Beyond the Book Articles

Beyond the Book Articles

For every book we review, we also write a "beyond the book" article that focuses on a cultural, historical or contextual topic related to the book. You can browse by category below, or use the search box at the top of the page (check "Article").

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Remembering the Victims of the Vardø Witch Trials

Beyond the book article for The Mercies
For such a small and remote community, Vardø has endured more than its share of tragedy. In 1617, the small fishing town found at the easternmost point of Norway was hit by a violent storm. Its arrival was so sudden and devastating, it all but wiped out the male population, leaving behind a community of shell shocked women and ...

Looking Back On Mississippi Burning (1988)

Beyond the book article for Race Against Time
In December 1988, the controversial crime-thriller movie Mississippi Burning was released. It follows two FBI agents — played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe — who investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. The agents' efforts to solve the case are hindered by a hostile local police force and the Ku Klux ...

The Laogai Research Foundation

Beyond the book article for Made in China
In her debut book, Made in China, Amelia Pang cites the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) as a source for much of the information she presents about China's Laogai system (pronounced like loud-guy but without the 'd'). The organization's website explains:

'The Laogai system is the Chinese network of prisons, factories, and farms ...

The Women of ISIS

Beyond the book article for The Spymaster of Baghdad
Known for its brutal track record of executions and torture of hostages and civilians (including women and children), some may find it surprising that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group attracts a fair number of female recruits. While there are mitigating factors that vary for each woman, for many the appeal seems ...

Proteus Syndrome

Beyond the book article for No One Is Talking About This
Midway through Patricia Lockwood's novel No One Is Talking About This, the unnamed protagonist learns that her sister's baby has been diagnosed with Proteus syndrome. You might recognize this as the condition believed to have affected Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, whose late-19th-century life has been dramatized in a 1979 ...

Young Adult Novels That Address Gentrification

Beyond the book article for Like Home
In Like Home by Louisa Onomé, Nelo fights the forces of gentrification and change in the neighborhood that she loves so dearly. Gentrification has become an increasingly popular topic in recent young adult novels, and there are now a variety of titles offering different points of view on the subject.

This Side of Home by Ren&#...

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Beyond the book article for Hidden Valley Road
In Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker writes about the Galvin family's experience with schizophrenia and discusses early research into the disorder performed under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The NIMH's website states it's the 'lead federal agency for research on mental disorders,' with a mission '...

Climate Change and Water Scarcity

Beyond the book article for The End of the Ocean
Alternating between two storylines set in the recent past and the very near future, Maja Lunde's The End of the Ocean is a chilling reminder of how alarmingly fast the effects of climate change can snowball out of control. In one storyline, set in 2017, Signe recounts the troubling signs already evident in her native Norway: The glaciers ...

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Beyond the book article for My Dark Vanessa
In My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a much-older teacher begins his seduction of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye with poetry. One of the works he uses to draw her in is the 1962 Vladimir Nabokov novel Pale Fire. Specifically, a section of verse describes how a fictional poet, John Shade, met his wife on an outing to New Wye Falls. ...

Family Separation During the Holocaust

Beyond the book article for The Yellow Bird Sings
In Jennifer Rosner's The Yellow Bird Sings, which takes place in Poland during WWII, Róza and her daughter Shira are forced to hide from the Nazis. After already losing other family members, Róza must decide whether or not to send Shira into hiding on her own in order to protect her. While members of Jewish families were often ...

Operation Condor

Beyond the book article for Hades, Argentina
The action in Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, is propelled by a clandestine South American military campaign known as Operation Condor.

Operation Condor's roots can be traced back to the mid-1960s, when Che Guevara left Cuba to spread socialist doctrine throughout South America, advocating the violent overthrow of the ...

Gene Editing

Beyond the book article for Klara and the Sun
One of the central mysteries in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Klara and the Sun surrounds the question of how some children are 'lifted' and others are not. Seemingly benefiting from a class-based or other means-based differentiation, those who are lifted have access to higher-quality education and additional advantages. Precisely how some ...

The Vietnamese French

Beyond the book article for The Committed
In The Committed, Vo Danh immigrates to Paris in order to escape danger. As the illegitimate child born from sexual abuse between a French priest and a Vietnamese woman, Vo Danh is a metaphor for the rape of Vietnam perpetrated by French colonialism. He goes back to his fatherland to confront the post-Vietnam War legacy and how it ...

Indian Casinos: Who Profits?

Beyond the book article for Yellow Bird
When most people hear the word 'casino,' they think of slot machines trilling and the tinny crashing of coins. But there is a deeper significance to gambling, especially as it pertains to casinos located on federal Indian reservations. While a fun pastime for many, casinos are the lifeblood for the Native American tribes across the ...

The Crusader States of Outremer (1087-1272)

Beyond the book article for The Land Beyond the Sea
Sharon Kay Penman's novel The Land Beyond the Sea is set in the Middle Ages in a region known as Outremer (pronounced OO-tray-mare). This collection of European-held city-states was formed during the First Crusade and comprised of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch.


Olympic Equestrian Eventing

Beyond the book article for Dark Horses
Eventing, sometimes described as an equestrian triathlon, became an Olympic summer sport at the Stockholm Games in 1912, but before that, it had its roots in the military as a series of exercises developed to test and prepare cavalry horses. Equestrian sports date back much further, in some cases all the way back to the ancient Olympics, ...

Circassian Ethnic Identity and History

Beyond the book article for All-American Muslim Girl
In All-American Muslim Girl, Allie Abraham's family is ethnically Circassian, which accounts in part for her fair, reddish blonde hair. As Allie observes, few Americans have ever heard of Circassians, so in the novel she gives a very cursory background that only begins to describe the history and struggles of this group of people. Author ...

The Truth Behind Helen of Troy and the Trojan War

Beyond the book article for A Thousand Ships
The story of the Trojan War, fought between the Greeks and the people of Troy, has been told and retold for thousands of years. This is in large part thanks to the efforts of Homer, the ancient Greek poet who penned the Iliad and Odyssey, recordings of epic stories set during and after the war. Legendary figure Helen of Troy plays a ...


Beyond the book article for The Lost Apothecary
In Sarah Penner's The Lost Apothecary, a historical mystery is set in motion when a character discovers a small blue vial while mudlarking. 'Mudlarking' refers to the practice of scavenging for objects — generally manufactured or otherwise manmade ones that have been lost or thrown away — usually on the shore of a body of ...

Ponzi Schemes

Beyond the book article for The Glass Hotel
In Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel, the protagonist finds herself ensnared in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street investor. The 'Ponzi scheme' takes its name from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant and businessman who lived in Boston in the early 20th century. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investments in which a business will ...

American Complicity in Chinese Authoritarianism

Beyond the book article for The Scientist and the Spy
Under President Bill Clinton, the United States agreed to allow the People's Republic of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The deal was finalized under President George W. Bush in December 2001. It was believed at the time that international trade would help depose one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world like ...

Anti-Chinese Sentiment Past and Present

Beyond the book article for Last Night at the Telegraph Club
In Last Night at the Telegraph Club, some of the pressure that Lily faces in her family life is related to their precarious situation as immigrants, specifically as Chinese immigrants in the aftermath of the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism. Chinese immigrants have a long, often obscured history in the United States, which includes ...

How Drug Cartels Became a Potent Force in Mexico

Beyond the book article for Blood Gun Money
One of the main areas of focus in Blood Gun Money is the role of drug cartels in criminal activity in Mexico. In particular, two organizations are cited multiple times: Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. Both are known for the number of enemies they've dispatched and their brutal methods of doing so. As stated in the book, guns, many of ...

Leeches in Medicine

Beyond the book article for The Doctors Blackwell
The Doctors Blackwell, Janice P. Nimura's biography of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, explores the tools 19th-century physicians used to address their patients' needs. Many common ailments were believed to be caused by an excess of blood, and consequently removing some of a person's blood was thought to be efficacious; often doctors ...

Overcoming Arkoudaphobia: The Rarity of Bear Attacks in North America

Beyond the book article for Best Laid Plans
Bears terrify a lot of people. So much so that 'arkoudaphobia' — the fear of bears — is a common phenomenon.

However, the danger bears pose to people in North America is massively embellished in the public's collective psyche. Fantastical representations of bears in literature, television and film have exacerbated ...

Boarding School Syndrome

Beyond the book article for Sorrow and Bliss
In Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which explores psychological wounds and mental illness, Martha's husband Patrick was sent to boarding school at a young age. The image of boarding schools is deeply embedded in the British psyche. Writers from Enid Blyton to James Joyce have found these strange micro-societies to be rich earth. In fiction...

Ghost Girls (Radium Girls)

Beyond the book article for Zorrie
In Laird Hunt's book Zorrie, the title character takes a job painting watch dials with illuminating radium in Ottawa, Illinois. The women employed by the company think it's great fun to glow all night after their shifts, and even smuggle extra vials of glow-in-the-dark paint home to create designs on themselves.

During World War I, ...

The Rajneesh Movement

Beyond the book article for Burnt Sugar
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was born on December 11, 1931 in Kuchwada, India as Chandra Mohan Jain. He was given the name Rajneesh, meaning 'god of night,' at six months. He took an interest in religion from a young age and eventually found work as a philosophy instructor, but in 1966 resigned from his position at the ...

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