Thursday, September 21, 2017

Anna Alexandrova's "A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being"

Anna Alexandrova is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King's College, having previously taught at the University of Missouri St Louis. She writes on philosophy of social sciences, especially economic modelling, explanation, and the sciences of well-being.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being, and reported the following:
If only I had known about Ford Madox Ford and his page 99 test... As I didn’t, my page 99 does two things that are probably as uninteresting to most readers as they are obligatory to academics: signposting where the argument is going and bowing to relevant literature. It also has lots of empty space, which is about as informative. Please don’t judge my book by its 99th page.

But the idea I am servicing with all these accoutrements is good and right. The fundamental problem that animates this book is that today social and medical sciences are asked to speak on well-being, quality of life, and happiness – phenomena whose definitions are a matter of values – and science must speak on them while adhering to the ideals of precision and objectivity. The collision of these two ambitions – to advise on what is good for us and to do so scientifically – forces all sorts of new and distinctive compromises. As a scientific object well-being needs to have a clear and unambiguous definition (which it doesn’t normally), a precise measurement scale (which it doesn’t normally), a measurable connection to behaviours and material goods (also elusive). I have found that scientists resolve these tensions by modifying both the object of research, i.e. well-being, and the norms by which they study it. As a result of such, often sneaky, dovetailing ‘well-being’ ends up meaning something a little different and the traditional scientific ideals are also not what they used to be.

This is not in the least a criticism. There are no immutable meanings of words, nor rules of science written in the sky. One scientific norm this field has already redefined and rightly so is objectivity, which is what my page 99 is all about. If objectivity means detachment from value judgments and commitment to facts and nothing but the facts, there could be no science of well-being. It couldn’t even get off the ground in its initial act of delineating its subject matter. A better ideal of objectivity for this field is to embrace value-ladenness but set up public and explicit rules for how value judgments should be justified to the individuals and communities about and for whom this research exists. It can be done and it has to be done because good life is too important not to know about.

In a sense the science of well-being is too big to fail.
Learn more about A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alvaro Jarrín's "The Biopolitics of Beauty"

Alvaro Jarrín is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at College of the Holy Cross.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil, and reported the following:
Plastic surgery in Brazil is permeated by anxiety: patients frequently remark that plastic surgery will provide them the “right appearance” needed to succeed in life, and that without it they will suffer discrimination and social rejection. My book argues that this anxiety reflects a widespread perception of beauty as condensing race, class and gender inequalities onto the body – the realm of bodily aesthetics becomes the terrain upon which citizenship claims are made and become undone. For low-income patients seeking plastic surgery in publicly funded hospitals, in particular, these surgeries are understood as unavoidable risks that they must take in order to achieve or secure upward mobility.

In page 99 of my book, I tell the story of Leila, a fifty-five-year-old social worker who described her own nose surgery and her daughter’s nose surgery as necessary interventions that provided them more opportunities in life and thus brought them happiness. Leila made a clear distinction between one’s face and one’s body: while she felt that only “thinner” noses associated with European heritage were beautiful and harmonious, she regarded the nation’s “black and Indian heritage” as providing sensuality to Brazilian bodies. This racialization of bodily features haunts the descriptions of beauty in Brazil, and supports the notion that some types of racial mixture are more aesthetically pleasing than others.

Plastic surgeons, above all, are very invested in this “raciology of beauty” and imagine themselves as correcting the errors of “miscegenation.” Opening plastic surgery services in publicly funded hospitals has historical ties to biopolitical concerns with producing a more homogeneous and beautiful citizenry. The idea that beautification is a measure of racial progress can be traced back to the Brazilian eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, and some plastic surgeons still frame their discipline as aiding eugenics. Individual stories like Lucia’s, I argue, can only be interpreted within this longer history regarding how racialized, classed and gendered bodies have been long perceived as providing different types of value for the nation, putting particular pressure on working-class women of color to seek out plastic surgery.
Learn more about The Biopolitics of Beauty at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gideon Reuveni's "Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity"

Gideon Reuveni is Reader in History and Director of the Centre for German-Jewish studies at the University of Sussex. His central research and teaching interest is the cultural and social history of modern European and Jewish history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity, and reported the following:
Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity explores the changing nature and dynamic of consumer cultures in the context of Jewish history. It reveals the multifaceted process through which minorities are able to maintain a separate identity through consumption while concurrently, as consumers, feeling integrated in their host societies. Consumerism, it is here argued, refashioned Jewish cultures and provided new venues to imagine cultural belonging beyond the existing denomination of religious, social and political differences. The significance and contribution of this study is that it locates Jewish history within broader developments that may have facilitated cultural diversity and Jewish identities. In a wider sense, the book’s innovation lies in the fact that it employs a cultural approach to economic activities, suggesting that the very coherence of the economy and its ability to function depends very much on the aptitude of people to interact, to allocate values and norms to others, and on their willingness to share mutual representations.

Page 99 falls in the introduction section to part two of the book, which deals with the relationship between consumption and politics. In this page I call attention to the connection between Hannah Arendt's reading of the “Jewish condition” of victimization and exclusion from the world of political realities and her understanding of the “human condition.” Unable or unwilling to develop along industrial capitalist lines, Jews, Arendt argues, concentrated in consumer-oriented professions facilitating the emergence of a modern, passive and worldless, consumer society. Her view of consumer society neatly corresponds to her position on so-called Jewish passivity, and the failure of Jews to act politically. The ensuing chapters contest Arendt's reading. They do not only depict consumption as a site of resistance, but also reveal how Jews struggle to negotiate between their desire to retain Jewish distinctiveness with the demand for political and social emancipation.

It should be emphasized that there is nothing definitive in this study. My concerns here are to a large extent heuristic and my conclusions are still provisional. The realm of Jewish consumer culture is so large and its history so little known that this book has done scarcely more than set out some preliminary markers that will hopefully facilitate the way for more detailed investigations of this important field of historical inquiry.
Learn more about Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2017

Randy M. Browne's "Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean"

Randy M. Browne is an assistant professor of history at Xavier University and a specialist on slavery and colonialism in the early modern Atlantic world, especially the British Caribbean.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of an enslaved African man, La Rose, who had just been given 150 lashes and demoted from his position as driver. On Caribbean plantations, drivers were crucial go-betweens appointed by slaveowners to supervise fieldworkers, enforce rules, and punish other slaves. La Rose’s story is part of Chapter 4, “The Slave Drivers’ World,” which explores the political maneuvering of drivers who struggled to balance the competing interests of their enslavers and other slaves. In this case, La Rose’s manager lost confidence in him after La Rose supposedly gave a sick enslaved man a remedy that instead killed him. Firing La Rose, who had been a driver for at least five years, presented a series of challenges to the manager, who was so worried about La Rose’s response that he asked colonial officials to supervise him until he could be moved to a different plantation.

The manager was right to worry about La Rose’s reaction. Demoted drivers lost not only their elite status and the perks of their position but also what had probably been their best chance of forging a viable life under slavery. Caribbean slave societies were notorious death traps, and drivers stood out for living much longer and better lives than other slaves. The paradox at the heart of this chapter is that being a successful driver was a survival strategy for some enslaved men but one that necessarily required them to cooperate with their enslavers and thus perpetuate the slave system. To be sure, not all of them succeeded.

Surviving Slavery reconstructs cases like La Rose’s—documented in a remarkable archive of first-person testimony from hundreds of different slaves—to reconsider enslaved people’s world on its own terms and develop a new framework for studying the power relationships of Atlantic slavery. The basic premise of the book is that the struggle for sheer survival under desperate conditions was at the heart of enslaved people’s experience. Historians have long been preoccupied—for good reasons—with enslaved people’s efforts to resist their enslavers and achieve “freedom” but one of the biggest conclusions I reached while writing this book was that surviving the plantation world and resisting slavery were not one and the same. More importantly, for most enslaved people, survival took precedence.
Visit Randy M. Browne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wayne Sumner's "Physician-Assisted Death"

L.W. Sumner has published extensively in ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of law. His books include Abortion and Moral Theory and Assisted Death: A Study in Ethics and Law. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and winner of the 2009 Molson Prize in Social Sciences and Humanities from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Sumner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Physician-Assisted Death: What Everyone Needs to Know, and reported the following:
As it turns out, page 99 of Physician-Assisted Death is pretty darn interesting (as, of course, is the entire book). It is smack dab in the middle of a discussion of whether psychiatric illnesses should (if they are sufficiently serious, intractable, and distressing) be able to qualify a patient for PAD. This is one of the hotter issues in a generally hot topic: whether PAD is ethical and whether it should be legal.

The book as a whole deals with all (I repeat, all) of the issues implicated in these debates. It provides the interested and conscientious reader with everything he or she needs in order to decide where to stand on these important questions.
Learn more about Physician-Assisted Death at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Peter J. Marina's "Down and Out in New Orleans"

Peter Marina is a New Orleans native and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Down and Out in New Orleans: Transgressive Living in the Informal Economy, and reported the following:
St. Roch cemetery, New Orleans, two in the morning. We hop cemetery gates tripping on mushrooms. Another night, it’s the swamp this time. The police search for us. We tell them all about that damn gris-gris. Next scene, same city, same night. The Marigny stroll filled with life and street poets, food vendors, and spectators loosening their “uptight sphincters” for the very first time, capturing the carnival of New Orleans life.
Steamy mid-summer night dreams flourish in the swampy, romantic informal nocturnal economy of Frenchmen Street, the home to a nightly carnival of decadence centered on dozens of shoulder-to-shoulder music venues. The “Marigny stroll” offers the flâneur an insider’s peek into thick New Orleans nightlife… (pg. 99)
But city officials occupying the great halls of corruption and scandal of New Orleans city hall make a mess of it all.

Glance toward another direction of the city to find buskers playing on the Frenchmen Street of broken dreams and gutter punks sneaking into abandoned buildings just off in the dark distance of hurricane ravaged houses still abandoned. We hear Orwell’s words about the conditions of poverty, a society that finds the poor repugnant while simultaneously fearing their potential for revolting.

While tourists consume a watered down and appropriated New Orleans black culture, wealthy carpet bagging gentrifiers price out the black and creole community from their historic homes. Everyone seems to love New Orleans, they love it to death.

A local working class New Orleans boy from Gentility gets a fancy degree and writes a book about joys and heartbreaks of the fascinating yet tragic city of New Orleans pushing towards an increasingly precarious future. As wetland depletion, climate change, and elite urban planners place the final nails in the coffin, we citizens of the swampy soils of New Orleans celebrate this tragedy defiantly second-lining to the final goodnight. The author feels himself drowning everyday as his city slips away, just as did everything but his memories when Katrina tore away all that was left of Odin and Spain Streets. It is time for us to save New Orleans from becoming down and out. It’s time to save the city from the new monsters of modernity that wreak havoc on our land and culture, or risk losing it all.

While the whole quality of the book may not be revealed on page 99, it captures one of the many scenes of the book that tells the story of Post-Katrina New Orleans, its struggles and triumphs, and it’s push to survive and prosper under the most precarious conditions of our times.
Visit Peter Marina's website.

My Book, The Movie: Down and Out in New Orleans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Terry Allen Kupers's "Solitary"

Terry Allen Kupers is an award-winning psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology. As one of the nation’s foremost experts on the mental health effects of solitary confinement, he has testified in over two dozen class action lawsuits about jail and prison conditions, the quality of mental health care “inside” and the effects of sexual abuse behind bars. He is a frequent consultant to the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Human Rights Watch and the author of Prison Madness.

Kupers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It is the story of Willie Russell, an inhabitant of Mississippi’s Death Row when it was inside Unit 32, a supermaximum security unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and a plaintiff in a historic class action lawsuit where I had the privilege to serve as a psychiatric expert witness:
The temperature rises rapidly, and life in the cell becomes unbearable. In the summer heat at Parchman, this one aspect of the punish­ment cells would make them entirely unacceptable by any standard of human decency or of health and mental health minimum standards. But in addition to this cruel and entirely excessive and punitive measure that clearly serves no legitimate penological objective, Mr. Russell reports that his cell is always filthy, the rain pours in through the walls onto his bed, the toilet floods the cell with backflow from other prisoners’ toilets, there are bugs everywhere, the cell is filled with mosquitoes at night, he cannot sleep at night because the lights are on 24 hours per day, he is not permitted to have a fan, he is not permitted television or radio and there are no activities, and he is even more isolated than other prisoners on Death Row because the Lexsan shield over his door makes it impossible for him to talk to anyone. For two years, he was permitted no mattress, no pillow and no sheets, and had only a blanket and the concrete for a bed. This kind of punitive deprivation and degradation is barbaric, and shocking to human sensibilities. It is the kind of cruel and unusual punishment that is well known to cause intense anxiety and rage, psychiatric breakdown, and in a large proportion of cases, suicide.

…. But clearly the treatment of Mr. Russell constituted torture. Those who have spent a long time in a solitary confinement unit, much like those who have been tortured during war, suffer lasting damage and never make a complete recovery. In the big picture, the decimation of life skills, destroying a pris­oner’s ability to cope in the free world, is the worst thing solitary confine­ment does. In that process are all the elements of torture even without hoods, waterboarding, or electric wires.
Enough said about the horror of supermax solitary confinement. In the book I proceed with more stories plus a discussion of the alternative to solitary: rehabilitation, quality mental health treatment and humane conditions in our prisons.
Learn more about Solitary at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Stephen Nash's "Grand Canyon for Sale"

Stephen Nash is the author of Grand Canyon for Sale — Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change; Millipedes and Moon Tigers: Science and Policy in an Age of Extinction; Blue Ridge 2020: An Owner’s Manual; and Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Grand Canyon for Sale, and reported the following:
If you've been fortunate enough to visit Grand Canyon National Park -- more than five million of us do that every year -- the view is usually the draw. The reason for that banal observation is that it gives me the chance to point out that much of the time, that view is obscured by air pollution, a lot of it from coal-burning power plants in the region.

That's one example of how private interests degrade our national parks, national forests, and the vast expanses of our other public lands. Mining, logging, drilling, grazing, invasive species, giant shopping malls and lucrative helicopter overflights -- they are all taking their toll on the wildlife, the solitude, the very future of natural systems on those landscapes, which take up more than a quarter of our national dirt. They're public lands -- their natural heritage belongs to us -- but powerful political forces, including the Trump administration, are hell-bent on selling them off, either outright or piecemeal.

We've worked more more than a century to protect these lands. It says that, right here on page 99 of Grand Canyon for Sale. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled in 1907 that air pollution -- just one threat to public lands today -- is no respecter of legal boundaries, and that it's unacceptable: “It is a fair and reasonable demand on the part of a sovereign [state] that the air over its territory should not be polluted on a great scale by sulphurous acid gas, that the forests on its mountains ... should not be further destroyed or threatened by the acts of persons beyond its control,” he explained. Only a few years later Congress created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery ... and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

But scientists in a variety of fields point out that future generations, even the next generation, will witness mounting degradation of parks and public lands -- their natural systems are falling apart, as study after study documents. Climate change, especially, is beginning to force open the artificial boundaries we've drawn around national forests, rangelands, parks and prairies. We will need to combine them -- and do far more to protect them from the incursions of private interests -- if we want them to survive.
Visit Stephen Nash's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lane Demas's "Game of Privilege"

Lane Demas is associate professor of history at Central Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces a key celebrity who encouraged African Americans to take up golf as much as anyone else in history. From 1937 to 1949, Joe Louis was world heavyweight boxing champion, wildly popular with white and black Americans, and the world’s most recognizable African American. Yet he often drew as much attention for his interest in golf than for his boxing prowess. Stories of his devotion to the game were legendary: as the page notes, press reports in 1941 hinted that excessive golf caused the breakdown of his marriage; five years later “Louis threatened to sue Ebony after an expose claimed he owed $60,000 in golf debts and played high-stakes matches with entertainers Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for $1,000 per hole.” Louis regularly hinted that he intended to give up boxing for good so he could hit the links more.

Joe Louis was also a major supporter of the United Golfers Association (UGA), a black golf organization that operated from 1925 to 1975 and served as a parallel institution to the all-white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). (That’s why he is introduced in chapter three, “Our Masters: The Development of the United Golfers Association.”) Louis appeared at UGA events around the country, organized its tournament stop in Detroit (the Joe Louis Open), and helped finance a cadre of black players who routinely desegregated PGA tour events beginning in the 1940s – including Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford. With Louis’s support, the UGA blossomed into much more than a “black golf tour” and it was unlike any other black professional sporting organization in American history. With tournament stops around the country, including the South, it sustained a lasting, national reach that rivaled any single black baseball league. Nearly every black professional who competed on the PGA/LPGA tours before the 1996 emergence of Tiger Woods (27 men and 3 women) participated in UGA events.

Along those lines, page 99 is relatively representative. The book tries to cover the history of black professionals and familiar, high-profile folks – from caddie John Shippen competing in the 1896 U.S. Open, to singer Marvin Gaye taking up golf in the 1970s. And, yes, it concludes with a chapter on Woods.

Yet Game of Privilege actually devotes more coverage elsewhere: to the little-known stories of black caddies who shaped the game in the South against all odds; to the 29 major lawsuits African Americans successfully organized between 1940 and 1970 to desegregate municipal golf courses nationwide; indeed, to the fundamental meanings of golf in American history and the intriguing relationship between the struggle to integrate the game and the broader Civil Rights movement.
Learn more about Game of Privilege at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 11, 2017

William Chapman Sharpe's "Grasping Shadows"

William Chapman Sharpe is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. His books include New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950 and Unreal Cities: Urban Figuration in Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, and Williams.

Sharpe applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Grasping Shadows: The Dark Side of Literature, Painting, Photography, and Film, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Grasping Shadows opens on a moonlit night. Jane Eyre has just crossed the shadow of Mr. Rochester. His back is turned, yet he knows she is there. She writes, “I had made no noise; he had not eyes behind—could his shadow feel?”

In real life shadows are accidents of the light. But in creative works such as Jane Eyre shadows have been put there for a reason. Shadows may not be able to feel, but people inevitably feel the force of shadows. Grasping Shadows brings the largely unconscious act of shadow-processing out into the open. The book demonstrates how shadows communicate ideas and emotions in just about every kind of representation, from billboards to popular songs to Hollywood films to masterpieces hanging in museums.
Page 99 falls in the middle of a chapter on what I call the Vital Shadow, a shadow that reveals the life-force of its caster. Appearing to be connected to the soul or the psyche is one of the shadow’s most fundamental traits.. The shadow is an inside that displays itself outside, and audiences have to figure out how to respond to its power or vulnerability. Is what lurks in that dark shape something to be loved or feared? Is it something sexual, demonic or divine? Further down the page there’s an illustration of a fifteenth-century altar painting called St. Wolfgang and the Devil. Here, the devil’s shadow shrivels as it approaches the saint, as if could not survive in the light of the gospel that the holy man preaches.

But what about figures that lose their shadows completely? Or shadows that wander independently of bodies? Or shadows that do not match the bodies to which they are attached? Grasping Shadows explores how all these shadows silently speak to us, and shows how to understand the apparently infinite range of shapes that shadows assume in texts and images. Once we are sensitized to the shadow’s basic repertoire of tricks and traits, we can see the dark side of literature, painting, photography, and film in a whole new light.
Learn more about Grasping Shadows at the Oxford University Press.

The Page 99 Test: New York Nocturne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Emily Katz Anhalt's "Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths"

Emily Katz Anhalt teaches Classical languages and literature at Sarah Lawrence College. She holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of Solon the Singer: Politics and Poetics.

Anhalt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“…he fell face first upon the corpse far from fertile Larisa, nor did he give recompense to his dear parents in return for their rearing him. But his lifetime was brief, as he was laid low by the spear of high-spirited Ajax” (Iliad 17. 293-303). Ajax may feel proud of this conquest, but the narrative prevents the audience from sharing his enthusiasm. We imagine instead the grief of far-away parents.

The details in these descriptions of death emphasize the contrasts between the values of the characters and the perspective of the audience. Warfare, for the characters, provides the opportunity to win glory. But the similes and little vignettes evoke the experience of the victims and validate the lives lost…. The Iliad makes us see all dying warriors, not just Greek ones, as fully human and important and their deaths as tragic.
The ancient Greeks established the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions. Over centuries, their myths accompanied and promoted this historically unprecedented transition from tribalism to civil society and emphasized the crucial first step: recognize that rage-fueled violence doesn’t serve you very well, and stop admiring violent rage in other people.

Stories we read, watch, or tell shape our attitudes and priorities. They teach us what to admire and what to condemn. Ancient Greek myths remind us that you can make all the economic and institutional changes that you want, but unless you address the human propensity for violence, you are not going to find yourself living in a desirable, flourishing community. In practice, democratic procedures and institutions can easily promote tyrannical abuses of power and even atrocities. Over many centuries, Greek myths exposed rage-fueled violence as short-sighted and self-destructive. They criticized the abuse of power and introduced the concept of verbal debate as a more constructive alternative.

Each chapter of Enraged includes a retelling of a tale from Homer’s Iliad (c. 8th-century BCE) or two 5th-century BCE Athenian tragedies followed by a discussion of the story’s significance.

Page 99 discusses the Iliad’s depictions of hand-to-hand combat in the Trojan War. Similes and biographical details of fallen warriors emphasize the tragic loss of each human life, Greek and Trojan alike. Distinguishing the audience’s perspective from that of the characters, the Iliad began – more than 3,000 years ago -- to challenge the Greeks’ traditional enthusiasm for violence and to cultivate the audience’s capacity for empathy.

Democracy wasn’t even a concept until the late 6th century BCE, when the Athenians coined the word and tried the experiment. Non-violent democratic decision-making largely prevailed in Athens for nearly two centuries (508-322 BCE). In the 21st century, however, we are moving in the opposite direction, often reverting to violence in tribal and partisan confrontations. World-wide, we are empowering strongmen, autocratic rulers who may even be popularly elected. Ancient Greek myths remind us of the costs to ourselves of relying on rage-fueled violence as a political tool. They remind us of the value of empathy, self-restraint, and productive discussion.
Learn more about Enraged at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 8, 2017

Chris D. Thomas's "Inheritors of the Earth"

Chris D. Thomas is a professor of conservation biology at the University of York, UK. A prolific writer, he has published 210 scientific journal articles, 29 book chapters, edited one academic book, and has written around 20 magazine and other popular articles since 2000. His works have been cited more than 26,000 times, making him one of the world's most influential ecologists, and his research has been covered on the front pages of the Guardian and Washington Post. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2012, is a long-standing fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, and received Marsh Awards for Climate Change Research in 2011 and for Conservation Biology in 2004 and the prestigious British Ecological Society President's Medal in 2001.

Thomas applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a postcard from the Anthropocene. It finds me on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in the foothills of the European Alps. The surrounding forest is unlike any that has previously existed, yet it is still full of species. Humans have hunted and disturbed the forest for thousands of years, exploiting it for food, wood, livestock pens, weapons, warmth, and charcoal to smelt copper, bronze and iron. Then came the Romans, who introduced chestnut and bay trees. Nearly two millennia later, the Industrial Revolution arrived:
In 1808, the small lakeside town of Intra became home to Italy’s first steam loom, a picturesque ‘Manchester of Italy’. Industrial wealth meant rich people, and rich people in the nineteenth century craved country villas and gardens. Their enthusiasm for exotic plants to embellish the land became a passion and, to this day, the shores of Lake Maggiore are dotted with plant nurseries and garden centres. A new era had dawned. From a modest start in which humans had deliberately transported a few different kinds of crops, livestock and medicinal plants over thousands of years, the importation of new species had gone into overdrive. The age of European palm forests was about to commence.
So this brings us up to the 20th and 21st centuries, by which time semi-tame birds are gorging themselves on exotic fruits, and mice and squirrels are establishing caches of seeds to see them through the winter; thus transporting seeds out of the gardens and into the forest.
Seedlings sprout along the bases of hedgerows, in the back of every garden border, and under any tree where a defecating or regurgitating bird might sit. A profusion of saplings can be found in the adjacent forest. Wherever wildling palms have grown large enough to produce their own fruits, the under-storey is a veritable jungle of second-generation fronds. A few seeds have been transported half a kilometre [a third of a mile], or even further, from the nearest palm-containing garden, which is about as far as most birds can be expected to fly in one trip. Within a palm generation or two – a human lifetime – virtually all of the warm, forested slopes that line the banks of the lake will be verdant palmeries.

.. the industrial moguls who acted as plant hauliers from the east also brought us global warming, and the severity of winter frosts abated in the region during the second half of the twentieth century. With warmer winters, the [imported evergreen plants from Asia, North America and Australia] gained an advantage. Palms and camphor could now grow more luxuriantly than [native] linden trees. All that was required was for the blackbirds and squirrels to assist their escape from the industrialists’ gardens. The transport of plants across the world, climate warming and semi-tame animals all combined to bring about the transformation.

It is not just the forest. The lake itself is full of foreign species, most of which have been introduced [mostly from North America] in the last century. The pike-like zander-fish is an import, although only from elsewhere in Europe. An oversized specimen of this denizen of the deep had to be tracked down by police harpoonists after a troublesome individual bit chunks out of six bathers – in compensation, its walleye-flavoured meat was served to the tourists. [The lake now] contains many more kinds of fish than before humans arrived on the scene, just as the forest now supports newly arrived populations of exotic trees and shrubs.
The consequence is that the region now supports more species in total than it used to, prior to the arrival of humans. And this is generally true across the world. The number of species found in most parts of the world is going up, not down, because numbers of biological gains often exceed the numbers of losses. Evolution is even making a contribution. Relaxing back at my lakeside lodgings, I can hear the cheep of Italian sparrows on the roof. It is a new species. Its Asian house sparrow ancestors hybridised with Spanish sparrows somewhere on a farm or village in Italy, and their offspring now live exclusively in human-altered landscapes in the Italian Peninsula. Without human agriculture, the house sparrow would not have spread from Asia, and they would not have met up with their Spanish relatives. The consequence is that the world has gained a new species – thanks to humanity.

While we all appreciate the biological losses of the human epoch, we should also accept the gains – species that have colonised new places in recent times, and new genetic forms – with good grace. We should promulgate biological gains as often as we fight loss. Nature is not an old master that requires restoration to some imagined pure state that used to exist. Nature is a work in progress, and we are now part of it. We have generated a New Pangea, humans acting as an inter-continental glue, connecting the biological worlds of different continents. The consequence is that the most successful species are coming out on top.
Learn more about Inheritors of the Earth at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Josh Dean's "The Taking of K-129"

Josh Dean is a magazine journalist and author based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Graham was always the smartest person in the meeting, a man who didn’t equivocate and who inspired awe in his employees. One of his best qualities as an employee and a collaborator was that he rarely said no, at least not right away. He never reflexively said an idea wasn’t possible, even if he believed that was the case. In his office, all ideas were entertained, and the architect never dismissed one until he’d done some scribbling on a napkin to test it out first.

Gradually, the team assigned to what had become known as the “Deep Ocean Mining Ship” expanded. Graham pulled in the best of what he called, endearingly, his “grunt engineers,” including Sherman Wetmore, a prodigy who had worked for Global Marine since 1961, when he graduated from college. Wetmore was involved as design engineer on all of the important drill ships, including Glomar II, III, IV, and V and the Challenger. Graham also drafted the mechanical engineers Jim McNary, Abe Person, and Charlie Johnson to work on ship and “mining” support systems.

In fairly short order, the group had designed a mining ship that, they thought, could do the work to fulfill the bizarre and increasingly onerous specs that Crooke was feeding them. In addition to being enormous—more than six hundred feet—with a moon pool the size of a college gymnasium, it would have dynamic positioning, a semiautomated pipe-handling system, and a set of sliding doors in the bottom of the hull through which seventeen thousand feet of steel pipe could be lowered and raised by the largest and most powerful heavy-lift system ever built—deployed from a rig floor atop a gimbaled A-frame derrick that could stay perfectly still even as the ship itself pitched in rough seas. The only thing missing was a mining machine—whatever was going to be on the end of the pipe to locate and suck in nodules. But that wasn’t John Graham’s responsibility. Lockheed Corporation had been hired to handle that part.

Eventually, Graham got his clearance—Parangosky had worked around the drinking issues—and when Crooke briefed him on the ship’s true purpose, Graham stared a hole through him. “I knew there was something screwy about this whole thing,” he said.
This is an epic story in every way, and as much as I tried to tell it in an intimate, character-driven way, the book covers a lot of ground. There was no way around that – it’s the story of the largest and most audacious covert operation in history, a project that took 5 years and included hundreds of participants. It’s very much a triumph of the nerds, too, since this was a victory for the CIA’s little-known Directorate of Science and Technology. I bet the average person doesn’t even know that the CIA has a huge division of scientists and engineers, but it does, and they achieved one incredible thing after another during the Cold War — creating, in short order, the U2 spy plane, the SR71 Blackbird, the world’s first spy satellite, and the Hughes Glomar Explorer, the enormous ship at the center of this story.

It's very much a book about men and machines, and page 99 turns out to be a perfect little microcosm of that. It’s in the middle of a chapter about John Graham, the Glomar Explorer’s brilliant naval architect, and introduces one of his key deputy engineers. It also, by luck, includes a paragraph that explains the ship and its unbelievable systems, explained (I hope) in the clear and conversational tone I tried to stroke throughout the book. You don’t get a lot of Graham here, but you do get a snippet of biography (he’s a reformed alcoholic, a fact that jeopardized his involvement) and the briefest sample of his personality, through a quote.

I’d never suggest that any one page truly represents a book — especially not a book this sprawling — but I gotta say, this one ain’t bad.
Visit Josh Dean's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Taking of K-129.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nancy Woloch's "Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words"

Nancy Woloch is a Research Scholar in the History Department, Barnard College, Columbia University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words: On Women, Politics, Leadership, and Lessons from Life, and reported the following:
Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words uses selections from Eleanor Roosevelt’s many works – her magazine articles, newspaper columns, books, speeches, correspondence, radio talks, and press conferences – to track her career from the 1920s to the 1960s. The excerpts illuminate ER’s achievement as a champion of civil rights, human rights, and democratic ideals – ideals that are so relevant today!

Among Eleanor Roosevelt’s major innovations as First Lady were her White House press conferences, limited to women reporters, which began two days after FDR’s inauguration in 1933. Intended to reach women voters -- and to save the jobs of women journalists -- the gatherings proved an invaluable publicity tool. ER at first dealt only with topics “of interest to the women of the country,” but she soon moved on to topics of general interest. Page 99 of In Her Words brings us to ER’s White House press conference of February 27, 1935, transcribed by Malvina “Tommy” Thompson, ER’s loyal secretary, and devoted to the theme of economic recovery. In full stride as a booster of New Deal policy, ER told the reporters what to expect in the next two years and what the New Deal had already achieved.

From page 99:
Mrs. Roosevelt: “The banking bill, the insurance of bank deposits, the beginning that we have made in making it more difficult for the gullible public to be sold things that they should not buy. The TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] is a decided accomplishment, the whole utility program is a decided step forward. The CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps have been an accomplishment....

“I should also say that one of the things which was a great accomplishment was the beginning of a subsistence homestead program. I do not agree with those who think it is a menace. I believe that if properly developed it will be of great assistance in furnishing greater security in connection with industry.”

Mrs. Roosevelt: “The big achievement of the past two years is the great change in the teaching of the country. Imperceptibly we have come to recognize that government has a responsibility to defend the weak. I also think that in spite of criticism, the administration of relief has been a great achievement.

Mrs. Roosevelt: “The President’s inaugural address is a most historic event—‘the only thing we have to fear is fear’ will go down in history, I hope.”
Page 99 in no way reveals all of Eleanor Roosevelt’s concerns of the 1930s – as political campaigner or guardian of the disadvantaged, as friend of the labor movement or advocate of racial justice. Nor does it include the lively exchanges with reporters that often shaped her press conferences. Still, in the space of a few minutes, ER touched on one of her favorite New Deal programs, the subsistence homestead program, with which she had been deeply involved. She mentioned one of her basic precepts about the role of the state: “that government has a responsibility to defend the weak.” Finally, she seized an opportunity to refer back to FDR’s stirring first inaugural address, given on March 4, 1933. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” has indeed gone down in history.
Learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Class by Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s by Nancy Woloch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Molly Farneth's "Hegel's Social Ethics"

Molly Farneth is assistant professor of religion at Haverford College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hegel's Social Ethics: Religion, Conflict, and Rituals of Reconciliation, and reported the following:
Hegel’s Social Ethics considers G.W.F. Hegel’s account of the relationships and practices that communities ought to cultivate, and of what happens when those relationships and practices are absent or deformed. It offers, on the one hand, an interpretive argument about what Hegel’s social ethics involves and, on the other hand, a constructive argument about how it can inform the ethical conflicts that arise in diverse contemporary democracies.

The interpretive argument in the first half of the book is structured around key passages of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. It focuses on sections of Hegel’s chapter on “Spirit” – passages about the tragic conflicts depicted in Sophocles’ Antigone, about the culture war-style impasse between faith and the Enlightenment, and about the sacramental practices that reconcile the members of a confessing community. Through close readings of these passages, I argue that Hegel thinks that conflicts are always arising in communities – and that that’s a good thing as long as those conflicts, and people’s efforts to resolve them, take the right form. Social practices in which people confess their fallibility, and forgive one another for it (recognizing that we are all fallible), help to cultivate relationships of reciprocal recognition, in which each person honors herself and others as a locus of authority and of accountability.

The final chapters of the book argue for the relevance of Hegel’s account for contemporary democratic societies. Hegel’s work helps us to understand how the members of such societies might argue across difference in a context of reciprocal recognition and reconciliation. Our differences, and our conflicts, will always be with us. The question is how to approach them, and how to approach one another in the midst of them.

Page 99 marks the turning point in the book, the transition from the interpretive chapters to the constructive chapters of the book, in which I make the case for the applicability of Hegel’s social ethics to our own conflicts and conundrums. “As abstract as it was,” I write there, “Hegel’s philosophy was motivated by pressing social and political concerns. When Hegel wrote the Phenomenology of Spirit, the French revolution and the Reign of Terror were not-too-distant memories, and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire was at hand. What would this bigger and more diverse polity look like? What authority would it have over citizens – and what authority would citizens have over it? What beliefs, practices, and institutions would citizens need to cultivate in order to sustain it? Similar questions are with us still.”

That takes us onto page 100, so I’ll stop there – except to add that those questions look more and more pressing to me with each passing day. And that given that those are the questions that motivated me in writing this book, the page 99 test is right on.
Learn more about Hegel's Social Ethics at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Michael Loadenthal's "The Politics of Attack"

Michael Loadenthal is Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Justice at Miami University of Oxford, Ohio and Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Politics of Attack: Communiqués and insurrectionary violence, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The structuring of social war

Insurrectionary struggle must be understood as more than the sum of its communiqués. To understand it only in this regard is reductionist and misses important occurrences, such as frequent street-level confrontations, marches, building occupations, riots, blockades, and clandestine attacks. A defender of insurrectionary strategy commented in an anarchist message board, trying to succinctly explain this strategy and framework, writing:
The insurrection purposed by many contemporary anarchists is an informal non-military non-non-violent communization or egoist campaign. An insurrection is the actualization of our desires that go against the ruling order. An insurrection spreads cracks in the spectacle of social peace. The anarchist insurrection is the riot, the social war, the blockade, the strike, the gang, the commune, and so much more. (Anonymous 2014h)
The insurrectionary strategy, or rather the strategy proposed by insurrectionists is a multifaceted initiative based around building autonomous spaces (e.g. squats, communes, police-free neighborhoods, zones of opacity (IEF 2013, 50; TIC 2007, 107–108), temporary autonomous zones (Bey 1991)), fostering conflict to expose inequality (i.e. making social war), and directly attacking forms of domination through informal, individualist, illegal action including property destruction, sabotage, propaganda, expropriation, and strikes at individuals.

Unlike Marxism and other revolutionary frameworks, insurrectionary anarchism is not rooted in a specific theory of change (e.g. historical materialism) but is rather a theory of critique and action, not prefiguration. In his discussion of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, conflict theorist Richard Rubenstein (1987, 29–30) points to a two-stage understanding advocated by Vietnamese leader and military strategist General Vo Nguyen Giap who divided the conflict into two stages, beginning with guerrilla war before moving into more conventional forms of warfare. General Giap (1965, 52 [Emphasis in original]) understood the role played by guerrilla violence, stating:
At the price of their hard-won experiences, our compatriots in the South realized that the fundamental trend of imperialism and its lackeys is violence and war; that is why the most correct path to be followed by the peoples to liberate themselves is revolutionary violence and revolutionary war. This path conforms strictly to the ethics and the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism on class struggle, on the state and the revolution. Only by revolutionary violence can the masses defeat aggressive imperialism and its lackeys and overthrow the reactionary administration to take power.
While the guerrilla warfare resembles the strategies and tactics of the insurrectionists, it is in this second stage, where one moves into a phase of more regular combat, that the comparison breaks down. While the Marxist and nationalist struggles of this era were defined by the desire to foster a “mass- based guerrilla army” in order to “move from large-scale rebellion to revolution” (Rubenstein 1987, 30), the insurrectionary perspective lacks this prescriptive chronology and sees only the moment of the attack, the resulting rupture, and the attacks that follow.
While I'm not sure if the Page 99 Test holds true for a book covering such a long historical timeline, here is a sample page from the book (from page 99-100) that can stand alone to provide the reader with a bit of insight as to what the book covers in total.
Learn more about The Politics of Attack at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 1, 2017

Geoffrey Galt Harpham's "What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez?"

Geoffrey Galt Harpham is visiting scholar and senior fellow of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and former director of the National Humanities Center. His books include The Humanities and the Dream of America.

Harpham applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez?: The American Revolution in Education, and reported the following:
On page 99, I'm talking about the exaggerated role of opinion in American civil society. The Declaration spoke of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," and the democracy that arose from the Revolution presumed that all citizens would be capable of formulating independent opinions on a wide range of questions on all the issues involved in self-governance including, crucially, the interpretation of the Constitution, the law of the land. The nation was founded on the rock of opinion. Unfortunately, opinion is not at all rock-like. It is inherently debatable, unstable, changeable, and a nation lays such great emphasis on the value of the individual opinion is vulnerable to gusts of irrationality. Page 99 mentions de Tocqueville's alarm about the tropism to tyranny and demagogy in the United States. I suggest at the bottom of the page that the Constitution's system of checks and balances was an attempt to counter the tyranny of the majority. On subsequent pages, I develop the argument that the American educational system was formulated as a means of developing and disciplining the mighty but unstable force of opinion. The prominent role accorded in this system to the humanities, and to English in particular, reflects that fundamental mission. This, then, is the rationale behind the American system of education, which, although under stress in this country, has produced spectacular results, and is now being widely emulated by other countries.
Learn more about What Do You Think, Mr. Ramirez? at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue