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The Iran-Iraq War (05/18)
The 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran, which forms the backdrop to Moon Brow, is widely considered one of the bloodiest conflicts of the twentieth century. At least one million lives are estimated to have been lost, half of them civilians. The eight-year standoff is said to have cost its aggressors a combined one trillion dollars, an ...
The Biafra-Britain Connection (04/18)
In the titular, futuristic story from What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, there is talk of a Biafra-Britannia alliance and one character's father still holds 'bitterly to the idea of Biafran independence, an independence his parents had died for in the late 2030s.'

The Biafra-Britannia alliance would be an irony given that ...
The Jedburghs (04/18)
The Jedburghs were highly trained guerilla warriors who operated behind the scenes, under the radar, and out of the headlines during World War II. In Dadland, we learn that the book's central character, Tom Carew, was part of Jedburgh commando teams, first in France and then in Burma.

The Jeds were recruited from military personnel who...
Margaret Fishback: The Inspiration for Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (04/18)
The titular character of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is modeled after real-life ad copywriter and poet, Margaret Fishback.

In a detailed biography of Fishback at the Poetry Foundation, Lillian Boxfish author Kathleen Rooney offers us a fascinating glimpse of a woman who was far ahead of her time, taking to print to declare that ...
Pope Francis (03/18)
In The Delight of Being Ordinary, Pope Francis invites the Dalai Lama along on a road trip through the Italian countryside.

Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father, Mario Jose Bergoglio (1908-1959) was an Italian immigrant who fled Italy in 1929 to escape Mussolini's...
The Rise Of Counseling in America (1900s-1940s) (03/18)
Much of The Driest Season revolves around the suicide of Mr. Jacobson and the effect it has on his youngest daughter—and main protagonist—Cielle. As Cielle tries to better understand the reasons why her father took his own life, she discovers that he was secretly seeking help for depression through a counselor, a fact he kept ...
The Hui Panalä'au Program (03/18)
Imagine being sent to a remote island just to populate it so that your country can then call it theirs. The Hui Panalä'au program did just that, as Doug Mack describes in The Not-Quite States of America.

As Japan became increasingly aggressive to its Pacific neighbors in the 1930s, the United States needed an effective way ...
Belle Époque Paris: From Civil War to Artistic Profusion (03/18)
The year 1789 was by no means the first time the city of Paris had experienced upheaval, but the Revolution and the decades following it were particularly tumultuous. The Terror, Napoleon, the brief restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the Second Empire under Napoleon III: the political pendulum swung wildly and violently throughout the ...
Guy Fawkes Night (02/18)
In one of the most memorable sequences in Golden Hill, the protagonist, Mr. Smith, attends a Guy Fawkes Night celebration that goes terribly awry after an effigy of the Pope is burned. Smith is taken for Catholic and pursued by an angry drunken mob.

In Britain, Guy Fawkes Night is a celebration of the failure of the 1605 ...
Che Guevara (02/18)
Next Year in Havana is partially set during the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959). Che Guevara (1928-1967) was one of the Revolution's central figures. Although he does not appear directly in Next Year in Havana, the cause he fought for forms the backdrop to much of the story.

Born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in Rosario, Argentina, ...
Joan of Arc in Many Forms (02/18)
In Yuknavitch's near-future vision, a character inspired by Joan of Arc seems poised to be the savior of an all-but-doomed Earth. Yuknavitch is far from the first writer and artist to be inspired by the fifteenth-century French heroine. Images of Joan of Arc have appeared in opera, film, literature, art, and even video games and ...
Body Snatching (02/18)
Whitehead's well-researched novel The Underground Railroad offers glimpses into numerous phenomena characterizing the often-brutal experiences of black Americans in the early nineteenth century, both in the South and the North. In one section, Whitehead profiles a group of Boston-area body snatchers, spurred by demand for cadavers in the ...
The Father of Microbiology (01/18)
The discovery of microbes – those single-celled organisms that exist by the millions in a drop of water, blood, or tiny patch of any living tissue – was a game-changer, scientifically speaking. The once-preposterous notion of invisible creatures inhabiting our world opened the door to understanding how germs infect the body, ...
Operation Valkyrie (01/18)
The events of The Women in the Castle are set off by a failed attempt at assassinating Adolf Hitler conducted by the husbands of the main characters and their fellow resisters. This is based on the real-life July Plot, also known as Operation Valkyrie.

The plan was organized and executed in 1944 by high-ranking German military ...
The Sensational Murder That Rattled Victorian England (11/17)
In Ruler of the Night, David Morrell uses the first murder on a train as the starting point for the mystery set in 1855. Such a tragedy didn't actually occur until 1864, however, and the historical facts of the case are quite different than those penned in the novel.

The world's first public railway to use steam locomotion opened in ...
Gustav Eiffel's Legacy (11/17)
While looking into the real personalities of the characters in Beatrice Colin's To Capture What We Cannot Keep, I came to realize just how enlightening this book actually is, simply because of the hints Colin gives us into a time in history about which most of us know only a tiny part. Yes, we all know the Eiffel Tower, but little about ...
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire (10/17)
Immigrants to New York City have always faced impediments in their efforts to assimilate. A new landscape, a new culture, and even a new language invariably pose challenges to the most determined recent arrivals. Often, the jobs available are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, and especially in the days of unregulated workplaces, ...
The November 2015 Paris Attacks (10/17)
On Friday, November 13, 2015, suicide bombers and gunmen launched coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Antoine Leiris's wife Hélène was among the victims.

The first sign of trouble came at the Stade de France, a stadium in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. On the night in question, France was playing Germany in an ...
The MIA in Vietnam (09/17)
In The Signal Flame, the Konar family grapples with the fact that Sam, the youngest son, is missing in action in Vietnam.

War, by its very nature, means that not all who leave to fight will return home. In addition to those who die in service to their country, conflicts yield prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers missing in action (MIA)...
William and Caroline Herschel (09/17)
John Pipkin brings the astronomer siblings, William and Caroline Herschel, vividly to life in The Blind Astronomer's Daughter. While the novel shines light on Caroline in particular, William, with his impressive discoveries and status as England's astronomy golden boy, provides motivation for the fictional Arthur Ainsworth's quest for ...
A Quick Tour of the Mexican Revolution (09/17)
Most of El Paso is set toward the tail end of the Mexican Revolution, which played out between 1910-1920. One of its primary players, General Pancho Villa, is a principal character in the novel.

The Mexican Revolution got its start during the rule of Porfirio Diaz, a dictator who perpetuated a feudal system in the country with just a ...
The Manson Girls (08/17)
Cruel Beautiful World is set in the early '70s against the specter of the Manson girls.

The horrific story of Charles Manson, the cult leader who believed he was the Messiah and who then orchestrated murders in Los Angeles to spark a race war, is fairly well-known at least in American culture.

More recently, his 'girls,' women ...
Lieutenant Henry Tureman Allen - Alaskan Explorer and Decorated US Major General (08/17)
Just as reading a Russian folktale inspired her to write The Snow Child, so too did the concept for Eowyn Ivey's second novel arise from a piece of literature - this time on the fragile pages of a rare book she discovered at the bookshop where she worked.

Too expensive to purchase, she asked the owner's permission and took it home...
The Jonestown Settlement (08/17)
In New People, Maria's dissertation focuses on the Jonestown settlement in Guyana and on the massacre that resulted in the death of some 900 men, women, and children from poisoning on November 18, 1975. Jonestown was developed, and sold to believers, as a sort of utopian community led by Jim Jones, who founded the People's Temple in ...
A Whiff of Papal Controversy (08/17)
In Conclave, Robert Harris creates an imaginary world of Cardinals meeting in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope. The Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope or Holy Father, is the leader of the Catholic Church, a religion with over one billion members worldwide.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 266 popes in the Annuario Pontificio ...
The Brixton Riots (08/17)
With his nappy black hair and dark complexion, the boy at the center of Kit de Waal's debut, My Name is Leon, is caught up in the middle of the racial tensions of 1981 South London. The biracial child has a nine-year-old's agenda, born of anger, and stumbles innocently into a roiling stew of grownup rage and frustration. The ...
The Underground Railroad (08/17)
The U.S. government changed the portrait image on the U.S. $20 bill. It used to be President Andrew Jackson and now includes abolitionist Harriet Tubman. By 21st century standards, 19th century military hero and politician Jackson could be classified as a racist and an indirect perpetrator of genocide. By 21st century and 19th century ...
The Lehman Brothers (07/17)
Clark Edwards, one of the main characters in Behold the Dreamers, works as an executive for Lehman Brothers.

Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. was the fourth-largest investment bank in the United States at the time of the housing market crash (2007-2009), employing over 25,000 employees worldwide.

The company began in 1844 as a ...
Early Aviatrixes (07/17)
In Crossing the Horizon, author Laurie Notaro highlights the lives of three women who dared to attempt flight across the Atlantic Ocean during the early days of air travel. They were not the only ones who defied expectation by taking such risks. The novel mentions three other women who also took on the daunting challenge of transatlantic ...
Eva and Miriam Mozes (06/17)
The twins in Mischling are loosely based on Romanian sisters Eva and Miriam Mozes, survivors of 'Angel of Death' Josef Mengele's sadistic experiments at Auschwitz. Having studied twins in a legitimate capacity earlier in his career, Mengele took advantage of his position as a doctor at Auschwitz to perform unwarranted operations, ...
Freeborn Black Children Sold Into Slavery (05/17)
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It allows us choices in where we go and how we live. Without it, our lives would be very different. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves, was signed in 1863. Just think: it's only been 150 years that freedom has been the law in the United States.

Before Lincoln's ...
Lorenzo de' Medici (05/17)
One of the main characters in Alyssa Palombo's novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Florence, is a fictional representation of Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492), one of the de facto rulers of the Republic of Florence during the height of the Italian Renaissance.

The illustrious de' Medici family was prominent in the banking industry, with ...
Reclusive Celebrities (05/17)
In Maggie O'Farrell's This Must be The Place, Claudette Wells is a movie star who has quit the world to live on a remote Irish farm. As unusual as this may seem, there are many real-life examples of celebrated individuals who have abandoned the public eye for a more private life.

In 1932 the Hollywood superstar, Greta Garbo, playing ...
The Blackout of 1977 (05/17)
Set in the 1970s, Another Brooklyn references numerous contemporary events, from Vietnam to Son of Sam (a killer convicted of a series of shooting attacks that began in New York City in the summer of 1976 and ended in the summer of 1977.) One event in particular that figures in August's memories is the electrical blackout of July 13-...
A Different Kind of Democratic National Convention (05/17)
In The Nix, Sam's mother, Faye, takes part in the protests that took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, one riddled by unrest and tensions. It was a convention held in Chicago where then mayor Richard Daley was believed to have been instrumental in many of the goings-on both inside and outside the political arena.

The ...
The Round-up at Vélodrome d'Hiver (05/17)
In the early morning hours of July 16, 1942, the French police took Jews living in Paris into custody. In the two days that followed, over 13,000 Jews were arrested – 4000 of those were children – in what became the biggest arrest in France during World War II. Seven thousand of these people were taken to the Vélodrome d'...
Jewish Resistance in Mandatory Palestine (05/17)
Stewart O'Nan's City of Secrets begins in Mandatory Palestine when there were three main organizations in the Jewish resistance: the Haganah, Irgun, and Lohamei Herut Israel, commonly known as the Stern Gang. The first organization was the Haganah, which means 'defense' in Hebrew. It began in 1920 in response to Arab violence against the ...
Personal Recollections of Romania Under Ceausescu's Rule (05/17)
The whole world watched the Romanian revolution and the fall of the country's leader Ceausescu (pronounced chow-shess-ku) in December 1988. Before that historic time, not many outsiders had any idea of what was really going on in this Eastern European country. Although I did not visit Romania until 1992, I did have an inkling of what was ...
Sixteenth Century Venice (04/17)
The history of Venice begins with the end of the Roman Empire at around 400 A.D. As Roman rule collapsed across Europe groups of Huns, Barbarians and Goths disrupted communities, and on the north-eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea people sought safety from Attila the Hun in the shallow islands of the Venetian Lagoon. With two or three ...
New France (04/17)
Annie Proulx's historical novel, Barkskins, covers 320 years from 1693 to 2013. While it focuses more on the social and ecological impact on the lives it follows, the story wouldn't exist without the context of the political situation that brought these Frenchmen onto North American soil.

French interest in the New World ...
The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Empire (04/17)
The Khmer Empire was a powerful state in South-East Asia that existed between 802-1431 AD. At the height of its power, it covered modern-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam. Made up of 90 provinces, its capital Angkor was, at one point, a thriving city of over one million people. The empire was founded upon extensive ...
Queen Caroline (04/17)
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins is set during the eighteenth century in England, the time when King George II and his wife, Queen Caroline, ruled Great Britain. As reviewer Becky H. says, in the novel, 'the picture presented of Queen Caroline is delightful — and convincingly nefarious.'

Queen Caroline was a native ...
The Best FLOTUS? (04/17)
In 2014, for the fifth time in 31 years, the Siena Research Institute conducted its survey of historians, political scientists and scholars, aimed at identifying the 'best' First Lady of the United States. Each presidential spouse was ranked on a scale of one to five in ten different categories ranging from Background, to Courage, to ...
Notable Women in the Suffragette Movement in 20th Century Britain (04/17)
In her novel, The Hourglass Factory, Lucy Ribchester has included some notable figures and episodes from the history of the women's suffrage movement in early 20th century Britain.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline was born in Manchester, England in 1858, to a family with radical political leanings. At the age of twenty-one, she married ...
Jewish Children Smuggled to Safety (04/17)
When Germany invaded The Netherlands in May 1940, few could have imagined the horrors that would follow, including the murder of about three-quarters of the estimated 140,000 Jews living in the country before the war. Almost as soon as occupation began, resistance groups formed to oppose German dictates.

When Ollie, a central character...
Malta During World War II (03/17)
The island country of Malta, one of the key settings in Chris Cleave's Everyone Brave is Forgiven, might be tiny, but its location between Italy and North Africa, halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Egypt, has made it a strategically important naval base for hundreds, if not thousands, of years - including during World War II.

Dr. Ian Stevenson (02/17)
Sharon Guskin's debut novel, The Forgetting Time, explores reincarnation – specifically children who seem to experience it. In an interview about her research, she explains that after stumbling across a book about Dr. Ian Stevenson and his intense research of children and reincarnation, she was hooked.

Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) ...
German Reunification (02/17)
In his memoir All Tomorrow's Parties, Rob Spillman, the son of American expat musicians, includes a flashback to his childhood in Germany. He paints a bleak portrait of East Berlin in the 1970s, with its worthless currency, 'sour-faced' military guards, secret police, and drab institutional architecture. It is not surprising that by the ...
Henry Morgenthau Sr. (02/17)
In The Hundred Year Walk, author Dawn MacKeen mentions observations made by non-Turkish individuals who were unwilling witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. One person she cites several times is Henry Morgenthau, Sr. (1856-1946), who was the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, and as such bore witness to ...
Secret Identities Revealed - Children of the Holocaust (01/17)
Of the many forms of resistance during WWII, some of the most fascinating and poignant stories involve hiding young Jewish children – including the most famous of them all, that of Anne Frank. While her story reached international acclaim, other tales went untold for decades, partially because many of them took place in countries ...
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