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Beyond the Book Articles
Medicine, Science and Tech

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A Short History of Typhoid (03/14)
Typhoid is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. Approximately 400 cases are found in the U.S. per year (mostly due to traveling) but it is prevalent in the developing world where a staggering 21.5 million people are infected per year, and 200,000 of those people die. Here is a short history of its origins, ...
Subintentioned Death (03/14)
Ironically, the very thing that most parents hope for can turn out to be the very last thing that they want for their child. That is, most parents strive to raise a child who will, upon school graduation, get a job and move into his/her own place. But for this to happen the child must be ready to accept a certain amount of risk. After all...
Tay-Sachs Disease (03/14)
At the age of nine months, Emily Rapp's son Ronan was diagnosed with a deadly disease called Tay-Sachs. The disease is caused by the lack of a vital enzyme called hexosaminidase-A (Hex-A); the result is a progressive buildup of a fatty substance in nerve cells that causes destructive neurological decline and eventually death. There is no ...
The Electric Car in Its - Old and New? - Heyday (11/13)
Before there was Henry Ford's Model T, there was the Detroit Electric Car Company's Tornado. It is protagonist Will Anderson's pride and joy in D. E. Johnson's Detroit Shuffle. Johnson's fictional Anderson is supposedly the son of the actual founder of Detroit Electric, William C Anderson. Even today, the company is touted as one of the ...
Is the Warrior Gene a Predictor of Violence? (10/13)
Early on in The Dinner, we discover the reason Paul and Claire are meeting Serge and Babette for dinner: they are to discuss a problem facing their children, Michel and Rick. We know the boys have done something wrong. Then Paul mentions a genetic test that could—through amniocentesis—identify a mysterious and unnamed condition ...
Autism (09/13)
In Black Fridays, the main character, Jason Stafford, has primary care of his son, who is autistic.

Merriam Webster's Concise Encyclopedia defines autism as a 'neurobiological disorder that affects physical, social, and language skills. First described by Leo Kanner (1894 -1981) and Hans Asperger (1906 - 1980) in the 1940s, the ...
Dean Price and Biodiesel (07/13)
In The Unwinding, George Packer looks at the lives of a handful of people as a way of exemplifying the evolution (or in some cases, devolution) of American politics, economics, and culture. One of these people, Dean Price, came from a long line of poor tobacco farmers in North Carolina. As a young man, he was eager to escape his father's ...
Sources for Stem Cells (05/13)
At the heart of The Laws of Gravity is cord blood - full of potentially life-saving cells. But what is it exactly?

Cord blood is the blood left in the umbilical cord and the placenta after a baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut. Typically, this blood is discarded along with the cord and placenta. Cord blood, though, is full of ...
What is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy? (05/13)
Muscular Dystrophy encompasses a a group of usually inherited disorders that involve increasing muscle weakness and loss of muscle tissue over time. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a rapidly worsening form of the disorder that affects only males. The usual cause is a defective gene carried by the mother, but about one-third of cases ...
Daniel Kahneman (04/13)
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who, along with Amos Tversky, revolutionized economic theory in the 1970s and is widely regarded as one of the world's most influential living psychologist.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1934 to Lithuanian Jewish parents, Kahneman grew up in Paris, during which time his father was taken by ...
Mad Cow and Foot and Mouth Diseases (01/13)
In Graham Swift's novel, Wish You Were Here, the Luxton family twice loses their dairy herds to mass slaughter in the wake of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreaks. Two very distinct and separate diseases, BSE and FMD, when they surface in agriculture, can be utterly devastating to farmers and ...
Ethnology (01/13)
Ethnology is a section of anthropology that analyzes the differences between religion, language, technologies and other social structures of people as categorized by race, nationality or ethnicity. Its goals are broad – to understand the history of human beings and the creation of our various social norms (as defined by race, ...
Clockwork (10/12)
At the heart of Angelmaker is an immensely intricate clockwork device. When we hear the word 'clockwork' we generally think of old-fashioned non-digital timepieces. The term, however, refers to any mechanical device that uses a combination of springs and gears to function. In addition to wind-up watches and clocks, wind-up toys, old ...
Achondroplasia (07/12)
In Rachel DeWoskin's novel, Big Girl Small, Judy Lohden has achondroplasia, a genetic bone growth disorder that results in short-limbed dwarfism (responsible for about 70% of all dwarfism cases). The word 'achondroplasia' literally means 'without cartilage formation,' however, the term is a bit of a misnomer as the body of a person with ...
Alzheimer's Disease & Alice LaPlante (05/12)
Alzheimer's Disease
For more information about Alzheimer's, see the backstory to Still Alice.

Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante's debut novel, Turn of Mind has received an overwhelming amount of praise and has been selected by Indie Booksellers for the July 2011 Indie Next List.

Though this is her first novel, LaPlante is certainly ...
What is Cerebral Palsy? (05/12)
Melody has cerebral palsy. So does Mark, my camp counselor friend. Both of them are in wheelchairs, and are unable to walk, and need aid to talk and eat. But one of the children at the camp where I worked has cerebral palsy and he can walk and talk and eat just fine.

So then, what is cerebral palsy exactly?

Cerebral palsy ...
Amnesia (02/12)
Amnesia, also known as 'amnestic syndrome,' refers to a person's inability to retrieve memories or pieces of information from the brain and occurs when the areas of the brain responsible for recovering stored information become compromised by physical or psychological damage.

Several structures located deep within the brain, such ...
Treating Pedophiles (02/12)
Margaux Fragoso says in the afterword of Tiger, Tiger that one of the reasons she wrote the book was to bring attention to the need for treatment of pedophiles. The current system focuses on the treatment of the child victims, and punishment for the perpetrators. As a victim herself, she believes the best thing would be to find a way ...
Treatment of the Mentally Ill (02/12)
In Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts, while recovering from his ordeal, Frank Oldershaw is first held at a home for the mentally disturbed. Although the process used to treat him there seems brutal and oppressive to modern sensibilities, for the time period it was considered quite advanced and progressive.

Throughout the ...
The Frontiers of Alzheimer's Research (11/11)
The World Alzheimer Report estimates that there are upwards of 35 million people living with dementia worldwide, two-thirds of whom are women, with Alzheimer's accounting for about two-thirds of cases. By 2050 it is expected that 115 million people will be living with dementia.

In the United States there are approximately 5.3 million...
Heterochromia (11/11)
Pearl has one brown eye and one blue eye. Amiel says to her that this means 'tu eres de dos mundos. You are of two worlds.' Pearl's uncle says it means that she can see fairies and peaceful ghosts.


But what is it exactly?

Heterochromia simply means a difference in coloration and is caused by a relative excess or lack ...

Schizophrenia (09/11)
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that distorts a person's sense of reality. It impedes a person's ability to regulate his or her emotions and often makes socializing, decision making and logical thinking very difficult. As set forth by the US National Library of Medicine, there are multiple kinds of ...
Human Microbes (08/11)
In an article in The Daily Telegraph, Dr. Roy Sleator, a lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland, states that, 'We are, in essence, only 10 percent human. The rest is pure microbe.' In a June 2011 report, National Public Radio's Science Desk Correspondent, Robert Krulwich, agrees. Yes, he says, our bodies do indeed consist of...
Peanuts and Anaphylaxis (04/11)
When asked in an interview if there was any particular event that inspired Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross responded that: 'In 1995, my father told me the strangest, most suspicious story about my cousin, who had severe peanut allergies and was also morbidly obese. According to her husband, he arrived home to find her sitting at the kitchen ...
Flotation Tanks (04/11)
'My head will keep on racing throughout this, I have no doubt,' declares the speaker at the beginning of 'Saturday Teatime' as she embarks on her first experience in the device known as a flotation tank, sensory deprivation tank, or isolation tank. And as she predicts, her thoughts do indeed surge in multiple directions, dredging up ...
Social Darwinism (04/11)
It may seem that the concept of globalization is a very new one, and that the growth of free trade and its accompanying controversy belong to our era alone. In fact, the 1860s saw an explosion of trade between nations, accompanied by a doctrine of free markets unbridled by government intervention. Unlike today, though, many of the...
Mesothelioma & Familial Dysautonomia (04/11)
Two devastating diseases precipitate the health care crises of So Much for That. Glynis develops mesothelioma, a type of invasive cancer that is associated with exposure to asbestos. This type of cancer typically starts in the lungs but can affect the entire mesothelium - the tissue that lines many internal organs. Not only is ...
The Googol, the Googolplex and Other Really Big Numbers (04/11)

Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real 'wow, that's big,' time... Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here.
- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the ...

The Rockefeller Institute & The History of Penicillin (04/11)
The Rockefeller Institute
The Rockefeller Institute features prominently in A Fierce Radiance. While Dr. James Stanton and the other researchers depicted in the novel are fictional, the Institute is a real place dedicated to biomedical research.   It was founded in 1901 by John D. Rockefeller Sr., philanthropist and owner ...
Prime Numbers (04/11)
Prime numbers are apparently a big deal in the math world - a place I have visited but not inhabited often. Most of us probably remember that prime numbers are numbers only divisible by themselves and 1, but otherwise don't know (or care) much about them.

The ancient Greeks were the first to give serious study to prime numbers, as ...
HPV Vaccines (03/11)
Cervical cancer, the disease that killed Henrietta Lacks, strikes 11,000-13,000 women in the United States every year, killing 4,000. While the Pap smear (developed by Greek scientist Georgio Papanikolaou) remains the most widely used and effective method for detecting pre-cancerous cells on the cervix, a new vaccine protects women from ...
Artificial Photosynthesis (03/11)
Much of the science upon which Beard stakes his reputation (even though he may have gleaned it unethically) deals with the concept of artificial photosynthesis, a real proposed solution to energy consumption problems, one that Beard himself explains eloquently and convincingly in a speech to a group of businesspeople and investors. ...
It's All Relative (03/11)
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is, at its heart, about frames of reference. If I were in a dark, windowless train with no bumps that was going in one direction at a constant speed, then I would think I was standing still, but my sister on the train platform would see me speeding away from her. According to Einstein, if I then looked...
Is Perpetual Motion Just a "Dream?" (02/11)
In The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Prospero claims to have created a perpetual motion engine that can run his Zeppelin indefinitely; supposedly, it will never run out of energy, and will never need a new influx of energy. Is that possible in the real world? According to scientists, no. That doesn't mean that mankind hasn't tried to produce...
Traumatic Brain Injury (02/11)
Tai's fellow investigator and sometimes-bodyguard, Trey Seaver, is coping with the cognitive changes resulting from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that he received in a car accident which damaged his frontal lobe. While he has no lasting motor skill injuries, he is unable to display a normal range of emotions, and can be 'triggered' into a ...
Evolutionary Ideas Before Darwin (11/10)
The theory of evolution states that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor; complex creatures evolve over a long period of time from simpler organisms. Evolution is not concerned with the origin of Earth or of the Universe, but attempts to explain why different living things have developed and diversified since life ...
Too Much Happiness=Ecstasy? (11/10)
Munro's stories often contain mysterious elements that deepen their appeal, leaving the reader with something extra to savor, like a fine mint after an especially flavorful dinner. No story in the collection better exemplifies this than 'Too Much Happiness,' a tale brimming with sadness that nonetheless ends in ecstasy. The chemical ...
Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (11/10)
Although Tim Farnsworth's condition never receives an official diagnosis in The Unnamed, his relentless walking might seem to belong to the category of obsessive/compulsive disorders.

Obsessions are defined as recurrent, unavoidable thoughts, and compulsions are categorized as repetitive behaviors. Obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD) ...
Mary Anning's Fossils (11/10)
he cliffs and beaches of Lyme Regis, in Dorset on the south coast of England, are fertile hunting grounds for creatures who lived in what were equatorial seas in the early Jurassic period, around 190 million years ago. Here is a look at some of the fossil types Mary Anning discovers in Remarkable Creatures:

Ammonites are distant ...
Birth Control and Childbirth in the 19th Century (08/10)
Dorothea Gibson’s daughter-in-law says, 'They (fathers) do not become dissolved into parenthood the way we [women] do.' Truer words may never have been spoken – at least as far as the 19th Century was concerned.

Dissolved? Dorothea (Dodo) Gibson floundered under the toll of eight closely spaced children plus several ...
Hurricanes (06/10)
The term 'hurricane' is believed to originate with the Carib people of the West Indies (after whom the Caribbean was named). Historians believe that the Carib word huracan was probably derived from the Mayan storm god, Hunraken or the K'iche god of thunder and lightning, Hurakan. K'iche (in Spanish Quiché) is a part of the Mayan ...
Waardenburg Syndrome (04/10)
Half Italian, half-Scottish forensic expert Enzo Macleod has distinctive good looks: long hair with a streak of white pulled back in a ponytail, and eyes of different colors. This is because Macleod has a genetic syndrome, called Waardenburg Syndrome, affecting hair color, eye pigmentation and sometimes hearing. It's so named for the ...
Horology, the art of time (04/10)
Protagonist George Crosby's love for repairing clocks is a prominent theme in Tinkers, which includes references to a fictional 1783 book called The Reasonable Horologist.

Horology encompasses both the science of measuring time and the art of making time pieces.  Thus, horologists include watchmakers, clockmakers, scholars, ...
Preventing Drowning (04/10)
In Bird Lake Moon, the tragic drowning of Spencer's four-year-old brother haunts his family during their return visit to Bird Lake. As we approach the summer months, it is wise to ponder the following tragic statistics presented by the Orange County Fire Authority:

'Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-...
Parapsychology vs. Skepticism (03/10)
While the Washburn Library is a purely fictional invention, it does have an analog in the real world: the Rhine Research Center, once known as the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, and home to the Institute for Parapsychology until 2002. Formerly affiliated with Duke University, the Rhine now operates independently a short ...
Eating Disorders (03/10)
Lia's anorexia and Cassie's bulimia represent two of the three most common eating disorders identified by the National Mental Health Information Center. Ninety percent of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25, but they can also manifest in teenage boys, and adult men and women of all ages. It's estimated ...
Non-Traditional Cancer Therapies (03/10)
Cancer is the term used to describe any malignant growth or tumor caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division.  A cancer is described as Stage 4 when it has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. When we first meet Nicola, she has already undergone surgery and chemotherapy. Below are some of the ...
Acromegaly (02/10)
Truly Plaice, the protagonist of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, is referred to as a 'giant' even as a child. It is not until mid-way through the book that a physician provides the name of the disease that afflicts her: Acromegaly.

Acromegaly comes from the Latin acron, for extremity, and megas, meaning large. It was ...
The Hippocratic Oath (02/10)
The title, Cutting for Stone, refers to a line in the Hippocratic Oath, and to the last name of the three main characters, all of them surgeons. As Abraham Verghese quotes it, the line from the Oath reads 'I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest. I will leave this operation to be performed by ...
A Short History of Archeology (01/10)
The fictional John Somerville's interest in archeology was typical for his time. Most so-called archeologists of the period were, like him, self-taught because there were virtually no academic courses offered. Additionally, his desire to secure a rich benefactor to fund his excavations was standard operating procedure in the field; for ...
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