status given to India by the nuclear accord with the US partially resolved the challenge here, but the demand for membership in the Security Council still remains unfulfilled. All P-5 states except China and a few pivotal regional states support adding India along with others such as Germany, Japan and Brazil to the Security Council with veto power.

This book is the result of several years of work and it draws from the literature on status, rising powers, and historical materials on India as well as contemporary data on India’s hard power and soft power indicators. It also discusses India’s challenges in human development and how this factor drags India’s status despite the aggregate growth in the Indian economy in the past three decades. The growing majoritarianism, Hindu nationalism, as well democratic backslide are also discussed to show soft power’s importance in legitimising India’s status in the 21st century. The book concludes that India constitutes over one/fifth of humanity and it is needed to be accommodated to solve major collective action problems, including climate change.
Visit T.V. Paul's website.

The Page 99 Test: Restraining Great Powers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 24, 2024

Kevin J. McMahon's "A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other"

Kevin J. McMahon is the John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science at Trinity College. He is the author of Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race (winner of the Richard E. Neustadt Award), and Nixon’s Court (winner of the Erwin N. Griswold Prize).

McMahon applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other: The Deepening Divide Between the Justices and the People, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other: The Deepening Divide Between the Justices and the People, begins the second of three main parts of the book. The title of Part II is: “Searching for Wizards of the Law: How the Rise of the Supreme Elite Further Distanced the Court from the American People.” To explain the development of this “supreme elite,” I open with a hypothetical job posting that reads:
The president of the United States seeks applicants for the position of Supreme Court justice. Interested candidates must have graduated from an elite private undergraduate institution (preferably an Ivy League university), earned a JD from an elite private law school (preferably Harvard or Yale), and be around fifty years old. Ideal candidates will be a judge on the Court of Appeals, will have never sought elective office, and will have clerked for a Supreme Court justice. Professional experience in Washington, DC, is a significant plus. Ideological compatibility with the president is a must. All others need not apply.
My reason for beginning this part of the book with this fake job ad is to highlight just how much the nature of the nominees chosen for the Court has changed in the last fifty-plus years. Today, nearly all the justices—those selected by both Republican and Democratic presidents—satisfy the requirements of this imagined job posting quoted above. As I note, justices of the past came from much more varied backgrounds and brought a distinctiveness to the Court that no longer exists. The result is a “Cookie-Cutter Court.” Later in this section of the book, I highlight two justices, Hugo L. Black and Thurgood Marshall, and suggest that neither of these legends of the law would be deemed “qualified” for the Court today. The nature of today’s justices—chosen from a tiny sliver of America—is just one of the ways this Supreme Court is unlike any other in American history. In Part I of the book, I discuss the altered nature of the confirmation process and the arrival of numerically minority justices, which I define as a justice “who won confirmation with a Senate majority, but with the support of senators who represented a numerical minority of voters.” In Part III, I highlight the increased salience of the Court and judicial issues in our elections and consider whether this fact might enhance its democratic legitimacy. I suggest that there is some support for this possibility, but it does not make up for the reduction of the Court’s legitimacy brought about by the two shifts I discuss in the first two parts of the book. I end with a concluding section that describes how a numerical minority rules the law and prevents progressive political change.

So, opening the book to page 99 would give you a good sense of a central component of the book’s argument. But, not surprisingly, you would miss other essential elements about the deepening of the Court’s “democracy gap,” which I define as “the distance between the Court and the electoral processes that endow it with democratic legitimacy.”
Learn more about A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Eric Jay Dolin's "Left For Dead"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling and award-winning author of numerous works in maritime history, including Leviathan, Rebels at Sea, and Black Flags, Blue Waters. He lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Dolin applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Left For Dead: Shipwreck, Treachery, and Survival at the Edge of the World, and reported the following:
The following is selected text from page 99 of Left for Dead:
The first decision Richard Brooks and the crew had to make was which course to take. They could either hug the continent or go in more of a straight line, farther out to sea. On the one hand, there was some comfort in being close to shore in case a storm threatened to overwhelm the boat and force them to land. But the possibility of being driven onto the Patagonian shore by contrary winds was deemed to be the graver danger, so they plotted a route almost due north, hoping to reach Montevideo, nearly 1,200 miles away.

The men sailed onward, constantly chilled and often wet, battling to keep the sails properly oriented in the face of strong and variable winds. During the first week, little light came from the new moon, which was often hidden by passing clouds. In those dark hours, a lantern and candles provided enough illumination to read the compass so that they could maintain their course. When the skies allowed, Brooks used celestial navigation to track their progress.

They quickly fell into a cooking routine. In fine weather, they lit a wood fire in the large iron pot brought from the Isabella and placed the other, smaller pot within, loaded with two days’ worth of food. That way, if rough weather intervened, they might have enough cooked provisions to see it through. The usual fare was as follows: When the ocean was calm, the breakfast, prepared by the men on watch, consisted of tea or heated chocolate, fried salt pork, and a biscuit. When conditions were rough, however, breakfast was pared down to half a pint of wine and a biscuit. They always skipped lunch, and dinner consisted of soup made from salt beef, the geese that had been shot on Eagle Island, and the cabbages the men had collected at the abandoned settlement. To that was added a pint of wine. For a nightcap, they treated themselves to a splash of rum diluted in a cupful of water. This routine was altered after one of the men, fumbling about in the dark, spilled some of the water, reducing the store of this precious commodity. After that, tea was eliminated from the menu. Despite the lack of exercise, other than moving about on the cramped boat, and the monotony of the food, the men maintained good appetites and remained healthy throughout the voyage.
This passage captures a bit of the excitement of the book, but does not give a good representation of it, other than making it clear that it is a maritime tale with at least one dramatic voyage. I am sorry Mr. Ford, but your test fails. This passage does not provide the context of this voyage -- that it is being made by six men on a 17.5 boat (quite an amazing feat, that is a success!) -- nor does it even hint at the many twists and turns in the book, and the numerous characters and ships involved.

This is perhaps the most exciting, pulse-pounding book I have ever written, and it is not just a fantastic tale of maritime disaster and survival which can stand up to the best of such stories, but it is also a tale that shows men and women acting honorably and abysmally, all under the myriad pressures of wartime (the War of 1812). The story is cinematic in scope, and, indeed, many early readers have said it would make a great movie (Hollywood, if you are listening, take note!). For me, Left for Dead's greatest achievement is that it is written in a way that makes it hard to put down. I know that is rich for me to say, but that is what I am hearing from readers, none of whom are related or beholden to me in any way.
Visit Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

The Page 69 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

The Page 99 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

The Page 99 Test: Black Flags, Blue Waters.

The Page 99 Test: A Furious Sky.

Writers Read: Eric Jay Dolin (May 2022).

The Page 99 Test: Rebels At Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

John K. Brown's "Spanning the Gilded Age"

A Charlottesville resident since 1985, John K. Brown earned a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia in 1992. He taught history, ethics, writing, and public speaking for twenty-five years to undergraduates in UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. His students called him “Doc Brown,” a nickname derived from the handsome, charismatic character in Back to the Future. Research specialties in American industrial, business, and technological history led him to the Eads Bridge. He lives in Charlottesville and is happily married to the dynamic Wendy Brown. They have two adult children.

Brown applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Spanning the Gilded Age: James Eads and the Great Steel Bridge, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Spanning the Gilded Age profiles Thomas Alexander Scott (1823-1881), detailing his reputation and activities circa 1868. At that time he wore many hats: vice president of the largest corporation in the world (the Pennsylvania Railroad); wide-ranging investor in manufacturing, railroads, mines, and just-about-anything that could make him money; a charming rogue, speculator, and corrupter of legislators; and mentor to the young Andrew Carnegie—Scott’s partner in scheming and avarice.

The page makes a miserable window on the book as a whole: a faceted account of the origins, design, financing, construction, and consequences of the Eads Bridge. Did Scott have any tie to Eads or his bridge? An intelligent browser (surely my book would have none other) would suspect that Scott does come into the project. After all, why give him a full page, if he does not? But nothing on page 99 even hints at his roles.

Not one word there prepares browsers (regardless of their IQ) to expect that Scott’s Pennsylvania Railroad would first support, then turn against the bridge venture led by James Eads. Eads believed that this betrayal “cost our company not less than a million and a half of dollars” (p. 216). And that 1874 letter to financier Junius Morgan (father of J.P.) predated the boycott that Scott orchestrated against the bridge, a campaign that drove Eads’s company into foreclosure.

James Eads began his project to build a railroad bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis in 1867. He had never built any bridge anywhere. His was the first structure of any kind—worldwide—to rely on structural steel. Its arched spans broke world records. Its stone piers to bedrock broke world records. Eads introduced to North America an audacious technique to build those piers, a method using pneumatic caissons. In March 1870, Washington Roebling stood 100 feet beneath the surface of the Mississippi River, soaking up all the hard-earned knowledge he observed. Then he applied those technologies and techniques to his own challenges at Brooklyn.

Against Scott’s truculent obstruction, Eads completed his bridge in 1874. Walt Whitman described it as “a structure of perfection and beauty unsurpassable.” The architect, Louis Sullivan, credited the bridge as inspiring his insight that “form follows function.” While earning monopoly profits for a half century, it became the centerpiece of an important antitrust case which today guides law on networks, including internet service providers. Long before the Gateway Arch, the Eads Bridge became an icon for St. Louis.

Despite Tom Scott.
Visit the Spanning the Gilded Age website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Carola Binder's "Shock Values"

Carola Binder is associate professor of economics at Haverford College. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Shock Values: Prices and Inflation in American Democracy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Shock Values discusses price control efforts in World War I. The Wilson administration relied on new administrative agencies, like the War Industries Board and its Price-Fixing Committee, to develop a pricing system for strategic goods. The agencies had a tendency to expand in their role and scope, and relied on the potential use of government force to achieve compliance; this is why Herbert Hoover, as the head of one of these agencies, became known as the “food czar.”

As I write on that page, “Initially, the Price-Fixing Committee concerned itself only with the prices that the government paid for strategic goods, but its role expanded to also protect the public in their purchases of materials and textiles. Of course, the committee’s powers to requisition goods or take over plants gave it the upper hand in these agreements.”

I quote Bernard Baruch, the financier and progressive Democrat who headed the War Industries Board, who wrote:
“We used a good many euphemisms during the war for the sake of national morale, and this one of ‘price fixing by agreement’ is a good deal like calling conscription ‘Selective Service’ and referring to registrants for the draft as ‘mass volunteers.’ Let us make no mistake about it: we fixed prices with the aid of potential Federal compulsion and we could not have obtained unanimous compliance otherwise.”
On page 99, I also discuss some of the practical difficulties that the Price-Fixing Committee faced as it attempted to replace the free market price mechanism with government-administered prices:
As the committee negotiated prices, one challenge it faced was that different producers had different costs. A particular price might ensure large profits for lower-cost producers but not cover the costs of higher-cost producers. One option was to set a single price that was high enough to cover the costs of higher-cost producers. Another option was to set lower prices for lower-cost producers and higher prices for higher-cost producers. A third alternative was to nationalize the industry. The committee decided on a single-price system to minimize the administrative burden. They worried, however, that lower-cost producers, which received the same price as higher-cost producers, would make “unreasonable” profits. Thus, Congress introduced an act in 1917 that taxed corporations’ “excessive” profits at a high rate.
The Page 99 Test works very well for my book. Page 99 gives a good picture of some of the key themes in my book. First, wars and wartime inflation have had a tendency to lead to a more activist role of the state in the economic system. This has had a “ratchet effect” as growth of the state during wartime does not fully recede after emergency conditions have passed. And this growth relies, at least implicitly, on the government’s ability to use force—which often becomes apparent when citizens’ rights are encroached upon in various manners. By the time readers of the book get to page 99, they will already have read about the Founding Fathers’ concerns about the democratic legitimacy of price controls in the Revolutionary War, and they will get a sense of how attitudes about the role of government had evolved over the decades.

Another theme that is apparent on page 99 and in the rest of the book is the resource allocation problem that arises when the state attempts to interfere in market pricing, and the unintended consequences this can cause. A fun part of writing my book was finding colorful quotes from historical figures like Bernard Baruch, and the Page 99 Test does a good job of capturing this.

What readers will not see on page 99 is any discussion of monetary policy or inflation targeting. Shock Values provides the historical and political account of how the United States eventually came to rely on the Federal Reserve for price stabilization. It discusses the long road to the adoption of inflation targeting, and all of the political and social tensions associated with that decision.
Visit Carola Binder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Michael A. Cook's "A History of the Muslim World"

Michael Cook is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. His books include Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, A Brief History of the Human Race, and The Koran: A Very Short Introduction.

Cook applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A History of the Muslim World: From Its Origins to the Dawn of Modernity, and reported the following:
That page will tell a reader about two aspects of the Arab empire ruled by the early Caliphs. One is the relative abandon with which the central government was able to hire and fire its provincial governors. The other is the momentous decision it made not to distribute land to the soldiers who had conquered it, but rather to leave it with the cultivators, tax them, and pay salaries to its soldiers.

What the reader won’t learn from this page is that we see here a crucial divergence between the ex-Roman territory ruled by the Arab invaders in the Middle East and the ex-Roman territory ruled by the Germans in Western Europe. But the problems of exercising power at a distance in premodern times without benefit of instantaneous communications is a theme that runs through the book. Where the test fails is that the book has several other themes that happen not to show up on page 99.

The book is about the history of the Muslim world from the beginning to around 1800, but it’s bookended by a chapter at the start that backs up into late antiquity to set the scene for the rise of Islam, and a chapter at the end that builds a bridge between 1800 and the present day. The geographical scope extends from the west coast of Africa to the Pacific rim, but it ventures to the Americas to follow the fortunes of Morisca slaves in sixteenth-century Peru and the interplay of Islam and Catholicism in the childhood of the Argentinian president Carlos Menem. The author is a historian, not a public intellectual, so to the best of his ability he describes history as it was, not as a variety of people with present-day concerns might prefer to imagine it.
Learn more about A History of the Muslim World at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Nadine A. Sinno's "A War of Colors"

Nadine A. Sinno is an associate professor of Arabic and director of the Arabic Program at Virginia Tech, as well as a literary translator. She is the coauthor of Constructions of Masculinity in the Middle East and North Africa.

Sinno applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, A War of Colors: Graffiti and Street Art in Postwar Beirut, and reported the following:
The first half of page 99 includes the image of a stencil that overlaps with a rushed scrawl in Beirut's Hamra area. The stencil features the head of a woman with bright-red lips and hair in the shape of the map of the Middle East and North Africa. The Arabic caption underneath the stencil translates to "The Uprising of the Arab Woman," therefore echoing the numerous protests that swept the MENA region at the beginning of 2010 and 2011 (spanning months, or years, depending on the Arab country in which they occurred), paying special tribute to women's roles and rise against oppression, both internal and external, during the uprisings. On the previous page, I explain that this stencil is reportedly associated with an eponymous feminist campaign that advocates for various rights for women, including freedom of expression, movement, dress and education, insisting that women's struggles must remain at the forefront of any political protests. On the other hand, the scribbled scrawl that intersects with the "the uprising of the Arab Woman" stencil, translates to "Jesus persists," perhaps demonstrating its anonymous writer's attempt to deface, or contest, the feminist message that the stencil articulates or, at the least, to shift the focus on the wall from women’s rights to religious proclamations. The second half of page 99 is devoted to the analysis of another Arabic-language stencil that translates to "my vagina is not a swear word," thereby exposing the sexism and violence embodied in a common, every-day Lebanese curse, which aims to dishonor a person by referencing sexual assault against that person's sister or mother. The stencil contests the sexist language of the curse, as well as the act of violating a woman’s body as a means of slandering her relatives, usually her male kin. I argue that by summoning and engaging with one of the dominant linguistic and cultural narratives that undermine women's bodies, this irreverent stencil exemplifies Bakhtin's assertions regarding the ongoing dialogic interactions among different language users and social discourses—since "utterances are not indifferent to one another, and are not self-sufficient; they are aware of and mutually reflect one another…" (Bakhtin, Speech Genres, cited on page 99). The next section in this chapter engages with progressive (and anti-progressive responses to) queer-centered graffiti, thereby complementing and extending this section to focus on LGBTQ+ concerns, while still using a Bakhtinian lens.

On the most obvious level, page 99 falls short of demonstrating the book’s scope and depth by virtue of its focus on the image of one particular women-centered stencil and the textual analysis of another, also women-centered graffito. While the page depicts graffiti's connection to significant “real life” social issues, in this case women’s liberation and the violence of patriarchal discourses and practices, it does not give the browser the full picture regarding the multiple functions of Beirut's postwar graffiti and street art. However, looking at the “big picture,” page 99 most certainly passes the test in that it highlights one of the book's key arguments (and theoretical frameworks) regarding the dialogic, polyphonous, and unfinalizable nature of postwar graffiti in Beirut. Unarguably, page 99 elucidates the book’s overall ethos and commitment to excavating the various texts and subtexts manifested in Beirut’s polyphonous graffiti. Throughout the book, drawing on Bakhtinian thought, I argue that Beirut's graffiti and street art often articulate multiple, often contesting voices and discourses that constantly engage and clash with one another on and off the streets--whether the pieces under study are centered on issues regarding women, LGBTQ communities, sectarian and regional politics, environmental devastation, or the Lebanese revolution.

Readers interested in learning about the myriad, comprehensive ways in which Beirut's postwar graffiti and street register the interconnected concerns, hopes, and repeated political engagements of the Lebanese people with regard to issues of spatial transformation, gender and sexuality, local and regional politics, and environmental devastation, will simply have to read the entire book for a fuller, more scrumptious reading experience.
Learn more about A War of Colors at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2024

Elizabeth Abel's "Odd Affinities"

Elizabeth Abel is the John F. Hotchkis Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis and Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow, and the editor or coeditor of four collections, most recently, Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism.

Abel applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Odd Affinities: Virginia Woolf’s Shadow Genealogies, and reported the following:
Page 99 occurs during a chapter of Odd Affinities that explores unexpected echoes of Virginia Woolf in the work of James Baldwin. The page opens a section titled “London and Paris” that focuses on the differences between the material and cultural environments through which Jacob, the protagonist of Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (1922), and David, the narrator of Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), seek to navigate their paths toward an adulthood that could accommodate their ambiguous sexuality. Whereas Jacob glides seamlessly from the elite masculine precincts of the Higher Sodomy at Cambridge to an eighteenth-century Bloomsbury room in an orderly, well-preserved London, David must traverse a decomposing Paris punctuated by gay bars that flaunt a flamboyant femininity. Although page 99 foregrounds Jacob’s smooth passage from the university to the city, it also forecasts David’s more torturous trajectory.

By zeroing in on the inverse relation between two texts whose titles (Jacob’s Room, Giovanni’s Room) signal an odd affinity, page 99 captures the spirit of cross reading that animates Odd Affinities. The Page 99 Test thus succeeds in offering both a methodological capsule of the book and a glimpse of one of the four central figures through which the book traces Woolf’s shadowy genealogies. The book’s first half, “Woolf’s Room in African American Modernism,” tracks Woolf’s echoes through Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room to illuminate a recessive strain of African American modernism that embraced a poetics of psychological and social interiority and the strategies Woolf devised to render them in Mrs. Dalloway. In its second half, “Woolf’s Retreat in Late European Modernism,” the book turns from Mrs. Dalloway’s tight formal strategies to the ruptured form and elegiac affect of Woolf’s next novel, To the Lighthouse, as a frame for elucidating the sense of intractable loss figured by maternal death in the late work of Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida, 1981) and W.G. Sebald (Austerlitz, 2001).

Expanding on the break titled “Time Passes” that divides the two narrative portions of To the Lighthouse, the two halves of Odd Affinities offer a new twist on the critical consensus that, rather than being displaced by postmodernism, modernism went dormant during the middle decades of the twentieth century and underwent a revival toward the century’s end. By reading the formal modulations of this “long modernism” through the optic of Woolf’s oeuvre, Odd Affinities maps modernism’s twentieth-century evolution through two mutually traversing trajectories: the arc of Woolf’s career as it intersects and is intersected by a genealogy constituted by her shadowy and shifting presence. By uncovering the travel of Woolf’s narratives across the boundaries of gender, race, and nationality, Odd Affinities seeks to dislodge her from her fixed iconic place as the founder of a female literary genealogy and to offer instead her defamiliarizing presence in traditions where we least expect to find her.
Learn more about Odd Affinities at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Alex Edmans's "May Contain Lies"

Alex Edmans is Professor of Finance at London Business School. His TED talk "What to Trust in a Post-Truth World" has been viewed two million times; he has also spoken at the World Economic Forum, Davos, and in the UK Parliament. In 2013, he was awarded tenure at the Wharton School, and in 2021, he was named MBA Professor of the Year by Poets&Quants. Edmans writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Harvard Business Review. His first book, Grow the Pie, was a Financial Times Book of the Year. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Edmans applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, May Contain Lies: How Stories, Statistics, and Studies Exploit Our Biases―And What We Can Do about It, and reported the following:
Page 99 of May Contain Lies: How Stories, Statistics, and Studies Exploit Our Biases – And What We Can Do About It explains how to test a hypothesis. Here, the hypothesis is to test whether frequent traders earn higher returns than investors who buy shares and then leave their portfolio untouched. It says:
You then test the hypothesis. For this, you’d ideally like the trading records of every single trigger-happy investor. That’s impossible, so the second step is to gather a sample. What’s critical is that the sample is representative, not selected – it captures a broad mix of traders rather than pre-screening them on some criterion, such as whether they volunteered to share their record or had an account for five years (both of which would skew the sample to more successful investors). That’s similar to how you’d sample a cake by cutting it vertically so that your slice contains the icing, sponge, filling and base, rather than splitting it horizontally and skimming off only the icing. The extensive compilation of excitable shareholders is known as the test sample – you’re testing whether it performs better.

Step three is equally critical – to find a control sample that doesn’t have the input. The high returns to fidgety investors might be nothing to do with the input (frequent trading) but just because the market went up. So you need to find out how much was earned by buy-and-hold investors who didn’t trade at all. Step four is to calculate the average output across the two samples, which gives you the 11.4% and 17.9%.

You’re tempted to conclude that frequent trading lowers returns, but there’s one final step. Even if frequent trading has no effect on profits, it could still underperform due to luck.
The Page 99 Test works well because this page highlights one of the key messages of the book: that combating misinformation goes beyond just checking the facts. Even if the facts are 100% accurate, they may be misleading if they aren’t representative: the exception that doesn’t prove the rule. In the chapter leading up to page 99, I describe a YouTuber who brags about how much money he made day-trading. But even if he’s telling the truth and not exaggerating his profits, this doesn’t mean that day trading sets you on the road to riches. You have a selected sample: only the day traders that got lucky parade their success. There could be hundreds of other day traders who lost their shirt, but you’ll never hear about them.

Page 99 is part of Part II of the book, which takes the reader through the Ladder of Misinference, the four missteps we make when we interpret information. The first misstep is mistaking a statement for fact, when it may not be accurate: for example, it may be quoted out of context. The second misstep is confusing facts for data, when they may not be representative. This is the misstep addressed by page 99. The third misstep is mixing up data for evidence, when it may not be conclusive: such as a correlation without causation. The fourth misstep is misinterpreting evidence for proof, when it may not be universal: it may not apply in different contexts. The Ladder helps the reader to navigate the minefield of misinformation out there, to think smarter, sharper, and more critically, to make better sense of the world and take better decisions.
Visit Alex Edmans's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld's "The Hollow Parties"

Daniel Schlozman is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History. Sam Rosenfeld is associate professor of political science at Colgate University. He is the author of The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era.

They applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, The Hollow Parties: The Many Pasts and Disordered Present of American Party Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Hollow Parties: The Many Pasts and Disordered Present of American Party Politics (exactly a third of the way through the 297 pages of text) begins a capsule biography of Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, a leading Progressive who in 1904 pushed through the country’s first statewide laws for the direct primary and the direct election of senators. More than other Republican Progressives, and certainly more than Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he was never close and whom he very conspicuously declined to endorse in 1912, La Follette saw party bosses as the servants of capital. To him, the railroad interests, not the politicians they backed, ultimately pulled the strings. Unlike the Socialists in Milwaukee with whom he often tactically cooperated, however, La Follette deemed political reform a worthy project in its own right.

The book traces multiple traditions in party politics—we term them the accommodationist, anti-party, pro-capital, policy-reform, radical, and populist strands—all the way from the Founding to the present. The book stresses how these traditions have combined and recombined over time. La Follette offers a good example. He is broadly a figure from the anti-party tradition. He broke power of the dominant Stalwart faction that had dominated state Republican politics and preached a politics done by the people themselves, imbued with education provided by wise leaders, rather than the party spirit and mass spectacle of nineteenth-century politics. But, like so many figures in our pages, La Follette contained contradictions of his own. He dominated the Republican Party in his state even as he clashed with its leading figures at the national level. For all his anti-machine rhetoric, he had a dedicated organization (including state game wardens with dubious responsibilities) to ease his path. The book’s treatment of La Follette is also emblematic in examining party actors’ thoughts and actions together. This method, in a sense, does a kind of applied intellectual history for figures—George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Hall district leader is the book’s paradigmatic example—not usually thought of as fit for highbrow close reading. But the book usually emphasizes such figures as examples of patterns or trends, and skirts clear of biography. In that sense, the longer treatment of La Follette, befitting not just his importance at an inflection point for party politics but the idiosyncratic character of figures in the anti-party strand skeptical of politics done together, offers a mild departure in approach for a text that primarily emphasizes party actors’ contributions as parts of collective projects for power.
Visit Sam Rosenfeld's website and Daniel Schlozman's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Polarizers by Sam Rosenfeld.

The Page 99 Test: When Movements Anchor Parties by Daniel Schlozman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Laikwan Pang's "One and All"

Laikwan Pang is the Choh-Ming Li Professor of Cultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, One and All: The Logic of Chinese Sovereignty, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, One and All, can be seen as a snapshot of one of the biggest challenges of this book: to facilitate some true dialogues between Chinese and European political theories.

More specifically, here I want to explain how and why some contemporary Chinese intellectuals have incorporated both the traditional Chinese Confucian-Legalist ideas and works of Carl Schmitt to support their statist discourses. In other words, I have to explain three sets of political theories/agendas vastly different from each other to make sense of this phenomenon.

The current Chinese government raises state sovereignty as its highest political principle under the premise that it embodies the Chinese people's integrity, dignity, and common good. To give such a mythical status to state sovereignty, the statists have labored to assemble many ideas together. In this section, I want to demonstrate how this sovereigntism selectively picks and chooses elements from the political ideas of ancient China and contemporary Europe to justify its supreme political position.

Here I explain how the current Chinese statist theories ignored both Schmitt’s premise of the state’s neutrality and the challenges the earliest Legalist theorists in the fourth century BCE posed to the current powerful aristocrats. Schmitt upheld the state only because he believed it is neutral enough to protect the people’s best interest, while the ancient Chinese Legalists dared to provoke some of the most powerful parties of the time. In other words, subversive factors of the source materials of this Chinese sovereignty could be employed to challenge this state discourse. But obviously, the more challenging ideas are ignored, and this sovereigntism highlights only the supremacy of that state.
Learn more about One and All at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2024

Susan D. Blum's "Schoolishness"

Susan D. Blum is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of I Love Learning; I Hate School and My Word!, as well as the editor of Ungrading.

Blum applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Schoolishness: Alienated Education and the Quest for Authentic, Joyful Learning, and reported the following:
On page 99 I’m wrapping up a chapter called “Pedagogy and Pedagogizing: From Direct Instruction to Independent Learning,” which is the first chapter of the core section of the book, “Key Elements of Schoolishness, with Some Less-Schoolish Variations.” Each of the ten chapters in this central section of the book takes a familiar dimension of school—in this case the need for teachers and teaching—and challenges it on the basis of principles and evidence. Then each chapter, like this one, provides examples of alternative approaches.

I love this idea of testing a random page and seeing if the book as a whole is represented there. It is reminiscent to me of the notion of a hologram, being able to reconstruct something three-dimensional from wave forms. In fact, as a writer, I should apply this test myself! In a book of this length and complexity, the challenge has always been to maintain the through-line, and I’m shocked to see that it is clear on page 99! Because the whole book is about a contrast between schoolish, alienated, and nonschoolish, authentic, ways of learning. And on this page, my commitment to anthropological reports about learning “in the wild,” outside school, shines through, as I begin to talk about the “chore curriculum,” children learning to walk, learning by doing, learning through trial and error, and all the ways humans learn when they are committed, and when it matters. This contrasts really clearly with the ways schools foster dependence and alienated impressions of learning based on some external force’s determination of what students should learn. This is really the core idea of the book! Who knew it would be laid out on page 99?

I have been puzzling over the ways school doesn’t work, either in terms of learning or wellbeing, for so many students, for nearly twenty years. As an anthropologist, I try to observe how things actually are, not only how official accounts say they should be. But as a former student who thrived in school, I didn’t understand why it didn’t work for so many others. It has taken me writing this book, along with the first two in this trilogy, to feel that I have figured it out, to some extent. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a lot of questions, and I’ve answered some of them here.
Visit Susan D. Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Larry Tye's "The Jazzmen"

Larry Tye is the New York Times bestselling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel, as well as Demagogue, Superman, The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and coauthor, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. Previously an award-winning reporter at the Boston Globe and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship. He lives on Cape Cod.

Tye applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America and reported the following:
Here’s a slightly abridged version of what is on page 99:
With most jazz kingpins, it was difficult to be sure when they were swinging at full throttle. With Bill Basie, the tell was his ten toes.

Those calloused and curled digits, planted squarely under his piano seat, foretold whether a song had the vital elixir, the rhythmic perfection, the sheer it. His bandmates watched for a hopeful nod of his close-cropped head, a flicker of his bushy brows, or perhaps a doubling of his fists. But they knew the true proof lay in any movement of his toes. Would it be enough to lift both feet? Would they thump or just flutter? Some musicians actually suspected he had radar hidden in his shoes...

Now that he was on center stage, the Count’s weren’t the only toes that counted. Everyone listening – dresses and pants, moldy figs and beboppers – had to be bobbing theirs. Then moving to the dance floor. Once they got there, the rest was a gut reaction – stomping, swaying, and swiveling with the Jump King of Swing.

“If you have a Count Basie record playing and your left foot isn’t tapping,” said jazz radio host and scholar Dick Golden, “you better go see your doctor because something must be wrong with your circulation.” Critic Gary Giddins concurred, saying, “Basie knew if he had your foot, your heart and mind would follow.”
That selection gives a flavor of my three-in-one biography, and of why Basie – like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington – warrants his place on the Mount Rushmore of jazz greats. But it misses the bigger point: that this book is mainly about these maestros’ lives off their bandstands, and the hidden history of their writing the soundtrack for the civil rights revolution.

Duke, Satchmo, and the Count set the table for racial insurrection by opening white America’s ears and souls to the grace of their music and their personalities, demonstrating the virtues of Black artistry and Black humanity. They toppled color barriers on radio and TV; in jukeboxes, films, newspapers, and newsmagazines; and in the White House, concert halls, and living rooms from the Midwest and both coasts to the Heart of Dixie. But they did it carefully, knowing that to do otherwise in their Jim Crow era would have been suicidal. The sound of their evolving jazz dialect formed a cultural fulcrum that no outraged protestor or government-issued desegregation order could begin to achieve.
Visit Larry Tye's website.

The Page 99 Test: Demagogue.

My Book, The Movie: Demagogue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 11, 2024

John Soluri's "Creatures of Fashion"

John Soluri is associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Creatures of Fashion: Animals, Global Markets, and the Transformation of Patagonia and reported the following:
Given the crowd with whom Ford Madox Ford reputedly ran, I suspect that neither he nor most run of the mill readers would be deeply moved by reading page 99 of Creatures of Fashion. Given that I am an academic historian not Hemingway, I felt compelled to hook readers on page 1; so, dear (potential) readers, please begin my book at the beginning!

That said, page 99 invokes some of the book’s major themes:
The people who worked on estancias were overwhelmingly men, but men did not form a majority of the workforce. Horses and dogs usually outnumbered people and they played critical roles in ensuring the reproduction of sheep. Men formed close bonds with dogs and horses, often bestowing them an individuality, including names, denied to sheep.
These sentences describing the “multispecies” workforce typical of sheep ranches in early twentieth-century Patagonia, address the quotidian entanglements of the lives of people and animals. These kinds of entanglements are examined throughout Creatures of Fashion whose narrative arc traces the consequential transformations of diverse and divided people due to the commodification of wild and domesticated animals whose furs, fibers, and feathers became commodities. The trade in animal furs and fibers helped to bankroll the settler colonial projects of central governments in Argentina and Chile, while integrating Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego into sprawling networks of investors, workers, animals, and goods.

Page 99 conveys a glimpse of the story more or less at its midpoint, when the wool industry’s importance supplanted that of nineteenth-century trades in furs and feathers—principally from fur seals, guanacos (a camelid related to llamas) and rheas. Sheep ranching in Patagonia, as in many other parts of the world, involved the violent removal of Indigenous foragers and hunters who maintained different kinds of relationships with animals than those that formed between settlers and animals. One critical difference that I alluded to on page 99 is the taken-for-granted need to control the reproduction of animals in order for them to become—and remain—livestock.

Two important aspects of Creatures of Fashion that are absent from page 99 include the role of fashion markets in driving demand for the furs and fibers from animals in Patagonia, and the concomitant rise of wildlife conservation and tourism in Patagonia during the second half of the twentieth century. Calling attention to the transboundary forces that transformed Patagonia is one of the book’s main innovations that is best appreciated by taking a deeper dive.
Learn more about Creatures of Fashion at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 10, 2024

Yolanda Ariadne Collins's "Forests of Refuge"

Yolanda Ariadne Collins is Lecturer in the School of International Relations at University of St Andrews. She studies the intersection between climate change governance, environmental policy, and international development. Her work examines processes of racialization and histories of colonialism and the ways in which they challenge the successful enactment of forest governance policies in the Global South.

Collins applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Forests of Refuge: Decolonizing Environmental Governance in the Amazonian Guiana Shield (2024) and reported the following:
From page 99:
The firm is widely used in climate change and environmental matters to provide economic analyses and to attribute financial values to environmental services. This value estimation acted as the foundation of Guyana’s REDD+ effort, which builds on McKinsey’s estimates to estimate Guyana’s forests’ value to the world at US$40 billion per year.
The Guyana Government explained: Our work suggests that baseline assumptions should be driven by analysis that assumes rational behaviour by countries seeking to maximize economic opportunities for their citizens (an “economically rational” rate of deforestation). Such baselines can be developed using economic models of expected profits from activities that motivate deforestation (vs. in-country benefits of maintaining the standing forest), and timing and costs required to harvest and convert lands to alternative uses.
The estimated value of those in-country benefits was estimated at a more conservative US$580 million per year. The economically rational path that Guyana should take was depicted by a wide array of statistical graphs based on economic valuations attached to activities that have traditionally taken place in the country, or that are likely to take place to generate income. For example, the estimation of the carbon abatement costs for predicted avoided deforestation in Guyana amounted to an annual payment of US$430 million to Guyana for the services of its forests. It is worth pointing out that these values are estimates based not on historical trends, but on possible future pressure on the forests. Development here is used to justify the need for these policy shifts, and for REDD+, since a “rational” development path is predicted as necessitating the destruction of forests. Therefore, the pursuance of REDD+ through the LCDS draws on these economic rationalities rooted in neoliberal logic and points out that a rational development path would result in the destruction of the forests, making room for REDD+ to alter that equation. Thus far, only forests conserved and managed by the state have been allocated for REDD+ activities. Indigenous groups who have some tenure over the forests within which they reside (in the case of Guyana but not in Suriname) should eventually have the option of opting into the REDD+ mechanism and being remunerated for the services of their forests.
This page refers to several ideas that form the core of my book, although this core can only be accessed if the reader had already been exposed to the acronyms used. Page 99 highlights the economically rational method of valuing forests that dominates the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative. It points to some of the key international and national actors and ideas behind REDD+. It also highlights (albeit insufficiently compared to the rest of the book) the tension between the state claim on land and that of indigenous people. This page, naturally, also misses a lot. It misses the book’s connection of colonialism to the evolution across time of these ‘rational’ ways of relating to nature in the Amazonian Guiana Shield.

In the rest of the book, I explore the contestation that emerges when REDD+ encounters the colonial histories of forest use at the local and regional levels. I move past questions of whether market-based, international environmental policies should be seen as successes or as failures, and towards an understanding of the associated effects of their pursuit. In essence, the book presents a regional, two-country case study of environmental governance in the largely neglected Guiana Shield eco-region that demonstrates how REDD+ builds upon existing, colonially-rooted land claims. Forests of Refuge, thus, offers a unique exploration of REDD+ through the lens of postcolonial and decolonial thinking, highlighting interrelationships between ethics of extraction, state formation, race, and conservation in the transition from formal colonialism to post-colonial status.
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--Marshal Zeringue