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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 ...
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 ...
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 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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
Sherman's March To the Sea (01/17)
Fallen Land is set during the end of the Civil War and describes a landscape in the aftermath of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's clamp-down of Georgia through which he delivered one of the definitive end points of the war between Union and Confederate forces.

Fallen Land describes the ravages wrought by the General's tactics, ...
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 ...
Dorothea Dix: Passionate Advocate for the Mentally Ill (01/17)
One of the main themes in A Question of Mercy is mental illness. And if you search for information on its history in the United States, the name Dorothea Dix keeps appearing.

In 1802, Dorothea Dix was born into a reportedly unhappy home in Hampden, Maine. Her parents were neglectful alcoholics: her mother was incapacitated by severe ...
The French Enlightenment (01/17)
The intellectually febrile period between the early 1600s and the late 1700s which saw an unsurpassed expansion in humankind's understanding of the world around us, particularly in the arenas of science (especially physics), and social and political philosophy, later came to be known as The Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of ...
Mohammad Mossadegh (01/17)
In Gardens of Consolation, one of the main characters becomes a supporter of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, who served from 1951 – 1953 until he was ousted in a coup d'état backed by the American CIA and the British SIS.

Mossadegh was born in Tehran in 1882 into a well-connected ...
The Jazz Age: A Quick Tour (01/17)
A Certain Age is set in the 1920s in America, known as the Jazz Age.

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald whose novel, The Great Gatsby was one of the defining publishing events of the decade, labeled the Jazz Age so because jazz as a music form became increasingly popular during this time especially in big cities like New York and Chicago.

Jim Crow Laws (12/16)
Patrick Phillips' non-fiction book Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America examines a specific rape and murder of a white girl that occurred in 1912, in Forsyth County, Georgia. It also examines, more broadly, the South during that time. Following the end of the Civil War and the passage of Constitutional Amendments Thirteen ...
Reiving (11/16)
In the 14th century, the land on either side of the border between England and Scotland became known as the 'Border Country' or 'The Borders.' This area, where Fair Helen is set, was frequently used as a thoroughfare by English and Scottish armies, and consequently the residents were constantly impoverished as the militias sought to ...
Thorstein Bunde Veblen (11/16)
The economist Thorstein Bunde Veblen, a frequent point of reference (and the main character's namesake) in Elizabeth McKenzie's The Portable Veblen, was born in Wisconsin in 1857. Veblen is famous for the concept of 'conspicuous consumption,' or spending more on things than they are worth to make a show of one's class.

He was the ...
Prohibition in Vermont (11/16)
Press, the protagonist of In the Country of the Blind, lives in Vermont near a forgotten trail that rum-runners used to smuggle alcohol into the United States during Prohibition. 'The Nobel Experiment,' as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was called, was an attempt at social engineering lasting from 1920 to 1933.

Section 1 ...
America's First Ransom Note (11/16)
In People of the Broken Neck, a series of mysterious messages, scribbled in salt, follow the Sawyers as they flee from the authorities all across the country. Cryptic communications, especially when interlinked with crimes, have always been intriguing, and the ones in this novel reminded me of ransom notes even if they make no overt ...
Occupy Wall Street (11/16)
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size Of a Fist is built around the 1999 street protest in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. Its core message of capitalism and globalization smothering the lifeblood out of an individual has been mirrored in demonstrations before and since, most notably in the Occupy Wall Street movement that was ...
Kurt Cobain (10/16)
In 'Nirvana,' the opening story in Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles, the main character's wife, Charlotte, is paralyzed from the shoulders down. She lies in bed and listens to the rock band Nirvana, as if the band's frontman, Kurt Cobain, was the only person who could understand her despair.

'It's not you,' she says. 'I just need my ...

Eccentric British Noblemen (10/16)
William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland and the eponymous 'Dead Duke' of Piu Marie Eatwell's book, was undeniably eccentric. He was extremely reclusive, never inviting anyone to his home at Welbeck Abbey and prohibiting his servants and workmen from acknowledging his presence in any way (any who did were immediately ...
Wallace Stevens (10/16)
The title of the story collection, Thirteen Ways of Looking, is a reference to a poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. This poem, a stanza of which prefaces each chapter of McCann's novella, was written by Wallace Stevens in 1923.

Stevens, an American poet, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1879. A Harvard graduate and ...
Julius and Ethel Rosenbergs' Children (09/16)
Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, accused of being Soviet spies, are at the center of Jill Cantor's novel, The Hours Count. After their marriage in 1939 the Rosenbergs moved to New York City's Knickerbocker Village where they lived with their two sons, Michael and Robert (renamed John and Richie in the book), until their arrests on ...
Geoffrey Pyke's Genius (09/16)
Geoffrey Pyke, the subject of The Ingenious Mr Pyke, was a man of many talents; his interests were as varied as they were obsessive. To understand them, we need look no further than two of his most successful projects, The Malting House School and the development of a remarkable substance which became known as 'pykrete.'

The Malting ...
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