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Yolande of Aragon (07/16)
Popular history remembers Joan of Arc but not so much Yolande of Aragon (1384 – 1442) who, according to Helen Castor's Joan of Arc, was more influential in placing Charles VII on the throne of France than 'The Maid of Orleans,' or indeed of the rather weak-natured Charles himself.

Yolande of Aragon The kingdom of Aragon was a wealthy, ...
A Glimpse of Beryl Markham (07/16)
Paula McLain's new historical fiction, Circling the Sun is the story of Beryl Markham, an aviatrix whose incredible flight accomplishments took a back seat to the more famous Amelia Earhart. A number of books have tried to shine the light on this British daredevil who, in many ways, was ahead of her time – Straight on Till Morning ...
The Oregon Trail (06/16)
One of the defining qualities of the American character has always been restlessness. But even within the traditions of that locomotive impulse, the so-called 'Great Migration of 1843' stands out as a singularly significant upheaval in the history of continental relocation – and a central concern of Rinker Buck's The Oregon Trail: ...
The Gujarat Riots: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Tainted Legacy (05/16)
In The Association of Small Bombs, the 2002 Gujarat Riots become the rationale for a bombing as terrorists seek revenge against then Chief Minister (and current Indian Prime Minister) Narendra Modi.

The incident began in the western Indian state of Gujarat on February 27, 2002. A train carrying Hindu pilgrims was parked at a station ...
Settling Western Canada (05/16)
In Patrick Gale's A Place Called Winter, he describes how Harry Cane comes across an office for Canadian emigration, and decides that moving abroad to become a homesteader/farmer in Canada is the solution to keeping the scandal of his being homosexual away from his family. Most people know something about the American push to settle the ...
The Space Race (05/16)
Much of The Last Pilot revolves around the United States' participation in the technological contest between the US and the Soviet Union involving conquests in outer space.

The Space Race had its origins in Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II. Military scientists and engineers designed ballistic missiles and liquid-...
The Real-Life Kopp Sisters (05/16)
Girl Waits With Gun is historical fiction based on the true-life accounts of the Kopp sisters of New Jersey, whose lives were irrevocably changed after one roadside incident when their horse-driven buggy was damaged by a car.

The car's owner, Henry Kaufman, was a local industrialist who, along with his brother, owned a silk dyeing ...
The Mighty Lusitania (05/16)
Greg King and Penny Wilson's Lusitania commemorates the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the great ship by exploring its glamorous passengers and the fateful torpedo that highlighted a microcosm of the elegant Edwardian era and possibly initiated the U.S. involvement in World War I (WWI).

In 1915, after the beginning of WWI, a German ...
The Fall of Saigon (04/16)
Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut The Sympathizer vividly describes the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the opening chapters as the narrator is transported out of the city along with a host of fellow citizens who have served the American cause in some way.

April 30, 2015 marked the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. ...
Porcia Catonis (04/16)
In The Death of Caesar, author Barry Strauss touches on the lives of some of the women surrounding the conspirators, including Brutus's wife Porcia Catonis, the daughter of Brutus's uncle Cato the Younger, and perhaps, the only woman who knew about the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.

Much of Porcia's life is undocumented. It's ...
Child Soldiers in the Yugoslavian Civil War (04/16)
The Civil War that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia consisted of a number of separate but related ethnic conflicts spanning the period 1991 to 2001. Sara Novic's debut novel, Girl at War, zeroes in on the Croatian War of Independence, which lasted from 1991 to 1995.

The United Nations estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 child soldiers (some ...
The Challenger Disaster (04/16)
'The day I fell in love with Lindy Simpson was January 28, 1986. This was also the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and seven courageous astronauts died. I was eleven years old and in fifth grade.'

Although not a historical novel, M.O. Walsh's My Sunshine Away evokes a real sense of the recent past when the narrator, fourteen...
The Diaries of Marie Vassiltchikov and the Goncourt Brothers (03/16)
In The Folded Clock, which is a curated selection of Julavits' journal entries over two years, she writes about reading diaries by Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf. These are two giants of twentieth-century literature and thought, but Julavits also references other less well-known practitioners of the craft, including Marie Vassiltchikov (...
Espionage in Wartime: An Unlikely Trio Of Spies (03/16)
In Too Bad to Die, the central character is author Ian Fleming whose career path started out in the British office of naval war intelligence. This piqued my curiosity about other writers in espionage.

Ian Fleming, Julia Child, and Noel Coward had little in common growing up but all three were heavily involved in wartime espionage. ...
The Myth of the American Cowboy (03/16)
In a chapter toward the middle of her novel, Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell includes an excerpt of a letter penned by Oscar Wilde, in England, to Harry Wood, editor of one of Tombstone's newspapers, The Nugget. In it, he inquires whether the editor could 'obtain for me a good specimen of the genus Homo known as the cow-boy.' The note ...
Rabindranath Tagore (02/16)
Set in 1980s London, Odysseus Abroad features a young Bengali protagonist Ananda Sen, who is in the city to study poetry — 'his sights were set on the Olympian, the Parnassian: especially getting published in Poetry Review.' The elephant in the room is the greatest of all Bengali poets, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Even if the ...
Estonia During World War II (02/16)
When the Doves Disappeared is set in Estonia during WWII and the 1960s. The characters are very much shaped by the war and react to it in different ways.

In 1939, as World War II created major players on the world stage, the USSR and Germany shook hands on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that corralled a number of Eastern European ...
New Orleans' Levees (02/16)
Though Hurricane Katrina did strike a mighty blow, it was only part of the catastrophe that befell New Orleans. As Sheri Fink writes in Five Days at Memorial, 'Katrina rapidly lost strength after moving onto land. The rain lessened and the winds began to ease by late morning. The water level outside Memorial stabilized at about three feet...
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Etc. But First, They Have to Stand in Line (02/16)
Before Ellis Island became the 'Welcome to America' sign for about 12 million immigrants from 1892 to 1954, Castle Garden on the waterfront at the tip of Manhattan was the first official immigration hub. From 1855 to 1890 it took in over 8 million immigrants mostly from Northern Europe.

However, worsening conditions in Europe ensured a...
Jedediah Strong Smith (02/16)
Author Shannon Burke bases many of his characters and events in Into the Savage Country on the lives and adventures of real-life American frontiersmen and trappers, the most famous of whom is Jedediah Strong Smith.

Smith was born on January 6, 1798 in Jericho, New York (now known as Bainbridge). The fourth of 12 children, he grew ...
The Sri Lankan Civil War (01/16)
The country of Sri Lanka covers an area of just over 25,000 square miles. Located off the southern tip of India, the island has been called 'the pearl of the Indian Ocean' due to to its shape, location, and natural beauty. Separated from India by about 18 miles at its closest point it is believed that there was a land bridge between it ...
Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Conflict (01/16)
On June 25 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, which, since World War II, had operated as a federal republic comprised of the territories – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

The departure of Croatia, a republic with a large Serbian population, was of ...
Aviation in 1937 (12/15)
Flora Saudade, one of the primary protagonists in Martha Brockenbough's The Game of Love and Death is an aviatrix. The novel takes place in 1937, a year that was full of aviation inventions and adventures. Here are a few highlights:

  • January 19 – Howard Hughes (pilot, businessman and investor) set a new world record, flying from...

Washington's Logging Industry (10/15)
Timber has been a key industry for Washington state since the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees once filled a tract of land from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. Seattle and the Puget Sound area provided much of the lumber that was shipped down to California.

Logging ...
The Marx and Engels Family Members (10/15)
In Mrs. Engels, Gavin McCrea brings the families of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx to life, pitching the reader into the action with little biographical backstory. The lives of these characters are interesting to learn about, within and beyond the time span covered in the novel.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels (1820-...
Old English (10/15)
The phrase 'Old English' might seem like a quaint way to refer to any works in English that we now consider 'old' – Milton, Shakespeare, Chaucer, et al. But in fact Old English – the language whose rhythms and vocabulary inspired Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake – would be unrecognizable by readers and speakers of the ...
The Battle of Stalingrad (10/15)
Berlin, August 20th, 1942

My dear Peter,

The Fuhrer has just announced that we are to take Stalingrad. To hear it from our leader's lips is thrilling. Imagine it, Peter, a German Empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Volga. It is beyond anything I could have hoped for. The man is truly a genius.

And you are to be part ...
More Civil War Women Fighters (10/15)
In addition to the four women profiled by Karen Abbott in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, many others had well-documented military careers. Some of these famous female soldiers include:

Frances Clalin enlisted as Jack Williams. A Minnesota farmer's wife and mother of three, Clalin signed up to be with her husband, Elmer. Her fellow ...
Fifteenth Century: Dawn of the Age of Invention (10/15)
The Black Plague had claimed as much as two-thirds of Europe's population in the 14th Century. Life seemed fragile at best, and people who could write felt like it was important to get things down in black and white, to record their stories for posterity. Furthermore, the Church, the medieval everyman's raison d'etre, had pretty...
William Mulholland and the St. Francis Dam (10/15)
'Self-taught civil engineers are probably as trustworthy as self-taught brain surgeons and self-taught airline pilots,' thinks Finn to himself in 100 Sideways Miles. He's thinking about William Mulholland, the engineer better known today as the namesake for Mulholland Drive, home to many famous actors and musicians and the inspiration for...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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, ...
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