Saturday, December 3, 2016

David Welky's "A Wretched and Precarious Situation"

David Welky is the author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, and other books. He is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas.

Welky applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier, and reported the following:
The early twentieth-century Crocker Land expedition is an oddity. Incredibly famous at the time, it has since been forgotten by all but a few specialists in Arctic history or in the history of exploration. That’s a shame, because it’s a great, twisty story with an incredible cast of characters.

The expedition revolved around the search for Crocker Land, a previously unknown continent that explorer Robert E. Peary spotted in the polar sea in 1906. Two of his disciples, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, organized a mission to determine the extent of Crocker Land. Becoming the first men to tread on a new continent – the last continent – would no doubt bring them eternal fame and glory. “It would be a fine thing for America if the discovery of Crocker Land could be placed to our credit as a nation,” Theodore Roosevelt said.

As is usually the case with such stories, nothing about the Crocker Land expedition worked out exactly as anticipated. A bid to solve “the last great geographical problem” devolved into a nightmare of shipwrecks, backstabbing, treachery, and even murder. These setbacks, along with the party’s long fight to survive in one of the world’s harshest environments, help drive A Wretched and Precarious Situation.

As luck would have it, page 99 of A Wretched and Precarious Situation catches the narrative at a pivotal moment. It is 9:00 a.m. on November 11, 1912. The party has not yet gone north. Donald MacMillan enters New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, which is sponsoring the expedition, to meet two new members of the team. Museum curator E. O. Hovey introduces geologist Elmer Ekblaw and Navy ensign Fitzhugh Green to both MacMillan and the reader.

There’s a lot happening on this page, and careful readers should sense some foreshadowing. Hovey has made an impulsive, imperious move by hiring two men with no Arctic experience without first consulting MacMillan, the supposed leader of the expedition. MacMillan himself struggles to appraise these new teammates, performing a poor imitation of his mentor Peary, who had a gift for capturing a person’s essence with a single glance. Ekblaw is stolid yet uninspiring. He hardly resembles the classic explorer-hero, indicating that he might face difficulties once the party heads north. Green, on the other hand, is handsome and witty, intelligent and inquisitive. Surely nothing could go wrong with this fine specimen, MacMillan concludes.

Sometimes first impressions can be misleading. As it turns out, none of these men are exactly as they seem, and all of them are in for some rough times. To find out more, read page 100 and beyond!
The Page 99 Test: The Thousand-Year Flood.

My Book, The Movie: A Wretched and Precarious Situation.

Writers Read: David Welky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 2, 2016

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix's "Beyond Earth"

Charles Wohlforth is a life-long Alaska resident and prize-winning author of more than ten books. He has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Sci­ence and Technology, among many other awards. Amanda R. Hendrix is a planetary scientist, worked for twelve years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She has been a scientific investigator on the Galileo and Lunar Reconnaissance missions, a principal investigator on NASA research and Hubble Space Telescope observing programs, and is the author of many scientific papers. As an investigator on the Cas­sini mission to Saturn, she has focused her research on the moons of Saturn.

Wohlforth applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Intelligence also evolved in numerous lineages on Earth, in animals as unrelated as the elephant, crow, and octopus, creatures with environments and needs that may be as different as those found on different planets. Intelligence would probably arise wherever life has a chance to bloom. As Vermeij said in an e-mail, “Intelligence, like many other traits, is a ‘basin of attraction,’ something so useful under so many circumstances that it is virtually certain to evolve, eventually.”

Musk has thought about all this and repeats Fermi’s disturbing question about it: Why haven’t we heard from anyone? If inhabited planets are all around us in the galaxy, then where are the spacefaring travelers, or even just the radio broadcasts, from all those planets? A habitable planet is probably less than nine light years away, where they would just be discovering Taylor Swift on radio waves from Earth about now.
The exercise of thinking about moving to another planet opens a vast intellectual territory for exploration. As I found with my co-author, planetary scientist Amanda Hendrix, the topic leads beyond space science and technology to politics, culture, evolution, ecology and even big questions about the fundamental nature of humanity.

In Beyond Earth, we created a thought experiment for readers, presenting our scenario for how a space colony could come to pass. Anyone can evaluate the scenario with the evidence we present to agree or disagree with the outcome we reach.

That’s the fun part. But the topic can also be spooky, as this page 99 passage suggests.

Geerat Vermeij of the University of California Davis, studied the machinery of evolution through organisms of the distant past (an amazing feat considering he has been blind since childhood). His conclusion about the likely ubiquity of intelligence suggests species as smart as ourselves should be present on a good number of the millions of habitable planets that we now know are orbiting other stars.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk is famously seeking to put a colony on Mars. Part of his drive comes from an observation Enrico Fermi made decades ago, that if intelligence is everywhere, then it is odd that we haven’t yet heard from anyone living out there. Musk suspects that the reason no aliens have called or visited is because they perished long ago. Perhaps, the reasoning goes, evolution inevitably leads civilizations to destroy themselves before they can move beyond their home planets. Musk hopes to give our species an escape hatch.

But Amanda and I came to another conclusion. To us, it seems equally likely that intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe are too different from us to communicate. They may not want to be in touch. In fact, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, an organization that has been scanning the skies for decades, still isn’t powerful enough to detect radio waves from a world just like ours.

One of the key lessons of our research informing Beyond Earth is the necessity for humility. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that also means we have a lot of interesting discoveries ahead of us.
Visit Charles Wohlforth's website and Facebook page, and learn more about Amanda R. Hendrix.

The Page 99 Test: The Fate of Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Philippe Girard's "Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life"

Philippe Girard is a professor of history at McNeese State in Louisiana and the author of four books on Haitian history. A native of the Caribbean, he studied in France and the United States. In 2014, he was a research fellow at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University.

Girard applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life, and reported the following:
Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life retraces the life of the leader of the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave revolt in world history. He was possibly the most significant person of African descent ever, yet there has been no modern scholarly biography of him in English until now. The reason is simple: he was an incredibly complicated figure who obscured his innermost thoughts.

When opening the book at page 99, I was taken aback at first: this happens to be one of a handful of pages in the book that doesn’t mention Toussaint Louverture by name! The chapter covers the early months of the French Revolution in 1789, when some white planters toyed with the idea of declaring Haiti’s independence from France. Louverture was still unknown at the time: he had obtained his freedom but he remained on the plantation of his former master, where he worked as a muleteer and a coachman. None of the leading white colonists of Haiti mentioned him in the debates raging in 1789, and so he is barely mentioned in the chapter.

On second thought, however, page 99 does say a lot about Toussaint Louverture, a man who often hid his agenda and preferred to act behind the scenes. Though he did not take part in the political disputes described in the chapter, he must have followed them closely since he lived a couple miles outside Haiti’s main city and often traveled there for work. Louverture was doing what the reader does: he was following the course of events while wondering how long it would take for Haiti’s slaves to revolt. He was in the shadows, taking note of the growing political instability and educating himself on the ideals of the French Revolution, while plotting his next move. This was a key moment in his life, when he had to decide whether to put behind his past as an obedient plantation worker and start a new life as a revolutionary leader.

We learn of his decision ten pages later, when Louverture reappears in the narrative as the mastermind of the great Haitian slave revolt of August 1791. This carefully organized revolt eventually involved 500,000 slaves, one thousand times more than the largest slave revolt in US history. On page 99, Toussaint Louverture was on the cusp of altering the course of history.
Learn more about Toussaint Louverture at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: Toussaint Louverture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

J. Michelle Coghlan's "Sensational Internationalism"

J. Michelle Coghlan is Lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in Arizona Quarterly, the Henry James Review, and Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities.

Coghlan applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sensational Internationalism: The Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century, and reported the following:
Sensational Internationalism tells the story of the Paris Commune’s spectacular afterlife in American literary, visual, and performance culture following the suppression of the seventy-three day uprising in May 1871 and well into the 1930s (and beyond). In refocusing attention on the Commune as a key event in American cultural and political life, the book profoundly shifts our understanding of the relationship between France and the United States in the long nineteenth century as well as the role that a variety of nineteenth and early twentieth century media forms—from touring panorama and big-budget pyrotechnic shows to illustrated weeklies, children’s adventure fiction, and agit-prop pamphlets—played in sustaining the Commune as specter and spectacle in U.S. culture. But it also charts how the Commune provided a vital, if now largely forgotten, site for extra-national feeling and international solidarity that continued to resonate with a variety of American radicals for over five decades.

Page 99 finds us in the third chapter of the book, “Radical Calendars,” which explores the expansive annual role that the Commune occupied in late-nineteenth century U.S. radical print and performance culture, in particular the essays and speeches of three of the most prolific if still under-studied American women radicals of the period: Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, and Voltairine de Cleyre. Reading this spectacular annual cycle of commemoration—complete with oratory, tableaux vivants, music and dancing—as at once counter spectacles and radical acts of counter-cultural memory, I show how U.S. radicals reclaimed the crushed Parisian uprising as a living blueprint for revolutionary agitation and a key locus of international feeling rather than as a failed radical past.

From page 99:
The internationalist bent of this [Commune] festival is not surprising. As we’ve seen, cross-national anniversaries were being held across the country since the early 1870s and well beyond the turn of the century, and coverage of later Chicago festivals—for example, reports on the 1891 celebration that ran in the Atchison Champion and Raleigh (North Carolina) News and Observer—similarly observed, “The Paris Commune anniversary was celebrated by half a dozen nationalities in Chicago.” Its inclusion in the volume, however, signals an extra-national affiliation and culture of memory that highlights long before Haymarket and its aftermath how the history of American labor is a story at once within and beyond national borders.
This page encapsulates the argument I make in the chapter, but it also gets at the way that I tell that story. For in order to show how vital the Commune was to U.S. radical calendars and make this vibrant memory and movement culture more audible to American literary studies, I turned not just to the print archive left by radical organizers and publishers but also to the mainstream metropolitan newspapers which anxiously—and with no veiled hostility—telegraphed accounts of these speeches and gatherings across the country and far beyond the reach of radical print networks alone. In so doing, the book reveals both the remarkable aftershocks of the Commune and reverberations of leftwing culture in this period.
Learn more about Sensational Internationalism at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sensational Internationalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Robert L. Kelly's "The Fifth Beginning"

Robert L. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He is a past president of the Society for American Archaeology, current editor of American Antiquity, author of The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers, and coauthor of two popular textbooks, Archaeology and Archaeology: Down to Earth. He has conducted archaeological research throughout the western United States for more than forty years.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the last page of The Fifth Beginning’s penultimate chapter, so that tells you something about the book: it’s short. I figured someone might actually read a short book, and having your book read is the point, right?

Page 99 also marks the end of the book’s discussion of four major transitions--I call them beginnings--in humanity’s six-million-year history. And that with “hindsight we can see that dramatic changes in the material record of humanity’s odyssey on earth—stone tools, art and burials, villages, domesticated crops, elaborate tombs, palisades, temples, palaces, and so on—point to equally dramatic changes in how people related to one another.” I then ask: “Is that it? Are we at the end of history?” and propose that the answer lies in whether “another major shift [is] visible from an archaeological perspective.”

The final chapter argues that the material record of the Anthropocene suggests we are indeed in a fifth beginning, a time when, once again, the character of human life will change significantly and irreversibly. This change will be comparable to the origin of technology, culture, agriculture and the state.

All these beginnings are emergent phenomena, the result of evolutionary processes aimed at achieving one lifeway that eventually turn humanity into something completely different. Using an understanding of the first four beginnings as practice, in the final chapter I look at how three processes, the escalating cost of war, the global reach of capitalism, and a global communication network seem likely to result in the replacement of war, capitalism, and the nation-state with new methods of conflict resolution, a new form of economy, and global self-governance. It’s the end of life as we know it. Despite recent events, I take a hopeful view on humanity’s future, focusing not on chaos but on humanity’s great potential.
.Learn more about The Fifth Beginning at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stephen L. Moore's "As Good As Dead"

Stephen L. Moore is the author of eighteen books on World War II and Texas history. A sixth generation Texan, he is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Moore applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, As Good As Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs From a Japanese Death Camp,and reported the following:
As Good As Dead is the tale of eleven American POWs who escaped a Japanese camp in the Philippines after their captors elected to annihilate every last prisoner. The manner in which these men survived a brutal gauntlet and persevered through the subsequent manhunt of the Palawan Massacre is almost unbelievable. The fact that eleven survived to tell their stories led directly to assaults on other Japanese camps that freed more than 3,600 Allied POWs.

By page 99 of the book, my readers have experienced a wide variety of horrible treatment administered to the American POWs. Despite the previous starvation, beatings, and cruel torture, page 99 hints that what the American POWs have endured in their first year and a half under the Imperial Japanese Army is about to take a turn for the worse. Palawan’s dreaded military police unit, the Kempei Tai, has just received a new senior officer, Master Sergeant Taichi Deguchi. His arrival foreshadows for the reader that the fate of our heroes will not be kind.

From page 99:
Deguichi became second in command of the Palawan unit, but he was soon number one on the American prisoners’ most-hated list.

Powerfully built and possessing a chilling stare, Deguichi became feared for his irrational and unprovoked outburts, in which he beat prisoners simply for fun. Deguichi was serving as the acting commander of the Kempei Tai when two more Americans tried to escape from Palawan. His handling of the affair was the most horrific war crime that the POWs had yet experienced.
Deguichi’s Kempei Tai recovers the two American escapees, proceeds to torture them for days before the entire camp, and then executes them. Other men had previously broken out of Palawan’s Camp 10-A, but the new policy of the Kempei Tai would put a damper on future efforts.

By December 14, 1944, only 150 American POWS remained on Palawan Island. On that date, their Japanese commanders opted to dispose of every living man, hoping to wipe their existence clean as Allied troops advance through the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur. Eleven men who simply refuse to give in to their fate will survive an atrocity in what is one of the least known great escape stories of World War II.
Visit Stephen L. Moore's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Battle for Hell’s Island.

Writers Read: Stephen L. Moore.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hermione Giffard's "Making Jet Engines in World War II"

Hermione Giffard has been a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History and Art History at Utrecht University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making Jet Engines in World War II: Britain, Germany, and the United States, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of my case study of the work done by de Havillands on the Goblin jet engine. Rather than focusing on the titular inventor, it, like the book, emphasizes the other people who worked on early jet engines and the way in which knowledge and resources transferred from a pre-existing technology (piston aircraft engines) to the new engines.

Throughout, the book connects deep technical design decisions and ideas to the previous knowledge of the designer (how the old was the scaffold for the new), in this case Frank Halford, and to institutional concerns (Halford’s company changed from a consulting bureau to a part of an aero-engine company during the war). Here we see in detail how the temperaments and experience of different individuals corresponded to different engineering decisions. Far from understanding invention as the act of an independent individual, we see that invention is influenced by the organizations where it occurs.

This page illustrates well how developing a jet engine fit in with the institutional goals of the existing aero-engine industry. Although rarely mentioned, all of the early jet engines that were used by military air forces (the first in 1944 in Britain and Germany) were produced by existing aero-engine companies, each of which had existing wells of expertise and resources.

Making Jet Engines in World War II uses the case of making jet engines to offer a different way of understanding technological innovation, one that reveals the complicated mix of factors that go into any decision to pursue an innovative, and therefore risky technology. The book shows how the approaches of different nations to the jet engine differed because of each country’s war aims and industrial expertise. Germany, which produced more jet engines than any other nation, did so largely as replacements for more expensive piston engines. Britain, on the other hand, produced relatively few engines—but, by shifting emphasis to design rather than production, found itself at war's end holding an unrivaled range of designs. The US emphasis on development, meanwhile, built an institutional basis for postwar production.

Technology is shaped by many things; it is up to us to recover them if we want to understand the decisions that still shape our world today.
Learn more about Making Jet Engines in World War II at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Heather Dalton's "Merchants and Explorers"

Heather Dalton is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne and a member of The Cabot Project at the University of Bristol. The focus of her current project is transnational relationships and family ties in trading networks in the 15th and 16th century Atlantic. As a historian born in England and living in Australia, she is also interested in early contacts between Australasia and Europe.

Dalton applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Merchants and Explorers: Roger Barlow, Sebastian Cabot, and Networks of Atlantic Exchange 1500-1560, and reported the following:
From February 1527 to August 1528, Roger Barlow, merchant and contador to the Spanish king, explored the vast river system of the River Plate in South America with Sebastian Cabot. In doing so, he became the first Englishman to set foot in present day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, and the first to write a detailed eyewitness account of America.

As well as being an explorer, servant of Charles V, and ally of Sebastian Cabot, Barlow was also an avid proponent of expanding English trading routes. He and Cabot carved out successful careers in Seville at a time when there were fortunes to be made in supporting voyages and supplying Castile’s burgeoning settlements across the Atlantic. They and their companions instigated a voyage of discovery and survived the hardships of months at sea. When both men returned to the British Isles—Barlow around 1531 and Cabot in 1548—they had trading, navigational, and exploratory knowledge that made them truly unique. In 1541 while living in Wales and unsettled by the fall of his patron Thomas Cromwell, Barlow presented Henry VIII with a cosmography in the hope of gaining the king’s support for further voyages. This cosmography contained his personal account of the River Plate.

Page 99 of Merchants and Explorers is representative of my book in that at its core is Atlantic exploration. Halfway down the page is the heading 'A CANNIBAL ‘FEAST'. This signals the fact that in this account, Barlow included a description of how the Guaranís fattened and then ritually slaughtered their prisoners of war before eating them (Guaraní is the word for warrior in the Tupí-Guaraní dialect). This description is the first detailed description by a European to have survived. Barlow wrote it over a decade before the German Hans Staden was captured by the Tupinambá and witnessed a similar ritual. Barlow included the description of cannibalism in order to emphasise the otherness of the New World and, like Staden, to titillate his reader.
Learn more about Merchants and Explorers at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Merchants and Explorers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sharon Farmer's "The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris"

Sharon Farmer is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris takes the reader to the heart of a discussion of immigrants from Italy and Cyprus who worked as entrepreneurs and artisans in the Parisian silk industry of the late thirteenth century. The evidence concerning these immigrants, and the positive role that they played in the Parisian economy at the time, speaks to key contemporary questions about immigrants and local economies that are playing out at this very moment in Britain, France, and the U.S.

As I explain in the introduction to the book (which you can read online at the University of Pennsylvania Press’ website), between 1950 and 1990, French medieval historians of the Annales school played a major role in perpetuating a myth that nearly all French people of the twentieth century had descended from peasants who once worked the French soil. Such claims were extremely erroneous – but they played a powerful role in constructing French national identity. French historians such as Gérard Noiriel have already debunked those claims by examining the important role that immigrants played in French society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My book takes that examination back even further, thereby suggesting that the French “melting pot” is centuries old.

The book also elucidates the role that the influx of immigrants could play in transforming relationships between the sexes. When Italian business men of the thirteenth century moved to Paris, gained recognition as local taxpayers, and married French women, they adapted business practices that were much more open to women’s economic activities than were the business practices of their male relatives who remained in the towns of Northern Italy. And when Mediterranean artisans introduced new silk technologies to Paris, they ended up working in an industry that provided much more space, than was the case in their towns to the south, for prominent women artisans and entrepreneurs. Indeed, the new silk industry that took shape in late thirteenth century Paris ended up providing some of the best employment opportunities that were available for women anywhere in Europe at the time.
Learn more about The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adam Kotsko's "The Prince of This World"

Adam Kotsko is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Shimer College in Chicago. His books include Why We Love Sociopaths (2012) and Politics of Redemption (2010).

Kotsko applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Prince of This World, and reported the following:
The curious thing about page 99 of The Prince of This World is that it does not explicitly mention the devil at all. Instead, it discusses two key steps in the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury’s famous text Why God Became Human. First, it talks about the dynamic by which God entraps the sinner into an unpayable debt. For Anselm, we owe God absolute obedience:
Anselm characterizes this obedience, which every rational creature (angelic or human) owes to God unconditionally and perpetually, as a way of giving God his proper honor. By disobeying God, the creature is depriving God of the honor due to him, and not only does this create a debt to God, but it digs the sinner ever-deeper into the hole.
Secondly, it begins discussing a curious feature of Anselm’s text—the fact that he pictures God as a property developer, trying to fill all the units in his heavenly city after some of the angels unexpectedly rebel against his rule.

While this passage may seem purely expositional, it is revealing of the roots of the project. A close reading of Why God Became Human convinced me that the devil could serve as a kind of index for tracking major shifts in Christian thought. Most contemporary Christians follow Anselm’s account of why the incarnation of Christ is able to save us—namely, that he was somehow making up for our sins, paying off our debts vicariously. Previously, theologians embraced the view that Jesus came to set us free from the domination of the devil. Anselm aggressively refutes the previous view, and in so doing he ushers in a huge change to Christian political theology—for the worse, in my opinion.

Finally, the discussion of debt and property development reflects the fact that I view the seemingly abstract theological debates about the devil as surprisingly and even urgently relevant for understanding the deep dynamics of contemporary Western societies. We are all increasingly entrapped in debts that we can never repay—both literal debts and more figurative obligations, such as the impossibly absolute submission the police demand from black Americans—and told that it is nonetheless our responsibility to fix the situation. Unfortunately for us secularized sinners, however, no savior appears to be forthcoming.
Learn more about The Prince of This World at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue