Monday, April 24, 2017

Mugambi Jouet's "Exceptional America"

Mugambi Jouet teaches at Stanford Law School. His writing has been featured in Mother Jones, Slate, The New Republic, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, Salon, The Hill, Truthout, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde, and academic journals.

Jouet applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other, and reported the following:
My book Exceptional America: What Divides Americans From the World and From Each Other aims to answer three questions. Why did Donald Trump follow Barack Obama into the White House? Why is America so polarized? And how does American exceptionalism explain these social changes?

Page 99 of the book focuses on how faith in Christianity is generally far more intense in America than in other Western democracies—a dimension of American exceptionalism with distant historical roots that Alexis de Tocqueville had previously remarked upon. I describe on that page how these circumstances have been influenced by social pressure to be religious, especially in conservative regions of America. “[A] strong social norm of religiosity” among a rather devout population has led both Republican and Democratic U.S. politicians to regularly invoke God, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence, and, to a lesser extent, Donald Trump. “In turn, religious rhetoric from the nation’s leaders helps normalize religiosity and dissuade skepticism, irrespective of whether such public displays of faith are heartfelt or contrived.” These circumstances are among the factors having led religion to play a huge political role in America compared to the rest of the West: European nations, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Yet religion is often as great a source of division as of unity in an American society where conservatives and liberals are divided by traditional and modern understandings of faith, as illustrated by clashes over abortion, contraception, gay rights, and the theory of evolution. In sum, this excerpt seems to exemplify the Page 99 Test. A distinctive understanding of religion is a major dimension of American exceptionalism, as well as a significant factor behind the acute polarization of modern America.
Learn more about Exceptional America at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Timothy H. Dixon's "Curbing Catastrophe"

Timothy H. Dixon received a B.Sc. degree in 1974 from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Ph.D. degree in 1979 from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. From 1979-1992, he worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. From 1992-2010 he was at the University of Miami. Since January 2011 he has been at the University of South Florida, where he is a Professor in the Department of Geology.

Dixon applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Curbing Catastrophe: Natural Hazards and Risk Reduction in the Modern World, and reported the following:
When I was asked to write an article for “The Page 99 Test,” the first thing I did was look at another entry to see what other writers had done with this challenge. I chose Chip Colwell’s Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits. In hindsight it may not have been the best choice. Page 99 of Colwell’s book includes the following riveting passage:
On the bitter cold morning of November 29, 1864, the U.S. Army attacked a peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho settlement at the eastern edge of Colorado, slaughtering upwards of 200 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly. After the killing ended, the soldiers plundered the dead—taking body parts as trophies, including fingers, genitalia, and scalps. When the Army returned to Denver they were greeted as heroes. During a parade that snaked through downtown Denver, the scalps were raised to cheers.
The book goes on to describe the anthropologic consequences of the genocide committed by our European ancestors against the original inhabitants of North America. It’s fascinating reading, and I highly recommend it.

In contrast, page 99 of my book drops the reader into the middle of a rather dry four page description of how scientists discovered that the Pacific coast of Oregon and Washington in the US, and the Canadian province of British Columbia (geologists call this region “Cascadia”) are at great risk from a giant earthquake and devastating tsunami. It's rather dry, but it's important – the Cascadia region is virtually certain to experience an event similar to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, killing approximately 30,000 people and costing that country more than $200 billion (US). It was the world’s costliest natural disaster, and is discussed in Chapter 4 of my book. But unlike Japan, the US and Canada are actually much less prepared, for reasons discussed in Chapter 5 (including page 99). If it happened tomorrow, the consequences would be devastating, far worse than Japan. The main reason for the difference is that scientific understanding of the risk did not come until the 1990’s, long after the area had been settled by Europeans, and long after much of the region’s infrastructure have been built – so it's not earthquake-safe. In contrast, Japan has been settled for more than a thousand years, and that country’s inhabitants have learned to live with earthquakes, and design buildings accordingly. It’s a good example of the importance of time lag, a major theme in the book (in this case, the time difference between settlement and scientific understanding of local risk).

An interesting aside, related to Colwell’s book but not discussed in my book, is that the indigenous inhabitants of Cascadia were actually familiar with the earthquake and tsunami hazard (the last big one was in 1700 AD, and it was recognized in their oral traditions). European settlers (and scientists of the day) paid no heed to the natives, who were viewed as uncivilized.

We can’t predict when “the big one” will hit Cascadia, but we probably have at least a few decades to prepare. Let’s use the time wisely.
Learn more about Curbing Catastrophe at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rebecca Schuman's "Schadenfreude, A Love Story"

Rebecca Schuman is a frequent contributor to Slate, where she writes about higher education, Germany, popular culture and parenting. She holds a PhD in German from the University of California, Irvine.

Schuman  applied the “Page 99 Test” to her first book, Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For, and reported the following:
This is approximately the fiftieth-saddest story I have ever known: In 1995, I was overexcited to be in Europe for the first time in the way only a chronically disaffected 90s young adult can be. That is, I’d made a pilgrimage of sorts, to pay homage to the remains of the most influential person in my life, Franz Kafka—to walk the streets he’d walked, to live in his hundred-year-old shadow for a few days and thus (obviously) osmote (osmosify? osmosificate?) just a fraction of his genius. It didn’t work.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story isn’t actually about Germans (although it is), as much as it’s the Bildungsroman of a doofus (the much less appealing backup title), told as a very digressive and somewhat petulant love letter to Kafka, the German who wasn’t German who started it all. It’s all about Kafka, whose “Das Urteil” (“The Judgment”) runs “an endless stream of traffic” in circles around dear Ford Madox Ford when it comes to unreliability—the one trait, rather than genius, I did manage to inherit in that summer of 1995, whose ignominy is immortalized on the book’s ninety-ninth page, where this happens:

After ditching my friends in great dramatic fashion so that I might be able to commune with Kafka’s ghost in proper writerly solitude, I grow immediately restless—so much so that I end up clumsily seducing a random guy I’d met the day before. (Or did I allow myself to be clumsily seduced by him? I’m too unreliable to allow you to be sure.) Before all that, however, comes this line, a line that does not take place in Germany and does not pertain to Germans, and yet does, curiously enough, reveal more or less the whole character of the book (or, at any rate, the version I’d like you to know): “I should have—I knew I should have—stuck to my café glowering and my artisanal travel journal, but my dirtiest secret turned out to be that I could only stand my own company for half a day.”
Visit Rebecca Schuman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Conan Fischer's "A Vision of Europe"

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Conan Fischer is an Honorary Professor in the School of History at the University of St Andrews. He graduated in European Studies from the University of East Anglia in 1972 and received his DPhil from the University of Sussex in 1980 with a thesis on the social history of the Nazi storm troopers. His earlier research and publications concentrated on Nazism and Communism in inter-war Germany, before turning to the history of inter-war Europe and in particular Franco-German relations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Vision of Europe: Franco-German Relations during the Great Depression, 1929-1932, and reported the following:
A Vision of Europe is the story of French and German efforts to put the sterile legacy of the First World War behind them by building a European Union organized around a Franco-German economic partnership.

Page 99 comes midway through a section that examines the multifaceted contribution of the Catholic Church and of Catholic political and cultural organizations to the cause of inter-war Franco-German reconciliation. It details a major conference held in Berlin in December 1929, which brought ‘together [French and German] forces that shared a similar domestic political agenda.’ These forces included ‘complementary economic interests’ and other ‘powerful elements [working towards] understanding and cooperation,’ which embraced wide-ranging academic collaboration and ‘the establishment of closer relations between the Catholic press and journalists of the two countries.’ The German and French press reported on two ‘dazzling official receptions hosted in turn by the French Ambassador [at Berlin] and the German Foreign and Justice Ministers,’ to the evident pleasure of the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand. And as the German Ambassador at Paris observed: ‘the impression is growing [in France] that the meeting of German and French Catholics in Berlin has been useful and it has undoubtedly encouraged circles previously opposed to a German-French dialogue to reconsider.’

This Catholic dimension was one factor among many that appeared to be paving the way to a peaceful, integrated Europe. Indeed, in September 1931 the French and German governments formally agreed to create a Franco-German customs and economic union as the first step along this road, but a series of major setbacks quickly followed. The Great Depression undermined France’s commitment to free trade just as German politics were convulsed by the rise of the nationalist demagogue, Adolf Hitler. The unauthorized publication of leaked German foreign policy documents in France and Germany added to the furore, as Europe and the wider world slid towards renewed war.

It took the Second World War to teach the international community the hard way of the virtues of collaboration. Collegial diplomacy came slowly to prevail, if only after the challenges of the Cold War had been defused. But now, it seems, we are once again condemned to witness the populist prioritization of national self-interest over multilateralism and collective well-being.
Learn more about A Vision of Europe at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Amy Bryzgel's "Performance Art in Eastern Europe since 1960"

Amy Bryzgel is Senior Lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Performance Art in Eastern Europe since 1960, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book says nothing about it, and yet it says everything, because page 99 is a list of endnotes! This page is about a quarter of the way into the book, and consists of the 7th page (of ten) of the endnotes to that chapter. While most may never even read this page, some may simply glance at it, and only the avid researcher will scrutinize it sharply, it is a very important page, as it forms the foundation and basis for the book, and reflects the rigorous research undertaken over the course of several years.

Performance Art in Eastern Europe since 1960 is the first substantial academic study that outlines the history and development of performance art, or live art, including action art and happenings, in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Because performance art developed as an experimental or unofficial art form in the region, it was not usually recorded or included in official art histories, and therefore still exists, in many instances, as primarily an oral history. Consequently much of my research involved traveling to the region and interviewing artists about their performative art practices. While that forms a substantial part of the research, it also relies quite heavily on primary, secondary and even tertiary published materials. What this page reveals is the extensive research that went into creating this text.

Page 99 may not be an exciting page to read, and it may tell you nothing about the topic of my book, but it is important that it is there, and in its very existence, can tell you everything.
Learn more about Performance Art in Eastern Europe since 1960 at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nina Sankovitch's "The Lowells of Massachusetts"

Nina Sankovitch is the author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing. She was born in Evanston, Illinois, and is a graduate of Evanston Township High School, Tufts University, and Harvard Law School.

Sankovitch applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, and reported the following:
From page 99:
He was simply having too good a time to write home to his parents and siblings back in America. The lack of news made them worry. The initial wave of public approval for the French Revolution was receding. The onset of the Reign of Terror had turned American support into fear: what terrible violence had been unleashed in France? The French Revolution had seemed like a good idea – and a flattering imitation of America’s bid for independence –but now it had become something quite different. Revolution was supposed to lead to an evolution for the greater good but in France, the revolution was dissolving now into anarchy. The aristocracy was being massacred, churches desecrated, clergy decimated. The governmental institutions for law and order were breaking down. When the great French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, was called a traitor by Robespierre and then jailed by Danton, Minister of Justice, Americans cried out in protest. The French were no longer to be trusted.

But Frank never felt himself to be in any danger. He had numerous cousins living in France, safely and happily, and he himself was traveling with a special passport issued by the French Committee of Public Safety. Enjoying his cloak of official protection, he found French life interesting and satisfying more than demoralizing or terrifying. After witnessing mass executions of five hundred men while visiting Paris, the only mention of it he made to his father when he finally wrote a letter was about how very quiet the whole event had been: “One of our training days [at Harvard] made a great deal more noise...”

Little time was spent by Frank considering the moral or political implications of the French Revolution; instead, what fascinated him were the opportunities he saw everywhere he went…
This excerpt from page 99 of my biography of the Lowell family over three hundred years does a good job of placing one member of that family, Francis Cabot Lowell, well within the context of his times, while offering a perhaps surprising view of those times. Throughout my book, I offer not only portraits of individual members of the Lowell family but also of the important historical events of their eras. The story of the Lowells is interesting on its own merits, with its heroes and even a few villains, and its plot twists and resolutions and revolutions, but the book also brings to vivid life the history of the United States from the 1600s through the 1900s.

We tend to think of the French Revolution as all terror, all the time – and the paragraphs from page 99 invoke those horrors – but for a young American, fresh out of Harvard and trying to make his way in the world, France during the Revolution was a fascinating place offering so many opportunities. The Lowell family motto was Occasionem Cognosce (recognize opportunity, seize opportunity), and Frank took advantage of his time in France, learning not only the language and the customs but also the material needs of the French. The French were cut off from British goods and Frank realized that American suppliers could fill the void. He returned to Boston and began an import/export company, leading first Boston and then the nation to becoming world leaders in trade and manufacturing.

Every generation of Lowells, from the 68-year old patriarch who came to the New World in 1639 to start a new life, through to Francis Cabot Lowell and his siblings, and on through the Lowells of the twentieth century, had an uncanny ability to change course, to recognize new opportunities and seize upon them. This facility at reinvention, along with their ingrained ideal of working hard on behalf of the larger community, led them to be movers and shakers in all the eras in which they lived.
Visit Nina Sankovitch's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lowells of Massachusetts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jennifer M. Randles's "Proposing Prosperity?"

Jennifer M. Randles, author of Proposing Prosperity?: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family formation trends.

Randles applied the “Page 99 Test” to Proposing Prosperity? and reported the following:
From page 99:
Chelsea made it clear she was not giving Simon an ultimatum that he needed to have a high-paying job before she would marry him. She just wanted him to be employable. Though Chelsea was willing to pay off his $5,000 [in traffic fines] if and when she had the money, Simon seemed like too much of a risk to marry until those traffic fines were paid off.
In 1996, Congress overhauled welfare policy to promote work, marriage, and responsible fatherhood for American families living in poverty. This led to the creation of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative—often referred to as marriage promotion policy—which has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country. I observed over 500 hours of healthy marriage classes, analyzed 20 government-approved marriage education curricula, and interviewed low-income parents—including Chelsea and Simon—who took classes.

Though healthy marriage policy is premised on the idea that developing relationship skills creates better marriages, which in turn lead to financial prosperity, the low-income couples I interviewed believed that marriage represents the culmination of prosperity, not a means to attain it. As Chelsea elaborated, “I didn’t dream about getting married, but now that I’m getting older and having babies, now I feel like [my son’s] mom and dad should be married, but I want Simon to have his license first….That’s one of the biggest problems in our relationship.” Chelsea knew marriage would not solve their financial or relationship problems, and she, like almost all of the other parents I interviewed, told me they could neither afford nor prioritize marriage until they were more financially stable. I detail their relationship stories to illustrate how financial challenges lead to curtailed commitments, especially when marriage between two economically unstable partners seems like a bad financial risk.

Though parents frequently challenged instructors’ claims that marriage could help them, they did find the classes useful. Participants experienced the classes as a rare opportunity to communicate free of the material constraints that shaped their lives and relationships. Hearing other low-income couples talk about their challenges with love and money normalized parents’ intimate struggles and allowed them to better understand how relationship conflict and unfulfilled hopes for marriage are shaped by poverty. Low-income parents’ experiences with marriage classes point to how relationship policies would likely be more useful if they focused more on how economic stressors take an emotional toll on romantic relationships and less on promoting the dubious message that marriage directly benefits poor families.
Learn more about Proposing Prosperity? at the Columbia University Press website.

Writers Read: Jennifer Randles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Seva Gunitsky's "Aftershocks"

Seva Gunitsky is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes us right into the conclusion of the first case study chapter – the intense but failed wave of democratization that followed World War I. For a brief moment, it appeared that democracy was the only viable alternative. Almost all the new states created (or resurrected, in Poland’s case) by the war adopted democratic institutions like parliaments, universal suffrage, and proportional representation:
Such widespread consensus on the attraction of democracy would not resurface until the Soviet collapse seven decades later. Democracy seemed to offer a path toward both domestic and international legitimacy, and for those rulers who saw little value in such trifles, it was a way to modernize, strengthen, and stabilize their own fragile new states and societies.
As I argue in the book, sweeping waves of democratization are closely linked to abrupt shifts in the structure of global power. Domestic theories of democratization cannot say much about these recurring and wide-ranging cascades of reform. Instead, the hegemonic shock that followed WWI proved to be the decisive factor, for both material and ideological reasons:
The alternatives appeared either moribund (in the case of monarchical absolutism) or volatile (in the case of communism). A fledgling communist regime had appeared in Russia after the country’s brief flirtation with liberal democracy, but it was the product of a war-born, minority-forged coup facing a bitter civil war and foreign invasions...
As with other abrupt hegemonic shocks of the twentieth century, the aftermath of the Great War produced powerful but ultimately short-lasting pressures for reforms. The initial systemic pressures that pushed for democratization soon faded away:
The flowering of democratic regimes on the European continent was a period of hope born from tragedy, a moment of crisis transformed into opportunity. This cascade of postwar reforms was intense, widespread, ambitious—and ultimately unsuccessful.
One of my basic arguments is that failure is actually “baked” into democratic waves from the start, since the same hegemonic forces that create institutional cascades also sow the seeds of their demise. Hegemonic shocks produce waves, but they also produce periods of ‘democratic overstretch’:
...Yet the fundamental premise of the Versailles treaty—the idea of democracy as the answer to the problems of modernity—was not solidified by the postwar settlement. It was, in retrospect, an ill-fated victory. ...The Soviet Union after 1923 and Germany after 1933— two states excluded from the negotiations at Versailles—would in time offer their own visions of the modern state.
So begins a century of shocks and waves – a struggle between competing superpowers and the institutional alternatives that they embodied. Hegemonic shocks became the culminations of that struggle, the critical junctures that catalyzed immense waves of domestic reforms.

And that’s the basic contention – the history of modern regime evolution, and especially democratization, cannot be understood fully without taking into account the consequences of these dramatic systemic transformations.
Learn more about Aftershocks at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Or Rosenboim's "The Emergence of Globalism"

Or Rosenboim is a Research Fellow in Politics and History of Political Thought at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, and a teaching associate at the Center for Gender Studies, and co-convene the Political Thought and Intellectual History Seminar. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Cambridge, M.St in Imperial History from the University of Oxford, UK, and BA (summa cum laude) in Modern History from the University of Bologna, Italy.

Rosenboim applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939-1950, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The idea of the ‘global’ emerged in a dialogue with specific geopolitical sites like the frontier which informed normative assumptions about power relations in the world.
Page 99 reflects on the geopolitical visions of two American thinkers, Owen Lattimore and Nicholas Spykman, who constructed a global order based on regional blocks. In the book, I discuss the emergence of the idea of ‘globalism’ in the 1940s through a series of transnational conversations between public intellectuals and political commentators in the United States and Britain. One of these conversations revolved around the theme of geopolitics, showing how for the geopoliticians Lattimore and Spykman globalism did not mean universalism, but an interconnected system based on large regional blocks. Their global visions were grounded in concrete geopolitical conditions, such as frontiers, sea power and territorial control. Their tripolar systems, led by the United States, Russia and Britain or China, were intended to offer a stable yet pluralist structure to the post-war world. On page 99, I assess the reasons for the relative decline of their visions in the post-war years, despite their prominence during the war.

Yet page 99 also highlights an important theme of the book: the plurality of political spaces included in the discourse of globalism, and the complex relations between these spaces. For mid-century thinkers, ‘globalism’ did not necessarily entail universality and unity. Rather, the globalist debate that mid-century public intellectuals embarked on sought to balance the tensions between a growing recognition of pluralism on the one hand and an appreciation of the unity of humankind on the other.
The book explores the intellectual history of global thought during and after the Second World War, when public intellectuals grappled with concerns about the future of democracy, the prospects of liberty, and the decline of the imperial system. Without using the term "globalization," they identified a shift toward technological, economic, cultural, and political interconnectedness and developed a ‘globalist’ ideology to reflect this new post-war reality. The world’s globality led mid-century thinkers to challenge conventional political categories, and the ‘global’ became the new yardstick to measure political order in the state, the region, the federation and the whole world. Although the discussion of the marginalisation of the geopolitical visions of tripolar regional blocks in page 99 may seem specific at first glance, it does represent central aspects of the wider debate on the desirable and possible shape of the new ‘global’ order of the post-war era.
Visit Or Rosenboim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 10, 2017

Samantha Evans's "Darwin and Women"

Samantha Evans is an associate editor of the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters, and reported the following:
My page 99, I'm relieved to find, is representative in one way: it features a letter from Dora Roberts, who seems otherwise completely unknown to history. This shows that you can use the archives of great figures from history to throw light of the lives of unknown people, as well. She wrote to Darwin after the publication of his book, Expression of the emotions in man and animals. This was one of his most popular publications, and many people wrote to him with anecdotes about the behaviour of people and animals that they knew. The animal stories in particular show how closely many people lived with the natural world. Dora tells the story of a hen ('very indignant because not provided with eggs to sit upon for some time past') that kept stealing kittens from a mother cat and on one occasion carried them somehow to a high shelf where the cat couldn't reach them. The cat went for help to a cook ('A cat came to the cook mewing piteously and expressing both grief & excitement'). Dora thought this was odd as the cook disliked cats and had never treated this one kindly: 'it seemed her sense of justice to which the creature appealed'. The kittens were rescued, with the help of a ladder.
Learn more about Darwin and Women at the Cambridge University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Darwin and Women.

--Marshal Zeringue