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Konrad Adenauer (09/15)
We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon.

Amanda Eyre Ward's novel The Same Sky takes its title from this quote, which is attributed to Konrad Adenauer, who was the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949-1966. Who was this charismatic leader?

Konrad Adenauer was born in Cologne, Germany...
Second-Wave Feminism (09/15)
In the early 20th century several strides were made for the advancement of women, including the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. These victories were associated with what is commonly referred to as the first wave of feminism. After World War II, however, feminist causes waned, and by the 1950s the image of the...
Monks and Wine in Burgundy (09/15)
In Shadows In the Vineyard, we learn how strong a factor the concept of terroir is in winemaking. 'It's the sum of the natural characteristics unique to each parcel or climat of vines: the amount of sunlight and rain an area receives, the pitch and composition of its earth, and, of course, the vines,' writes Maximillian Potter. Terroir ...
The Great Escape (09/15)
Zero Night relates the story of 'The Warburg Wire Job,' one of several mass escapes from German POW camps during World War II, the most well-known of which was 'The Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III on 24-25 March 1944, made famous by the 1963 movie of the same name.

Stalag Luft III was a large prisoner-of-war camp opened in April ...
Phineas T. Barnum (09/15)
In 1843 in Bridgeport Connecticut, P.T. Barnum hired Charles Stratton, then aged five, to work in his American Museum. In New York, described as 'just arrived from England,' Charlie became an eleven-year old named Tom Thumb, and soon thrilled the viewing public with his impressions of Napoleon Bonaparte. Of these deceptions, Barnum wrote ...
Hurricane Katrina and the Danziger Bridge Incident (09/15)
After Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees failed, approximately 80% of New Orleans was under water. Sewage was everywhere, swollen dead bodies floated in the water and lined the streets, the heat was stifling, and – after a few days – it became clear that help was in no hurry to get there. Out of desperation to find food, water...
Life In Red: Russia in the 1920s (08/15)
Austin Voronkov, the protagonist of Vanessa Mankov's The Invention of Exile, spends two years in the Soviet Union with his American wife, Julia: from 1920 to 1922. This timeframe is part of a difficult period in Russian history, the 1917-1922 civil war between the Bolshevik Red Army and the White Army. This period is rendered with...
Quilting a Fictional Character from Real People (07/15)
Any Jew or Israeli reading this book will recognize much of the famous Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky in Baruch Kotler. This was apparently Bezmozgis' intention, and he drew on Sharansky's extremely vocal and high profile opposition to Israel's 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, including his resignation from the Knesset (the ...
Calamity Jane (07/15)
Few figures encapsulate the myth-making impulse of The Wild West better than Calamity Jane, whose appearance in Joe Lansdale's Paradise Sky is just the latest in a century-long fascination with this shadowy woman on the fringes of western heroics.

According to Calamity Jane – whose real name was Martha Jane Cannary – she ...
The Cathars (07/15)
In the fight between the Atemporals and the Anchorites, The Bone Clocks frequently references the Cathars.

The Cathars were members of a religious sect of Christianity that flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries in southern France and northern Italy. They believed in a dualistic theory of religion, with good and evil on opposing ...
The Grand Tour (07/15)
In David Nicholls' novel, Us, a couple sets out to show their son Europe as a parting gift before he heads to college. It's to be a Grand Tour, the mother tells her son, 'to prepare you for the adult world, like in the eighteenth century.' She explains that it was 'traditional for young men of a certain class and age to embark on a ...
The Somali Civil War: A Brief Overview (07/15)
Nadifa Mohamed's latest novel is set at the birth of a new conflict for Somalia and runs right up to the present day. To understand the whys and wherefores of Somali lawlessness is to gain insight into one of the most treacherous parts of the world.

In 1991, the country's socialist dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, ...
Women In the U.S. Civil War (06/15)
Historians have documented some 400 cases of women serving as men in the American Civil War (see our review and Beyond the Book for Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy).

Motives for their enlistment varied widely, although it would seem that most enlisted to stay with family; many were concerned that their husband, father, brother or son ...
American Women in the Military (04/15)
Both my grandmothers served in the United States army during World War I. Like Lauren (the protagonist in Be Safe I Love You, a veteran soldier who has served in Iraq), they enlisted in order to seek a better future than offered in their small hometowns. They were among more than 20,000 nurses serving in the United States and overseas ...
The Death Railway (04/15)
Richard Flanagan's novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North is based on a terrible chapter from WWII: the construction, under Japanese supervision, of a railway between Thailand and Burma by Allied prisoners of war and local workers. The slave labor conditions and the tortures experienced by the forced laborers claimed the lives of 13,000 ...
Mind the Gap: The Early Days of London's Pioneering Subway (02/15)
While Boston and New York might have been competing stateside to launch the first subway, across the Atlantic, London was already way ahead in getting its underground tube rolling. In the mid-nineteenth century, congestion was getting to be an increasing problem in the city as the only way to travel around was by buses and cabs, not ...
The Dunkirk Evacuation (02/15)
In The Afrika Reich, Guy Saville sets his story in a world in which the 'miracle of Dunkirk' is reimagined as the 'massacre of Dunkirk.' In this book, Britain failed in their mass evacuation of troops from the European mainland. Burton Cole, the protagonist, is a survivor and a former prisoner of the Germans.

The stage for the ...
The Hungarian Gold Train (02/15)
Although aligned with the Axis powers, Hungary avoided direct participation in World War II until 1941 and most Jews in the country were protected from deportation, although they were subject to anti-Jewish laws. This changed in 1944 when Hitler discovered that Hungary had been secretly engaged in peace negotiations with the USA and UK ...
Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project (01/15)
During World War II an isolated area in the American Southwest became the primary research and development site for the creation of the most destructive force in human history. As part of the Allied mission to vanquish the threat of the German nuclear development program, scientists and engineers built the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New ...
The Frozen-Water Trade (01/15)
In The Kept, Elspeth works in the ice trade, which began in the early 1800s. Your chilled water, iced tea and sodas (or pop, if you prefer) owe a debt of thanks to this frozen-water trade, which involved the harvesting, transport and sale of natural ice. The industry had broad ramifications affecting the preservation of food, beverages, ...
Lebanon's Civil War (01/15)
Lebanon is a tiny state (about two-thirds the size of Connecticut) bordering the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Its geographical location, nestled between Syria to the north and Israel to the south, combined with the complex and delicate balance between its various ethnic and religious populations (totaling about 5 million), ...
The Post World War II German Black Market (11/14)
To say that by the end of World War II Germany was in tatters is a massive understatement. Infrastructure services were at a standstill, craters gaped where centuries-old buildings had once stood, the economy was based upon currency – the Reichsmark – that was essentially worthless. Worse, the government was forced to ration ...
James Tiptree Jr. (11/14)
In The Blazing World, the protagonist Harriet Burden's notebooks often include references to female artists, writers and intellectuals who struggled for recognition in male-dominated circles. One of the writers she mentions is James Tiptree Jr., an award-winning science fiction author who turned out to be a woman named Alice Bradley ...
A Glimpse at a Few Former Astronauts (10/14)
Before we learn that the professor in Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation has been hired by a rich, failed astronaut to ghostwrite a book about the space program, she observes her baby daughter laughing at ...
The Mystery of Duffy's Cut (10/14)
Before 2004, hikers passing through the woods in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the vicinity of Malvern would have encountered a granite block enclosure with no identifying marker. Perhaps they would have puzzled a moment before walking on. Perhaps they would have heard an odd sound or even caught a glimpse of a specter dancing on the ...
Millerism (10/14)
Belle's aunt and uncle followed the preachings of William Miller, a New York farmer and the founder of Millerism. They believed Miller's prophecy that Jesus would return to earth in 1844.

Miller's idea was not profound — or original. The notion of the Second Coming is a core tenet of Christianity. Though the idea is central,...
McCarthyism (10/14)
In 'The Unknown Soldier,' one of the stories in Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans, a young actor, Alexi Liebman, has to serve jail time because he comes under suspicion that he is a member of the American Communist party. This fictional account is based on very real events that took place in the United States.

Throughout the 1940s and ...
New Zealand's Gold Rush (10/14)
The Luminaries is set in the New Zealand town of Hokitika during the nineteenth century gold rush. Hokitika is located on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island, which is one of three areas in the country where gold was found to be in sufficient quantity to mine.

Rumors of gold in a small part of New Zealand's North Island ...
Rose O'Neale Greenhow (09/14)
Though Rosetta is a fictional character in I Shall Be Near To You, some of the people she encounters as an enlisted soldier are not. When Rosetta guards Rose O'Neale Greenhow in the Old Capital Prison, we are given some insights into a fascinating, historical figure.

Born in Maryland in 1817, Greenhow was an ardent secessionist. ...
The Voyage of the Damned (09/14)
One of the subjects raised often throughout The Lion Seeker is the difficulty Jews faced leaving Europe as WWII ramped up. The voyage of the MS St. Louis, sometimes referred to as 'The Voyage of the Damned,' is referenced in passing.

After Kristallnacht – 'The Night of Broken Glass' – on November 9-10, 1938, many Jews ...
Battle of the Aleutian Islands (09/14)
In The Wind Is Not A River, the protagonist, journalist John Easley, finds himself on the Aleutian island of Attu in April 1943, when the Battle of the Aleutian Islands is taking place.

We've all heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the precipitating event that led the United States to fight in World War II...
Operation Carpetbagger (08/14)
They flew by night, predominantly during the 'moon period,' when there was sufficient moonlight to navigate by. Their airplanes were painted black to avoid detection, and they flew at dangerously low altitudes, often as low as 2,000 ft. The first flights were with modified B-24D Liberators; later, C-47s, A-26s, and British Mosquitos were ...
Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company (07/14)
Many writers of 'The Lost Generation,' including Ernest Hemingway, spent a considerable amount of time in a Paris bookstore run by expat Sylvia Beach. Both Beach and her business offered considerable support to these artists, and in many ways were partly responsible for shaping the American literature of the generation.

Sylvia Beach ...
Pablo Escobar and His Excesses (06/14)
If one of the first things that comes to mind when someone says the word 'Colombia,' is 'drugs,' that fault lies squarely on the shoulders of notorious drug mobster, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria. Born in 1949 to a school teacher and a farmer, Pablo Escobar grew up in the suburbs of Medellin (pronunciation) and turned to a life of crime ...
The Role of Jewish Women in American Communism (06/14)
While communism might be a dirty word today, its principles held a lot of appeal for the working poor in the United States for much of the 1920s through the 50s. The idea of a 'workers' revolution' akin to the Russian October revolution of 1917 didn't seem too far-fetched. The stock market crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression ...
The Special Operations Executive (06/14)
Christine Granville worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organization set up to assist European resistance movements and according to Winston Churchill, 'to set Europe ablaze.' The SOE was formed from three different but overlapping units: a propaganda unit known as Department EH run by a Canadian newspaper magnate; ...
The Heatwave of 1976 (05/14)
The heatwave described in the novel is based on an actual one that took place in the summer of 1976 in Britain, which was preceded by a dry period that began the previous year. At the time this had been the driest 16-month period in over 250 years. Though there was some rain during that summer, it was so little and sporadic that it didn't...
The Chernobyl Disaster (05/14)
In All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, the Chernobyl disaster acts as the primary backdrop against which the story unfolds. Darragh McKeon describes the accident and the horrific aftermath in moving detail.

The disaster took place more than twenty-five years ago, on April 26, 1986, Situated about 88 miles north of Kiev in Ukraine, which...
Douglass and O'Connell: An Unlikely Friendship (05/14)
One of the historical events that frames TransAtlantic is Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland. Douglass was an escaped slave and later became a champion abolitionist. In late 1845, he visited Ireland as part of a two-year lecture tour through Ireland, Scotland and England. Douglass had escaped seven years earlier and had published his ...
Speakeasies in the Age of Prohibition (04/14)
Prohibition came into effect in January 1920, one year to the day after the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified. It was a victory for the Anti-Saloon League, which had campaigned since 1893 to outlaw alcohol in order protect women and children from the effects of drunken husbands and to increase productivity among workers.

But it was ...
The Surprising Love Life of a Dictator (04/14)
Political power seems to be an eternally compelling aphrodisiac. Benito Mussolini was a legendary Lothario who is estimated to have experienced casual sexual relations during his years as a dictator with as many as 5,000 women. Italian archives contain the guest registers listing the arrival and departure times of these 'Fascist visitors,...
Sister Acts (04/14)
Photographs of famous historical women – from writers to activists to painters to doctors – cover every inch of wall space at 11 Hope Street, the setting for Menna van Praag's novel, The House at the End of Hope Street. Among them are two sets of famous sisters: Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell; and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and...
Norma Wallace, New Orleans' Last Madam (04/14)
In an interview about her new book, Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys describes finding a different book, one that blew her away. She was out in the rain once and had ducked into a bookstore to keep from getting wet, when she saw the book The Last Madam: Life in the New Orleans Underworld by Christine Wiltz. She bought and read the book in ...
Polio in 1940s North Carolina (03/14)
In the fictional North Carolina mountain town at the heart of Gail Godwin's Flora, a 1945 polio scare takes the life of one child and paralyzes another while the community scrambles to contain the disease. These tragedies, which form part of the cultural fabric of Godwin's fictional world, echo real events that took place in rural North ...
Victorian Workhouses (03/14)
In the early nineteenth century in England, parish churches and towns provided relief for the poor, but as the cost of looking after them kept rising and the method became increasingly disorganized, the upper classes and growing middle class who carried the burden of this expense by paying increasingly higher property taxes, sought a ...
Toussaint l'Ouverture (02/14)
François-Dominique Toussaint l'Ouverture was born circa 1743 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (which would later become Haiti) to an educated slave named Gaou-Guinou, who was probably a member of the African Arrada tribe. According to biographer D. Augustus Straker (1908), 'So remarkable were [l'Ouverture's] traits of character...
The Second Chechen War and the Lead-Up to It (02/14)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is set primarily during the Second Chechen War, which started August 1999.

The second war had its roots in the First Chechen War (aka the War in Chechnya). At the heart of this initial conflict – and indeed the one that followed - was the relationship of Chechnya to Russia.

Chechnya was ...
La Belle Epoque (02/14)
The more than forty year period from the early 1870s to the beginning of World War I saw peace across much of Europe. Fueled by the continuing advancements of the Industrial Revolution, the era was marked by optimism and prosperity - for some. In France, this period is known as La Belle Époque, 'the beautiful age', a description ...
The Blitz (01/14)
A significant and arresting section in the second half of Life After Life occurs during the period of the German bombings of London during World War II known as 'The Blitz.' This period between September 1940 and May 1941 was a time of fear, destruction and collective British determination. The nickname comes from the German word '...
Sundown Towns (01/14)
Don't let the sun set on YOU.

This is typical wording on a sign at the edge of what was called a 'sundown town', which gained its name because these towns required people of color to leave their perimeters – not surprisingly – by sundown. These towns, found throughout the USA not just in the South, were explicitly all-white ...
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