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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (10/21)
The plot of Jess Walter's novel, The Cold Millions, revolves around the actions of the newly-formed Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Spokane, Washington in 1909.

The groundwork for the IWW was laid by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a union formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1886. That organization's purpose was to ensure ...
Simone Weil (1909-1943) (10/21)
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez takes its title from the writing of Simone Weil, an influential French philosopher and intellectual whose work was unusual for incorporating both left-leaning politics and religious traditions.

Weil was born in Paris on February 3, 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. Her family was well-off and ...
Vietnam War Draft Lottery (10/21)
One of the ethical debates presented in Jonathan Frazen's Crossroads concerns the United States' use of the draft to supplement its troops during the Vietnam War.

Conscription, commonly known as the draft in the United States, is a term of mandatory enlistment in national service, generally in a country's military. It's been employed ...
The Parchman Ordeal (10/21)
Richard Grant's The Deepest South of All examines the aftermath of slavery in the Deep South through the lens of Natchez, Mississippi. One clear inference that can be made from his Natchezian narratives is that the past must be confronted before it can lay dormant in its grave. Unfortunately, history is often written with its authors ...
The Electrification of Rural Ireland (10/21)
The personal events of Niall Williams's This Is Happiness are sparked by the impending arrival of electricity to Faha, a tiny hamlet in rural Ireland. The gradual electrification of this largely rural country was a decades-long process that extended over much of the middle part of the 20th century and that has been called the Quiet ...
The 1918 Flu Pandemic (10/21)
Often referred to as the Spanish Flu, the 1918 flu pandemic is one of the deadliest viral outbreaks the world has ever seen. Hitting its peak at the tail-end of World War I, record-keeping was poor by modern standards, but it is estimated that some 500 million people (about a quarter of the world's population at the time) became infected ...
The Fall of Constantinople (10/21)
Parts of Anthony Doerr's novel Cloud Cuckoo Land take place during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE. Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) had long been an important trading hub by the time it was officially established by Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 CE. The ruler moved his government to the city, and it ...
Ronaldinho: The Savior of FC Barcelona (08/21)
Readers of Barcelona Dreaming will notice that soccer player Ronaldinho is mentioned frequently throughout the novel. Although not one of the chief protagonists, his presence in Barcelona — and by extension in the lives of the book's characters — is a constant.

Who is Ronaldinho and why does he feature so significantly in ...
The 1929 Women's War in Nigeria (07/21)
In a story called 'The Statistician's Wife' in Walking on Cowrie Shells, a Nigerian woman tells her white husband, 'In 1929, ten thousand Igbo women started ogu umunwanyi, the Women's War. When men do wrong, we 'sit on you.' It's part of our tradition, how we protest.'

Her description is accurate, but she is simplifying the historical ...
The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (10/21)
In Lightning Strike, William Kent Krueger includes an author's note about the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (also known as Public Law 959 or the Adult Vocational Training Program), which features as a tragic backdrop to the overall story. According to Krueger, the program was 'the brainchild of a group of men appointed by President Harry ...
Royal Succession in the Ottoman Empire (09/21)
When we think about royal succession, we typically think of princes, and European history is rife with dramatic steps that monarchs took to ensure they had a male heir. But this devotion to primogeniture, or the succession of the oldest son, was not universal in the early modern world. So, while Henry VIII was upending his entire kingdom ...
Eleanor of Aquitaine (09/21)
In Lauren Groff's novel Matrix, the protagonist Marie (based on 12th century poet Marie de France) spends the majority of her life pining for Eleanor of Aquitaine. This real-life queen of France and England serves as Marie's foil and the source of considerable turmoil, as both women seek to hold and maintain power over their very ...
POW Camps in the U.S. During World War II (09/21)
In Leah Weiss's All the Little Hopes, the Brown family's North Carolina farm receives an influx of laborers in the form of captured German soldiers sent from the nearby prisoner-of-war (POW) camp. Some readers may be surprised to learn that there were many such camps in the United States during World War II, and that it was not uncommon ...
W.E.B. Du Bois (09/21)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (aka W.E.B. Du Bois) was a noted author, historian, activist and sociologist as well as a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His philosophies play an important role throughout Honorée Fannone Jeffers' novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois; each ...
Margaret Sanger and the Founding of Planned Parenthood (09/21)
In 1916 in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood, three women opened a clinic providing information about birth control. Despite the fact that birth control has existed in various forms for millennia, at the time it was illegal to share such information, and within 10 days the clinic was shut down and the three women — Margaret Sanger, Ethel...
The First Coed Colleges in the U.S. (08/21)
In Yale Needs Women, author Anne Gardiner Perkins explores the circumstances surrounding Yale University's decision to go coed in 1969, and the experiences of its first female students. Yale's change in policy was hardly revolutionary, as some colleges and universities in the U.S. had been coed since the 19th century.

Oberlin College ...
Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle (08/21)
In Footnotes, Caseen Gaines explores the production of Shuffle Along, the first all-Black musical to become a runaway success on Broadway. The show's appeal and popularity are credited in part to the talents of songwriting team Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, who had a history of collaborating that predated their exceptional work on Shuffle...
Joan Miller, Unlikely Spy (08/21)
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of An Unlikely Spy, fiction mirrors reality with a protagonist whose escapades parallel those of a real MI5 spy, Joan Miller.

Don't worry, An Unlikely Spy strays from the real-life story just enough in the end for me to assure you there are no spoilers here.

Joan Miller was ...
The United East India Company (07/21)
In the prologue of The Devil and the Dark Water, Stuart Turton writes:

In 1634, the United East India Company was the wealthiest trading company in existence, with outposts spread across Asia and the Cape. The most profitable of these was Batavia, which shipped mace, pepper, spices, and silks back to Amsterdam aboard its fleet of ...

Social Class and the Iranian Revolution (07/21)
Nazanine Hozar's debut novel Aria opens in 1953 Iran and concludes nearly three decades later in 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Her narrative weaves together threads from across mid-20th century Iran's complex and diverse social, economic and religious groups. Class ...
Women in Uganda (07/21)
In A Girl Is a Body of Water, set in the 1970s-'80s, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi presents a compelling protagonist named Kirabo who is coming of age in Uganda and learning what it means to be a woman from her grandmother, aunts and other women in her village. Like most cultures, Ugandan society is largely patriarchal in structure. Women ...
The Bielski Partisans (07/21)
In The Forest of Vanishing Stars, persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe take shelter in the Naliboki Forest, located west of Minsk in contemporary Belarus. The area, then known as Byelorussia, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 at the same time as Germany invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that established a non-...
Elinor Smith (07/21)
Great Circle features an account of a fictional early aviatrix named Marian Graves, and author Maggie Shipstead inserts snippets of aviation history throughout the narrative. One woman frequently mentioned is Elinor Smith, aka 'The Flying Flapper of Freeport.'

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City in 1911 to parents who...
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (07/21)
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, having been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union.

The Rosenbergs met in the Young Communist League in 1936 and married in 1939. Julius worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps as an engineer, and though Ethel (né...
The "Lost Cause" Myth and Its Physical Legacy (07/21)
Following defeat and widespread destruction in the Civil War, people in the former Confederate states set about rebuilding their communities and coping with the enormity of their loss. This effort included physical and psychological measures, such as building cemetery monuments and establishing Confederate Memorial Day to honor fallen ...
The Wreck of the Royal Tar (06/21)
The wreck of the Lyric and Fidelia Hathaway's swim to shore in The Last True Poets of the Sea are fictional, but there are indeed nearly one thousand shipwrecks off Maine's rocky coastline, all with stories of their own. Some involved passenger ships like the Lyric; others were military or commercial vessels. Some wrecks are visible, ...
Viktor Orbán and Hungary's "Illiberal Democracy" (06/21)
In Surviving Autocracy, Masha Gessen places the presidency of Donald Trump in an international context, drawing comparisons with other world leaders who have demonstrated a penchant for authoritarianism and oligarchy. One of these leaders is Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has been the subject of scrutiny and ire (but ...
Mathinna and the British Treatment of Aboriginal Australians (06/21)
In The Exiles, Christina Baker Kline tells the stories of three women caught up in the British colonization of Australia and the nearby islands (which today form the Commonwealth of Australia). One of these stories is that of a young Aboriginal girl named Mathinna. Although Kline has embellished on what is known about Mathinna's life to ...
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) (06/21)
The narrator of Rivka Galchen's novel Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is Katharina Kepler, mother of noted astronomer Johannes Kepler. Kepler was born in 1571 in Weil der Stadt, Württemberg, a German territory within the Holy Roman Empire. His father, whom Kepler pronounced 'an immoral, rough and quarrelsome soldier,' was a ...
Chinese Passengers Aboard the Titanic (06/21)
In Luck of the Titanic, we get a glimpse into the lives of Chinese passengers and workers aboard the famous 'unsinkable' ship, including the xenophobia, racism and classism they face. At the beginning of the novel, author Stacey Lee explains that there were eight real-life Chinese passengers on the Titanic, of whom six survived. While ...
Cultural Recognition of the Tulsa Race Massacre (06/21)
In The Ground Breaking, Scott Ellsworth notes that for many Americans, the first exposure they received to the events of 1921 in Tulsa came from a dramatic portrayal on an episode of the HBO series Watchmen that aired October 20, 2019. The show received credit for spurring a renewed interest in the Tulsa Race Massacre in the lead up to ...
Village de L'Est and Hurricane Katrina (06/21)
When the Vietnamese family depicted in Things We Lost to the Water arrives in New Orleans, they move into an apartment building called Versailles located in the eastern part of the city. The setting is based on the real-life Versailles Arms public housing project in the neighborhood of Village de L'Est, which attracted a large Vietnamese ...
Real-Life Forgers of World War II (06/21)
While Eva, the gifted young Jewish forger in Kristin Harmel's The Book of Lost Names, may be a fictional character, the work she did and the risks she took were realities during World War II. Two of the more notable forgers — heroes who saved hundreds of Jewish lives — were Adolfo Kaminsky (1925-) and Alice Cohn (1914-2000).

...
Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 (06/21)
In Of Bears and Ballots, Heather Lende reflects on the contributions of Elizabeth Peratrovich to Alaskan history during a community event celebrating the activist's life.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) worked tirelessly to achieve equality for Alaskan Natives. Those familiar with Peratrovich likely know of her role in passing the ...
Caribbean Immigration to the United States (06/21)
In Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, one of the main characters is a Caribbean immigrant working as a taxi driver in New York City. While the island depicted in the novel is fictional, people hailing from the Caribbean make up a large portion of the immigrant population in the U.S.

The individual islands in the Caribbean are all distinct in...
Sterilization or Genocide? Eugenics in North Carolina (06/21)
In The Unfit Heiress, Audrey Clare Farley sets the case of San Francisco socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt against the backdrop of the American eugenics movement. In the age of eugenics, which lasted approximately from the 1920s to the 1940s, 30 states embraced laws allowing involuntary sterilization. North Carolina was one of the worst, partly...
Belle da Costa Greene (07/21)
Belle da Costa Greene was an American librarian who ran the private library belonging to banker John Pierpont Morgan (better known as J.P. Morgan) and later to his son. During her time working for the Morgans, Greene acquired many rare books, manuscripts and other items for her employers, ultimately contributing to what is now an ...
Classical Music and the Cultural Revolution (06/21)
In Swimming Back to Trout River, Dawn and Momo are united by their love of music during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, particularly Western classical music. There is a special significance attached to a bust of Beethoven within the novel. Beethoven was seen as a revolutionary symbol throughout 20th century China, since ...
The Guatemalan Civil War (06/21)
The narrator of Francisco Goldman's autobiographical novel Monkey Boy, like Goldman himself, was a journalist who reported on the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutal war began in 1960 and lasted a total of 36 years. Over 200,000 were killed or 'disappeared,' more than 600 villages were attacked or completely destroyed by the army and 150 ...
Kurdish Women Fight for Freedom (05/21)
Kurdistan is a mountainous region that includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. The Kurds' territory was first partitioned between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires in the 17th century. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne at the end of World War I divided the region into its current configuration. Despite its geographic size and a ...
John Wycliffe and Lollardy (05/21)
In Mary Sharratt's historical novel Revelations, the protagonist is tried for heresy when suspected of preaching the tenets of Lollardy, a medieval religious movement that deviated from the Roman Catholic Church's approved doctrine.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in Europe, led by a ...
Mabel Dodge Luhan (05/21)
Rachel Cusk reveals through a note at the end of her novel Second Place that the book is based on Lorenzo in Taos, a 1932 memoir by Mabel Dodge Luhan recounting the time the author D.H. Lawrence spent with her in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan, whose full name was Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (as the result of multiple marriages), was a...
The Red Cross in World War II (04/21)
The Red Cross is one of the aid organizations that plays a role in Monica Hesse's novel, They Went Left. Because so much of Europe was decimated after the war — phone service and many railways had been largely disrupted, for example — the Red Cross provided more than just medical care to Holocaust survivors, wounded soldiers ...
The WASPs Fight for Recognition (04/21)
Katherine Sharp Landdeck's The Women with Silver Wings chronicles the experiences of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) that flew planes across the U.S. during World War II, bringing aircraft and supplies to military bases and even training male pilots that would later fly in combat. They also tested out new bomber planes when the ...
The Murder of Freda Ward (04/21)
In Carmen Maria Machado's memoir In the Dream House, she writes of her abusive relationship with another woman and the lack of scholarship and cultural representations available on the subject of abuse in queer relationships in general. Having researched the subject exhaustively, she provides snapshots of examples throughout the book, ...
The Demographic Impact of Colonialism in the Americas (04/21)
In the United States, the term 'colonies' typically conjures images of pilgrims eking out homesteads and log cabins in the woods, or soldiers in tri-cornered hats fighting the mighty British at the birth of the American republic. Yet, the colonization of the 'New World,' as Europeans called it, began well before these early settlements in...
Mademoiselle in the Days of Betsy Talbot Blackwell and the Barbizon (04/21)
I may well be the only woman who regrets not having lived in the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Sure, a woman was barely respected in her own kitchen, but she lived in the days when you still got dressed up to go to the grocery store. She lived in the days when there was still money in writing, when flight attendants passed...
The Woman's Peace Party (04/21)
In The Women of Chateau Lafayette, New York socialite and war supporter Beatrice Ashley Chanler is often at odds with the Woman's Peace Party (WPP), an organization that opposed war in general and the United States' entry into World War I in particular.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, sparking a conflict that ...
Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S. (04/21)
Jack Livings' debut novel The Blizzard Party revolves around an incident that occurs during the historic 'Blizzard of '78,' a massive storm that hit the northeastern United States February 5-7, 1978, burying New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area under feet of snow. (This was a particularly harsh winter, ...
The Black Dahlia Murder (04/21)
In Windhall, the murder of Hollywood starlet Eleanor Hayes is the unsolved crime of the century. Eleanor's friend and movie director Theodore Langley was initially accused of the crime, but he was never charged, and speculation abounds as to what exactly happened on that unfortunate night. Although Eleanor Hayes and her murder are ...
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