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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Cameroon: Past, Present and Future

Beyond the book article for When the Plums Are Ripe
Located in West-Central Africa, Cameroon is about the size of California, with an estimated population of 25 million. The country's two main cities are Yaoundé, the capital, and Douala, a major industrial port along the Gulf of Guinea in the South Atlantic. It borders many nations: Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo...

The Impact of The Handmaid's Tale

Beyond the book article for The Testaments
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa in 1939. Although best known for her speculative fiction, she's the author of more than 40 books, including works of fiction, poetry, short stories, children's works and critical essays.

Atwood's desire to be a writer stems from a revelation she had at the age of 16. As she was walking across ...

The Segregation of St. Louis

Beyond the book article for Jack
In Marilynne Robinson's novel Jack, the title character, a white man, meets and falls in love with a Black woman named Della. However, America's racism, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws in the 1950s present a nearly insurmountable obstacle for the couple. One of their specific concerns is how and where they will live together as ...

Gamification and AI: Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go

Beyond the book article for We Have Been Harmonized
As American political scientist Joseph Nye postulated in the 1980s, there are two ways to control people in geopolitics: hard power (i.e., coercion via violence) or soft power (i.e., enticement via incentive). Successful geopolitical strategy is often about knowing when to use soft power instead of force.

In We Have Been Harmonized, ...

Stone Mountain Confederate Monument

Beyond the book article for Memorial Drive
In Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey explores how racism was a common and formative experience as she grew up in the South in the late 1960s and early '70s. This theme is established as she recalls driving to her mother's former apartment, located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, 20 miles northeast of Atlanta. The city is home to a national ...

Sara Seager and the Search for Exoplanets

Beyond the book article for The Smallest Lights in the Universe
Sara Seager, the author of The Smallest Lights in the Universe, is an astrophysicist who served as a chairperson on NASA's Starshade Project, a mission to locate intelligent life on planets outside of our Solar System, a.k.a 'exoplanets' ('exo' is a Greek prefix meaning 'outside'). Exoplanets are challenging to discover, in part because...

Migration, Labor, and the Philippines

Beyond the book article for A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves
As a young teen in the Manila slums, Rosalie, the central figure in Jason DeParle's A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, dreamed of a path out of poverty. 'Nursing, that's my choice to help and curing sickness,' she wrote to DeParle. 'And to earn money and go abroad.'

When Rosalie scored her first overseas job almost a decade later&#...

Income Inequality in New Orleans

Beyond the book article for The Revisioners
In Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's The Revisioners, mixed race protagonist Ava moves into her aging white grandmother's ostentatious New Orleans mansion in order to help out, and also to save money so she can one day afford to buy a home of her own. Throughout the novel, Sexton paints a vivid picture of the income inequality evident in ...

The Play of Slave Children

Beyond the book article for The World Doesn't Require You
One of the stories in The World Doesn't Require You is inspired by the games of slave children. Given the harsh and miserable social realities forced upon slaves, it almost seems antithetical to think there was opportunity for play and games. However, evidence gathered from interviews with former slaves suggests that many children managed...

The Arctic Tern

Beyond the book article for Migrations
In Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations, Franny follows the migration of the Arctic tern (sterna paradisaea). McConaghy's novel is set in a fictional future in which the bird is on the brink of extinction. Currently, Arctic terns are not in danger to such a degree, as there are still more than one million of them around the world, but ...

Venezuelan Cuisine

Beyond the book article for It Would Be Night in Caracas
In the novel It Would Be Night in Caracas, protagonist Adelaida endures food scarcity in Venezuela's capital city, Caracas, while recalling favorite foods from happier times. Venezuela—situated along the Caribbean Sea in South America —is home to a vibrant blend of culinary traditions. The country's cuisine has European, ...

Women in Uganda

Beyond the book article for A Girl is A Body of Water
In A Girl is a Body of Water, set in the 1970s-'80s, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi presents a compelling protagonist named Kirabo who is coming of age in Uganda and learning what it means to be a woman from her grandmother, aunts and other women in her village. Like most cultures, Ugandan society is largely patriarchal in structure. Women ...

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Beyond the book article for Transcendent Kingdom
In Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty, a PhD student of neuroscience, recalls a college course she took to fulfill a humanities requirement that focused on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. While Gifty didn't care for Hopkins' poetry, she felt a 'strange sense of kinship' with the man himself when she reflected on the struggles he...

Trauma and Abuse in Foster Care

Beyond the book article for The Buddhist on Death Row
Jarvis Jay Masters was five years old when he was taken from his overwhelmed mother and placed with foster parents Mamie and Dennis Procks. They bestowed upon him the kind of luxuries middle class children take for granted. He had his own room, his own toys and clean clothes. His sheets were even ironed. More importantly, he wasn't ...

Extraordinary Underground Vistas

Beyond the book article for Underland

I am incredibly claustrophobic, so reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland didn't make me particularly inclined to follow in his footsteps. But some readers may be inspired by the places he describes so vividly and want to do a little underland exploring of their own. Many of them are so remote (or dangerous, or illegal) that they'd be ...

The Debate on Human Rights at Valladolid (1550-1551)

Beyond the book article for Silver, Sword, and Stone
For Americans accustomed to the myth of Europeans settling largely empty lands, where Natives barely featured, it can be difficult to envision the New World as densely populated with Indigenous societies. But in Central and South America, before the arrival of European germs and conquistadors, that was precisely the situation—the ...

Emergency Preparedness Needs

Beyond the book article for Let's Call It a Doomsday
Ellis Kimball in Let's Call It a Doomsday is ready for the apocalypse, whatever form it takes. Would you be prepared? Most of the population of the United States lives in a place where some kind of natural disaster is possible, be it tornado, hurricane, flood, drought, blizzard or earthquake. As soon as the radio or television stations ...

Caddo Lake

Beyond the book article for Heaven, My Home
Caddo Lake and its surrounding wetlands cover approximately 26,000 acres on the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the only naturally-formed lake in Texas, and it's also significant for its large size and unique biodiversity. Known for natural beauty, including its trademark giant cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is a popular ...

Cicely Saunders and Palliative Care

Beyond the book article for Dear Life
In Dear Life, Dr. Rachel Clarke recalls being inspired to shift her medical career from emergency room work to palliative care after serving as a fierce advocate for Pat, her fiancé's dying mother. Cicely Saunders is widely credited with creating palliative care as we know it today. So what inspired Saunders to pursue this particular...

The U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment

Beyond the book article for We Are Not Free
In Traci Chee's young adult historical novel We Are Not Free, which follows 14 Japanese American teens from San Francisco through World War II, two young men in Topaz detention camp, Mas and Twitchy, decide to volunteer for the army. Japanese American men were unable to serve until early 1943; the American government had considered them ...

Archaebacteria

Beyond the book article for The Mother Code
Carole Stivers' novel The Mother Code imagines the rapid spread of a deadly genetically engineered disease called IC-NAN. The widespread proliferation of the disease is due in large part to its receptive archaebacteria, which serve as both host and incubator for the IC-NAN's DNA; as one character puts it, 'these archaebacteria are capable...

Colombia's Biodiversity

Beyond the book article for Magdalena
Colombia is a nation with a supremely rich diversity of natural wonders. Its geography alone encompasses a dizzying array of ecosystems, such as coastal deserts, wetlands, dense tropical forests, verdant valleys and snowy mountain tops. But perhaps most impressive is the biological and botanical abundance of this South American country. ...

Melungeons

Beyond the book article for The Trojan War Museum
In Ayşe Papatya Bucak's The Trojan War Museum, the main character of one of the stories, 'Mysteries of the Mountain South,' learns that her racial history is more complicated than she previously thought when her grandmother explains that she has a 'Melungeon' great-grandparent. Melungeon is a term historically used to describe a 'tri...

Iceland and the Catholic Church

Beyond the book article for The Sacrament
One of the main characters in The Sacrament is truly its setting: Iceland. Serving as the emotional nexus for multiple characters in the novel, it stamps the narrative with an authoritative and unyielding presence.

Iceland is a Nordic country located in the North Atlantic, an island that is the 18th largest in the world and Europe's ...

Social Class and the Iranian Revolution

Beyond the book article for Aria
Nazanine Hozar's debut novel Aria opens in 1953 Iran and concludes nearly three decades later in 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Her narrative weaves together threads from across mid-20th century Iran's complex and diverse social, economic and religious groups. Class ...

The Musée Rodin

Beyond the book article for All the Devils Are Here
Several important scenes in Louise Penny's mystery, All the Devils Are Here, take place in the gardens of the Musée Rodin. Located in Paris, just south of the River Seine and about a mile east of the Eiffel Tower, the museum and its grounds boast thousands of Auguste Rodin's sculptures, casts and drawings, as well as thousands of...

Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Prison

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones governed by France, Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1949, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), also referred to as East Germany, was formed as a communist state in the Soviet territory. The most notorious apparatus of the GDR's repressive...

The Origins of Islam in Pakistan

Beyond the book article for Homeland Elegies
In Homeland Elegies, author Ayad Akhtar explores Pakistani characters' relationships to Islam. The roots of Islam in the area now known as Pakistan can be traced back almost as far as the birth of the religion itself. As early as the 7th century, Arab armies attempted to spread Islam to the Indian subcontinent, but it took centuries ...

Contemporary Ghanaian Women Writers

Beyond the book article for His Only Wife
In her novel His Only Wife, Peace Adzo Medie captures the clash of tradition and modernity in present day Ghana. Medie belongs to a long line of talented women writers who show the country's rich culture and history to be bountiful sources of inspiration. Here are just a few of the most exciting Ghanaian women on the current literary ...

The Ethics of Human Enhancement

Beyond the book article for Livewired
In Livewired, David Eagleman is bullish on the prospects for human enhancement. He's not alone. In a 2016 Pew research report, David Masci notes that 'humanity may be on the cusp of an enhancement revolution.' Those in favor of human enhancement, generally known as transhumanists, believe, according to Masci, that 'science will allow us ...

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