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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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Tea's Role in World History (04/24)
Few plants have impacted world history as profoundly as Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. Jessica J. Lee, in her book Dispersals: On Plants, Borders, and Belonging, describes how tea is integral to both seemingly disparate halves of her family tree—her Welsh paternal grandparents and her Taiwanese maternal family all loved tea and ...
Lucrecia the Dreamer (04/24)
The fictional heroine of Leigh Bardugo's novel The Familiar interacts with several characters based on people who really did live in Spain during the 16th century. One of these is a young woman based on the figure Lucrecia de León, also known as 'Lucrecia the Dreamer.' Like the main character Luzia, Lucrecia comes under government ...
The Crimean War and Disease (04/24)
The Crimean War of 1853–1856 pitted the Russian Empire against an alliance of British, French, Turkish and Sardinian troops on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. Britain entered the war in March 1854 to protect its trading interests with Turkey, while France saw an opportunity for revenge against the Russians after Napoleon'...
The Founding of the ACLU (04/24)
In Max Wallace's absorbing biography of Helen Keller, After the Miracle, the author illuminates Keller's often overlooked dedication to the fight for civil rights. Through her lifetime, she was involved with a wide number of causes and organizations, from joining the Socialist Party to campaigning against U.S. involvement in World War I, ...
British Women in the Second World War (04/24)
Jacquelin Winspear's heroine, Elinor White, was a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) during the Second World War, one of several British organizations in which women enlisted to aid the war effort.

When war broke out in 1939, millions of men left the workforce in Great Britain to enlist, leaving behind their wives, sisters...
US Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (04/24)
Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray narrates the life of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet. Perkins was a tireless supporter of workers' rights and is credited with drafting and lobbying support for some of the most critical parts of the New ...
Olivia de Havilland and the Studio System (04/24)
In the novella "Eve in Hollywood," in Amor Towles's Table for Two, Eve Ross becomes close friends with the actress Olivia de Havilland. It is 1938, and De Havilland's popular new film The Adventures of Robin Hood has just been released. All is not well in paradise, however, for the young star falls prey to blackmailers, ...
The Highland Clearances (04/24)
In Clear, the third novel from Carys Davies, an impoverished presbyterian minister reluctantly takes part in the Highland Clearances, a series of mass evictions that took place in the north of Scotland between 1750 and 1850, driven in part by the restructuring of British society during the Industrial Revolution and the collapse of the ...
The Kyshtym Nuclear Disaster (04/24)
While Chernobyl may be the first incident that comes to mind when someone thinks about nuclear disasters in the 20th century, this event actually had a precursor in the USSR: the 'Kyshtym disaster' of 1957. Basing her novel The Half Life of Valery K on this event, author Natasha Pulley's fictional 'City 40' is modeled on Chelyabinsk-40, ...
Emma Goldman (04/24)
In Biography of X, author Catherine Lacey imagines a world in which Russian-born anarchist and progressive activist Emma Goldman had a legitimate political career in the United States, serving as governor of Illinois and then chief of staff to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this capacity, Goldman ushered in profound systemic ...
The Harlem Renaissance (03/24)
Tia Williams' novel A Love Song for Ricki Wilde contains flashbacks to the Harlem Renaissance, considered a golden age for Black culture and art in the United States. This movement, centered in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood, took place between the 1910s and 1930s.

During the period known as the Great Migration, when large numbers...
The Real-Life Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (03/24)
Joel H. Morris's novel All Our Yesterdays imagines the lives of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, before the events that unfold in Shakespeare's tragedy. Many are familiar with the tale but may not realize the couple are based on individuals who really did live in what is now Scotland during the eleventh century.

Scotland was...
From Stagecraft to Spy Craft: Celebrity Spies (03/24)
The history of celebrities dabbling in espionage is a fascinating one. As Ronald Drabkin illustrates in Beverly Hills Spy, famous people often have opportunities to gather intelligence from high-value sources. Who would not want to socialize with a beautiful or handsome star?

One of the most audacious celebrity spies during World War ...
Elián González (03/24)
In Say Hello to My Little Friend, main character Izzy Reyes traveled by raft from Cuba to the United States in 2003 at age seven with his mother, who drowned during the trip. It is mentioned in the novel that his Tia Teresa exploits the sympathy of teachers who note the similarity of the circumstances between Izzy's journey and that of ...
Notable Female Boxers (03/24)
Rita Bullwinkel's novel Headshot depicts the intensity and intimacy of a girl's boxing tournament. Although women's boxing was only officially introduced to the Olympics in 2012 and was banned by the USA Boxing organization before 1993, accounts of women boxing date back to the 1700s. Here are just a few of the trailblazing women boxers ...
The Goiania Accident (03/24)
In the title story of You Glow in the Dark, scrap metal scavengers uncover a strange glowing capsule in the ruins of an abandoned hospital. Dazzled by the beautiful blue particles that glow in the dark, they spread radioactive poison throughout their community, leaving illness and death everywhere they go. When the accident is finally ...
Hertha Ayrton (03/24)
The friendship between Hertha Ayrton and Marie Curie is explored in Anne Michaels's multigenerational novel Held. Although Marie Curie is a household name, Aryton's fascinating life is likely unfamiliar to most readers.

Born in 1854 in Portsea, England, Hertha Ayrton was born as Phoebe Sarah Marks. Levi Marks, a clockmaker from...
A History of the Texas Rangers (03/24)
In Elizabeth Gonzalez James's novel The Bullet Swallower, a group of Texas Rangers pursue the protagonist, Antonio Sonoro, with maniacal zeal. The most dangerous member of the posse tortures and murders innocent civilians as a warning to Sonoro, crossing the Rio Grande and attacking Mexican citizens with impunity. Set in the mid-1890s...
The Pendle Witches (03/24)
'Witch. The word slithers from the mouth like a serpent, drips from the tongue as thick and black as tar. We never thought of ourselves as witches, my mother and I. For this was a word invented by men, a word that brings power to those who speak it, not those it describes. A word that builds gallows and, turns breathing women into corpses...
Canadian Nurses in World War I (03/24)
Katherine Arden's The Warm Hands of Ghosts, in addition to focusing on the violence and trauma of the World War I trenches, is also about the female nurses who treated wounded soldiers.

Protagonist Laura's point-of-view sections devote ample description to the sordid day-to-day of serving as a hospital nurse in WWI. Already sent away ...
Infamous Prison Insurrections (02/24)
In The Ascent, Adam Plantinga imagines what it would be like to climb through six levels of a prison in utter chaos: cell doors opening, guards hiding or dead, inmates murdering each other and so much worse. It does not require fiction, however, to imagine these hellscapes: history has many examples of such mayhem. Below are two of ...
The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 (02/24)
In Muriel Barbery's novel One Hour of Fervor, her characters watch the television in horror as news breaks of a huge earthquake in Japan's Tohoku region and its resulting tsunami. Though they are safely on high ground far from the impacted area, they are immediately fearful for loved ones, and reminded all too starkly of just how quickly ...
The Summerland Disaster on the Isle of Man (02/24)
In the novel Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli, photographer Quentin Morrow was scheduled to go on a photography retreat on the Isle of Man before his death. In the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is an island with its own parliament, customs, history and a population of over 80,000. While technically a Crown Dependency (owned by ...
Margaret Cavendish and Vitalist Materialism (02/24)
In her biography of 17th-century author Margaret Cavendish, Pure Wit, Francesca Peacock shines light on often-overlooked aspects of Cavendish's life and work, including her contributions to Western philosophy. From the beginning of her philosophical career, she believed in materialism. Simply put, this is the theory that everything that ...
The Vietnam Women's Memorial (02/24)
In Kristin Hannah's The Women, nursing student Frances "Frankie" McGrath joins the Army Nurse Corps and is shipped overseas to serve as a combat nurse in the Vietnam War. Upon returning home, Frankie spends years running from her trauma until she eventually finds a way to share her experiences. At the end of the novel, she ...
The Freedom Summer Murders (02/24)
In Nyani Nkrumah's novel Wade in the Water, set in the early 1980s, one character's father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who participated in the (real-life) murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner on June 21, 1964.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, purportedly guaranteed Blacks the right to vote. The ...
Little Vienna, a Jewish Haven in Shanghai (02/24)
In Aleksandar Hemon's novel The World and All That It Holds, Rafael Pinto is a Sephardic Jew in Sarajevo at the beginning of the 20th century. When World War I erupts, he's flung east—first to Galicia, in what is now Ukraine and Poland, to fight for the Austro-Hungarian Empire; then to Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan, into a ...
The Life, Work and Trial of Oscar Wilde (02/24)
Born in 1854 Dublin to a pair of writers — a father who was a well-known surgeon but also published works on architecture and Irish folklore, and a mother who wrote poetry under a pseudonym — Oscar Wilde went on to himself become an acclaimed poet, playwright and novelist, though his tragic fate overshadowed his literary and ...
Midwifery in Colonial America (02/24)
Martha Ballard, the heroine of Ariel Lawhon's The Frozen River and a real-life 18th-century midwife, left behind a diary that remains one of history's best sources on midwifery in late colonial America. In addition to this work of historical fiction, Ballard is the subject of historical monographs and of a PBS special on her life. Along ...
Iran Air Flight 655 (01/24)
On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a Navy missile cruiser stationed in the Persian Gulf, saw on its radar an Iranian aircraft. This aircraft was a passenger airplane, flying from Tehran to Dubai with 290 civilians on board, including 66 children. But the crew of the USS Vincennes identified the airplane as a fighter jet and fired two ...
The Camp Logan Mutiny (01/24)
Before he was hanged for his alleged role in the Camp Logan Mutiny, Army Pfc. Thomas Hawkins wrote a letter to his mother and father. It was both poignant and simple. 'When this letter reaches you, I will be beyond the veil of sorrow. I will be in heaven with the angels…I am not guilty of the crime that I am accused of but Mother it...
Phoolan Devi: The Real-Life "Bandit Queen" (01/24)
In Parini Shroff's The Bandit Queens, Phoolan Devi (pronounced POOH-lann DAY-vee) is a feminist symbol of strength, poise and honor to abused women, her portrait hung high in main character Geeta's home. Devi, known as India's 'Bandit Queen,' is the only real-world figure highlighted throughout the novel. So who exactly was she?

Devi ...
Operation Long Jump (01/24)
The Nazi Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch centers on an alleged plot by the Germans during World War II to kill or kidnap the three major world leaders representing the Allied powers: American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill and premier of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin.

The plan, ...
The Legacy of Sappho (01/24)
Selby Wynn Schwartz's debut novel After Sappho reimagines the lives of early 20th century lesbian authors and artists. The novel tells the story of how these women ignited a radical feminist movement inspired by the ancient Greek poet Sappho, broke free from conventions to pursue their own desires and creativity, and flourished within...
Black Jockeys: The Foundation of American Horse Racing (01/24)
On its face, the end of the Civil War should have marked a time in which African Americans would be afforded freedom. But the end of slavery did not mean the end of Black oppression. Many white Americans built their fortunes on, and were heavily entrenched in, slavery's infrastructure. These individuals, as well as others, bore great ...
Protesting Operation Alert (01/24)
Alice McDermott's novel about the humanitarian efforts of American corporate wives living in Vietnam in the early '60s, Absolution, takes a detour to New York City in the previous decade, where Tricia, the protagonist, and her radicalized friend Stella participate in sit-ins against the compulsory Cold War duck-and-cover drills.

In ...
Traian Popovici: The Man Who Saved Jews in Czernowitz (01/24)
The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold tells the story of Frederieke 'Rieke' Teitler, a young Jewish girl trying to survive the atrocities of Nazi-controlled Romania. Throughout the war, many of Rieke's friends are deported to Transnistria, a small country to the east where Jews were sent to live in camps and ghettos. Rieke and her family, ...
Chivalry and the Black Prince (01/24)
In Dan Jones' novel Essex Dogs, readers see fictionalized portrayals of royalty and knights from the point of view of the foot soldiers under their command in the early years of the Hundred Years' War (a series of wars interspersed with truces between the French and English that began in 1337 and lasted for 116 years). Far from the ...
East Germany's Secret Police: The Stasi (01/24)
The main character in Dan Fesperman's spy thriller Winter Work is a colonel in East Germany's HVA, a unit of the infamous East German security service commonly referred to as the Stasi.

After World War II, the United States and the USSR vied for influence over Europe, with most countries in the western half of the continent joining ...
The Freedom Swimmers (01/24)
May Chen, the main character in Joanna Ho's The Silence That Binds Us, explores her identity through her family heritage, including the experiences of her paternal grandmother, who arrived in Hong Kong as a young refugee from mainland China. Faced with formidable hardships during the Cultural Revolution, she left everything behind and ...
The C.R. Patterson & Sons Company (01/24)
Krystal Marquis mentions in a brief author's note that her debut novel The Davenports was 'inspired by the story of the C.R. Patterson & Sons carriage company, founded by a proud patriarch who escaped enslavement to become a wealthy and respected entrepreneur.'

Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery on a plantation in Virginia...
Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat Project (01/24)
Lauren Grodstein's novel We Must Not Think of Ourselves was inspired by the Oneg Shabbat Project, a World War II archive compiled and hidden by the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Established and run by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, the archive contained a wide variety of documents recording daily life in the Ghetto.

Ringelblum was born in ...
American Involvement in Korea During and After the Korean War (01/24)
The novel Skull Water by Heinz Insu Fenkl is divided between the experiences of the character Big Uncle during the Korean War in 1950 and his nephew Insu's adolescence in the 1970s. It shows how alliances and protections formed during the war gave rise to familial ties and cultural integrations in the postwar era. Insu's identity as the ...
Free People of Color and Their Roles in the American Slave Trade (12/23)
In Jesmyn Ward's Let Us Descend, one of Annis's enslavers is a woman. Typically, when people think about enslavers and those perpetuating slavery as a system, they often think about white men. Some may find it surprising that women played a significant role in the slave trade, too. Furthermore, white people were not the only ones who ...
The Women of the Ku Klux Klan (12/23)
Timothy Egan's book A Fever in the Heartland mentions the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, a group of women who were actively aligned with the mission of the KKK during its 1920s resurgence. In 1923, the WKKK formed in Little Rock, Arkansas. The WKKK had chapters in every state and at least 500,000 members over the course of its existence. ...
Conditions for People with Disabilities in 1930s America (12/23)
James McBride's novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store follows a community as they work together to save a young deaf Black boy, Dodo, from unjust institutionalization in 1930s America. Though Dodo's disability is physical, the state authorities are determined to place him in a mental institution called Pennhurst. In the context of ...
The Fires of 1970s New York City (12/23)
In her novel Remember Us, author Jacqueline Woodson draws from her own experiences growing up in 1970s New York. Her protagonist's hometown of Bushwick is plagued by housefires, landing it the callous nickname 'The Matchbox.'

Bushwick wasn't the only community affected by numerous fires at the time. Records show that by mid-1974, the ...
Sun Yat-sen (12/23)
In the novel The House of Doors, Lesley Hamlyn volunteers as a translator for Sun Yat-sen's political movement in Penang, Malaysia. Sun Yat-sen is one of the foremost figures in Chinese political history. By leading China from an empire to a republic, he also became an important inspiration to other independence movements of twentieth-...
American Entertainers Visiting the Vietnam Warfront (11/23)
In California Golden, Mindy has a transformative experience touring Vietnam during the war that makes her question her chosen career in show business. The Vietnam War was a transformative experience for America in the 1960s, impacting virtually everyone in some way. While the involvement of the United States in Vietnam was a profoundly ...
A Brief Overview of the Good Friday Agreement (11/23)
Francesca McDonnell Capossela's novel Trouble the Living is in part set in Northern Ireland during the waning days of the Troubles, a 30-year period of violence brought mostly to an end by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

In 1921, at the end of the Irish War of Independence, Ireland was partitioned into ...
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