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Beyond the Book Articles
Medicine, Science and Tech

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Aphasia (09/22)
In Lean Fall Stand, the main character suffers a massive and debilitating stroke during a whiteout storm in Antarctica. After being rescued, he returns home to England to begin the long, arduous task of learning to speak again. The medical term for the loss of the ability to understand or express speech is aphasia. It is usually caused by...
Larval Therapy (09/22)
For a novel that focuses on a physician during an incredibly bloody war, The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters is generally not too explicit in describing the treatment of wounds. The passage below is an exception; when main character Jayne's brother suffers a pike wound to the thigh that soon becomes infected, her mentor ...
The Life Changing Reality of Bionic Limbs (08/22)
The protagonist of Nnedi Okorafor's novel Noor has undergone a number of procedures and augmentations to reduce her physical discomfort and improve her standard of living. Born with missing and deformed limbs, and injured years later in a car accident, being fitted with sophisticated bionic limbs grants her the strength — both ...
Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man (08/22)
In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin elucidated the theory of evolution by natural selection, explaining how organisms better adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genes. What he didn't explain, however, was human evolution — that was addressed in his second but ...
San Francisco's Zen Hospice (07/22)
In an essay from Serious Face titled 'A House at the End of the World,' Jon Mooallem writes about Zen Hospice, a palliative care facility opened in San Francisco in 1986 by members of the local Zen Buddhist community who were heartsick seeing unhoused people dying on the streets. They had the idea to open a hospice that would offer them ...
Lewy Body Dementia (07/22)
In Matt Godman's novel, Carolina Moonset, one of the main characters has Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), a degenerative condition similar to Alzheimer's disease.

According to the National Institute of Health, 'Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These ...
The Science of Forgiveness (07/22)
Could you forgive the person who murdered your beloved son?

Weeks after Debra Trice was convicted of the first-degree murder of Raymond Jones she received a letter. It was from Margaret Jones, Raymond's mother. Mrs. Jones wrote, '[Y]ou have my forgiveness. So, when you feel you cannot make it, look up and talk to God, Jehovah is his ...
Bonding Over Shared Trauma (06/22)
In Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach, main characters Sally and Billy form an unbreakable bond after they both witness the death of Sally's older sister Kathy, who is Billy's girlfriend. Research on shared traumatic experiences shows a clear pattern in which people who have endured the same trauma often have a strong ...
A Brief History of Cloning (06/22)
One of author Sarah Gailey's greatest skills on display in The Echo Wife is that of making the science depicted look and feel real. The cloning in the novel seems plausible. But how far have humans actually come in the field of cloning? Where did it begin and where are we now?

First, we should establish what cloning is. As Dr. Helen ...
The Camera Obscura (06/22)
A central theme in 2 A.M. in Little America is the difficulty of distinguishing between truth and illusion, and Pushcart Prize-winning writer and journalist Ken Kalfus uses recurrent imagery throughout the novel of mirrors, lenses and reflective surfaces to symbolize the way that our perception of reality is filtered through and refracted...
Conflicts Over Credit: CRISPR and HIV (05/22)
When a scientific breakthrough is achieved, it can be a moment of major celebration. Depending on the implications of that advancement, previously unknown individuals can find themselves vaulted into the highest levels of celebrity. Yet, the challenge of deciding who is truly responsible for the scientific advancement can be contentious. ...
Deep Space Travel Technologies (05/22)
From the first description of its maiden launch in the year 2072, the fictional Lazarus is more than just a spaceship in Riley Redgate's Alone Out Here. It is a cryogenic ark filled with extensive samples of Earth's faunal DNA, and an integrated archive for preserving a cross-section of humanity's archaeological treasures. Moreover, the ...
Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Race (04/22)
Science fiction tends to reflect deeper moral issues and fears confronting a society at the time it is written. Storytelling is a safe method to express anxieties about the state of the world. It allows authors and readers an opportunity to explore the murkiness of uncertainty in a non-threatening manner. Reading and discussing sci-fi is ...
Trauma and the Brain (04/22)
Rape survivor Erika Krouse rarely dreams. She has lost memories. She has trouble remembering what happened the prior week but knows in spectacular detail how it felt to be raped when she was a child by someone her mother loved. A heartbreaking passage in her memoir Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation explains, 'It's ...
Dignitas and Death with Dignity (03/22)
In her book In Love, Amy Bloom's husband, Brian Ameche, decides to end his life prematurely, before his Alzheimer's disease becomes too debilitating.

Being Americans, they first explored taking advantage of laws in the US allowing physician-assisted suicide, also known as death with dignity. This option first became available in ...
Gene Editing (03/22)
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 ...
Frontotemporal Dementia (03/22)
In Julie Osaka's novel, The Swimmers, one of the main characters suffers from memory loss due to dementia.

The Mayo Clinic defines 'dementia' as 'a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life.' It's not one disease, as many different conditions can cause dementia. ...
Twins (02/22)
Brit Bennett's novel, The Vanishing Half, follows the lives of Stella and Desiree Vignes, identical twin girls born in Louisiana in 1938.

As you likely know, there are broadly two types of twins: fraternal and identical. Fraternal, or dizygotic, twins are formed when two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate spermatozoa, ...
BRCA Gene Mutations and Prophylactic Mastectomy Surgery (02/22)
In This Boy We Made, author Taylor Harris finds out that she has a BRCA2 genetic mutation that puts her at about a 50% higher than average risk of developing breast cancer, and decides to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.

A mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is associated with a higher risk of certain types of cancer. Dr. Mary-...
DNA Profiling (02/22)
In Kia Abdullah's courtroom drama Take It Back, the prosecution relies on a forensic technique called DNA profiling. Also known as genetic fingerprinting, the process can be used to match bodily material found at a crime scene to a suspect, to identify a person's relatives, to determine one's risk of some genetic diseases and to identify ...
Leeches in Medicine (02/22)
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 ...
The Falsity of a Real Reality (01/22)
Humans are incapable of knowing for certain what is real. We use our five senses to collect data about the environment around us. Data is the key word here; we don't see, hear, touch, taste or smell reality. We use our senses to sample data about the environment.

This data is processed by our brains, which then interpret and give form ...
The Evolution of the U.S. Spacesuit (12/21)
In Andy Weir's science fiction novel, Project Hail Mary, the main character periodically dons a spacesuit to perform maintenance outside his spacecraft or to keep himself safe when conditions inside it become life-threatening.

Spacesuits are critical to humanity's ability to explore the cosmos. The astronaut must be protected from (and...
Ovarian Cancer (11/21)
In Danielle Evans' collection The Office of Historical Corrections, the short story 'Happily Ever After' centers around Lyssa, who at 30 years old is navigating life after her mother's death from ovarian cancer and has been advised to have her own ovaries removed as soon as possible. Ovarian cancer is the seventh most commonly diagnosed ...
Nature vs. Nurture (09/21)
DNA structure The 'nature vs. nurture' debate is what sparks the narrative tension in M.O. Walsh's novel The Big Door Prize. The character Cherilyn refers to the concept of nature vs. nurture when she explains how the unusual DNAMIX machine 'tells you your potential, [...] what you could have been if everything would have worked out just right.' ...
Archaebacteria (09/21)
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...
Viruses and Evolution (09/21)
One of the most interesting concepts discussed in Some Assembly Required is that almost all life is primarily comprised of borrowed components. We share 95 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees. Only two percent of the human genome is unique to our species. The rest of us is adopted, adapted, tweaked and outright stolen.

Viruses make up ...
The Benefit of Sports for Young People Living With ADHD (09/21)
In Sarah Tomp's The Easy Part of Impossible, diving proves to be a vital lifeline for teenager Ria Williams, who lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The intense structure, discipline and exertion called for by the sport allows Ria to channel her excess energy into something positive and helps her to master the ...
Microdot Technology (08/21)
In Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre's account of real-life spy Ursula Kuczynski, several operatives are said to have used microdots, or tiny pieces of film on which miniaturized text is recorded, to smuggle information to the Soviet Union. Still in use today, these diminutive data caches are produced through a specialized photography process ...
Sara Seager and the Search for Exoplanets (08/21)
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...
Early Anesthetics (06/21)
In The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake, Nora and Daniel use diethyl ether, referred to simply as 'ether,' to render a patient unconscious in order to perform a surgical procedure on him. While the procedure is ultimately successful, the characters are still unsure of the exact effects of the drug. Nora and Daniel's study of and ...
Myasthenia Gravis (05/21)
In her memoir The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness, Sarah Ramey mentions a litany of so-called mysterious illnesses, some of which are widely known—lupus, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis—and others that may be less familiar to readers. I was surprised to see her mention a relatively unknown...
Genetically Modified Organisms: Past, Present and Future (04/21)
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have received a bad rap. They're banned from being grown or used in food throughout most of Europe. They're caustically labeled on groceries in the United States. And they are frequently despised by foodies, farmers, environmentalists and the devoutly religious alike — for reasons ranging from ...
Aneurysms (04/21)
In Julia Alvarez's novel Afterlife, Antonia's husband Sam dies suddenly of an aneurysm. An aneurysm is an enlargement or bulge in an artery from a weakening of the arterial wall that can cause internal bleeding if it ruptures. Most aneurysms don't rupture, and most people who have them don't experience any symptoms at all. However, when ...
DNA Testing and Law Enforcement (04/21)
In The Lost Family, Libby Copeland examines some of the complex issues surrounding commercial DNA testing, including concerns about privacy and consent. To what extent should we be comfortable entrusting our DNA to powerful corporations that can take our most intimate information—our genetic data—and put it to uses we aren't ...
Cult Psychology (03/21)
Cults are often difficult to identify from the outside, given that a common characteristic is members' denial that any dysfunctional elements are at play within their community. Many countries, including the U.S., do not have a legal definition, but prefer to use a series of criteria. However, a sort of colloquial understanding is more ...
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (03/21)
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 '...
Proteus Syndrome (02/21)
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 ...
Trivia About the Human Body (02/21)
Bill Bryson's The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an engaging exploration of the human body, packed with interesting trivia about human anatomy. Some of the most memorable facts the author presents are:
  • According to calculations by Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, 59 elements are needed to construct a human being. Just six of these...
From Herodotus to Vietnam: A Brief History of PTSD and Combat (02/21)
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first officially recognized in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) by the American Psychiatric Association.

However, the history of conflict-related PTSD is long and varied and can be traced back to the ancient world. One of the first-known...
Smart Homes and the Internet of Things (01/21)
In Gish Jen's The Resisters, people live in AutoHouses, internet-linked homes that are capable of performing certain automated tasks for their inhabitants, such as cleaning up dropped objects and regulating temperature, but that are also used for government surveillance. While the homes in Jen's novel operate at a much more advanced level...
Animal Assisted Therapy (11/20)
Throughout Ellen Cooney's One Night Two Souls Went Walking, there are several key scenes in which our narrator – a hospital chaplain – observes therapy dogs at work. The book comments on the grace and importance of the service these animals provide for patients, from aiding recovery to providing comfort in someone's final ...
10 Important Inventions of Thomas Edison (11/20)
Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor. He held at least 1,093 patents and constantly invented new things at his famous laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Of the hundreds of ideas that sprung from his mind, here are 10 of his most important inventions:
  • Electrical vote recorder: This device was Edison's ...
Instagram (11/20)
In Megan Angelo's Followers, the protagonist uses Instagram, a photo and video social networking application, to elevate her roommate to the status of 'influencer'—someone who has enough of an audience (aka 'followers') that sponsors will pay them to mention their products or services. Instagram has two million advertisers, and with...
Alchemy Across the Ages (10/20)
Since the start of recorded history, as Jake Wolff's debut novel The History of Living Forever makes clear, humans have sought the elixir of life that would confer immortality. The ancient Greeks fantasized about finding ambrosia, the mythical nectar of the gods, said to be sweeter than honey; while the Chinese have eaten Lingzhi, the '...
The Transit of Venus (08/20)
Replica of the HM Bark Endeavour The HMS Endeavour, the eponymous subject of Peter Moore's book, was purchased by the British Navy in 1768. One of its missions was to transport a group of scientists to Tahiti where they could make astronomical measurements during a rare event called the Transit of Venus.

Venus is the third brightest object in the night sky, after ...
Artificial Intelligence (08/20)
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an idea that extends to ancient times, when Hephaestus — a character in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Hera — used his skills as a blacksmith to create mechanical servants. Despite this longstanding fascination, it was not until the 1950s that AI became a feasible technology with the invention...
The Rise of Workplace Automation: 10 Shocking Facts (07/20)
It's no secret that rapid innovations in technology have drastically changed the way we work. But are these changes always for the better? Here are 10 shocking facts about the rise of automation in the workplace, taken directly from the pages of Emily Guendelsberger's On The Clock.


  1. According to a 2013 study from Oxford University, 47 ...
Fake Science (07/20)
In The Great Pretender, former New York Post investigative reporter Susannah Cahalan uncovers evidence that Stanford University psychologist David Rosenhan fabricated at least some of the details in his famous 1973 paper 'On Being Sane in Insane Places.'

If true, this certainly wouldn't have been the only time a high profile researcher...
Emerging Infectious Diseases (06/20)
In Rory Powers' debut novel Wilder Girls, the students at the Raxter School for Girls are suffering from a mysterious illness called 'the Tox,' but other than knowing what the effects are and that some people from the outside world are working on trying to help them, they have no idea what is causing it, or what it even is.

How real ...
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