Thursday, January 30, 2014

Martin Breaugh's "The Plebeian Experience"

Martin Breaugh was educated at the University of Paris VII-Denis-Diderot and is associate professor of political theory at York University (Toronto). His research focuses on the theory and practice of emancipatory politics and radical democracy.

Breaugh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Plebeian Experience: A Discontinuous History of Political Freedom, and reported the following:
This is a book about the 99%. Because of the first plebeian secession in Rome (494 BCE), I call them the plebs.

The Plebeian Experience proceeds from a very simple question: what happens when the 99% that are excluded from political life take it upon themselves to become political? The answer is to be sought in history and philosophy. From history, I explain what was accomplished by the plebs and I emphasize how it was carried out. In a nutshell: when the many appear on the stage of history, they bring forth a form of political conflict that broadens freedom within the community. In philosophical terms, I located, in the history of political thought, a “counter-tradition” that understands the politics of the many as more than just “mob rule”, as we will see below. From the death of Socrates by a democratic tribunal to today, our tradition of political thought has not done justice to the 99%.

This is where the page 99 test comes in. On page 99, I offer a synopsis of the political theory of the 99% that gives, I hope, an accurate indication of “the quality of the whole” (Ford Madox Ford). On page 99, I write:
Machiavelli has left us with a body of thought where the plebs are regarded as a political subject that animates the body politic with a desire for liberty by ensuring the presence of conflict through its “implacable” opposition to the grandees. Following a line of thought close to that of the Florentine Secretary but formulated in his own terms, Montesquieu, in his Considérations, extols the virtues of division, stating that the plebs are defined by their rejection of tranquility in favor of the disturbances required by the dissonance of liberty. Thus, according to Montesquieu, the plebs ensure the conflictual unity of free political communities. Vico, agreeing with Machiavelli and Montesquieu that the plebs are the vehicle of conflict and freedom, nevertheless argues that they prove incapable of assuming that very freedom over the long term. For Pierre-Simon Ballanche, the plebs, due to their struggle against the stationary, patrician forces, are endowed with humanity, being a political subject that makes humankind’s achievement of progress and emancipation possible. In another vein, Daniel De Leon believes that the history of the Roman plebs should remind the many, invested with political capacity, of the need for self- emancipation. On the other hand, what makes the work of Michel Foucault interesting is his revival of the plebeian question within contemporary debates, rather than his equivocal theorization of it. Finally, in Jacques Rancière’s work “plebeian thought” achieves a certain theoretical culmination, since it proves to be central to his thinking. Based on his exploration of Ballanche’s findings with respect to the first plebeian secession, Rancière argues that the secession illustrates the founding conflict of the political, which bears on the existence of a common political stage. By exposing the wrong attributable to the “police- based” distribution of titles and functions, the plebs institute a common space where equality can be verified. They thereby set up a process of subjectivization that extricates them from the “naturalness” of their place and enables the passage from the status of animal laborans to that of zoon politikon.
Learn more about The Plebeian Experience at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Peter Godfrey-Smith's "Philosophy of Biology"

Peter Godfrey-Smith is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science and Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Philosophy of Biology, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the page that encounters one of the great challenges in writing a textbook in the philosophy of biology. Biology changes so quickly that everything one says risks quickly drifting out of date. But if you worry too much about that problem, you won't end up saying anything at all. Genetics is the part of biology that changes at the most breakneck pace, and on page 99 I try to say what the view of genetic systems emerging over the last few years tells us about the status of genes as objects and as causes.

Genes in the 20th century were treated, from an evolutionary point of view, as little competing particles, as objects with what Dawkins termed a "flintlike integrity." I think that the view of genomes and gene action that has developed over the last decade or two has taken us beyond that view; genomes are more organized than had been supposed, and as a result, individual genes have less reality as parts of genomes. The particle-like gene is receding, even from the more "zoomed-out" parts of biology, like evolutionary theory. But as the chapter about genes says in conclusion, who knows what the next 50, or 10, years of genetics will bring? In the light of this, I'm also going to keep Philosophy of Biology up to date by maintaining a website with updates, news, and additions. That site is here:

If you turn the page beyond page 99, you reach a topic just as contentious as genes and at the other end of the spatial scale: species.
Learn more about Philosophy of Biology at Peter Godfrey-Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Arturo C. Sotomayor's "The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper"

Arturo C. Sotomayor is an assistant professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), in Monterey, California. His areas of interest include civil-military relations in Latin America; UN peacekeeping participation by democratizing countries; Latin American comparative foreign policy, and nuclear policy in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Sotomayor has held research fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Tulane University, and CIDE in Mexico City.

Sotomayor applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper: Civil-Military Relations and the United Nations, and reported the following:
The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper examines how United Nations peacekeeping missions reform (or not) their participating members. Two-thirds of the UN peacekeepers come from developing states, many of which are transitioning to democracy as well. The conventional wisdom is that these blue helmets learn not only to appreciate democratic principles through their mission work, but also develop an international outlook and new ideas about conflict prevention. This book debunks this myth, arguing that peacekeeping has multiple, varying, and divergent effects on participating soldiers. The book aims to answer to three specific questions: (1) Does peacekeeping reform military organizations? (2) Can peacekeeping socialize soldiers to become more liberalized and civilianized? (3) Does peacekeeping improve defense and foreign policy integration?

Chapter four of this book begins, precisely, on page 99, where the author analyzes how peacekeeping socializes the military. The findings in this chapter are surprising. In UN missions in Angola, Cambodia, the DRC, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, peacekeepers from South America essentially performed internal security missions. Their duties involved policing and internal security functions, sometimes suppressing civilian unrest rather than assisting with civilian reconstruction. Their responsibilities in part resembled their previous dictatorial missions, which focused precisely on counterinsurgency, deterrence of guerrillas, and policing. In many of these UN missions, peacekeepers were accused of bribery, corruption, and even sexual abuse.

What happened to the so-called positive effects of peacekeeping socialization? Peacekeepers with little combat experience learned some hard lessons about internal warfare and civil conflict. Soldiers placed a premium on public order and the surveillance of (and operations against) civilian opponents, leading to excessive and unnecessary force. Moreover, the UN had an inherent institutional weakness: it could not monitor, punish, prosecute, or hold its peacekeepers accountable for serious acts of misconduct. Ultimately, the lack of institutional accountability and transparency in the UN gave rise to negative socialization and diffused illiberal and praetorian practices among the blue helmets from South America.

The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper thus provides a novel argument about how peacekeeping works and further insights into how international factors affect domestic politics as well as how international organizations affect democratizing states.

The views expressed in this blog entry are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Naval Postgraduate School, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Learn more about The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website and Arturo C. Sotomayor's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Noah Isenberg's "Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins"

Noah Isenberg is Professor and Chair of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College-The New School for Liberal Arts, in New York City, where he also directs the Screen Studies program. His books include Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (California, 2014); Detour (BFI Film Classics, 2008); and, as editor, Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films from the Era (Columbia, 2009).

Isenberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to Edgar G. Ulmer and reported the following:
It’s perhaps not totally clear whether Ford Madox Ford’s dictum applies here, unless, as is so often the case in the world of Hollywood, there’s a little back-story that’s given. By the time the reader reaches this precise page in my critical biography of the Austrian-born émigré filmmaker, Ulmer has been forced to leave behind what initially looked like a very promising studio career in America’s dream factories, during the early years of the 1930s, to pick up any work that he could find in and around New York City. When he first arrived in the United States, helping to stage a New York production of Max Reinhardt’s play The Miracle in 1924, he made his way to Hollywood as fast as he could. There he worked in the Art Department at Universal, assisting on a number of two-reel westerns, doing set design on German master director F.W. Murnau’s magnificent U.S. debut Sunrise (1927), and eventually directing the acclaimed, if controversial horror film The Black Cat (1934) before things began to sour.

During the period that’s chronicled in the chapter in which the fateful page 99 appears, Ulmer directed a string of off-market pictures aimed at minority audiences: two Ukrainian-language operettas; the all-black musical drama Moon Over Harlem (1939); and four feature-length Yiddish films. The first of these Yiddish features was called Grine felder (Green Fields, 1937), and was shot largely on location in Flemington, New Jersey in less than a week, with a near non-existent budget, in late summer of that year. Ulmer drew his actors, including the two leads, Helen Beverley (Tsine) and Michael Goldstein (Levi Yitskhok), from the then thriving Yiddish Theater in New York City. Despite the seemingly extreme limitations—something Ulmer would face time and again over the amazing course of his thirty-five year career as a director, from the late silent era through the 1960s—he managed to produce one of the most gripping Yiddish movies made in America.

“The film’s well-composed final shot has Tsine and Levi Yitskhok walking hand in hand, a plow lingering in the foreground of the frame, almost as if, as Helen Beverley has commented retrospectively, it were the final scene of a western with the heroes riding off into the sunset.”
Learn more about the book and author at Noah Isenberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ethan N. Elkind's "Railtown"

Ethan Elkind is an attorney who researches and writes on environmental law for the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at the UC Berkeley School of Law. He also has an appointment at the UCLA School of Law Environmental Law Center and Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment. His areas of focus include land use, transportation, electric vehicles, energy storage, and renewable energy.

Elkind applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City:
Page 99 provides a decent snapshot of Railtown, my book on the history of the modern Los Angeles rail system. Actually, (spoiler alert) it provides a real-life snapshot of local leaders celebrating the groundbreaking of the subway portion of the system in 1986. That picture takes up half the page, making my job here easier.

My overall argument is that the L.A. Metro Rail system barely came to be, due to intense political opposition and financial constraints. Local leaders cobbled together a supportive coalition by making serious compromises to the route locations and by building it as cheaply as they could. Rail went to the path of least resistance, serving areas of political power when local leaders wanted it and not serving areas with wealthy and well-organized homeowner groups that opposed rail in their neighborhoods.

Page 99 underscores that reality by celebrating a groundbreaking for a puny 4.4 mile subway that was all rail leaders could achieve with the dollars they squeezed from a hostile Reagan Administration. They took a huge risk in hoping that more money would come. Leading the charge for over ten years to get to that point was Mayor Bradley, pictured in the photo and quoted in the celebration ceremony:

“I couldn’t be happier if the Dodgers, Raiders, and Lakers all won world championships this year.”

The harsh funding realities also become clear in this statement from him:

“I am confident that the same coalition will prevail in Congress to secure the remaining $203 million over the next two years, and the federal support needed to take Metro Rail past the 4.4-mile starter line.”

The page also highlights the dispersed nature of political power in Los Angeles. Just as the city sprawls over a huge land mass, political power sprawls. With no strong central entity responsible for coordinating land use and transit decisions across the region, leaders like Bradley needed to find allies wherever they could. The photo, for example, shows Bradley with transit agency board member Nick Patsaouras, Los Angeles county supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Hahn chief deputy Nate Holden. The city-county alliance was critical to getting the rail program started.

But without more federal support, the story on the page warns that new subway was at risk of becoming a “just a stranded minisubway of 4.4 miles at a cost of over a billion dollars.”
Learn more about the book and author at Ethan N. Elkind's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Railtown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mathew Thomson's "Lost Freedom"

Mathew Thomson is a Reader in History at the University of Warwick. He is the author of The Problem of Mental Deficiency and Psychological Subjects.

Thomson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Lost Freedom takes us to the Britain of the early 1970s and an intense political debate about the need for playgroups and pre-school child care. The book argues this was a sign of a significant loss of faith in a central plank of Britain’s post-war social settlement. Studies of this settlement have centred on the creation of a welfare state, but the other foundation stone was a faith in family and home. At the heart of this other settlement were psychological theories about the importance of attachment between mother and young child, but also a philosophy of childcare that emphasised the importance of love, freedom, and the scope to play and explore within this setting that was necessary for healthy development. By the start of the 1970s, confidence that all families could provide such conditions was crumbling. On the one hand this was challenged ideologically by feminism, on the other the high expectations of home and family were found wanting in the face of post-war housing problems and the spectre of life in high-rise flats, the breakdown of communities and traditional networks of support, and the anxieties surrounding post-war immigration. On the political left, a figure such as Clare Short, mentioned on page 99, highlighted the inadequacy of relying on voluntary playgroups, which invariably catered to the middle class, and looked instead to target early years care at the most needy. On the right, the other figure mentioned on this page, the fascinating Keith Joseph, an important influence on the rising star Margaret Thatcher, pointed to the inadequacy of care and deprivation among many families. Notoriously, he would speculate on the targeting of birth control as one way to address this problem. If the political mainstream was now questioning the viability of the family on its own to provide the necessary environment for child development, for a brief period radicals would go much further, and this would capture a broader, generational feeling that something had been lost amidst the security of the post-war settlement. The freedom to play would be crucial in the solutions that emerged, whether in efforts to challenge the city landscape or to transform education. This is why the institution of the playgroup on page 99 is such a significant marker of the concerns of the book as a whole.
Learn more about Lost Freedom at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lucille Lang Day's "Married at Fourteen: A True Story"

Lucille Lang Day is a poet, memoirist, and short story writer whose many honors include the Joseph Henry Jackson Award in Literature and a PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Award. She is the author of a memoir, a children’s book, and eight poetry collections.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her award-winning memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, and reported the following:
Married at Fourteen tells my story of having been a juvenile delinquent, adolescent bride, and teen mother in the 1960s. I ran away at 13, married at 14, had my first child at 15, divorced my husband at 16, married him again at 17, and left him again at 18 because he didn’t want me to go back to school. In the first half of the book, I tell about these years and try to reconstruct what I was thinking and feeling in order to show how I gradually changed and matured.

My project was to write creative nonfiction, i.e., a book that sounded like fiction and used such literary devices as scene, dialogue, plot, and character development. I tried to show, rather than explain, that I became a juvenile delinquent and wanted to marry early because I was alienated from the other kids my age, who had started bullying me in elementary school, and because I had a poor relationship with my mother. I also tried to show how I discovered that my truest self was not an alcoholic, criminal, or dropout, and how I turned my life around.

On page 99 I am 16, between my two marriages to my first husband, and still struggling to figure out who I am and what is important. I relate two incidents that take place with my friend Cindy, another teenager, with whom I went to teen nightclubs and bars. In one incident, Cindy and I are barred from a teen nightclub by a woman who mistakes us for prostitutes because of our high hairdos and attention-getting clothes, and we wind up spending most of the evening talking to another girl at a closed gas station across the street.

The second incident concerns a man I met at a bar: “One man I went out with was about thirty-five years old, tall and angular, with dark wavy hair and an inscrutable expression. As we drove down East 14th Street, he told me he’d murdered his wife. I looked down at my lacy purple dress and thought, Great. I’m all dressed up for a murderer. Fit to kill.” Page 100 tells about the rest of my date with the man who murdered his wife.

These two incidents illustrate my narrative approach to the material and are indeed representative of the book. Both depict the life I decided I didn’t want to lead. In showing how my own self-awareness developed, I hoped to upend stereotypes about juvenile delinquents and teen mothers and show the potential for change in confused and troubled adolescents.
Visit Lucille Lang Day's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 17, 2014

Adrienne Martin's "How We Hope: A Moral Psychology"

Adrienne M. Martin is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How We Hope: A Moral Psychology, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the second page of Chapter Four, “Faith and Sustenance without Contingency,” and launches my assault on a family of views.
Only Religious Hope Sustains: All hope is, deep down, the hope for religious salvation. Only hope underpinned by the hope for religious salvation has true sustaining power in the face of serious trials and tribulations. The hope for religious salvation is inseparable from faithful belief in the existence of a Divine Creator.
Actually, I’m not really an “assault-launching” kind of philosopher. The better analogy for my style is probably “world-building:” I show that “Only Religious Hope Sustains” is wrong by demonstrating the possibility of the hope it aims to exclude. This is the subject of Chapter Four: “unimaginable hope.”
Unimaginable Secular Hope Sustains: Sometimes, we hope for good outcomes without being able to imagine what they would be. The possibility of such outcomes can provide us with reason to go on, even during the most difficult human trials; and the fact that we cannot imagine the outcomes means nothing we encounter can prove our hope fruitless.
I dedicate much of the previous chapter to challenging the popular notion that hope is a uniquely sustaining attitude--the notions that, without hope, we inevitably succumb to despair, and that, with hope, we are always able to find that spark to go on in the darkness. Hope’s sustaining power is, in general, much more contingent and hazardous than that: it can let us down, mislead, even undermine our agency in fundamental ways. When I introduce unimaginable hope in Chapter Four, therefore, I am identifying a way in which the popular notion I have previously criticized is right: a very specific form of hope does have a unique sustaining power--and it is a form of hope that, contrary to some theological philosophers’ insistence, is available to thoroughgoing atheists.

On page 99, I present the subject of Jonathan Lear’s book, Radical Hope, Chief Plenty Coups, as an example of a person who had an unimaginable religious hope. (Chief Plenty Coups was the last great chief of the Crow Nation. Guided by a spiritual vision he had as a child, he led the Crow people to transition from a warrior way of life to an agrarian one, when threatened with annihilation by the white man.) In the rest of the chapter, I use Immanuel Kant’s and Gabriel Marcel’s theories of religious hope in order to fill out this concept of unimaginable hope, and then argue that the religious aspect is inessential to its sustaining power.

In short, page 99 is where I begin my argument for the possibility of secular faith.
Learn more about the book and author at Adrienne Martin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gregory Daddis's "Westmoreland's War"

Gregory A. Daddis is an Academy Professor of History at West Point. He is author of No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam, and reported the following:
The popular narrative of the Vietnam War goes something like this: as American combat forces landed in South Vietnam in mid-1965, they relied on search-and-destroy tactics to rack up body counts in hopes of fulfilling a misguided strategy of attrition. Their commander, General William C. Westmoreland, narrowly defined the war in military terms, failing to comprehend the political threat posed by the National Liberation Front (derisively known as the Viet Cong or VC) or to recognize the importance of stabilizing the Government of South Vietnam (GVN). An excerpt from page 99 offers insights into my larger reevaluation of this reductive accounting. Was it possible that Americans understood that victory or defeat in Southeast Asia turned on more than just military factors? Was it possible that US strategy in Vietnam was more than just one of attrition? These are the questions, ultimately, that Westmoreland’s War asks.
The 1st Infantry Division’s arrival into country exemplified the difficulties in extending US and GVN influence into areas considered “VC dominated territory.” The unit set up base camps at Di An, Phuoc Vinh, and Lai Khe with the intent of guarding the approaches to Saigon and disrupting enemy movement north and northwest of the capital. Newly arrived US troops quickly found their movements canalized along roads and trails thanks to the area’s dense vegetation. As with their cavalry brethren, the Big Red One’s infantrymen confronted an enemy employing “bear hug” tactics aimed at reducing the effectiveness of US artillery and air power. Worse, the very nature of combat appeared to upset the sensibilities of young American soldiers. One “lessons learned” report warned that “Females actively support VC activities and have been encountered in battle. Also young children have been used to hurl grenades into vehicles or commit other acts of sabotage. These tactics present problems for Americans who are not usually wary or alert for encounters of this nature.” The division aimed to incorporate ARVN [Army of South Vietnam] units into their pacification operations with the hopes of tackling this new threat, but commanders soon realized that success depended on the too often uneven quality of the South Vietnamese army.
Learn more about Westmoreland's War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jason Gainous and Kevin M. Wagner's "Tweeting to Power"

Jason Gainous is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. Kevin M. Wagner is Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Tweeting to Power: The Social Media Revolution in American Politics, and reported the following:
Tweeting to Power explores how the Internet, and social media in particular, are changing campaigns and elections in the United States. While we look at the role of social media in many different contexts, by page 99 we are considering the larger change in the political system by this relatively inexpensive and powerful new set of campaigning tools. Instead of expensive mailers or television advertisements, candidates can now organize, fund-raise and manipulate the campaign narrative through social media.

This ability to bring people together and organize their efforts is perhaps the least understood and most important change that the use of technology like social media has wrought. Ironically, every politician and observer of politics knows about or is aware of the often isolated, but still very passionate, segments of the electorate. While never unimportant, the ability of these people, often at the boundaries of most campaigns, was brought to the front when they began to organize and focus their power through the Internet and social media. The Tea Party and are products of a new age, which united otherwise separate and divergent political dissidents into far more effective and sophisticated political movements.

One of the challenges of writing about such a dramatic change in how we conduct our politics is placing the change in a more historical context. This is what we do, in part, on page 99. We take a look back at some of the larger changes that have occurred with the increasing use of the Internet. There are some very interesting early moments that now appear to be milestones in our changing system, though they were not seen so at the time. This was the beginning of Internet advocacy with interest groups that organized online and had a large influence on elections. President Bill Clinton’s use of message boards to promote his candidacy had mixed results, but did show how passionate voters could be reached and activated. More famously, the appeal of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was revealed though his technology-driven rise to challenge the Democratic establishment back in 2003.

New groups of politically active people are forming regularly on the Internet. How they influence politics and how politics and politicians influence them is a new pivotal element of the modern campaign. It turns out that page 99, is an appropriate test of Tweeting to Power. It demonstrates and re-enforces the running theme of the book that technology has created a new political age for us. As we state plainly on the page, “It is a new world of engagement.”
Read more about Tweeting to Power at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rachel Laudan's "Cuisine and Empire"

Rachel Laudan is author or editor of half a dozen books spanning history of food, science, and technology. After a happy couple of decades in academia, she decided that it would be invigorating to work outside academia and in a different culture. So off she went to Mexico where she supported herself freelancing while she worked on her latest book, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History.

Laudan applied the “Page 99 Test” to Cuisine and Empire and reported the following:
Well, page 99 is both perfect and not so perfect. It’s half of a two-page map entitled “Ancient Imperial Cuisines, 600 B.C.E-200 C.E." The perfection is that the ten maps in Cuisine and Empire are essential to understanding how a small number of cuisines spread so widely that they have dominated world history.

It’s not so perfect because this is primarily a locator map. The others are thematic: what Buddhist cuisine gained and lost as it spread from India to Japan; meat dumplings and the Mongol Empire; the global spread of curry.

So let me take the liberty of quoting from pages 97 and 100 to explain what’s on p. 99.
By 200 C.E., a chain of interlinked cuisines stretched from the Roman Empire in the west through the empires of Persia and northern India and across the steppes to the Han Empire in northern China. In all of them, wheat was the favored grain for high cuisine, displacing barley and millet, now thought to be fit only for humble cuisine and for animals. Assuming a world population of about 200 million, the Han and Roman empires were probably home to around 40% of it, 20 percent each. If the other empires are included, then wheat eaters were probably ruling over half the world’s population.
And wheat eaters are still ruling most of the world’s population. But wheat (and rice and all the other agricultural products) can only be eaten once they have been processed and cooked, activities that take as much or more energy than growing and harvesting them.

So Cuisine and Empire gives cooking and processing their due importance in human history, shows that they were always shaped by ideas, and traces the big political, religious, and economic ideas behind the major world cuisines over the past 5000 years.
Learn more about Cuisine and Empire on Rachel Laudan’s blog or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fred Turner's "The Democratic Surround"

Fred Turner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University and Director of Stanford’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. He is the author of three books: The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (2014); From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (2006); and Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory (1996; 2001).

Turner applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Democratic Surround and reported the following:
In the mid-1960s, from Greenwich Village to San Francisco, young bohemians gathered in dance halls and art galleries. Under swirling lights and psychedelic slide shows, surrounded by walls of amplified sound, they opened themselves to what they imagined was a new way of being – personal, authentic, collective and egalitarian. By immersing themselves in media, they believed, they could become new kinds of people and with luck, make America a new kind of country too.

The Democratic Surround is the first book to explore the surprising roots of the counterculture’s faith in the power of multimedia – in, of all places, World War II propaganda. As page 99 shows, mid-century Americans feared that mass media such as movies and radio could literally turn people into fascists. One look at Germany proved the point, so many thought. How else could a martinet like Adolf Hitler have taken control of one of the most cultured nations in Europe if he hadn’t been able to manipulate the masses through the one-to-many technologies of film and radio? As World War II got under way, American intellectuals and government leaders faced a dilemma: How could they use media to rally Americans to face down fascism without turning them into authoritarians? Page 99 describes one answer to this question – the long-forgotten “Exhibition X” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1940. The show was designed to be a multi-sensory propaganda environment, one in which visitors could practice the skills of selecting and integrating a wide variety of media into their own individual psyches. According to the leading psychologists of the day, this sort of integration would grant them democratic psyches and the nation as a whole, a unified, democratic populace that could stand up to the Nazis.

Exhibition X would have required an entirely new building at the Museum, at a cost of $750,000, and so it wasn’t built. But other multimedia environments were. In this prequel to my last book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, I show how American social scientists and Bauhaus artists came together during the war to build such environments, which I call “democratic surrounds.” The book then follows the deployment of those surrounds from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the New Bauhaus in Chicago and Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It shows how some of the most well known artists and intellectuals of the 1940s sought to build media environments that might liberalize the psyches of those who entered them. It then shows how their work shaped some of the most significant media events of the Cold War, including Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition, the musical performances of John Cage, and ultimately, the psychedelic Be-Ins of the 1960s.

The Democratic Surround thus rewrites the history of post-war American culture. It shows that the artistic and social radicalism of the 1960s emerged not so much from a generational rebellion against cold war America as from an embrace of its liberal ideals. During and after World War II, American liberalism offered a far more radical social vision than we remember now. As The Democratic Surround suggests, that vision underlies both the multimedia utopianism of the 1960s and our hopes for digital media today.
Learn more about The Democratic Surround at the the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Anjan Sundaram's "Stringer"

Anjan Sundaram is an award-winning journalist who has reported from Africa and the Middle East for the New York Times and the Associated Press. His writing on Africa has also appeared in Foreign Policy, Fortune, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, and the Huffington Post. He has been interviewed by the BBC and Radio France Internationale on African current affairs. Sundaram received a Reuters journalism award in 2006 for his reporting on Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest. He currently lives in Kigali, Rwanda, with his wife.

Sundaram applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo, and reported the following:
I had come to Congo from Yale, and been robbed of almost every dollar I owned, when I found a job as a stringer for the Associated Press. This job – in which I sold reports to The AP for 15 cents per word, and received little other support or certainty – did not begin easily. Report after report was rejected; even if about horrendous rape. Somebody had to die, and often violently, to qualify as world news. It seemed that half the country was going unreported.

In all this – and on page 99 of Stringer – I came upon a reporter for TIME magazine called Keith. We met during a conference at Congo’s poshest hotel. Keith was brash, bold, and he changed the way I thought about news. On page 99 Keith tells me that George W. Bush was involved in a logging conglomerate that profited from Congo’s valuable forests, exporting timber hidden in fake petroleum trucks. He told me about the world’s strategic interests in Congo – in uranium mines, for example, that provided the fuel for the World War II nuclear bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One after the other, Keith told me fantastic stories – ‘That’s nothing,’ he would say, ‘Listen to this.’ I had no idea if any of what he said was true. He called his stories ‘crack’: no editor would touch them; no one wanted to know. But Keith expanded my ideas of the possibilities that Congo offered. He gave me the conviction to go out, to seek, and to discover the truth.

Setting out with slivers of fantastic ideas felt, to me, a more natural way of reporting, because the stories I found became part of my own story, and the instinct that led me to each discovery naturally thrust me forward. Hustling, searching, and pressing ahead: this was the life I led as a stringer.
Visit Anjan Sundaram's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 6, 2014

Artis Henderson's "Unremarried Widow"

Artis Henderson is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Florida Weekly, and the online literary journal Common Ties. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Henderson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Unremarried Widow: A Memoir, and reported the following:
Well, this broke my heart a little. I've heard authors say that they never go back and re-read their books, and it's true that I haven't read Unremarried Widow from start to finish since I sent in the final manuscript. Page 99 is one of my favorite stories from Miles, something I haven't thought about in a long time.

While he was in Iraq, Miles called to tell me this funny story about how he went for a jog around base one morning. About halfway through the run, he saw another soldier jogging in front of him. The guy looked back at Miles and got this scared look and started running faster. Up ahead, a group of soldiers had come out to watch. Miles said it looked like a scene out of Chariots of Fire. He put on a burst of speed and blasted past the other runner right as they reached the barracks. Everyone high-fived him and patted him on the back. Then he turned around to shake hands with the other guy and saw the real reason everyone came out—a sandstorm was moving in.

“It was like nothing I've ever seen,” Miles said to me on the phone. “A wall of sand.”

Later, I would think back to this story when the military told me Miles's helicopter had crashed during a sandstorm.
Learn more about the book and author at Artis Henderson's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Peter Scott's "The Making of the Modern British Home"

Peter Scott is Professor of International Business History at the University of Reading's Henley Business School. He has written extensively on the history of household consumption, retailing, consumer marketing, housing, and consumer durables during the 1920s and 1930s. His last book, Triumph of the South: A Regional Economic History of Britain During the Early Twentieth Century, was awarded the Wadsworth Prize for the best book in British business history published during 2007.

Scott applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of the Modern British Home: The Suburban Semi and Family Life between the Wars, and reported the following:
The Making of the Modern British Home charts the rise of mass suburbanisation in Britain over the two decades following World War One. A new housing format, the `Tudor Walters’ or `universal’ home, was promoted as an affordable, low-density, high-quality solution to the housing shortage. Both municipalities and private speculative developers employed this model - a three bedroom semi-detached house with bathroom, modern utilities, and generous gardens.

Such houses were hugely popular, offering a quantum leap in amenities for the four million or so families who moved from urban districts to the suburbs between the wars. However, the social and economic impacts were greatest for those working-class families that migrated from inner-urban areas of high-density housing to the new suburbs. These typically experienced major shifts in behaviour, marking the transition from `traditional’ working-class lifestyles, based around the local community, to `modern’ households, focused on the home, family, long-term socio-economic advancement and `keeping up with the Jones’s’.

The Making of the Modern British Home provides a `commodity biography’ of the interwar suburban semi, covering its antecedents, planning, development, marketing, and especially, the life experiences and behavioural changes of the people who moved there. Page 99 is the second page of Chapter 3, `Marketing Occupation to the Masses’. This chapter outlines the spectacular success of building societies (mutual organisations, similar to U.S. savings and loan associations), and of the building industry, in selling the idea of owner-occupation via mortgage to a mass public. Prior to World War One almost all British houses were rented and there was no great social kudos associated with owner-occupation. Meanwhile a strong working and lower middle-class aversion to mortgage debt - “a millstone round your neck” - restricted home-ownership. By marketing the purchase of new suburban housing on mortgage as being aspirational, affordable, simple, and, moreover, the gateway to a better life for purchasers and their children, building societies and builders persuaded many families to make this transition. Meanwhile they collaborated to make houses much more affordable by offering 95 per cent, 25 year, mortgages for the first time, using a system whereby the building society held back a proportion of the house purchase money from the builder until part of the mortgage had been paid off. These strategies produced Britain’s first home-ownership boom, its highest ever annual rates of private house-building, and the establishment of owner-occupation as the desirable tenure for British families.
Learn more about The Making of the Modern British Home at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Larry Witham's "Piero's Light"

Larry Alan Witham is a veteran journalist and author in the Washington D.C. area who has covered current events, history, religion and society, science, philosophy, and the visual arts. After twenty-one years in a newsroom, he now writes and edits books full time. He is the author of over one dozen books.

Witham applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science, and Religion, and reported the following:
Upon reaching page 99 in Piero’s Light, the story is taking a distinctly philosophical turn. It highlights the revival of Platonism during the early Italian Renaissance. Here, I’m in the middle of a narrative summary on the ideas of Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus in Latin), an innovative theologian in Rome and a Renaissance Platonist at heart. He was also the probable acquaintance of the real hero of our book, the Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. This is what I write about Cusanus. He believed that:
The finite and infinite are entirely different in nature. As a consequence, Cusanus said, all things are “immediate to God.” This not only helped break down a universe of hierarchical structures; it also proposed a kind of independence of all things, tethered to God, yet in their motion they are relative to other things in motion (the essence of Einstein’s future theory of relativity). This outlook allowed Cusanus to say the unsayable for his time: “the earth, which cannot be the center, cannot be devoid of all motion.” Though he dabbled in science, Cusanus was not a scientist, and his logic was based in metaphysics. Nonetheless, future thinkers in science, from Giordano Bruno to Galileo and René Descartes, cited Cusanus as they pushed back scientific frontiers.
In my interpretative (and somewhat speculative) treatment of Piero as a painter and mathematician, his own Platonist outlook is all important, suggesting that a new kind of artist was afoot at this Renaissance juncture. Piero was a master of geometry as well as the “science” of painting. Platonism, with its dynamic dualism that pitted a world of the senses against a realm of higher “essences,” was an outlook that allowed a late medieval Christian such as Piero to digest his era’s encounter between Greek science and traditional religion.

Of course, what happens on any page 99 has as much to do with book pagination and last minute editorial decisions as with proving a book’s constancy of narrative. The 99 page test is telling, nevertheless. The writer’s goal is to produce a consistent quality in every sentence, with every part of the book living up to its obviously best parts; no fat, just good and alluring prose. This is what novelist Ford Madox Ford was getting at when he said that on any page 99 the “quality of the whole [book] will be revealed.” Piero’s Light, while aspiring to be novelesque, is historical nonfiction. It attempts to painlessly introduce readers to a great deal of intellectual and cultural history along the way; Cusanus’s metaphysics being a case in point, and hopefully without pain! The flavor of my page 99 contrasts with the nominal “action scenes” that also fill the book-length narrative, especially regarding Piero’s life and the lives of others who will grapple with his artistic and mathematical legacy. True enough, though, this book does absorb Piero’s story into a broader historical shift in Western thinking. Page 99 may well serve as an accurate enough clue about the entire book.
Learn more about the book and author at Larry Witham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue