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Beyond the Book Articles
Medicine, Science and Tech

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Predictions and Paradoxes: Famous Technology Theories (03/20)
Marc-Uwe Kling's novel Qualityland, which is set in a European country in the near future, incorporates plot points based around human interactions with machines. Throughout the book, references are made to economic, technological and robotics theories that were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries as scientists began to speculate ...
Immunoassay: A Medical Diagnostic Test (02/20)
As reported in John Carreyrou's book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, Elizabeth Holmes's company Theranos produced a device that it claimed could run a medical diagnostic test called an immunoassay on a very small amount of blood.

An assay is a procedure for measuring the amount of, or presence of, a specific ...
The Potential Dangers of Consumer DNA Testing (02/20)
Early on in Inheritance Dani Shapiro agrees to order a DNA test through Ancestry.com along with her husband after he suddenly becomes interested in genealogy. The results of Shapiro's kit happened to be life changing, upending everything the memoirist thought she knew about her family history. Her experience is extraordinary, but there ...
Earworms: Why Do We Get Songs Stuck in Our Heads? (01/20)
In one of The Wrong Heaven's most memorable stories, the narrator feels she is gradually losing her mind when she cannot get the song 'Hand in My Pocket' by Alanis Morissette out of her head. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as an 'earworm.' The word has a multi-strand history: Apparently, in ancient times, dried and ground earwigs...
Leprosy (01/20)
In Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the main character is forcibly taken from her mother and put up for adoption because her mother was diagnosed with leprosy. Also called Hansen's Disease, leprosy affects a person's skin and peripheral nerves causing a loss of sensation and tissue degeneration. Those impacted may experience the ...
How the Cure for Tuberculosis Led to the Development of Anti-Depressants (01/20)
Sometimes inventions are derived by chance. In The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression, Edward Bullmore notes that the first antibiotic treatment of tuberculosis (TB) led to the creation of the world's most widely used antidepressant drug: Prozac.

Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease that most severely ...
What We Know, and Don't Know, About Sleep (11/19)
In The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, an illness is spreading that causes everyone infected to go into a deep sleep with heightened brain activity that is suggestive of dreaming. Sleep and dreams are central to the novel, but there is a lot we don't know about both.

Different stages of sleep can be assessed through the use of an ...
Imaginary Friends (11/19)
One of the most memorable characters in The Adults is not one of the titular adults, but a four-foot-tall purple bunny named Posey. Posey is seven-year-old Scarlett's imaginary friend, and - like a real person - he has fears, desires and opinions. But how normal are imaginary friends?

A study from the University of Oregon suggests that...
Medicine and World War I (10/19)
The Winter Soldier shines light on the desperate measures taken to save lives during a war that produced casualties in the millions. When Lucius Krzelewski arrives in the small Eastern European village of Lemnowice, Sister Margarete informs him that she has lost many soldiers to typhus (typhoid fever) and that chronic infections of lice ...
Is There Room for the Amateur in Modern Scientific Research? (10/19)
Scientific discoveries were once often made by amateurs (often self-educated, curious members of the upper class), who carved out disciplines based on their interests in fields such as medicine, astronomy, physics and natural history, to name a few. The word 'amateur' has a Latin etymological root – amator – meaning 'lover.' ...
STEM Fields Lack Diversity (06/19)
Esi Edugyan's Washington Black becomes an apprentice to a man of science and cultivates a far-reaching understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts – something that would never have been expected of a child born into slavery. He contributes his great mind to the aeronautical pursuits of his teacher as well as to the ...
Types of Stroke (06/19)
Most strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels, either directly in the brain or traveling from elsewhere in the body to the brain; these are referred to as ischemic strokes. A minority are caused by ruptured blood vessels (hemorrhagic strokes). It is important for doctors to identify the specific type of stroke that a patient has ...
Metals and the Human Diet (06/19)
Toby Fleishman, of Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, is a hepatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the liver, gall bladder and pancreas primarily. At one point in the novel, he diagnoses a patient with a genetic disorder called Wilson's disease. This rare condition causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain ...
U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock (05/19)
You have a job interview at 9:30. You plan to leave at 8:50. It's really only a 10-minute walk, but the path cuts through pleasant tree-lined neighborhoods and you know you'll take extra time meandering. Right now, it is 8:45 – or around 8:45 anyway. The DVR time atop the TV says 8:46. The microwave and oven times both say 8:47. And...
Schizophrenia-focused Labs and Research Centers (04/19)
Like the lab where Grace and her father work in An Na's The Place Between Breaths, scientists around the world are hard at work researching the causes of schizophrenia and investigating potential cures. Here are a few of the labs and research centers that include schizophrenia as one of their primary areas of inquiry:

Duke ...
Eye-Gaze Computers (04/19)
Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband Simon, who had Motor Neurone Disease, communicated using a type of adaptive technology known as an eye-gaze computer. The author mentions its use as a critical part of their lives throughout her memoir, I Found My Tribe.

Adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology and while the two terms are often...
Brain Cancer in Childhood (02/19)
In Luke Allnutt's novel, We Own the Sky, five-year-old Jack Coates is diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor.

According to the American Cancer Society, brain tumors are 'masses of abnormal cells in the brain or spinal cord that have grown out of control.' The American Brain Tumor Association estimates that 4,600 children and ...
The Birth of Moving Pictures (01/19)
Although the main characters in Melanie Benjamin's historical novel The Girls in the Picture are just breaking into the nascent film industry in the early 1900s, actual moving pictures had been around for decades. It all began in the United States, shortly after the American Civil War.

In the early 1870s, British born Eadweard ...
Herbalism (12/18)
Educated author Tara Westover's Idaho family runs Butterfly Express, a successful business selling essential oils and other herbal remedies. Her mother, LaRee Westover, trains herbalists and is the author of a book on herbalism, Butterfly Miracles with Essential Oils. Throughout her childhood, Westover was treated with foraged herbs ...
The Internet Era: Did You Know? (11/18)
In How the Internet Happened, author Brian McCullough provides details about the visionaries and startups that created the modern iteration of the Internet, giving his account character and dimension and providing a more complete picture of Internet-era history. Here are a few such details:

  • The term 'information superhighway' didn'...

Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor (11/18)
In Happiness: The Crooked Road to Semi Ever After, the author's newborn has a rare blood disease and requires a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Bones have soft tissue at their core called marrow; marrow contains immature or undifferentiated cells known as stem cells. There are two main types of stem cell: one produces bone, ...
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (10/18)
At one point in The Wife Between Us, the main character claims to have experienced Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. She states, 'It's when you become aware of something—the name of an obscure band, say, or a new type of pasta—and it seems to suddenly appear everywhere.'

The phenomenon (pronounced badder-mainhoff) is also known as...
Coma (10/18)
The central character in Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a woman in a coma.

A coma is defined as a prolonged state of unconsciousness during which a patient is completely unresponsive to stimuli such as light, sound or even pain. The person appears to be asleep but cannot be awakened.

The condition is generally caused by ...
Stanley Milgram's Experiment (10/18)
Hubert Mingarelli's characters in A Meal in Winter have to dehumanize an entire race of people in order to justify carrying out Hitler's mass genocide during World War II. The narrator of the story even goes so far as to resent the Jews because of the very details that remind him of their humanity – 'a piece of embroidery, ...
The Benefits of Vaccines (09/18)
Vaccines are responsible for the global eradication of smallpox, rinderpest, and soon, it is hoped, polio and measles. Despite the backlash against vaccines, which has caused the occasional reemergence of German measles and chickenpox, new scientific advances promise to tackle scourges like malaria, HIV and cancers.

The World Health ...
Personal Device Assistants (08/18)
In Judith Newman's To Siri With Love, one of the book's chapters conveys how important the personal digital assistant has become to the author's son, Gus.

According to Britannica.com a personal digital assistant (PDA) is 'a handheld organizer used to store contact information, manage calendars, communicate by e-mail, and handle ...
Forensic Psychology (08/18)
A forensic psychologist for the FBI, Dr. Abby Walker, is one of the two narrators of Emma in the Night. Her understanding of the thought process of the missing girls' narcissistic mother allows her to fill in the gaps in Cass's story.

The American Board of Forensic Psychology identifies forensic psychology to be 'the application of the...
Chronic Lyme Disease (08/18)
Porochista Khakpour's Sick is a memoir of living with chronic Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection, specifically a bite from a tick bearing the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. B. burgdorferi is one of just a few spirochetes, or 'spiral-shaped' bacteria, to be identified to date. (The pathogen that causes ...
Borderline Personality Disorder (08/18)
In her debut novel, The Blind, A.F. Brady, a licensed psychotherapist, has created a memorable narrator, Sam James, who suffers from borderline personality disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the handbook used to describe and diagnose mental disorders, lists ten forms of personality disorder ...
Obesity and Childhood Trauma (07/18)
In Hunger, Roxane Gay associates her ongoing struggle with obesity to the rape she endured at age twelve. Psychological studies indicate that she is not alone. Dr. Vincent Felitti of the Kaiser Permanente Department of Preventative Health in San Diego has been tracking this connection since the 1980s and has found ample evidence that ...
An Incurable Disease Affects Identity (06/18)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is not shameful and shouldn't be something that is kept secret. However, an MS diagnosis plays with the mind – and that is before the hallucinations and trembling and tremors begin – and patients can feel like they did something wrong. The Inward Empire: Mapping Out the Wilds of Fatherhood and Mortality...
Prosopagnosia - Face Blindness (05/18)
Jack Masselin, the young man in Jennifer Niven's Holding Up the Universe, suffers from prosopagnosia, commonly called face blindness. It's a neurological disorder that affects the way people perceive faces – or more precisely, the way they can't. What that means is that Jack cannot even recognize his own face – as...
Homo Neanderthalensis (05/18)
Claire Cameron's The Last Neanderthal stirs interest in our closest evolutionary relative, Homo neanderthalensis.

Evidence from both fossil and genetic research suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans evolved from a common ancestor between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived in Europe and southwestern and central ...
Survivor's Guilt (05/18)
In How To Be Safe, Tom McAllister charts a year in the life of his main character Anna and the rest of the community of Seldom Falls, in the aftermath of a mass school shooting carried out by a student. Anna, a teacher who was fired from the school, struggles to cope with many aspects of the tragedy, not least her feelings of guilt that ...
Genetic Testing (04/18)
Mercies in Disguise discusses the impact of a rare genetic disease on a South Carolina family.

Genetic testing's history dates back to the discovery of chromosomes – the part of the cell that contains the genes which control how a living thing grows – in the late 1800s. It was early in the 1900s that inherited diseases were...
The Evolving Definition of PTSD (04/18)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a central theme in Elizabeth Strout's novel Anything is Possible, a condition clearly experienced by Vietnam vet, Charlie Macauley, but also by other characters. Returning to Amgash, the scene of her abusive childhood, causes Lucy Barton to have a full-blown panic attack. Lucy's parents may also ...
Radium: The Dangerously Radioactive Element (03/18)
The high demand for radium is at the heart of Kate Moore's book, The Radium Girls.

Radium is a naturally occurring element, most of which is found in uranium ore; it makes up approximately 1 part per trillion of the Earth's crust, making it our planet's 84th most common component. One ton of uranium ore can contain as little as 0.14 ...
The American Healthcare System: Did You Know? (03/18)
In An American Sickness, Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal provides many intriguing details about the U.S. healthcare system. Here are a few:

  • The first employer-sponsored health insurance plan was developed in Dallas, Texas in 1929 as a sort of pre-paid hospitalization account offered to teachers in the area. It evolved into Blue Cross ...
Betelgeuse (02/18)
In Edgar and Lucy, author Victor Lodato often uses the symbolism of stars, especially Betelgeuse.

Betelgeuse is a star in the Orion constellation, one of the most easily recognized groups of stars in the night sky. Orion's Belt consists of of three stars (also known as the Three Kings or the Three Sisters). Betelgeuse, officially ...
Can Organ Transplants Change Who You Are? (01/18)
A staggering number: over 34,000 organ transplants were performed in the U.S. in 2017 alone. Another staggering number: 115,000 people are currently waiting for life-saving organ transplants in the U.S. As the medical techniques and success rates continue to improve, organ transplants are quickly becoming a tremendous lifeline for some of...
Talking About Grief With Teenagers (11/17)
Grief is hard to deal with at any age, but Benjamin Alire Saenz's novel The Inexpliable Logic of My Life reminds us just how much harder it can be when on the cusp of adulthood, especially when it is caused by the loss of a parent. Sal, Sam, and Fito each experience the loss of a parent or loved one in a different way, and the ...
Did You Know? Eight Alzheimer's Facts (11/17)
Joseph Jebelli's In Pursuit of Memory is full of fascinating facts about Alzheimer's disease. We've picked out a handful you might not know already.

  1. The specific mutation associated with Alzheimer's disease was discovered on chromosome 21 in 1991. Because Down's syndrome also involves chromosome 21 (specifically, an extra copy of it ...

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (11/17)
In Perfect Little World, Dr. Preston Grind and his team of researchers conduct the 'Marshmallow Experiment' on the children living at the Infinite Family Project. A marshmallow is placed before a child and he/she has a choice: eat it right away, or wait fifteen minutes and receive two marshmallows instead of one. The experiment was ...
Biosphere 2 (10/17)
In Oracle, Arizona, sits one of the more intriguing experiments in 'closed-system' science ever devised: Biosphere 2, which forms the backdrop for the novel, The Terranauts. Originally built to demonstrate that humans could construct and live sustainably for long periods in an artificially created world, the huge glass domes that make up ...
Persistent Cloaca (08/17)
Miss Jane is based on Brad Watson's great-aunt's life. She, like the central character in his novel, suffered from a genital birth defect. But what exactly was it?

In an interview at W.W. Norton, Watson says:

As was common in her day (she actually lived from 1888-1975, but it applies to my Jane's day and time, too), no one ...

Obsessive Personality (06/17)
In Thomas Rydahl's The Hermit, protagonist Erhard Jørgensen displays an obsessive personality. He is mildly obsessed with the finger he is missing on one hand and so obsessed with having ten fingers he resorts to a rather unconventional solution. Additionally, he develops an unhealthy obsession with prolonging a young woman's life. ...
Niemann-Pick Type C (05/17)
A terminal diagnosis is difficult for any family to accept, but it's especially hard when the patient is a teenager. In Lara Avery's The Memory Book, Sammie McCoy is a bright and successful teen. She's going to a national debate tournament. She's her high school's valedictorian. She's going to NYU. Suddenly, though, Sammie begins to ...
Deadly Viruses (05/17)
Ebola, the viral disease at the core of Steven Hatch's medical memoir, Inferno, is among the most deadly diseases in the world. It is not alone, however, in its lethality; other viruses are at least as likely to be fatal.

There's some debate as to the 'most fatal' virus in the world since it depends on what criteria you use (e.g., ...
False Memory (04/17)
One of the primary plot drivers for What Lies Between Us is the concept of false memory.

As the term implies, false memory is when a person recalls an event or a detail that has not happened or is untrue in some particular way. While research into why false memory takes root is still being conducted, a number of factors have been ...
Emotional Support Animals (03/17)
In Spill Simmer Falter Wither, One Eye provides a lot of emotional support to Ray.

Anyone who has owned a pet knows how much they can contribute to emotional well-being — studies at University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine's Research Center for Human and Animal Interaction show that interacting with ...
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