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The Original Darius the Great (09/19)
In Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Darius has two main concerns about his name: it starts with 'D' (which provides ample opportunity for bullies to give him horrible nicknames), and it has connotations of an unattainable legacy. His namesake is Darius the Great, king of Persia from 522-486 BCE.

Darius I was born circa 550 BCE to a ...
The Kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (09/19)
Alex Perry's book, The Good Mothers, focuses on an Italian mafia family known as the 'Ndrangheta. This organization was behind the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.

The story of Getty's kidnapping begins with the 16-year-old's grandfather, J. Paul Getty (1892-1976), founder of the Getty Oil Company in the 1940s. In...
Righteous Among the Nations (09/19)
Righteous Among the Nations refers to non-Jewish people who have been honored by Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Memorial Center in Israel, for putting their lives at risk to help Jews at the time of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem set up a commission in 1963 to establish the criteria for the award and examine cases to determine recipients of ...
Bertha Benz and the First Road Trip (09/19)
Leah Franqui's novel, America for Beginners, centers on three people of diverse backgrounds making a road trip together across the United States. The term 'road trip' conjures up a lengthy car journey across many miles, generally with a vague itinerary and unplanned stops as the travelers find places of interest to explore. Some feel it ...
The Carlisle Indian Industrial School (07/19)
The boarding school in Dread Nation, where children are sent after being taken from their families is based on real schools that existed across the United States. While Miss Preston's, the school in Dread Nation is specifically for girls of color to be combat-trained to fight zombies, in other respects it resembles the Native American ...
The Legacy of Slavery and Prison Labor (07/19)
With a Trump-appointed Justice Department pushing for harsher sentences after a brief period of relative leniency during the Obama Administration, the explosion of the prison population has become an increasingly relevant social and political issue. America has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world (with 2.3 million ...
#MeToo's Founder Tarana Burke (07/19)
While Kate Walbert's His Favorites takes place in the late 1970s, the novel's initial release in August 2018 was perfectly aligned to contemporary events, as stories about men in positions of power sexually harassing and assaulting women were breaking on a near daily basis. Certainly this was not a new phenomenon, and while the #MeToo ...
Witch Trials in Elizabethan and Jacobean England (07/19)
In 1599, the early days of Tom Hazard's long life, his quasi-immortality results in a charge of witchcraft leveled against both himself and his mother, and he is forced to witness the harrowing ordeal of her trial. The belief in witchcraft was common in England at this time, upheld both by Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and her successor ...
Gloria Steinem (07/19)
Though the character of Faith Frank in The Female Persuasion is an amalgamation of many '60s feminist icons, she appears to be drawn most heavily from Gloria Steinem. Steinem got her start writing articles for magazines like Esquire and Cosmopolitan on women's issue topics such as contraception and abortion. In 1963, she received ...
The Human Cost of War in Post-9/11 Conflicts (06/19)
The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the United States' subsequent military response fundamentally changed the political landscape of the Middle East/Central-South Asia. This landscape is the setting of Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif, who declared one of the goals of this project to 'take the readers by the hand to lead them out of the ...
Ted Kaczynski, The Unabomber (05/19)
In The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner provides excerpts from Ted Kaczynski's journals to draw parallels between the Unabomber and her character Gordon Hauser, the man that teaches an English class at Stanville Prison. Ted Kaczynski was a reclusive U.S. domestic terrorist responsible for mailing or planting 16 bombs from 1978-1995, killing ...
World War II Bombings at the BBC (05/19)
'Roughly speaking, for everything that could be considered an historical fact in this book, I made something up,' writes Atkinson in an author's note at the end of Transcription. One thing she did not need to augment with fiction were the amazing stories of the British Broadcasting Company during World War II, many of which are ...
Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations (05/19)
The title of M.T. Anderson's Landscape With Invisible Hand, (and perhaps its protagonist's name), contains a reference to the theories of the Scottish economist Adam Smith, whose landmark 1776 work The Wealth of Nations laid the groundwork for modern free-market economic theory. To laypeople, Smith may be best known for his ...
India's Chipko Andolan (05/19)
In The Overstory, a few of the characters become environmental activists in order to save the wealth of forests in the American West and Pacific Northwest. In the novel, Richard Powers refers to many save-the-trees efforts around the globe, including the Chipko Andolan in the 1970s in the Himalayan region of India.

Chipko Andolan ...
Who Was Ngungunyane? (05/19)
One of the most interesting characters in Mia Couto's Woman of the Ashes never formally makes an appearance – the emperor, Ngungunyane, the Lion of Gaza. Who is this powerful figure who ruled the Gaza empire (which encompassed southeastern Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique.) What led to his triumphs and, finally, to his downfall?...
The Lewis and Clark Expedition (05/19)
Carys Davies' novella West, is set a decade after the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Protagonist John Cyrus Bellman's obsession with journeying into the West echoes the ambitions and objectives of the famous adventurers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who desired to explore the unknown American frontier and detail what they found ...
A Brief History of The New People's Army (04/19)
A large part of protagonist Geronima de Vera's backstory in Elaine Castillo's novel, America is Not the Heart, is entwined with the communist rebellion group, The New People's Army, a real-life collective that continues to forcefully oppose elected Philippine governments. The New People's Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the Communist ...
Nat Turner's Rebellion (04/19)
One of Wideman's most vivid stories is centered around the confession of Nat Turner, an enslaved Virginia man who organized a revolt in 1831, involving upwards of 50 other slaves. The rebels killed 51 people (mostly slave owners and their families). The rebellion began in the late hours of August 21 when Turner and his fellow slaves ...
Saddam Hussein (04/19)
Saddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator, ruled the country with an iron fist under the guise of numerous grandiose titles including President and The Knight of the Arab Nation, for nearly twenty-five years (1979-2003). In The President's Gardens, the character Ibrahim's most surreal job is to bury the people killed by the President...
The Role of Race Relations in the 2013 Chicago School Closings (04/19)
When people talk about Chicago, the endemic violence inevitably comes up, along with a sense of helplessness about how to stop it. That helplessness leads to apathy, and the feeling that the neighborhoods torn apart by gun violence are forsaken, failed places. But this attitude is as much a cause as it is an effect of crime and violence. ...
Evelyn Nesbit and the "Trial of the Century" (04/19)
For her novel, A Death of No Importance, Mariah Fredericks borrows heavily from the story of Evelyn Nesbit and the violence that surrounded her life. What exactly happened to Evelyn Nesbit and how did she come to be a part of the 'Trial of the Century' as it later came to be known?

Nesbit was born Florence Evelyn Nesbit on December 25,...
The Nigerian Civil War (03/19)
In Speak No Evil, Uzodinma Iweala's protagonist, Niru, says that his father 'reminds us constantly that if he could walk ten miles to get sardines and tinned tomatoes for his family during the war, dodging low-flying Nigerian fighter plans that made a sport of strafing hungry refugees, then there is nothing he or we can't do.' ...
Quotations and Cultural Influence of Alice Roosevelt (03/19)
Alice Roosevelt (1884-1980), daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and the central figure of Stephanie Marie Thornton's American Princess is not widely remembered in the public consciousness today, but during her lifetime she was an ever-present fixture in the press. This was particularly the case during her father's presidential term,...
The Spanish Inquisition (03/19)
The Spanish Inquisition ultimately affects modern-day characters in Gateway to the Moon. The inquisitorial system (derived from the Latin word inquisitio 'to inquire'), is one in which the court actively investigates a case rather than simply being an impartial referee--in short, the court acts as detective, prosecutor and judge. ...
Drancy Internment Camp (03/19)
Although only a small portion of The Balcony takes place during World War II, its effects on Benneville and the estate affect the arc of the story and its characters. At the beginning of the novel, Brigitte, the au pair, learns that the current owner of the estate, Olga, had Jewish parents who moved there during the Occupation. While they...
Yemen's Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman (01/19)
In The Monk of Mokha, there's a scene in which Mokhtar is assigned to be a translator for visiting Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, who is guest lecturing at UC Berkeley Law School. Tawakkol is the first Yemeni woman, in fact the first Arab woman, ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was honored for her nonviolent activism during the...
Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress (01/19)
Because of her father's important position, Mehr received an excellent education. At the age of 17 she was married to a Turkish soldier named Sher Afgan, the governor of Bihar. They had one child together, Ladli Bagum, born in 1605. (Some sources claim Ladli was Mehr's step-daughter).

A bit of debate circles the next phase of Mehr's ...
The Special Olympics (12/18)
In Ginny Moon, the protagonist's participation in the Special Olympics plays an important part in the storyline.

The Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities. From its modest start as a summer camp in 1962, the Special Olympics now offers competition in more than ...
The Rise and After Effects of Communism in the Soviet Union (12/18)
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre untangles the case of Soviet Union/KGB agent turned British/MI6 spy, Oleg Gordievsky. However, little attention is given to why and how The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed and to what extent its realities aligned with the communist...
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (11/18)
In Future Home of the Living God, some of the inhabitants of the reservation that is home to Cedar's birth mother, encounter a vision of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, causing them to build a shrine in her honor. Tekakwitha was a devoted Catholic who was persecuted for her faith, and Cedar finds meaning in her suffering and inspiration in her ...
The Loves of President and Mrs. Roosevelt (10/18)
Eleanor Roosevelt had long been a key figure in her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's, political career. When he became President, she transformed the role of the First Lady. She was a vocal and vociferous advocate for human rights and in particular, the rights of women and children. She wrote a popular newspaper column 'My Day,' and ...
The Education Revolution (10/18)
The term 'Renaissance man' means a polymath, or someone who excels at many fields. Few people earned that moniker as brilliantly as Leonardo da Vinci, who actually lived during the height of the Italian Renaissance. Making his accomplishments even more remarkable is the fact that he didn't receive much in the way of a formal education. ...
Notorious Female Serial Killers (10/18)
In Ali Land's debut, Good Me, Bad Me, Ruth Thompson is on trial for the heinous murders of multiple children. The case is notable not only for the particularly brutal nature of the crime, but also, in part, because Ruth is a woman, and society's perceptions of women who commit violent crimes is often skewed. We stereotype men as ...
Sharecropping in the Post Civil-War Era (10/18)
The major characters in The Twelve-Mile Straight grew up as sharecroppers.

Merriam-Webster defines a sharecropper as "a tenant farmer…who is provided with credit for seed, tools, living quarters, and food, who works the land, and who receives an agreed share of the value of the crop minus charges." While farming ...
African-Americans Soldiers in the Civil War (10/18)
In 'Father Abe,' a short story in Five-Carat Soul, McBride mentions two all-black regiments that fought for the Union army during the Civil War — the 32nd United States Colored Infantry and the 9th Louisiana Colored Infantry.

When war broke out in 1861, African Americans were barred from serving, but this rule was set aside by...
The Homestead Act of 1862 (09/18)
It's not mentioned specifically in Robert Olmstead's Savage Country, but his references to settlers driven off the land by crop failures, drought, and other factors might be seen as one of the adverse influences of 1862's Homestead Act, probably the most significant factor in the expansion of the United States across the continent.

...
The Little Sisters of the Poor and Sister St. Jeanne Jugan (09/18)
The nuns in The Ninth Hour belong to an order that appears to be similar to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order with humble beginnings, founded by Sister St. Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. Jugan was born in Brittany, France in 1792, amid the hardships of the French Revolution, a time when Catholics were being ...
The Boxer Rebellion (08/18)
One of the main characters in Rebellion is a Protestant missionary to China in the 1890s, who goes missing during the Boxer Rebellion.

Though not nearly as old as Confucianism, Christianity existed in China as early as the seventh century, but the presence of Christianity in the country varied widely as Nestorian Christian, Roman ...
Halide Edib Adivar (08/18)
The Turkish author and activist Halide Edib (also sometimes spelled as Edip) Adivar is one of the influential women highlighted by de Bellaigue in The Islamic Enlightenment, for her literary talent as well as her ardent nationalist allegiance. She published two memoirs and 19 novels, and was an outspoken voice of support for women's ...
Historical Characters in Confessions of the Fox (08/18)
Jack Sheppard
Jack Sheppard was born in London in 1702. As described in The Confessions of the Fox, Sheppard was apprenticed to a carpenter before succumbing to the attractions of the inns and whorehouses of Drury Lane.

He began a relationship with a prostitute, Elizabeth Lyon, known as Edgeware Bess, and took to petty theft. By ...
A Few Outstanding Women War Correspondents (07/18)
Souad Mekhennet is one of many women journalists who have entered dangerous situations to try to inform the world about conditions in a war zone. A few of the most influential and best-known, now deceased, are listed below.

Kathleen 'Kit' Coleman (1864-1915) covered the Spanish-American War for the Toronto Mail in 1898. The Ireland-...
170 Years of World's Fairs (07/18)
Love and Other Consolation Prizes largely revolves around two World's Fairs that took place in Seattle in 1909 and 1962.

Officially known as Universal Expositions, more than 100 World's Fairs have been held in more than 20 countries, large and small, since the first one premiered in 1851. The events showcase a country's ...
The Great Hunger (07/18)
Grace is set in an Ireland devastated by The Great Hunger—the potato famine of 1845-1852, which occurred when three successive harvests failed due to blight, causing a million people to starve to death and at least as many to emigrate for a better life. Ireland, Britain and America have all been shaped by its political, economic and...
The 1939 World's Fair (07/18)
The events in Brendan Mathews's The World of Tomorrow lead up, appropriately enough, to the 1939 World's Fair held in what's now Flushing Meadows Park in the New York City borough of Queens. According to the official World's Fair publication, it would showcase 'the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made.' ...
The Roman Emperor Nero (06/18)
In The Golden House, readers are introduced to Nero Golden, a larger-than-life figure who claims the name of Rome's most infamous emperor for his own. As it turns out, Nero Golden's tragic life closely mirrors that of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who ruled the Roman Empire for just over a decade, from AD 54-68. Nero became ...
New York City Women During World War II (06/18)
In Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan has produced a closely researched exploration of life in New York City during World War II and describes a range of ways in which New York women became involved in the war effort.

Brooklyn Navy Yard
During the 1930s a small number of women worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, almost exclusively in ...
Cruise Ship Catastrophes (06/18)
The disaster at the heart of Do Not Become Alarmed unfolds while the characters are on a shore excursion, but certainly some of the more notorious cruise ship disasters have taken place on the ships themselves. Some cruise ship voyages are truly tragic, such as the Costa Concordia ship that ran aground in the Mediterranean, killing thirty...
The Race To the Theory of Natural Selection (05/18)
In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harahi identifies three specific 'revolutions' which were central to the development of the human species. The first was the Cognitive Revolution; taking place between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, it was responsible for the development and use of language. The second was the ...
The Night Stalker Killer (05/18)
California seems to have had more than its fair share of serial killers over the years, and the so-called Night Stalker killer—who shares more than a few parallels with the killer in Shadow Man—is probably one of the more notorious. Like Alan Drew's fictional killer, the real-life Night Stalker, Ricardo Ramirez, terrorized ...
Elizabeth I and Royal Intrigues (05/18)
Elizabeth I was a cautious but crucial supporter of the initial English voyages to the Americas, where merchants and explorers hoped to develop lucrative trade routes, as described in New World, Inc.

Queen Elizabeth was one of the most competent monarchs of the early modern period, and she led England through the transition from minor ...
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