Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gillen D'Arcy Wood's "Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World"

Gillen D'Arcy Wood is professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he directs the Sustainability Studies Initiative in the Humanities. He has written extensively on the cultural and environmental history of the nineteenth century.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World, and reported the following:
My new book—about the volcano Tambora’s disastrous eruption in 1815—rides upon its volcanic plume across continents and oceans, from Indonesia to India, and from New England to The Arctic. On page 99, my airy journey has taken me as far as Yunnan, and the remote rice-growing hamlets of western China, surrounded by mist-wrapped mountains of the Himalayan range. I tell how a deadly veil of Tambora’s volcanic dust depressed temperatures across Yunnan for three long years, wiping out rice crop after rice crop, and plunging the people into a desperate famine.

Be assured, Dear Reader, I worked hard to do justice to this terrible, forgotten story! But nothing I could write was a match for my historical source, the Yunnan poet Li Yuyang, who left harrowing poems of a people devastated by extreme weather anomalies of the kind we now associate with climate change. At key moments, therefore, I simply let Li Yuyang tell the story of the human tragedy of Tambora in China.

In his poem “Bitter Famine,” Li Yuyang describes the climate crisis at its worst in the autumn of 1817, when the people of Yunnan descended into a living hell, their prosperous communities transformed into a Dantean circle of starvation and death.
Outside, the starved corpses pile high,

While in her room the young mother

Waits upon her child’s death. Unbearable

Sorrow. My love, you cry to me to feed you—

But no one sees my tears. Who can I tell which aches

More? My heart or my body wasting away?

She takes her baby out to the deep river.

Clear and cool, welcome water...

She will care for that child in the life to come.
When mothers kill their children out of mercy—as they did the world over in the Tambora years 1815-18—we know we have entered the heart of darkness.

These Tambora famine poems appear for the first time in English translation in my book (a story unto itself). Even Chinese scholars I spoke to had never heard of Li Yuyang. And the same might be said of the whole book, which instead of re-telling the same old textbook histories, rewrites the Post-Napoleonic nineteenth century through the lens of Tambora’s eruption—the most devastating climate change event of the modern era.
Learn more about Tambora at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Joy A. Schroeder's "Deborah's Daughters"

Joy A. Schroeder a Lutheran pastor, teaches church history at Capital University and Trinity Lutheran Seminary (Columbus, Ohio) where she holds the Bergener Chair in Theology and Religion. She is interested in the history of women in religion, the history of biblical interpretation, medieval mysticism, and the church's response to sexual and domestic violence.

Schroeder applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Deborah's Daughters: Gender Politics and Biblical Interpretation, and reported the following:
Deborah’s Daughters traces the “afterlife” of a biblical character through two thousand years of Jewish and Christian interpretation. The biblical Deborah was a prophet, judge, poet, and military leader in ancient Israel (Judges 4-5). She ordered the Israelite commander Barak to attack the army of a Canaanite king who oppressed them. Barak refused to go to battle without her. Deborah’s example was used in arguments for and against women’s expanded roles in synagogues, churches, politics, and society. Through the centuries, Deborah, a forceful and authoritative biblical figure, inspired a multitude of women, including female rabbis, pastors, preachers, judges, soldiers, authors, suffragists, and queens. These women claimed Deborah as precedent for their extraordinary roles.

Numerous male interpreters were uncomfortable applying Deborah’s example to the women of their own day. Some found ways to limit or “domesticate” the biblical Deborah. Many men highlighted her gentleness and submissiveness, character traits not actually found in the biblical text! A few criticized Deborah for being too “haughty” in her interactions with Barak. One twentieth-century Christian minister accused the prophetess of being a bad homemaker, warning his female readers to confine their activities to the household rather than following Deborah’s example of public service and employment outside the home. However, a surprising number of men supported women’s expanded roles, or, at least, they affirmed particular exceptions to the rule of male authority and female submission. The presence of a godly prophetess in scripture was evidence of women’s leadership gifts and God’s approval.

On page 99, I quote from Protestant reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), who addressed Queen Elizabeth I shortly after she ascended to the throne in 1558. Elizabeth styled herself as “England’s Deborah,” raised up by God to liberate her nation from foreign tyranny and Roman Catholic “idolatry” following the reign of Mary Tudor. Writing to Elizabeth to register his support for her reign and to offer advice, Vermigli invokes the examples of courageous biblical women:
Play the role of holy Deborah for our times. Join to yourself some godly Barak. Bring the Israelites who are oppressed in various ways into the sincere and pure liberty of the Gospel…. May these holy women give encouragement to Your Majesty, and do not let yourself be shaken because you were born a woman and not a man.
On the same page of Deborah’s Daughters, I offer this commentary:
Vermigli urges the queen to find a male partner, “some godly Barak” to share her leadership. He may be talking about her taking a husband, though more likely he feels she needs the special assistance of a male official to give her aid. Since he mentions the need for Barak in the context of gaining liberty from the oppressive Canaanites (symbolizing the Roman church), he may be particularly concerned that she enlist a male leader for the work of church reform.
Thus page 99 offers one of the book’s numerous examples of how interpreters read Deborah’s story through their particular cultural lenses, to support their own agendas and views about women’s roles.
Learn more about Deborah's Daughters at the Oxford University Press website and Joy A. Schroeder's page at Amazon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2014

Linda Przybyszewski's "The Lost Art of Dress"

Linda Przybyszewski is an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. The author of The Republic According to John Marshall Harlan, the editor of Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911, as well as a prize-winning dressmaker, she lives in South Bend, Indiana.

Przybyszewski applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and reported the following:
“Who gets the job? Hint: It is not the woman who looks ready to dance the can-can.” These are the first words of p. 99 of The Lost Art of Dress. They accompany an illustration set in an office from a 1928 book on dress. On the left is a young woman fluffing her hair and wearing a dress trimmed all over with flowered flounces, while long ribbons trail from her wrists. On the right stands a woman, memo in hand, wearing a dark dress trimmed only with lighter collar and cuffs. She will get the job. Page 99 captures one of the central lessons of the Dress Doctors, as I call them. The Dress Doctors taught Americans how to dress for the 20th century which they saw as a time of unprecedented opportunity for women. Freed from tight corsets and the long skirts of the Victorian Era, modern woman could wear clothing that allowed her to move freely. She got more education as high schools spread across the country. She could take part in sports from tennis to skiing. She was a full citizen since the 19th Amendment guaranteed her the vote. As a housewife, she could bring the insights of science into running her household. And she could work in a range of new fields, including office work. For each of these occasions, the modern woman needed the right clothes. The Dress Doctors advised the business woman to opt for clothing that mirrored business itself: precise, focused, practical, and impersonal. Women would not “lose the distinction and charm of their femininity” if they did because they could apply another of the Dress Doctors’ lessons: how to use the principles of art to create beauty in dress. And this can be done without spending a fortune because a small wardrobe of beautiful clothing, perfectly suited to the occasions of our lives, is all that we need. A lesson as valuable today as when the Dress Doctors first wrote it.
Visit Linda Przybyszewski's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Steve Clarke's "The Justification of Religious Violence"

Steve Clarke is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia, and a Senior Research Associate of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He has published over sixty academic papers and is the author of Metaphysics and the Disunity of Scientific Knowledge (1998), and co-editor of three books including Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: a Scientific and Conceptual Investigation (with Russell Powell and Julian Savulescu, 2013).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Justification of Religious Violence, and reported the following:
As the name suggests, this is a book about justifications offered for violence that appeal to religion. I examine the reasoning of the religiously violent. I find that it typically exemplifies the same logical forms found in ordinary secular justifications for violence. What is distinctive about religious justifications for violence is that they are usually grounded in the rich metaphysics of religious worldviews. Persistent themes can be discerned in the justifications for violence that have been offered in the name of different religions. Many involve appeals to a state of ‘cosmic war’, many involve appeals to an afterlife, and many involve appeals to sacred values.

Page 99 is in the middle of Chapter Four, ‘Justifying Violence, War and Cosmic War’. I start the chapter by looking at secular justifications for violence. I then focus on secular justifications for war, especially those developed in the ‘just war’ tradition, before showing how these can be transposed into justifications for violent action in religious ‘cosmic wars’. A cosmic war is a grand struggle between good and evil that takes place across (and perhaps beyond) the sweep of history. In the Christian tradition, a cosmic war is said to be taking place between God and Satan; and some Christians believe that they are justified in acting violently, in order to contribute to the war effort. In 1997, two members of the American Christian group ‘The Gatekeepers’ murdered a former member, whom they believed to have become a government informer. They believed that Satan had taken control of the US Government and that, therefore, the former member was working for Satan. In their view they were helping God to win the cosmic war against Satan by killing the former member.

The text on p. 99 is part of a discussion of pacifist objections to war. The discussion takes place after I’ve examined just war theory and before I discuss cosmic war. If you only read this page you’d be left with a misleading impression of the book’s contents. The discussion on the page is about ways in which pacifist opposition to war might be given secular philosophical support. But the book is about religious justifications for violence. Is the quality of the writing on p. 99 representative of the quality of the writing in the book? I leave it to readers to decide. Here is a sample from that page:
If consequentialists are to be absolutist pacifists then they will need to find some basis for a rule against ever going to war. A rule-utilitarian form of pacifism looks useful here, but it is not clear that a strict application of such a rule, in circumstances where the possibility of war looms, would tend toproduce the best consequences, as the absolutist consequentialist pacifist needs to claim. If, for example, at the outbreak of World War II, the Allied powers had not resisted the Axis powers, then it is reasonable to think that the Axis powers would have taken control of most, if not all, of the inhabited territory of world. As the Axis powers were fascist and imperialistic, they would have imposed fascist, imperialistic rule on conquered territories and, all things being equal, we would now be living in a world dominated by fascist, imperialistic governments, ruthlessly suppressing dissent, promulgating racist doctrines, and massacring races deemed to be inferior. It is very hard to believe that such a world would be better than the one we currently have, so it is very hard to see why a fair-minded consequentialist would endorse a rule that could well have led to such an outcome.
Learn more about The Justification of Religious Violence at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ross E. Cheit's "The Witch-Hunt Narrative"

Ross E. Cheit is professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University. He has a Ph.D and law degree from the University of California Berkeley, and is the author of Setting Safety Standards: Regulation in the Public and Private Sectors.

Cheit applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology and the Sexual Abuse of Children, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the end, the jury did not see the case as a witch-hunt or as a proven case of mass molestation. Instead, the jury acquitted Ballard on fifteen charges and found her guilty on one count of sexual abuse concerning one boy…
The Witch-Hunt Narrative challenges the conventional wisdom that hundreds of people were falsely convicted of child sexual-abuse in America in the 1980s and early 1990s. The book examines the best evidence offered for this claim and finds, first, that various lists of such cases come nowhere near substantiating the claim. The book then examines dozens of cases in specific, including the Ballard case from Memphis, Tennessee (on p. 99), and three in great detail (the McMartin Preschool case, the Kelly Michaels case from new Jersey, and the Country Walk case from Dade County, Florida). Based on original trial court research, the book tells a more complicated version these cases than has ever been told.

The conventional wisdom about these cases, which I call “the witch-hunt narrative,” is that they were all “just like McMartin” – all without factual basis, all functions of social hysteria. My book argues that there were only a handful of cases that come close to resembling McMartin (and even the McMartin case included some credible evidence of abuse). The Ballard case, discussed for several pages, including page 99, is one of the cases that comes close. There were terrible injustices in the Ballard case to three defendants and to fifteen daycare workers who lost their jobs. But even that case does not fit the witch-hunt narrative completely. There was also credible evidence of abuse early in the case, evidence that should not be written out of history just because it does not fit the witch-hunt narrative.

The Witch-Hunt Narrative, the first academic book based on comprehensive research of these cases, offers a lively account that challenges the conventional wisdom and raises important questions about the implications for child protection.
Learn more about The Witch-Hunt Narrative at the official website/blog and the book's Facebook fan page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Steven P. Miller's "The Age of Evangelicalism"

Steven P. Miller is the author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, as well as numerous articles about the history of American religion and politics. He resides in Saint Louis, Missouri, where he teaches at Webster University and Washington University.

Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born-Again Years, and reported the following:
My book is about the meaning and significance of American evangelicalism in recent U.S. history. The Age of Evangelicalism shows how Americans—left and right, secular and religious—made use of evangelicalism by way of making sense of their changing society. This story began in the Seventies. It went mainstream at least by 1976, when Jimmy Carter won office, and most definitely by 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Carter, powered in part by the Christian Right. It peaked when George W. Bush won reelection in 2004. Some of the broad political contours of this story are familiar. But many other aspects are not. Part of what I was trying to do was to write a history of American evangelicalism that was not only about evangelicals themselves. The book employs an intentionally expansive understanding of evangelicalism as, in effect, the public expression of born-again Christianity. I tried to identify those moments when what is often described as the “subculture” of American evangelicalism intersected with American culture as a whole. Finally, I attempted to show how non-evangelicals contributed to the prominence of evangelicalism.

This is the backdrop for page 99, which mostly concerns the Nineties. By this time, many journalists and a few scholars had spent two decades talking about the Jesus Movement, the meaning of “born again,” and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In the mid-1980s, Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran neoconservative who soon became a Catholic traditionalist, published a spectacularly influential book titled The Naked Public Square. Neuhaus essentially argued that militant secularism had made the Christian Right possible, perhaps even necessary. The subsequent ubiquity of the term “public square” suggested how evangelicalism was becoming the standard against which church-state debates were measured. Room thus existed for a group of comparatively moderate evangelical scholars to gain national prominence as chroniclers of, and mediating voices within, evangelical America. In the book, they are called the “thoughtful evangelicals.” Historians Mark Noll and George Marsden are two of the better-known examples. They, along with a whole generation of scholars of evangelicalism, benefitted from the deep pockets of the Pew and Lilly foundations, reshaping the study of American religion in the process. The material addressed on page 99 is but one sign of evangelicalism’s vast, multifarious reach in our immediate past.
Learn more about The Age of Evangelicalism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John C. Pinheiro's "Missionaries of Republicanism"

John C. Pinheiro is Associate Professor of History at Aquinas College in Michigan and Consulting Editor for the Polk presidency at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. His publications include Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War and numerous articles in academic journals and books.

Pinheiro applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War, and reported the following:
Missionaries of Republicanism tells the story of how a fervently religious and anti-Catholic culture in the United States combined with nativist and expansionist sentiment to produce and shape the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. An anti-Catholic civil-religious discourse constituted an integral piece of nearly every major argument for or against the war. It was also the primary tool used by American soldiers to interpret Mexico's culture. Page 99 of Missionaries of Republicanism stands at the pivot point in my telling of the war's religious history.

The ninety-ninth page picks up half way through the conflict with New York City's Bishop Hughes (the man who built St. Patrick's Cathedral) criticizing the official newspaper of the Democratic James K. Polk Administration for suggesting that the U.S. Army ought to rob the coffers of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Because of rioting and arson against Catholics in Philadelphia in 1844 and the use of Mexican church wealth as a lure by army recruiters, Polk already had taken great pains to prevent the war from degenerating into a religious conflict. He had appointed Catholic chaplains to the army, ordered soldiers to respect the Mexicans' religion and holy places, and had worked to cultivate good will with American bishops. Now, as American troops stood poised for their final march to Mexico City, an op-ed in a Democratic Party newspaper threatened to upend Polk's well-crafted Catholic conciliation policy:
Whigs recognized the . . . controversy as a rare chance to tear away at Catholic allegiance to the Democratic Party. Bishop Hughes's public rebuke of Polk made this easier. Polk's detractors finally had a religious issue on which they could attack the president that was not anti-Catholic.
Political backlash aside, a real chance now existed of a devastating Mexican insurgency rooted in a fear that their religion was under attack. Indeed, some Mexican churches were pilfered and vandalized by American soldiers.

In the book I cover many events and controversies relating to religion and the war. The furor created by what you can read about on page 99, however, is one of only two (the famous San Patricios, an Irish-American brigade that fought for Mexico, being the other) that threatened to do as much damage inside the United States as it did in Mexico.
Read more about Missionaries of Republicanism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2014

Carol E. Harrison's "Romantic Catholics"

Carol E. Harrison is Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France: Gender, Sociability, and the Uses of Emulation and coeditor of National Identity: The Role of Science and Technology.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Romantic Catholics: France's Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith, and reported the following:
My goal in writing Romantic Catholics was to dismantle the historical stereotype of France’s Catholic Church as inevitably reactionary and reflexively opposed to everything that the French Revolution represented. Page 99 lands the reader in the center of one nineteenth-century Catholic community that made its peace with the Revolution and that proposed Catholicism as the creative antidote to modern individualism and alienation.

At the center of this group is Maurice de Guérin, a boy who at twelve wore a cassock to school, but who had, by age twenty, exchanged his clerical vocation for a poetic one. Newly graduated, Maurice couldn’t bring himself to choose a career, marry, and follow his father into respectable adulthood. Instead, he moved to Brittany to join a circle of male friends living with Félicité de Lamennais, the most prominent theologian of the postrevolutionary period.

Lamennais promised his followers that embracing Catholicism did not mean accepting the bitter, nostalgic, reactionary politics that leading clerics adopted in the wake of the French Revolution. “Monsieur Féli” assured Maurice that he could be a revolutionary of a sort too: together they would remake the church for the modern world, giving an ancient institution a glorious future. In their Breton retreat, the combination of male friendship and religious exaltation fueled Maurice’s lyrical poetry. The Breton estate was a sort of cross between a monastery and a think-tank: from their cloistered, loving community, the young men proposed to take on the modern world.

Historians like to think of Victorian domesticity as the dominant institution of the nineteenth century, with only a few rebels able to ignore its prescriptions. The family that Maurice and his friends established, however, suggests that the desire to escape the bourgeois household was actually quite widespread and that it included Catholics. In the early nineteenth century, many groups looked for new ways to organize family and society. Maurice and his friends, committed to fraternal affection, belong in the same company as their contemporaries, the utopian socialists and more radical religious groups like the Shakers or Mormons.
Learn more about Romantic Catholics at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alex Beam's "American Crucifixion"

Alex Beam is an award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe. His writing has also appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, the New York Times and many other magazines. His nonfiction books include Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital and A Great Idea at the Time, both New York Times Notable Books.

Beam applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, and reported the following:
From page 99:
From the diary of Charlotte Haven, a non-Mormon resident of Nauvoo, Illinois, writing about polygamy: "I cannot believe that Joseph will ever sanction such a doctrine, and should the Mormons in any way engraft such an article on the religion, the sect would surely fall to pieces, for what community or State could harbor such outrageous immorality?"
Well, Ford Madox Ford got it right where American Crucifixion is concerned. Because it is on page 99 that I start to acquaint the reader with the radical Old Testament doctrine that cost the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith his life -- polygamy. "Celestial marriage," or "plural marriage" was revealed to Joseph by revelation, and kept secret from his Latter-day Saint followers until after his death. But it was indeed, "the worst-kept secret in [the Mormon colony of] Nauvoo," as I write, because Joseph and other church leaders had begun to "seal" themselves in marriage to young women starting in 1843 (earlier, in Joseph's case) and lurid rumors of "Old Joe Smith and his Mormon seraglio" had found their way into newspapers across the country.

A vicious mob of Mormon haters stormed the Carthage, Illinois jail where Joseph Smith was being held on questionable charges, charged up a flight of stairs to his second-floor cell, and gunned him down in cold blood. Joseph's body tumbled out the window, where a thug named William Voorhis supposedly pumped bullets into Smith's lifeless corpse. "You are the damned old chieftain," Voorhis shouted. "Now go see your spiritual wives in hell!"
Visit Alex Beam's column archive at the Boston Globe and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Gracefully Insane.

The Page 69 Test: Gracefully Insane.

The Page 99 Test: Great Idea at the Time.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

David Kaiser's "No End Save Victory"

David Kaiser has taught history at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, the Naval War College, and Williams College. His books include The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Kaiser applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s test is a good one, because in a good book, every page should bear some relation to the major themes of the work. Page 99 most certainly does.

No End Save Victory: How FDR led the Nation into War, deals with Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the world crisis from 1937 onward, but with the emphasis on the period from the fall of France in May 1940 until Pearl Harbor. Americans, including all the senior figures in Roosevelt’s Administration, expected the fall of France to be followed in short order by the surrender of Great Britain, leaving the United States face to face with the threat of German aggression, very possibly aided by the Japanese. While many Americans opposed fighting in Europe, virtually every American agreed on the need to prepare the defense of the Western Hemisphere, and Roosevelt pushed through a series of rearmament measures, including vast expansion of the U.S. Navy, in May, June and July 1940. He also created a new agency, the National Defense Advisory Commission (or Defense Commission), to supervise the increases in industrial production that rearmament would require. It included the Secretaries of War and of the Navy and representatives of private business and labor, most of whom volunteered their services. P. 99 discusses their most critical problem as follows:
The Defense Commission had to arrange for the production of the weapons America needed, but widespread disagreement persisted about how much that would be. In one of their first meetings on July 3, the commissioners agreed to assume that “the emergency,” as they referred to the situation facing the nation, would last about four years, but they differed widely on what it would entail. As Commissioner Donald Nelson explained after the war, the key argument divided men like himself, Leon Henderson, Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, and [Secretary of War] Stimson, who believed that the United States would soon be fighting all over the world, and those like William Knudsen, Edward Stettinius, and Commerce Secretary Jesse Jones who focused on the western hemi sphere and may even have believed that the European war might come to an end without U.S. intervention. Meanwhile, much of American industry, powerfully represented on the Commission by members like Knudsen of General Motors and Stettinius of U.S. Steel, wanted the minimum possible disruption of the civilian economy and the maximum possible profit, while labor wanted to conserve its gains in wages and hours amid increasing employment. With GDP destined to increase from $101 billion in 1940 to $126 billion in 1941, $162 billion in 1942, and $198 billion in 1943, the stakes were obviously enormous. So was the necessary productive effort.
This argument, as the book shows, was not resolved for another year, until July 1941, after Germany attacked the Soviet Union. At that point, Roosevelt specifically directed Stimson to do a thorough study of what it would take to defeat all the potential enemies of the United States—not merely to defend the western hemisphere. That study, which became known as the Victory Program, was completed in September. As a result, when a revamped production agency met on December 9, 1941—two days after Pearl Harbor—William Knudsen was able to inform Stimson that the production targets in the Victory Program could be met by July 1, 1944—almost the exact date at which the decisive offensives against Germany and Japan began. This was an extraordinary achievement.
Visit David Kaiser's blog, and read more about No End Save Victory at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: No End Save Victory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paula A. Michaels's "Lamaze: An International History"

A specialist in twentieth-century Russian and Central Asian history, Paula Michaels is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Institutes of Health. Her first book, Curative Powers: Medicine and Empire in Stalin's Central Asia (2003), won the Association for Women in Slavic Studies' Heldt Prize and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. Michaels is a Senior Lecturer in History at Monash University.

Michaels applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Lamaze: An International History, and reported the following:
“Lamaze” is a household word in the United States. Also known as psychoprophylaxis, the Lamaze method combined psychological conditioning with prenatal education to alleviate women’s fears and help them to manage the pain of labor with little or no resort to drugs. Few know, however, that the Lamaze method actually originated in the Soviet Union.

Lamaze: An International History tells the surprising story of how of this non-pharmacological means of labor pain management migrated across the Iron Curtain amid the Cold War. It recounts the interlocking political, medical, and gender histories of this technique, which serves as a window onto shifting ideas about the mind-body dynamic, pronatalism, companionate marriage, consumer activism, feminism, and the counterculture.

We pick up the story on page 99 just as the Lamaze method arrives on shores of the United States in the early 1960s. American consumers were beginning to hear about psychoprophylaxis, but were already familiar with the concept of natural childbirth through the work of British physician Grantly Dick-Read, whose own, similar method had been around since the mid-1940s. In 1962, “natural childbirth”—meaning either the Read method or psychoprophylaxis—was described as “the most-dropped phrase among America’s pregnant women today.”

Though in retrospect it might seem rather odd, the idea that women wanted a satisfying birth experience, in which they participated fully and actively, was not without controversy.
Critics depicted Dick-Read’s partisans as zealots and cultists, and called into question advocates’ mental health. Encouraging frail or mentally weak women’s desires to give birth with little or no pharmacological pain relief could precipitate a psychological crisis, they argued. Women “are convinced that to endure childbirth without the sedation of so much as an aspirin will, by some nebulous psychologic process, inspire” a closer bond with their babies and allow them to achieve “that precious lodestone of the female sex: true femininity.” A 1961 Harper’s Bazaar article against natural childbirth invoked the language and authority of Freudianism to make its case that the adherent “anticipates that the lifelong wound she feels—the wound of womanhood, of not having been a boy—will be paradoxically healed by having a child.” The author then stereotyped the woman who was interested in natural childbirth as “the fairly aggressive, masculine-oriented, nonconservative woman.” Fielding and Benjamin reiterate these arguments about women seeking “psychic masculinity” through natural childbirth and go so far as to assert that not only are “disturbed women ... often attracted to natural childbirth,” but they also “are the very women who are likely to be the most intensely enthusiastic volunteers.” When the woman in labor either experiences more pain than she anticipated or, in the face of that suffering turns to anesthesia, her birth experience becomes a trauma from which, Fielding and Benjamin, among others, claim she does not soon recover.
In its description of opposition to natural childbirth, page 99 highlights the mid-century hegemony of psychoanalytic thinking, a major theme in the book. Objections were made to the Lamaze method on medical and even political (anti-Soviet) grounds, but the psychological critique was perhaps the most potent and, arguably, the most enduring. Even today one hears echoes of these arguments in the high polarized debates over natural childbirth and epidural anesthesia in American maternity care.
Learn more about Lamaze: An International History at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Andrew Pettegree's "The Invention of News"

Andrew Pettegree is professor of modern history, University of St. Andrews, and founding director of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. He now runs the Universal Short Title Catalogue, a free, searchable database of all books published before 1601. His books include The Book in the Renaissance (2010), winner of the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize.

Pettegree applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself, and reported the following:
Debates over press freedom always assume that governments pose the greatest threat to the free flow of information. But from a historical perspective this is often far from the case. In The Invention of News I tell the story of the growth of a commercial culture of news in the five centuries before the daily paper - from the mediaeval period to the French and American Revolutions. At first, obtaining news was both difficult and expensive. Only those in the inner circles of power - the church, government and international merchants - could expect regular access to news. Of the three, governments had by far the hardest time of it. Unlike merchants, they had no agents or correspondents settled in distant ports. Unlike the church, they had no network of volunteer messengers criss-crossing the continent on pilgrimages. So in the sixteenth century Europe's princes began to establish their own network of ambassadors to observe and report. Page 99 turns the spotlight on these first diplomats, and the difficult tasks they faced to gather news often in hostile territory. This was an arduous posting. Ambassadors were often lonely, miserable and shunned by their hosts. It was hard to tell news from deliberate misinformation. Their dispatches were routinely opened, crude attempts at code easily broken. In the end diplomacy probably contributed relatively little to the rich, multi-media world of news described in this book: correspondence and conversation, gossip and public proclamation, pamphlets and song. Only in the seventeenth century did newspapers make their debut, and they too struggled to find a place in this diverse news environment. It would be two hundred years before the daily newspaper became the dominant news medium. We think of today's mix of print, broadcast and digital as a modern phenomenon. But The Invention of News tells the story of a news environment every bit as rich, varied and lively as our own.
Learn more about The Invention of News at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Book in the Renaissance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

Elizabeth J. Remick's "Regulating Prostitution in China"

Elizabeth Remick is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. She is the author of Building Local States: China During the Republican and Post-Mao Eras (2004).

Remick applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Regulating Prostitution in China: Gender and Local Statebuilding, 1900-1937, and reported the following:
Regulating Prostitution in China looks at different choices that Chinese city governments made in the first half of the twentieth century about how to regulate prostitution, and how those choices affected the ability of local governments to do their work. Page 99 talks about how officials in one city, Guangzhou (a.k.a. Canton), chose to tax prostitution very heavily, in contrast with other cities that made little effort to get much revenue out of the industry. The interesting thing here is that those cities—Beijing, Tianjin, and the Chinese city in Shanghai—had many more brothels and prostitutes than Guangzhou, and therefore more potential revenue. Their officials also knew perfectly well about the Guangzhou model, but chose not to emulate it. The result was that Guangzhou had a huge source of funds that most other Chinese cities did not. This was one of the reasons that Guangzhou could fund an embryonic social welfare system, and build roads, schools, and a university, while the others couldn't. In short, regulating prostitution and taxing it heavily allowed the Guangzhou municipal government to create what we might think of as a modern local state, while other cities made different choices that sharply limited the kinds of services and infrastructure they could provide their residents.

What I'm trying to illustrate with all of this is that decisions governments make about gender can shape or limit their capacities in numerous and unpredictable ways. Regulated prostitution in China during the late Qing and Republic was all about gender: it was female prostitutes serving male clients who demonstrated they were "real "men by doing business, banqueting, and being entertained with their friends and business partners in brothels. Regulating prostitution, taxing it, and even creating a police monopoly over it in some places, institutionalized those gender relations. It also got local governments into all kinds of unsavory business, including giving prostitutes semi-monthly venereal disease checks, classifying prostitutes based on beauty, and bussing prostitutes to beauty pageants. In addition, police established reform institutions for former prostitutes, marrying them off to men who bailed them out. But regulation also paid for poorhouses, old people's homes, and public schools. These are things people now should think about as they unwittingly revisit the debates of a hundred years ago about how to deal with prostitution: whether to ban it, regulate and tax it, or ignore it.
Learn more about Regulating Prostitution in China at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Julia R. Azari's "Delivering the People’s Message"

Julia R. Azari is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. She is coeditor of The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party.

Azari applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Delivering the People's Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate, and reported the following:
Page 99 explains the politics of interpreting the 1952 election. It reads:
In the Eisenhower White House, the idea of the “president of all the people” remained a speechwriting priority through all eight years in office. At the same time, the president’s policy positions derived very much from conservative ideas. This tension is evident in the way Eisenhower’s communications treated the 1952 election. It also helps to explain why electoral logic was used so infrequently despite the substantial election victory.
Eisenhower’s interpretation of the 1952 election is one of several case studies I use to examine how presidents have claimed electoral mandates in the post-Progressive era. The main argument of the book is that mandate-claiming reflects more about the state of presidential and party politics than about any particular election. Eisenhower’s enigmatic presidency is considered alongside that of Lyndon Johnson. It would be difficult to find two more different politicians in that role – in addition to different party affiliations, Johnson was a career politician with years in Congress and a love of the political game, while Eisenhower had barely participated in politics before his 1952 debut. Nevertheless, both demonstrated restraint in rhetorically tying their (considerable) election victories to policy decisions.

Despite their distinct beliefs and backgrounds, archival evidence reveals that Johnson and Eisenhower held similar ideals about how to present themselves in the role of the presidency. Both strived to represent the nation broadly, and to highlight the statesmanship qualities of the office. These values, I argue, are at odds with claiming a party mandate or telling an audience that you are “doing what you were elected to do.”

This approach to the presidency, and the political conditions that produced it, proved to be short-lived. The later chapters of the book examine how two trends, the growth of party polarization and the decline of public esteem for the presidency, have changed how presidents interpret elections. Beginning with Richard Nixon, presidents began to cast about for new narratives to justify executive leadership and to rally supporters. This rhetorical emphasis on party mandates and campaign promises has held true ever since, for presidents from Carter through Obama. The concluding chapter considers the implications of this development as well as the possibilities for its spread from the presidency to Congressional and state-level politics.
Learn more about Delivering the People's Message at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

Robin Waterfield's "Taken at the Flood"

Robin Waterfield is an independent scholar, living in southern Greece. In addition to more than twenty-five translations of works of Greek literature, he is the author of numerous books, including Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire.

Waterfield applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Taken at the Flood covers some of the aftermath of the Second Macedonian War (200-197). This was the war that established Roman dominance in the Greek lands to the east of Italy once and for all. It had been clear for some time that they planned to make themselves the brokers of power in the Greek world, and would tolerate no serious opposition to that goal. The Second Macedonian War was managed for Rome by a youngish consul called Titus Quinctius Flamininus, and in him the Romans found the perfect instrument for the conquest. It was not just his competence on the battlefield, but his ruthless diplomacy that won the war for Rome.

Rome had first intervened militarily in the Greek world only thirty years earlier. What the Romans found was that the Greeks had for over a century looked largely to the Macedonian kings to settle their disputes and keep the peace. So, once the decision had been taken to gain control of Greece, it was Macedon that had to be dealt with. The First Macedonian War (214-205) was inconclusive, chiefly because at exactly the same time Roman resources were being stretched to breaking point by the presence of Hannibal in Italy, and by his remarkable successes. The Romans could not commit fully to the war, and left their allies in Greece to do it for them. The allies were defeated by Philip V of Macedon, a dynamic king who saw himself as the heir to Philip II and Alexander the Great, and so the war ended inconclusively. Everyone knew the Romans would be back as soon as they had dealt with Hannibal.

So the purpose of the Second Macedonian War was to humiliate Philip V, and that was what it did. Page 99 of Taken at the Flood tells of some of the moves the Romans were making to reduce Macedon to the marginal status it had had in the Greek world prior to Philip II. Even that, however, would prove not to be enough to quench Macedonian independence: it would take the Romans a third war, the elimination of the Macedonian monarchy, and the division of the country into four republics, to achieve their goal.
Visit Robin Waterfield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"The Most Dangerous Man In America"

Mark Perry is a military, intelligence, and foreign affairs analyst and writer. His articles have appeared in The Nation, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Los Angeles Times, among other outlets, and he is a frequent guest commentator and expert on Al Jazeera television network. He is the author of eight books, including Grant and Twain, Partners in Command, and Talking to Terrorists. Perry has served as editor and Washington bureau chief for a number of publications, including Washington D.C.'s City Paper and The Veteran, the largest circulation newspaper for veterans in the nation.

Perry applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur, and reported the following:
Novelist Ford Madox Ford supposed that a reader might open any book “to page 99 and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” The test is clever and seems right: in the best novels, which is what he meant, fine writing and subtle style should be apparent on every page.

I would argue that the same is true for non-fiction, and particularly for American non-fiction, which is our nation’s unique genre. No one would claim that Russia, the country that gave us Gogol and Tolstoy, is a hotbed of non-fiction, but that’s not true for America, whose readers consume biographies and histories as often as the rest of us eat chicken.

So too, our best non-fiction rises to the level of literature, scaling past the simple recounting of events and facts. Great non-fiction becomes great literature when it moves us. This is as it should be: our country’s best and earliest writer, Thomas Paine, was an essayist, the finest memoir in any language was penned by our most celebrated military leader, Ulysses S. Grant and (arguably) the Lost Generation’s most influential stylist was neither Fitzgerald or Hemingway, but Edmund Wilson, whose Patriotic Gore and To The Finland Station are triumphs of brilliant historical writing.

There are counters to my claim. No one would deny the greatness of our literary giants (Whitman, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Angelou), whose legacy is the novel and poetry. Yet, even our most recent “greats” did more than just dabble in non-fiction. Gore Vidal wrote novels that were American and historical, Truman Capote’s most powerful work recounted a mass murder, James Baldwin made his name as a brilliant essayist and Norman Mailer placed himself as a character at the center of his era’s historical events.

For writers of history, like me, this legacy provides a unique challenge. My job as an historian is to tell my readers a story that they think they know, but don’t, to make my recounting of events literature. To follow in the footsteps of Paine and Grant and Wilson and Baldwin. I tried to do this in The Most Dangerous Man In America, a biography of Douglas MacArthur that ends with the end of World War Two.

It is not for me to say whether my book is literature, but I hope that in keeping with our country’s non-fiction legacy, it is gripping – and tells Americans something about their history they don’t know. So it is that The Most Dangerous Man In America’s “page 99” is page 181, a simple recounting of “the war within the war” of World War Two.

On that page, I make it clear that the most important story of our last global conflict did not involve a clash of arms, but a clash of intellects. Indeed, while the triumphs of Tarawa, Okinawa, D-Day, Stalingrad and Bastogne were key to the defeat of Japanese and German militarism, the most important battles of the war were fought far from the battlefield – and determined the war’s outcome. This is the central story of The Most Dangerous Man In America, and it’s in keeping with our country’s monumental non-fiction legacy.

For as Paine, Grant, Wilson and Baldwin have taught us, the greatest writers of history not only tell us what happened, but why it happened. It is when historians come to grips with the “why” that, as Ford says, “the quality of the whole” is revealed.
Learn more about The Most Dangerous Man in America at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blain Roberts's "Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women"

Blain Roberts received her Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is currently associate professor history at California State University, Fresno. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Southern History and Southern Cultures. She has written op-eds for the New York Times and the History News Network. Her new book, Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South is a Publishers Weekly Notable African-American Title.

Roberts applied the “Page 99 Test” to Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book highlights one of things I hoped to accomplish in writing a history of female beauty in the Jim Crow and civil rights South: that our assumptions about the pursuit of beauty sometimes obscure a more complex story.

On page 99, readers will find writer bell hooks describing a cherished memory of growing up in Kentucky during the 1950s and ‘60s—having her hair done. As she and her five sisters sat in the kitchen while their mother washed and straightened their hair, she recalls, they enjoyed “[s]mells of burning grease and hair, mingled with the scent of our freshly washed bodies, with collard greens on the stove, with fried fish.”

To hooks, straightening hair was a positive childhood ritual, something she remembers fondly, in vivid, sensory terms. She associates it with other acts of nurturing, like cooking food. Straightening hair wasn’t about wanting to be white, she insists, but about black women’s culture and intimacy. She even says it was “empowering.”

The Black Is Beautiful movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, however, was rooted in the belief that straightening hair and lightening skin indicated a desire to be white or, at the very least, represented a concession to white beauty standards. Its proponents encouraged black women to embrace their curly hair and dark complexions. This shift in understanding—indeed, in seeing—was significant, freeing black women from norms and rituals, like straightening, that could breed feelings of inferiority and self-hatred.

Still, there is ample evidence that hair straightening was not all bad, and that in the South, it provided solace to women doing daily battle against the injustices of Jim Crow. Hair straightening fostered a sense of camaraderie and connection among black southern women. As they mingled in kitchens or in commercial beauty salons, women relaxed, chatted, and vented. Historian and southerner Willi Coleman remembers that her mother, a domestic, used the straightening sessions in her house to talk about her triumphs over “folks that were lower than dirt” and white men who saw her as sexually available. Coleman, for her part, took away from those moments “life sustaining messages which had seeped into my pores as I sat on the floor.”

Page 99 shows that the tactile and olfactory dimensions of the beautifying process, combined with what I call “shop talk,” formed the basis of a black female culture that had distinct benefits. As I argue later in the book, it could also lead to political activism.
Learn more about Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 7, 2014

Richard Bach Jensen's "The Battle against Anarchist Terrorism"

Richard Bach Jensen is Professor of History at the Louisiana Scholars' College at Northwestern State University. He has published a book about the theory and practice of Italian public security policy from 1848 to the crisis of the 1890s. His other publications deal with the repression of anarchist terrorism in Europe and America, the reform of the Italian police in the 19th century, the Italian political thinker Gaetano Mosca, Italy's system of administrative detention on off-shore islands, futurism and fascism, Mussolini, and Italian and Spanish women in modern politics.

Jensen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Battle against Anarchist Terrorism: An International History, 1878-1934, and reported the following:
Dynamite! was supposed to be the original title of my book, since after this powerful explosive was invented in 1866, it became the signature, and much feared, weapon of anarchist terrorists. I present evidence that people at the time reacted to dynamite in ways comparable to reactions later on to the atomic bomb. (The title had to be changed because Cambridge had already published another book with dynamite in the title). In any case, page 99 of The Battle Against Anarchist Terrorism makes no specific references to bombings and assassinations, which make up a significant part of my book and formed the first global wave of terrorism. What that page does discuss is the secret international diplomatic and police efforts to contain anarchist terrorism, a virtually unknown story that forms the book’s central narrative. For many years, historians have had difficulty gaining access to documents regarding these highly secret activities (and some documentation still remains off limits, e.g., the British are withholding information about their highly effective network of spies and agents provocateurs who helped to keep England largely immune from anarchist terrorism). Over a period of twenty years of research, however, I was able to unearth much previously unknown information in the British, German, Austrian, Spanish, Italian, American, and Argentinian archives.

In the mid 1890s Austria-Hungary was at the center of efforts to coordinate international anti-anarchist efforts, just as later, in the early 1920s, it (or rather Austria) would be at the center of efforts to form an international policing organization (the predecessor of Interpol). In 1894, Austria wanted Switzerland to exchange intelligence regarding the activities of the anarchists directly with the Viennese police. Of course good intelligence is crucial for preventing terrorism and had been conspicuously lacking before the 1890s. 1894 had been a particularly alarming year for Europe and the world since in July of that year, the anarchists assassinated their first head of state (in this case, the president of France). During the next seven years, they would murder four more monarchs and heads of state and government, culminating with US President William McKinley in September 1901.

Austrian Foreign Minister Kálnoky’s efforts to organize anti-anarchist cooperation faced many obstacles. I point these out on page 99:
...the Swiss had no central police force to monitor the anarchists. This illustrates a central and often overlooked issue regarding the anti-anarchist campaign. With both Switzerland and, as we have seen, Germany, closer international cooperation in the surveillance of the anarchists required a reform, and especially a centralization, of national police forces. Many individual countries simply lacked the capacity to gather and distribute information about the anarchists without important structural changes in the organization of their police. A second major stumbling block for the Swiss, as for the English, was that they had long upheld the right of asylum for political exiles and were not eager to have their hands tied by an international agreement....

Kálnoky's plans to make Austria-Hungary into the gray eminence of the anti-anarchist campaign failed. The German Kaiser was enthusiastic for a frontal assault on the "revolutionary parties," but his government was not and gave only tepid support to Kalnoky's proposals.
Nor was the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy keen for Austria to spearhead an anti-anarchist crusade. Privately many European governments admitted their worry that taking a public stance might draw the unwanted wrath of the anarchists against their leaders. Since so many of the anarchist assassins were “lone wolves” unattached to any anarchist group known to the police, it was feared that no real defense existed against their attacks. This anxiety about the obscure lone bomber or assassin who could never be identified ahead of time and who might strike at any moment accounts for much of the pervasive fear that anarchist terrorism inspired between the 1880s and the 1920s.
Read an excerpt from The Battle against Anarchist Terrorism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Maria Mutch's "Know the Night"

Maria Mutch was born and raised in Canada, and graduated from York University in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Writers Review, Ocean State Review, Bayou Magazine, Literary Mama, The Malahat Review, Fiddlehead and Grain. She lives (and writes and runs) in Rhode Island with her husband and two sons.

Mutch applied the “Page 99 Test” to Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours, her debut book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I could stand before the painting as the sleepless parent of a wordless child and make these sorts of connections, teasing out the weakest threads between seemingly isolated and irrelevant occurrences and tying them together until they meant something. I can’t say why I would do this, only that it occurs in the same way that weather happens or tides, though to make the connections, I suppose, is to bear witness, to become a conduit for a language without words.
Know the Night is a memoir that sits outside memoir; it is about being awake with my son, who has Down syndrome, autism and doesn’t speak, but it is also about the polar explorer Richard Byrd and Antarctica, and there is a jazz component, too. And on page 99, there is my visit to see Van Gogh’s Irises at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The essence of the book is a search for meaning in a two year period when my son developed a sleeping disorder, and my reaction to Van Gogh’s painting is a good example of how I was seeing things. I was fascinated not only by the painting but by the information card pinned to the wall. If you go to see Irises, you will see that, behind the energetic flowers and pointy leaves, there is a creamy white background. If you read Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo, written in 1890 and not long before he died, then you find out that the background was intended to be pink. The information card on the museum wall says the change in color is “owing to a fugitive red pigment.” Those words seemed to me like found-poetry and I was taken up with the idea of the changing color and the fleeting nature of red. I was sleep deprived, as well, and living what seems now like a surreal existence. As I hunted for the meaning in my son’s loss of language and his sleep disorder, I had a tendency to view things as symbols. The impermanence of red and the resulting white void seemed to combine well with many of the ideas (the Antarctic ice, loss, mutability, silence) that I was exploring in the book and how I had begun to think. The last line on the page reads, “In the emptied background, then, a simple truth of our situation, that unreliability is an essential trait of what is living.”
Learn more about the book and author at Maria Mutch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Eileen Cronin's "Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience"

Eileen Cronin won the Washington Writing Prize in Short Fiction and had a notable essay in Best American Essays. A practicing psychologist, she is an assistant editor for Narrative and lives with her family in Los Angeles.

Cronin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience, and reported the following:
When I set out to write my memoir seven years ago, I planned to stick to humorous or wistful tales of romance and adventure, defying all the expectations, whatever they be, about a woman born without fully formed legs. Mermaid was not the title I had in mind, but it would have fit the story I set out to tell since mermaids are mythical creatures, playful and sensual, who navigate two worlds.

Up to that point I'd mostly written fiction and, as I saw it, I would not be forced into the one genre open to people with disabilities: memoir. But even in fiction, we have to write what we know to be true. No matter how lovely or witty the prose, a story not founded on emotional truth doesn't come to life.

Then for an assignment in a workshop, I wrote a true story about losing an artificial leg in a crowded disco on spring break, after lying to my dance partner. (I'd told him I was a wounded tennis star.) I assumed I would punch out the piece and move on. Instead I found a voice that was unmistakably mine.

Challenging as truth may seem, it gets worse once we learn that we must write about that with which we are obsessed. So I had to go to the original source of my lie, and that led me straight to my mother, a woman I'd spent several decades asking for information about my birth defects. Her answer was always some spin on the "God's Will" story. Because I knew instinctually that this was a lie, we tussled over everything for years. It is only appropriate then that page 99 includes a scene from the summer before fifth grade, when Mom and I fought for weeks over my decision to walk to school, and only weeks before I would first learn about the possibility that my mother had been given thalidomide.

If someone told me eight years ago that I would write a memoir, one with the word resilience in the subtitle, and one that exposed my mother's lie, I would have said, "Hilarious. Now tell me the truth."
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dan Stone's "Goodbye to All That?"

Dan Stone is Professor of Modern History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is a historian of ideas who has written or edited over a dozen books on subjects including the Holocaust, genocide, fascism and eugenics, including the The Oxford Handbook of Postwar European History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Goodbye to All That?: A History of Europe Since 1945, and reported the following:
Goodbye to All That? is about what I call “the rise and fall of the postwar consensus.” It argues that in both Eastern and Western Europe a variety of antifascism was employed to build up and to legitimize the postwar regimes: communism in the east and welfare capitalism and anticommunism in the west. It goes on to argue that this settlement has been dismantled since the 1970s, decisively so since the end of the Cold War. The economic restructuring of Europe away from heavy industry and towards the service sector has been accompanied by a revision of the past in which the “losers” of World War II have revived arguments tending towards fascism which break the postwar consensus in the sphere of European “collective memory.”

Page 99 deals with the cultural Cold War and is mostly taken up with an analysis of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a body which promoted liberal, anti-communist thought in the West. Led by noted intellectuals such as Raymond Aron, Daniel Bell, and Arthur Koestler, it proved a powerful weapon in the Cold War of ideas until Ramparts and the New York Times revealed that it was being funded by the CIA.

One sentence in particular here catches my eye: “For such intellectuals, their anti-communism followed naturally from their antifascism, and they therefore tended to admire the notion of totalitarianism which was such a powerful tool of Cold War historical and political analysis.”

What this suggests is that antifascism, a concept usually identified with communism (the regimes instrumentalized it to provide them with one of their few sources of legitimacy) was also significant for Western European liberalism and anti-communism. What better way to highlight the evils of communism than to compare them with those of fascism? The book goes on to argue that this antifascist consensus has been seriously challenged in the last three decades. But for the first thirty years after the war, antifascism of one variety or another was at the heart not just of the economic rebuilding of Europe but of the renewal of its value system. Analyzing the dismantling of that value system can help us to understand the complexities and conflicts that plague Europe today.
Learn more about Goodbye to All That? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue