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Beyond the Book Articles
Society and Politics

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Discriminatory "Coffin Problems" in the USSR (08/21)
In The Nesting Dolls, Natasha dreams of entering the mathematics program at Odessa University. However, after correctly solving all of the initial equations on her entrance exam, she is presented with an additional equation, one that seems impossible to answer. When she cannot answer it, Natasha is failed and refused admission. ...
Reparations for Black Americans (08/21)
In White Too Long, Robert P. Jones makes clear that his view of racial justice includes a 'tangible economic accounting' of the ways in which churches have benefited from slavery and white supremacy, as well as restitution to the Black community. In doing so, Jones joins a large chorus of activists, politicians and others calling for ...
Miles of Freedom (07/21)
In his memoir, When Truth Is All You Have, Jim McCloskey writes about several of the people his organization, Centurion, has helped free from prison after they were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Richard Miles, founder of the nonprofit Miles of Freedom, is one of those McCloskey helped to exonerate.

On May 16, 1994, Deandre ...
Trauma and Abuse in Foster Care (07/21)
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 ...
The Importance of "Tech Company" Status (07/21)
In Big Vape, Jamie Ducharme describes an existential crisis at the heart of Juul; while its founders (and many of its employees) saw the business as a tech start-up, to the Food and Drug Administration (and much of the public) it looked like a manufacturer of tobacco products. This distinction is not a mere matter of brand identity —...
English and American Coverture Law (07/21)
As is made clear in Kate Moore's The Woman They Could Not Silence, the laws of coverture were to blame for the abuse, institutionalization and subsequent poverty Elizabeth Packard suffered at the hands of her husband and other men in her community. Brought to North America by English colonizers, 'coverture' was a common law that made ...
Neurodiversity (06/21)
The term neurodiversity refers to the diversity of human brains and minds — the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. Neurodiversity encompasses both neurotypical individuals whose neurocognitive functioning is considered by societal standards to be 'normal,' as well as neurodivergent individuals who ...
Healthcare: U.S. vs. Europe (06/21)

As discussed in Marty Makary's The Price We Pay, the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and it spends more money per person on healthcare than any other developed country in the world. Recent data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that America spent $10,209 per capita ...

Stone Mountain Confederate Monument (06/21)
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 ...
Sweatshops in Asia (06/21)
In Joan Silber's Secrets of Happiness, Ethan's father, Gil, has a lucrative career in the women's clothing industry, frequently jetting off to parts of Asia to oversee the outsourcing of production. Elsewhere in the book, a character named Bud takes a job with an organization in Cambodia campaigning to improve working conditions in ...
La Bestia: A Perilous Journey for Migrants (06/21)
In Jenny Torres Sanchez's young adult novel We Are Not from Here, three Guatemalan teenagers embark on a dangerous journey to the United States, part of which takes place on top of La Bestia (The Beast). This is the commonly used name for the train that spans the length of Mexico frequently boarded by migrants seeking to bypass ...
The Ethics of Human Enhancement (05/21)
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 ...
The Evolution of Air Travel and Airport Security (05/21)
The action in Julie Clark's novel The Last Flight begins as two women decide to switch identities at an airport and each board the other's flight. One of the two airplanes crashes into the ocean before reaching its destination.

In 2019, over 4.5 billion trips were scheduled on commercial airplanes worldwide, and 1.1 billion of these ...
Open Adoption in the United States (05/21)
Around 140,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year. This equates to nearly 100 million Americans having some experience of adoption within their immediate family. While the process was once shrouded in secrecy and stigma for many, it is much more commonly discussed and celebrated today. In fact, many U.S. agencies now encourage ...
Russia's Government Resigns: What Does it Mean? (05/21)
On January 15, 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that would diminish the power of future Russian presidents. Notably, the change would also increase his ability to control Russia from behind the scenes when term limits force him to step down in 2024, when he will be 71.

A little context. Before becoming the most ...
The 1992 "Pepsi Riots" in the Philippines (05/21)
In The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio, a friend of Maxima and Excel's named Roxy recalls the 1992 Pepsi Riots in the Philippines, saying, 'Pepsi kills, believe me.' When Excel comments that he has never heard of the riots, Roxy retorts, 'Know your history.' Excel, who was born on a plane between the Philippines and the U.S., ...
Federal Raid on Mingo County, West Virginia (05/21)
In 1988, Mingo County, West Virginia appeared in headlines across the country, with reports of staggering corruption in the southwest part of the Mountain State. There were allegations that elected officials paid for votes, firefighters set property ablaze for insurance payouts, and mom-and-pop trailer shops peddled pot, LSD and PCP.

...
The Effects of Teenage Pregnancy (04/21)
In With the Fire on High, protagonist Emoni has a baby at the end of her freshman year of high school and makes some life-changing choices. Her strong support system, which not every teen mother has, gives Emoni an excellent chance at keeping both her life and the life of her daughter on a positive track.

With her mother dead and her ...
Whitewashing Black Leaders (03/21)
In Morgan Parker's debut YA novel Who Put This Song On?, the narrator (named after and loosely based on Parker herself) has a political awakening as she learns about famous figures from the history of the Black struggle for liberation and civil rights. Doing her own research, Morgan is surprised to discover that the stories and legacies ...
Changes to Female Education Pioneered by Women in 19th Century America (03/21)
The plot of The Illness Lesson revolves around the establishment of a Massachusetts school for girls in 1871 by a man with ideas about female education that are progressive and experimental for this era. The protagonist's father Samuel Hood believes that his teenage students should be offered the same curriculum as their male peers, ...
Tree Law in the United States (03/21)
In Therese Anne Fowler's A Good Neighborhood, a lawsuit over a tree precipitates a series of tragic events. It is not uncommon for a tree to be the basis of a dispute between neighbors. Fallen trees or branches often affect neighbors, but remain the responsibility of the person whose property contains the tree's trunk. If the trunk is on ...
Talking About Race Matters (03/21)
Years ago, comedian Chris Rock told a joke: 'All my black friends have a bunch of white friends and all my white friends have one black friend.' It is one of those bits of humor where the laughter leaves you reflecting on a sadder truth. Particularly, that racial segregation is still normalized in white communities. To have more than one ...
Ponzi Schemes (03/21)
In Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel, the protagonist finds herself ensnared in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street investor. The 'Ponzi scheme' takes its name from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant and businessman who lived in Boston in the early 20th century. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investments in which a business will ...
American Complicity in Chinese Authoritarianism (02/21)
Under President Bill Clinton, the United States agreed to allow the People's Republic of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The deal was finalized under President George W. Bush in December 2001. It was believed at the time that international trade would help depose one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world like ...
The Laogai Research Foundation (02/21)
In her debut book, Made in China, Amelia Pang cites the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) as a source for much of the information she presents about China's Laogai system (pronounced like loud-guy but without the 'd'). The organization's website explains:

'The Laogai system is the Chinese network of prisons, factories, and farms ...

Anti-Chinese Sentiment Past and Present (02/21)
In Last Night at the Telegraph Club, some of the pressure that Lily faces in her family life is related to their precarious situation as immigrants, specifically as Chinese immigrants in the aftermath of the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism. Chinese immigrants have a long, often obscured history in the United States, which includes ...
Habitat for Humanity (02/21)
In Maria Padian's How to Build a Heart, the narrator and her family are offered the opportunity to own a brand-new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller while they were living on a communal farm in Americus, Georgia. They understood that decent housing is probably a ...
Hidden Dangers: War's Legacy of Unexploded Ordnance (02/21)
Author Paul Yoon's novel Run Me to Earth describes Laos as a beautiful landscape marked forever with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in the wake of war from 1964 to 1973. Concealed explosives impact every character in the novel. The legacy of landmines and other unexploded munitions endures in the 21st century, not just in Laos but ...
American Intervention and Counter-Narcotic Efforts in Afghanistan (02/21)
The events of Jasmine Aimaq's debut novel, The Opium Prince, play out in the lead-up to the 1978 Saur Revolution, in which the Afghan president Mohammed Daud Khan was assassinated and overthrown by the Soviet-backed Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the PDPA). The president had himself come to power in 1973 by overthrowing...
Transphobia in Gender-Critical Feminist Ideology (02/21)
In Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters draws attention to the views of feminists who discriminate against transgender women through the thoughts of Reese. 'In old books she had read,' Peters writes, 'Reese remembered women saying that if your husband doesn't beat you, he doesn't love you, a notion that horrified the feminist in Reese but ...
West Virginia's Mysterious Cold Cases (01/21)
In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg examines an unsolved double murder that took place in West Virginia in 1980. Her focus is not so much on the murder itself but on the long term impact on the community as a whole. In the USA, an estimated 200,000 murder cases since the 1960s remain unsolved. Each one of these leaves a ...
Collecting, Hoarding and Minimalism: America's Obsession with Stuff (01/21)
Heart of Junk, the debut novel from Luke Geddes, is set in the fictional Heart of America antique mall in Kansas. The vendors in the mall hope to make some money selling off bits of their collections—Barbies, postcards, glassware, furniture and more. Geddes uses each collection to tell the reader something about its owner, as well ...
The Family Disease: The Effects of Substance Abuse on Children (01/21)
Danielle Geller's memoir Dog Flowers portrays how both of her parents struggled with substance abuse. Her mother, Tweety, drank heavily, stopped cold turkey and suffered seizures. Her father, Michael, had a long history of drug use, psychotic episodes and violence. National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data estimates that 8.7 ...
Libraries and Other Imagined Communities (11/20)
In The Book Collectors, a band of Syrian resistance fighters work together to salvage and share books from their bombed-out suburb of Damascus. The book focuses on the protagonists' newfound passion for reading, which helps them cope with the hardships of everyday life during very dark times.

Though it's nice to think that these young...
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) (11/20)
Jasper Fforde's novel The Constant Rabbit is a not-so-thinly-veiled allegory of racism and xenophobia that takes place in an alternate version of the United Kingdom. The governing party in the book is the UK Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP), led by Nigel Smethwick, who seems to be based on Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK ...
Charles Koch and Market-Based Management (10/20)
Charles Koch, the driving force behind Koch Industries and heavily quoted in Christopher Leonard's book Kochland, developed a philosophy he dubbed 'Market-Based Management' (MBM). Koch considers these principles a guide to all of life and not just a business strategy. For this reason, all his employees are required to not only memorize ...
Nuclear Disarmament and World Peace (10/20)
In Life Undercover, CIA recruit Amaryllis Fox is tasked with disrupting the trade in black-market weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear materials. Since the first (and, to date, only) nuclear bombs to be used in war were dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has experienced a proliferation of ...
The "Central Park Five" (The Exonerated Five) (10/20)
On the night of April 19, 1989, several dozen teen boys went into New York City's Central Park as a loose group. Early on the morning of April 20, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white investment banker, was found in the park; she had been raped and badly beaten. She remained in a coma for two weeks and retained no memory of the attack.

...
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (10/20)
In his memoir Children of the Land, author Marcelo Hernandez Castillo recounts applying for and receiving DACA. This is a temporary immigration status that alleviates some of his worst fears about being deported as an undocumented college student.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program administered by the United ...
Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Malaysia (10/20)
Tash Ah's We, the Survivors is centered around a Malaysian man who has recently been released from prison, where he served time for murdering a Bangladeshi migrant worker.

Malaysia and Bangladesh are two Southeast Asian countries that have enjoyed a long and mostly amicable history; records show that Bengalis (native to Bangladesh) ...
A Brief History of Trade Unions in the U.K. (10/20)
In Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club, the residents of the Coopers Chase retirement community are, in some ways, very much like any other group of retirees. They fawn over their grandchildren, they gather to discuss various aches and pains, and they frequently misunderstand technology. And like many other retirees, they also have ...
Migration, Labor, and the Philippines (09/20)
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&#...
Gamification and AI: Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go (09/20)
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, ...
Income Inequality in New Orleans (09/20)
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 Reality (and Rarity) of False Sexual Assault Allegations (08/20)
The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen features a character, 17-year-old Nofar, who makes a false claim of attempted rape as payback against a man who verbally abuses her in an ice cream parlor. Though it's a compelling premise that leads down a horrifying road for all involved, this isn't the kind of book that should be read as an ...
Interactive Narratives in Digital Media (08/20)
Computer-based role-playing games (RPGs) of the sort Zachary covets in The Starless Sea became popular in the early 1980s with the introduction of Wizardry and Ultima. Both of these games series borrowed liberally from table-top role-playing games, in particular, Dungeons & Dragons, that had become popular during the 1970s. In turn, ...
The Dehumanization of Refugees in Europe (08/20)
According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 40,000 refugees arrived in Europe in the first seven months of 2019, the vast majority from the war-torn nations of Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco and Iraq. Another 668 have died or gone missing on their journey. The total number of arrivals for 2018 was 141,472, with 2,277 dead or missing. While ...
Norway's Halden Prison (08/20)
Since its opening in 2010, Halden Prison, located in Norway's Østfold region, has been held by many who believe in the necessity of prison reform to be a model institution due to its humane treatment of inmates and emphasis on rehabilitation. In Waiting for an Echo, Dr. Christine Montross visits Halden for a tour and contrasts ...
Racism and Ronald Reagan's 1980 States' Rights Speech (08/20)
In Some Go Home, author Odie Lindsey references then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's 'states' rights' speech as the vehicle that 'had re-radicalized Hare's power, breathing life into his limp narrative.' Lindsey implies that the candidate's speech allowed the fictional character Hare Hobbs to create an illusion of power for himself...
Whitehead's Disturbing Inspiration: The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (07/20)
Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys sketches a horrific portrait of a brutal reformatory school, the Nickel Academy, where staff members routinely torture and terrorize the institution's teenage students. The events of the story are unsettling, and even more so given that Nickel is a fictionalized version of Florida's first juvenile ...
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