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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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Jonathan Wild: The Thief-Taker General (01/21)
In The Hocus Girl, set in the Northern England city of Leeds in the early 19th century, the three protagonists are thief-takers. They're hired to reclaim stolen property in exchange for a reward from the person who had been robbed. They acted as intermediaries, using their connections and intimidation techniques to get justice for crime ...
The Tiananmen Square Massacre (01/21)
One of the largest public squares in the world, Tiananmen Square lies in the heart of Beijing. It's named after a monumental gate built in the 1400s leading into the Forbidden City; Tiananmen means 'Gate of Heavenly Place.' Despite the serene undertones of the name, however, Tiananmen Square has long been a site of political unrest and ...
The Bombing of the Café de Paris (12/20)
Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile recalls how the Café de Paris, a London nightclub, was bombed shortly before Winston Churchill's daughter, Mary, arrived there for a planned night of dancing.

The incident, which killed at least 34 people and wounded many others, was part of the Blitz, a prolonged bombing effort carried out...
The Democrats, Race and the 1994 Federal Crime Bill (12/20)
In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi recalls his adolescence during the 1990s, frequently referencing comments made and policies enacted by President Bill Clinton. Author Toni Morrison famously called Clinton the 'first Black president,' a fairly controversial comment that was nevertheless frequently repeated by Clinton supporters ...
The Johnson–Jeffries Riots (12/20)
In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson describes how, in a caste system, challenges to the superiority of the dominant caste can produce 'an epic existential crisis.' This is particularly true for the people situated at the bottom rung of the dominant caste group (in the United States, working class or impoverished ...
Operation Babylift (11/20)
In April 1975, thousands of American troops, civilians and South Vietnamese refugees were frantically airlifted out of Saigon, representing the end of American military involvement in the Vietnam War. The images of the rescue were seared into the public consciousness.

The U.S. government felt that something good had to come out of all ...
The Luddite Protests (11/20)
In one narrative thread of Jeanette Winterson's Frankissstein, Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron discuss the rebellion of the Luddites, a secret organization in early 19th century England that destroyed textile machinery in protest of automated looms taking jobs from hand-weavers. The uprising began on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham ...
The Fusil Gras (Wujigra) in Ethiopia (10/20)

In The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, Hirut has a particular attachment to a rifle that her father gave her, a Wujigra, which she goes out of her way to retrieve after Kidane takes it away from her while stockpiling weapons for his army. 'Wujigra' is the Ethiopian term for the Fusil Gras, a French service rifle that was manufactured...

Robert Capa (10/20)
In The Fountains of Silence, Daniel is a budding photojournalist who admires the work of Robert Capa.  Capa, born Endre Erno Friedmann in Hungary, experienced first-hand the rise of Hitler and Nazism. After studying photography in Paris and meeting kindred spirit Gerda Pohorylle (better known by her pseudonym Gerda Taro), he ...
Melungeons (09/20)
In Ayşe Papatya Bucak's The Trojan War Museum, the main character of one of the stories, 'Mysteries of the Mountain South,' learns that her racial history is more complicated than she previously thought when her grandmother explains that she has a 'Melungeon' great-grandparent. Melungeon is a term historically used to describe a 'tri...
The Play of Slave Children (09/20)
One of the stories in The World Doesn't Require You is inspired by the games of slave children. Given the harsh and miserable social realities forced upon slaves, it almost seems antithetical to think there was opportunity for play and games. However, evidence gathered from interviews with former slaves suggests that many children managed...
Cicely Saunders and Palliative Care (09/20)
In Dear Life, Dr. Rachel Clarke recalls being inspired to shift her medical career from emergency room work to palliative care after serving as a fierce advocate for Pat, her fiancé's dying mother. Cicely Saunders is widely credited with creating palliative care as we know it today. So what inspired Saunders to pursue this particular...
The Debate on Human Rights at Valladolid (1550-1551) (09/20)
For Americans accustomed to the myth of Europeans settling largely empty lands, where Natives barely featured, it can be difficult to envision the New World as densely populated with Indigenous societies. But in Central and South America, before the arrival of European germs and conquistadors, that was precisely the situation—the ...
Wartime Restrictions on Fashion (08/20)
rationbook

Jeanne Mackin's novel, The Last Collection, brings to life the vibrant fashion scene in Paris on the eve of World War II. Once set in motion the war had a profound influence on women's clothing across the globe. Parisian fashion was not especially affected, as the novel makes clear, but changes would reach far beyond the French capital....

Kristallnacht (08/20)
In her memoir A Bookshop in Berlin, Francoise Frenkel describes how Kristallnacht ('crystal night') was the impetus for her emigration out of Germany. Also called 'the Night of Broken Glass' and the November Pogroms, the events that unfolded on November 9 and 10 of 1938 formed the first mass, violent, state-mandated action against Jewish ...
Forgotten Women Physicians of the 19th Century (08/20)
The 19th century was a time of revolutionary changes in the areas of industrialism, democracy and the sciences, yet despite these radical shifts in society, the general public still viewed women as inherently less intelligent and less capable than men. Revered 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarked, 'When a woman has...
The Life and Accomplishments of Clementine Churchill (08/20)
Clementine Churchill is best known as the wife of Winston Churchill, who held the office of British Prime minister during (1940-1945) and after (1951-1955) World War II. However, as is shown in Marie Benedict's novel Lady Clementine, while Clementine supported and assisted her husband in his governing endeavors, she held her own political...
Vichy France During World War II (07/20)
It is a well-known fact that France was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. Not only is this chapter in history covered in textbooks and classrooms, it is also frequently the subject of movies and novels. The simplified picture of France at this time would include patriotic French citizens gathering in secret to support the ...
The Uruguayan Military Dictatorship (1973-1985) (06/20)
The small country of Uruguay (about the size of Missouri) is bordered by Argentina to the west, Brazil to the north, and the Atlantic to the south and east. Military rule began there in 1973 following a coup conducted in cooperation with then-president Juan María Bordaberry (1928-2011), and lasted for the following 12 years. During ...
Anna May Wong (06/20)
Anna May Wong was a Chinese-American film star who worked in the entertainment industry from the 1920s to the 1960s. As a person of color, she experienced limitations in the roles she was able to play throughout her career due to discrimination and typecasting. Many recognize her today as an overlooked icon.

Wong was born in 1905 to ...
The Controversy Surrounding On the Origin of Species (06/20)
The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species forever changed the way humankind thought of themselves and their place in the world. Almost immediately, the public took sides; you were either pro-evolution or anti-evolution. This caused considerable strife between notable public figures at the time, and also resulted in ...
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane in the Florida Keys (06/20)
Chanel Cleeton's historical novel The Last Train to Key West is based on a real event that took place on September 2, 1935, now known as the Labor Day Hurricane (and sometimes called the Labor Day Storm), a Category 5 storm that killed between 400 and 600 people in the Florida Keys. It was the first recorded Category 5 hurricane to hit ...
The History of Presbyterianism (06/20)
Two of the main characters in Cara Wall's debut novel, The Dearly Beloved, are ministers in the Presbyterian Church. The novel focuses on the turbulence the Church faced in America during the social upheaval of the 1960s, but the roots of Presbyterianism, a Protestant denomination, can be traced back to 16th-century Europe.

On October ...
Women Who Ruled the Waves (06/20)
While Johnny Depp as the stumbling, coy, and flirtatious Captain Jack Sparrow may have taken over from the debonair and swashbuckling Errol Flynn as the contemporary image of a pirate, history is dotted with fearsome females who ruled the waves. They were by no means the majority – it was primarily a male profession – but female...
The Camel Corps of the U.S. Army (06/20)
A key section of Téa Obreht's novel Inland takes place among the Camel Corps, a real-life mid-19th-century experiment conducted by the United States Army attempting to introduce camels as beasts of burden in the Southwestern territories.

This seemingly madcap idea originated when the army found they needed to vastly improve ...
The 1857 Dead Rabbits Riot (05/20)
In the historical novel The Parting Glass, narrator Mary Ballard's twin brother becomes involved with a notorious secret society/street gang in New York City called the Order. Mary's friend Liddie recalls meeting her brother during a night of rioting that seems to have been based on the Dead Rabbits riot, which took place July 4-5, 1857, ...
Women Spies Who Changed WWII (04/20)
For a wide array of reasons, the Allied countries recruited many women as spies in WWII. Their first advantage was they could blend in more easily than their male counterparts in the civilian population of a typical town or village. But there was also a growing sense that women were more skilled at being secretive, coy, and courageous. ...
The Internment of Japanese, German and Italian-Americans During WWII (04/20)
In The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner, the novel's main character is a child of German descent confined to the Crystal City internment camp during World War II, and later repatriated with her family to Germany. Many of us are aware of the exclusion, removal and detention of 120,000 people of Japanese heritage that occurred as the ...
WWII French Winemakers' Resistance (03/20)
In The Winemaker's Wife, Inés Chauveau's life is turned upside down by the declaration of World War II and the Germans' arrival at her husband's vineyard. Instead of making a profit from their wines, the Chauveaus are expected to give their product to the Germans, and while Inés is prepared to do whatever it takes to get through...
Women's Suffrage in Early 20th Century America (02/20)
Serena Burdick's The Girls with No Names is set amidst a quiet yet fierce swell of social unrest that builds as we move towards the book's climax. Though the official inception of the US suffrage movement is typically traced back to a women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, it reached a fever pitch in the early ...
Black Women's Bravery During the Civil War (02/20)
Historian Shelby Foote called the Civil War, 'the crossroads of our being.' It defined humanity and the principles that govern American morality. With freedom as the one virtue worth fighting for, it is no wonder that women of color chose to walk the tightrope of danger and secrecy and participate in the war. Cathy Williams – a real...
Female Viking Warriors (02/20)
In Andrew David MacDonald's novel When We Were Vikings, the heroine becomes inspired to take charge of her life when presented with a magazine article about physical evidence of a female Viking warrior. The article refers to an archeological dig from the late 19th century in Birka, Sweden that unearthed the 10th century grave of a ...
The Black Panther Party (01/20)
In October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale of Oakland California founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which later became the Black Panther Party. Although the Party disbanded in 1982 only 16 years after its creation, it remains one of the largest and most controversial black revolutionary organizations in history. ...
The Story of the Samaritans (01/20)
Many people are familiar with the phrase 'good Samaritan' from the parable in the Bible from which the phrase is derived, but who are the Samaritans? What was their place in history?

In her sprawling historical novel, The Parisian, Isabella Hammad draws attention to this ancient religion. She teases their story, but leaves you wanting ...
Robespierre's Reign of Terror (01/20)
Edward Carey's Little spans some of the most turbulent years in French history. A particularly ghastly chapter focuses on the Reign of Terror, during which little Marie, the novel's protagonist, spends months fearing for her own life and that of her family. Over two centuries later, the French Revolution calls to mind scenes of ...
Journalists on the Front Lines (01/20)
Hundreds of journalists and photographers have been killed in the line of duty, including Marie Colvin whose life story is told in In Extremis. The international Committee to Protect Journalists has been tallying data since 1992. As of 2018, more than 1,300 journalists have died while reporting on the job with more than 600 additional ...
The Unhappy Paradox of Black Soldiers in World War I (01/20)
One of the central characters in Lyndsay Faye's The Paragon Hotel is a Black Pullman train porter who had served in the United States Army in World War I. Not unlike most veterans today, he was rightfully proud of both his rank and service to the country. Regretfully, his postwar country was not as proud of his service – or that of ...
World War II's "War Brides" (01/20)
News of Our Loved Ones is a poignant tale of family and loss during World War II. The story follows members of the Delasalle family and their close friends, focusing in particular on Geneviève, the eldest daughter. Geneviève's story stretches from her hometown of Caen, France to Paris, and then eventually to America as she makes...
The Pack Horse Library Project (12/19)
The WPA (Works Progress Administration) established the Pack Horse Library Project in Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. The program, which was championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, employed librarians who delivered books and other reading materials to patrons on horseback, working to both create employment and improve ...
Great Britain's First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (11/19)
Odette Sansom, heroine of Larry Loftis's book Code Name Lise, began her espionage career as a member of the FANYs – Great Britain's First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

FANY was formed as 'an all-female volunteer organisation which deploys multi-faceted rapid response teams to support civil and military authorities in times of crisis' and...
The Korean War: A War with Many Names (11/19)
In Eugenia Kim's novel The Kinship of Secrets, sisters Inja and Miran are separated by the military action known in Western countries as the Korean War. Officially a 'police action' – war was never declared – it is frequently referred to as 'the Forgotten War' or the 'Unknown War,' as many Americans knew little about it due to...
The Historical Figures in Unsheltered (10/19)
Mary Treat

Although the two protagonists of Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered are fictional, she includes historical figures in her 19th-century story line. Chief among these is Mary Treat, a rare female scientist who deserves to be better known than she is – I had no idea until I got to the Acknowledgments at the back of the ...
Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914-2018) (10/19)
Dovey Mae Johnson Roundtree was an African American civil rights activist and attorney who secured one of the most significant victories against Jim Crow segregation, and broke the color barrier of the Women's Bar in Washington D.C. She also served in the Women's Auxiliary Corps during World War II and, in 1961, became one of a select few...
Three JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories (10/19)
November Road is based on one of the conspiracy theories behind President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Although outwardly, the Warren Commission that investigated the crime stated that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole perpetrator in Dallas, it did not lay to rest the theories that have been fueled and fed since that infamous date ...
D-Day at Normandy (10/19)
In the dramatic final pages of The Kites, the Allies arrive in Normandy to liberate its inhabitants from Nazi occupation, an event that occurred on June 6, 1944 and drastically altered the landscape of World War II. It was the most expansive amphibious invasion in history, with British, American, and Canadian flotillas storming five ...
New York Society in the Gilded Age (10/19)
Most of the first half of Therese Anne Fowler's A Well-Behaved Woman focuses on Alva Vanderbilt's efforts to break into New York society, which was ruled by a small group of families during what is known as the Gilded Age (1870s-1900). The doyenne of New York society at the time was Caroline Astor who, aided by Ward McAllister, a ...
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): A Brief History (10/19)
Journalist Azadeh Moaveni's Guest House for Young Widows follows thirteen young women who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a jihadist terrorist organization and former proto-state. ISIS aims to establish a global Islamic state, with everyone living under their interpretation of Shariah law, which enforces strict ...
The Real Lives of London's 18th Century Courtesans (10/19)
Angelica Neal, one of the central protagonists in The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, is a well-known, glamorous and beautiful courtesan (a high-priced prostitute or paid escort) to wealthy members of the London aristocracy. She lives a lavish lifestyle, purchasing the latest fashionable gowns, eating the most expensive treats and residing in ...
Sitting Bull (09/19)
Tatjana Soli's historical fiction novel, The Removes, culminates at Custer's Last Stand, a battle between the U.S. 7th Cavalry and Native American tribes that took place near the Little Bighorn River in Montana in 1876. Sitting Bull was the chief of the entire Sioux nation at the time, and his vision of success over the soldiers...
The Lavender Scare (09/19)
Louisa Hall's Trinity touches on many subjects and looks at many personalities. One of the most interesting of these is the fictional Lia Peon, a lesbian who escaped discrimination in Washington D.C. in the early 1950s. Peon and her girlfriend moved to St. John's, and there became friends with J. Robert Oppenheimer (who was ...
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