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Beyond the Book Articles
Medicine, Science and Tech

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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 ...
How Is Mental Illness Passed through Families? (02/17)
In Imagine Me Gone, John and his son Michael, both struggle with mental illness.

Significant research has been conducted to search for the genetic basis for mental disorders. Family linkage and twin studies are particularly revealing. At present, there is no simple answer as to how mental illness might pass through families; ...
Early-onset Alzheimer's (02/17)
'Dementia in its varied forms is not like cancer, [which is] an invader. But Alzheimer's is me, unwinding, losing trust in myself, a butt of my own jokes and on bad days capable of playing hunt the slipper by myself and losing. You can't battle it, you can't be a plucky 'survivor'. It steals you from yourself.'

This is ...
Lung Cancer (12/16)
The late Paul Kalanithi, a non-smoking neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with squamous cell lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is his autobiography.

'Cancer' is a name given to a collection of diseases in which a set of cells in the body begin dividing abnormally and without stopping. Unlike their healthy counterparts, cancer cells lack ...
Blind Runners (11/16)
'I don't need a saint to run with, just someone willing and able and most of all, fast.' When Parker, the main character in Eric Lindstrom's debut novel Not If I See You First, begins to contemplate making the switch from running on her own in an empty field at the crack of dawn to joining the track team, she knows she'll need ...
The Challenges of Genius (11/16)
In A Doubter's Almanac, Hans Andret, a mathematical genius, checks into a rehab facility, seeking treatment for his addiction. In a counseling session, his therapist, Matthew, asks Hans why he suddenly brought his addiction out in the open and suggests that Hans wished to be caught.

When Hans protests that such a notion would be ...
Galvanism (11/16)
Who would have thought that one frog could have such a huge impact on science?

As bizarre as it sounds, that was exactly the case. In the late eighteenth century, a scientist named Luigi Galvani performed an experiment on a frog, making a slight cut just beneath the frog's skin to expose nerve cells. When the scalpel came into contact ...
PTSD: The Drone Pilot Version (07/16)
Societal awareness of PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – has certainly increased over the past several years. What was once a term familiar mostly to combat veterans and survivors of abuse, and their therapists, is now much more widely recognized. For most people outside the military and medical communities, the term ...
The Human Brain (06/16)
British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, the author of Do No Harm, operates on the brain.

The Mayfield Clinic provides this succinct description of the organ: 'Nothing in the world can compare with the human brain. This mysterious three-pound organ controls all necessary functions of the body, receives and interprets information from the ...
Writing as Therapy (06/16)
In Julia Pierpont's Among the Ten Thousand Things, eleven-year-old Kay secretly writes fan fiction based on characters in the American television series 'Seinfeld.' It is how she distills events that are happening around her. After she is accidentally exposed to pages of salacious emails, witness to her father's infidelity, she is at...
The Turing Test (05/16)
The Turing test judges a machine's ability to exhibit human-like intelligence, as envisioned by Alan Turing (1912–1954), one of the characters in Louisa Hall's novel Speak. The test is conducted as a written conversation between a human and a machine, externally monitored by a human observer. The conversational partners exchange ...
Forgetting the Past? (05/16)
In Adam Silvera's YA debut, More Happy Than Not, Aaron Soto, a poor Hispanic teenager, goes through a lot of difficult situations. His dad committed suicide when Aaron was younger. He doesn't really love the girl he thought he once loved. His best friend, Thomas, is his complicated love interest. Yeah, life is tough for our ...
Pandemics (04/16)
Pandemics – global outbreaks of disease across countries and continents – have been a feature of human history for centuries: as inexplicable and frightening as the contagion in Emily Shultz's novel The Blondes, where women with blonde hair are turned into crazed maniacs. While The Blondes is clearly satirical and we shouldn't...
Cleveland "Old Probs" Abbe (04/16)
One of the many people profiled briefly in Rain: A Natural And Cultural History, is Cleveland Abbe, a pioneer in American meteorology. Born in New York City in 1838, the eldest of seven siblings, Abbe would go on to earn professional degrees in astronomy. But as he advanced his studies, he increasingly came to realize the intersection ...
Plague-Era Medicine (04/16)
As Oswald, the hero of Plague Land tells it, most fourteenth-century medical practices were hit-or-miss experiments, with the misses resulting in dead patients and blood everywhere. The spread of the Great Mortality (Bubonic plague, or as it was later known, 'The Black Death') inspired all manner of medical trial and error, as Europe ...
Selective Mutism (04/16)
Mary Costello's Academy Street follows the life of Tess Lohan, an introverted Irish woman who often feels anxious in social settings, largely preferring the world of books and imagination to external interactions. At various times in her life, she finds herself at a loss for words, in situations that '[take] all her talk away.' After...
Conversion Disorder (03/16)
Jamie Henry, the narrator of Complicit is given many diagnoses and explanations for the physiological symptoms he fights on a daily basis. At one point he is told that he has Conversion Disorder which seems to explain many of his troubles, including the paralysis of his hands when facing a stressful situation.

Conversion Disorder is a ...
M. E. Thomas and the Life of a Sociopath (03/16)
When the sociopath is revealed at the end of Every Fifteen Minutes, it's truly shocking because it doesn't seem possible. Nothing in the entire novel points to this particular person – or so it seems. But rereading after finding out who it is, throws the clues into sharp relief, sparking wonder at how they could have been ...
Photosensitive Seborrhoeic Dermatitis (03/16)
In Girl in the Dark, we hear a lot about how Photosensitive Seborrhoeic Dermatitis has impacted Anna Lyndsey's life but not so much about the condition itself.

Basic Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is, according to the Mayo Clinic, a common skin condition. Similar to eczema, it is characterized by red, inflamed skin, usually on the scalp,...
Lupus: A Disease of Body and Mind (02/16)
The autoimmune disease known as Lupus erythematosus, or Lupus, which forms a major thread of the plot in Doctor Death, affects approximately 1.5 million people in the United States, and some five million people worldwide (estimated). Ninety percent are women who experience onset sometime between the ages of 15 and 44, and about twenty ...
Child Abandonment Syndrome (11/15)
Throughout the novel, Lila, the protagonist suffers a deep ongoing shame resulting from early childhood abuse and neglect. Although it is never articulated in the story, there is a name for this response: Child Abandonment Syndrome.

In a 2010 article published in a blog, 'The Many Faces of Addiction,' for Psychology Today, Claudia ...
Medical Tourism (11/15)
Internal Medicine is but one view of the U.S. medical system. According to The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation looking to foster a better health care system in the USA, the U.S. ranked last in a survey of healthcare in 11 developed nations - behind Canada, ranked at #10, and way behind Germany & Netherlands in a tie at #5, with ...
Controversial Psychiatric Practices (10/15)
The fictional Wargnier Institute in Bernard Minier's The Frozen Dead is, put simply, 'a place where they lock up murderers who've been judged insane.' When psychologist Diane Berg learns about the 'treatment' programs offered, her fears and concerns escalate. The experience of observing a patient being 'evaluated' makes Commander Servaz ...
Reducing the Use of Chimpanzees as Research Subjects (09/15)
Since the amount of shared genes between humans and non-human primates such as chimps is significant, the animals were once considered valuable test subjects in cutting-edge clinical studies. Essentially, because of this gene overlap, a trial medicine can be tested on a chimp and its subsequent effects used as a reliable signifier of that...
Asperger Syndrome (09/15)
The star of Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Effect, Don Tillman, is a unique character to say the least. His awkwardness in social settings, his overly logical and mathematical mind, his knack for offending people with blunt truths, and his tendency to obsess over the details of Rosie's pregnancy all combine to create a charming and ...
Chromesthesia (07/15)
Synesthesia, which manifests in many different forms, is a condition where two or more senses intertwine. For example, Thanial, one of the main characters in The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street, 'sees' music. For him, notes, voices and other sounds are perceived as specific colors. He has chromesthesia, a form of synesthesia where a person ...
Communicating With the Deafblind (07/15)
Deafblindness is either congenital (present from birth) or acquired later in life. It can be attributed to many causes including rubella, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and premature birth. Deafblindness is not one monolithic condition; it varies in severity or completeness: some people maintain limited use of one or both ...
The Extraordinary Brain of Henry Molaison (07/15)
One of the many stories from the history of research into memory and learning related by Benjamin Carey in How We Learn is the story of a man known to science and the world until his death in 2008 only by his initials, H.M.

When Henry Molaison of Hartford Connecticut, born in 1926, was 27 years old, he agreed to undergo brain ...
The Space Shuttle Program (06/15)
In Leaving Orbit, Margaret Lazarus Dean celebrates the utilitarian model of spaceflight as imagined by the Shuttle program, which was initiated in 1981.

Before Shuttle, during the 'heroic' era of spaceflight, small capsules were launched into space on the backs of rockets and disintegrated over the ocean upon the rockets' reentry and ...
Smells Like a Teen (06/15)
Nearly every character in Neil Smith's novel, Boo, is thirteen. Take a moment to remember back to when you were thirteen. First you might recall the sight of your thirteen-year-old self and your friends, maybe your old school. And then it hits you: that smell. It might not have been your body odor that so pungently fills the memory...
The Hawthorne Effect (04/15)
Nell Stone, anthropologist in Lily King's Euphoria, notices the Hawthorne Effect in her work. What is this? Where did it originate?

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Western Electric Company's management wanted to improve production at their Hawthorne Plant on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois. So they hired Elton Mayo, a consultant or '...
Cryonics (04/15)
In John Corey Whaley's young adult novel, Noggin, 16 year-old Travis Coates undergoes a head transplant. Yes, a head transplant. As in his head is severed from his old body and reattached to a new body. Sounds like science fiction, right? It is…sort of. Cryogenics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of the production ...
Neurofibromatosis (04/15)
Nature, in all its astounding wisdom, has graced the planet, specifically human beings, with millions of options when it comes to heritable genetic conditions. It is always exciting for expectant parents to anticipate whether their offspring will be the gleeful recipient of Mum's freckles or great-granddad's aquiline profile. On...
Tuberculosis and...Sherlock Holmes (04/15)
Did you know?

  • At its height tuberculosis killed 1 in 7 people
  • According to Thomas Goetz in The Remedy, TB may have been 'the most lethal disease in history, having claimed more than a billion lives since it was first identified in ancient Greece'
  • Two-thirds of active cases of TB would end in death
  • TB, like anthrax, is believed to ...

The Royal Society (03/15)
Gresham CollegeMany of the scientists discussed in A Garden of Marvels were members of The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Known today as simply The Royal Society, the group was founded in November 1660, and began as the Gresham College group – a loose collection of natural philosophers and physicians who started meeting ...
Was Jesus Bipolar? (02/15)
In The Good Luck of Right Now, the priest, Father McNamee, is bipolar and chooses to live with it free of medication. 'You know Jesus was most likely bipolar...what if Jesus had been medicated?' he says.

According the National Institute of Health (NIH), Mental Health website, 'Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depression, is a...
Unusual Phobias (02/15)
In My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel - journalist and editor of The Atlantic magazine - describes, in intimate detail, how stressful living with a phobia can be. According to the American Psychological Association, a phobia is a 'persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that is excessive and unreasonable,...
Insomnia (02/15)
Though Black Moon suggests an extreme scenario of a world without sleep, sleeplessness is a real problem in the United States. The World Health Organization defines insomnia as a 'repeated difficulty with sleep initiation, maintenance, duration, and/or quality of sleep and results in daytime impairment.' Insomnia is further categorized ...
Ahoy, MATEys! (02/15)
On June 25, 2004, in its third year, the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Competition, sponsored by NASA and the Navy, was underway at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Carl Hayden Community High School's team (see review of Spare Parts) was a part of this competition.

MATE, ...
A Peek Into Stuttering (01/15)
The author's note at the end of Paperboy recounts his own struggles with stuttering. He admits this story is largely autobiographical, which makes Little Man's description of his stuttering that much more poignant:

'The reason I hate talking to people who don't know me is because when they first see me I look like every other kid. Two ...

Urban Aquaculture (11/14)
Fan, the protagonist in On Such a Full Sea, works in a large fish tank. She tends to the fish that are being bred and makes sure the system is working in fine form. Such farms are part of B-Mor's economic system and the output they generate is shipped to the Charters beyond B-Mor's gates.

As the temperature of oceans continues to rise...
Somatization (11/14)
Somatization—the conversion of a mental state (such as depression or anxiety) into physical symptoms—is extraordinarily common, according to Dr. Brendan Reilly, who writes about it (among other health concerns) in his book One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of Medicine.

This broad medical term encompasses ...
Down Syndrome (11/14)
In Where The Moon Isn't, the protagonist's brother, Simon Homes, has Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is the most common genetic abnormality being present in one of every 691 births in the United States. All humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Down's is caused when the 21st set has a partial or a whole extra copy, which means that ...
Your Brain on Literature (10/14)
Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, 'Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind,' concludes that reading literary fiction can ...
Hydroelectric Power: Run-of-the-River Projects (10/14)
The Wallcreeper shows how complicated even seemingly benign environmental projects can be.

For example, the hydroelectric projects discussed in The Wallcreeper are what are known as run-of-the-river. They are smaller and carried out without the creation of dams. ROR stations are seemingly benign and widely perceived as less ...
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