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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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Medgar Evers (05/11)
As Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny begin their project, the Civil Rights Movement is boiling to high heat. It is 1963 and President Kennedy has just spoken out in support of Civil Rights; however, the message has yet to penetrate Mississippi where Medgar Evers was just brutally murdered by segregationist whites. This example of racial ...
E. O. Wilson, the Scientist (04/11)
One of the aspects that makes Anthill unique is author E. O. Wilson's long career in biology and entomology. Anthill merits recognition for its literary merits alone, but the author's unique qualifications for the novel's subject matter deserve attention as well.

E. O. Wilson's long career as a natural scientist began in the late ...
Houdini and his Vanishing Elephant (04/11)
The magician in The Magician's Elephant makes an elephant appear. But what about an elephant that disappears?



In 1918, Houdini made an elephant vanish from the middle of the Hippodrome Theatre in New York before over 5000 pairs of eyes. Jennie was an 8 foot tall, 6,000 pound Asian elephant and when Houdini brought her onto the ...

The Real Bird Man (04/11)
Aeronautical engineer and inventor Paul MacCready (1925-2007) earned the title 'birdman' becoming internationally known in 1977 as the 'father of human-powered flight' when his Gossamer Condor made the first sustained, controlled flight by a heavier-than-air craft powered solely by its pilot's muscles. For the feat he received...
Paranormal Propagandist: Gray Barker (03/11)
West Virginia, the small American state best known for its 'Wild & Wonderful' motto, ravaged coal mines, and rich Appalachian history, might seem an unlikely birthplace for UFO phenomenology; after all, most people associate aliens and flying saucers with Roswell, New Mexico's otherworldly desert landscape. Without the pioneering West ...
Christine de Pizan (03/11)
Portrayed in The Queen's Lover as mentor to Catherine de Valois, Christine de Pizan was quite a woman!    She was the first woman in France, possibly in Europe, to earn her living as a writer. Born in Venice in 1365, her family moved to Paris when she was about five when her father, Tomasso de Pizzano, was appointed as court ...
The Formation of The Red Cross (03/11)
A Memory of Solferino, by Henry Dunant appears over and over throughout The Surrendered. Sylvie acquired the book from her parents and brought it with her to the orphanage in Korea. She is pictured reading it many times and June eventually steals it from Sylvie. It is the impetus for June's final pilgrimage. Though it is out of print, A ...
The Dutch East Indies Company vs. Sakoku (03/11)
There are two nations with two utterly incommensurate notions of power at loggerheads with each other in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. On the one hand, the Netherlands is represented by the Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch), a government-chartered company founded in 1602 to ...
Giordano Bruno (03/11)
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was an Italian Dominican priest, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. After studying for several years in Naples, he entered the Order of St. Dominic at the age of 15, and was ordained priest in 1572. He was known for his belief in the infinite nature of the universe, identifying the Earth's sun as just ...
R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventor, Architect, Futurist (03/11)
If you're not already familiar with the wildly eccentric personality of R. Buckminster Fuller when you read The House of Tomorrow, you might be tempted to think that he is a fictional character. However, Richard Buckminster Fuller was, indeed, very real. Born in 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts into the New England tradition of ...
The Blitz (02/11)
Following Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. After Poland and France surrendered, German intelligence sources believed that the British, too, were close to capitulation after their retreat from Dunkirk in battle between the Allies and Germany, and that a strategy similar to the...
Churchill's Black Dog (02/11)
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the famous British prime minister who told Hitler "we shall never surrender" during World War II, was not the first to describe depression as a "black dog." The Oxford English Dictionary cites earlier uses of the phrase in literature and in nursery lore; for example, a sullen child was ...
Baruch Spinoza (02/11)
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University, has taught philosophy at Bernard College and written five previous philosophically motivated novels. Her most recent book of nonfiction is Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. Bertrand Russell considered Spinoza 'the noblest and most ...
Events That Precipitated the 2008 Recession (02/11)
Many of the reviews and articles about Union Atlantic (like this one) laud Adam Haslett for writing about the collapse of the financial markets before it happened. He handed his editor a first draft of the book the week that Lehman Brothers folded in 2008, one of the events that precipitated the current recession. But the book is set much...
The 1974 Ethiopian Revolution (01/11)
Ethiopia was a monarchy until 1974, ruled by a dynasty that can be documented back to the 13th century, and claimed by oral tradition to trace its lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Emperor Haile Selassie I, born in 1892, was the country's last emperor, beginning his rule as regent in 1916 and officially becoming emperor in ...
The All-YA-Author Band (11/10)
Natalie Standiford is a rock star! Not only does she write books for children and young adults, but she is also in two bands. One is a punk rock band called Ruffian, and the other - check this out! - is an all YA-author band called Tiger Beat. Natalie's band-mates include Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, and Barnabas Miller. Natalie plays ...
Australia's role in the Korean and Vietnam Wars (11/10)
When war broke out in Korea in June 1950, the United Nations Security Council asked all of its members to assist in repelling the North Korean invasion into South Korea. North Korea was under the influence of the Soviet Union and later in the war Communist China entered the fray as well. Fifteen nations sent contingents to defend South ...
The Real Homer and Langley (10/10)
The Collyer brothers of Doctorow's novel, like many of his fictional characters, are based on historical personalities. Though he shifts the time-period up a few decades and re-imagines the brothers, the bones of the narrative can be found in the headlines of decades past.
The real Homer Collyer (b. 1881) was found dead in his ...
Trotsky in Mexico (09/10)
Kingsolver's fictional protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, spends much of his life brushing up against the lives of real people, including the Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who played host to Leon Trotsky in the 1930s. Undoubtedly, you know of Trotsky, Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist, but did you know that he spent...
wolf Hall: Cast of Characters (09/10)

Henry VIII
King of England 1509-1547
Painted by Hans Holbein in 1536

German painter Hans Holbein made his reputation in Basel, designing wood blocks for book printers, and painting portraits and commissions for churches. Despite his relative success, the disturbed conditions of the Reformation led him to doubt his financial future and ...

Comfort Women (09/10)
Carmen's experience as a comfort woman in Los Baños was not an uncommon one for southeast Asian women during World War II. The system of brothels began in 1932. In the early stages, volunteer Japanese prostitutes were used until Japan's military expansion made it difficult to get volunteers. At this point, the military turned to ...
Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist (08/10)

Vice president Richard Nixon spars with Nikita Khrushchev during the former's visit to Moscow.

On the set of the film Can-Can, Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra gave the communist dictator a taste of good old fashioned American titillation.

K and wife Nina pose with the family of Iowa corn farmer Robert Garst whose deft ...
Kristallnacht - a precursor to the holocaust (08/10)
While Philppe Claudel makes no explicit references to any historical event, a number of them clearly influenced his novel. A particularly poignant example comes when Brodeck is forced to flee the city where he attends university because nationalist thugs respond to a popular protest by smashing store fronts and savagely beating anyone ...
Pancho Villa (06/10)
In Far Bright Star, Cavalryman Napoleon Childs is a member of an expedition sent to the Mexican border to apprehend bandit Pancho Villa.

Many details of Villa's life are unknown or in dispute. Scholars believe he was born José Doroteo Arango Arambula in 1877 (some sources indicate 1878 or 1879) in San Juan del Rio, Durango, Mexico....
Elise and Otto Hampel (05/10)
Every Man Dies Alone is inspired by Elise and Otto Hampel, a blue collar couple. Elise and Otto eluded the police and the Gestapo from September 1940-42, 'leaving hundreds of postcards calling for civil disobedience and workplace sabotage all over Berlin.'

One of the frequent subjects of the Hampels' postcards was the Winter Relief ...
The Burundian Genocide (05/10)
The 1993 Burundian genocide (which preceded the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) traces back to the end of Belgian colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s and the first Berudian genocide of 1972. Burundian history fits, like interlocking puzzle pieces, with that of its northern neighbor, Rwanda (map of Central Africa).

Like in Rwanda, Hutus make ...
Ivan Mishukov - The boy who lived with a pack of wild dogs (05/10)
I was fascinated to learn that Eva Hornung's novel Dog Boy was inspired by the real-life story of Ivan Mishukov, a four-year-old boy who decided to run away from his mother and her alcoholic boyfriend in 1996 in Moscow, and ended up living with a pack of wild dogs for approximately two years before he was rescued. In the book Savage Girls...
The Two Faces of France During WWII (04/10)
What happens when part of a country's population embraces the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity while the rest abandon those principles in favor of work, family, fatherland, and a heavy dose of anti-Semitism? Moreover, what if that ideological split divides not only the country's people, but its leadership as well? If that ...
You Don't Have To Go It Alone - Female Adventurers (04/10)
Not all adventurers seek solitude. In December 2009, seven women from the Commonwealth countries of Cyprus, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, skied together over 800 kilometres across Antarctica to the South Pole 'to demonstrate the potential of greater intercultural understanding and exchange, while at ...
The Life & Times of Judah Benjamin, the Secretary of State for the Confederate States of America. (03/10)
All Other Nights incorporates a number of historical characters, but perhaps the most integral to the tale is Judah Benjamin, the Secretary of State for the Confederate States of America.

Judah Benjamin was born in 1811 in the West Indies during the British occupation of the Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands).  He ...
A Brief Biography of Copernicus (02/10)
Nicolaus Copernicus was one of the first scientists to remove the Earth (and consequently, humanity) from the center of the universe, countering the theological teachings of his day. As such, his theories are referred to often in You Are Here. He is regarded as one of the central figures of the Scientific Revolution, and is sometimes ...
Pullman Porters (02/10)
Clarence King presented himself to Ada Copeland as Pullman porter James Todd with good reason; at the turn of the 20th twentieth century, only black men were hired as sleeping car porters. Introducing himself as a man of this profession would leave no doubt of his race, regardless of the color of his skin.

China's The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution (01/10)

China's Cultural Revolution, which Chairman Mao Zedong formally announced in 1966, was a reaction to his earlier attempt, known as 'The Great Leap Forward', to increase China's economic base by moving the country away from its agrarian economy to an industrialized one using the massive supplies of cheap humans rather than expensive ...
A Short Biography of Rasputin (11/09)
Rasputin's role within St. Petersburg's high society is detailed throughout the first section of Sashenka.

Gregori Yefimovich Rasputin was born in a small village in Siberia in 1864 or 1865. At the age of 18 he was sent to a monastery, possibly as a penance for a minor theft. He returned a changed man, and embarked on the life ...
The Salem Witch Trials (11/09)
From June through September of 1692, fourteen women and five men were hanged in Salem Village on charges of witchcraft, and Martha Carrier was among them. Nearly 150 men, women, and children were imprisoned, and an unknown number perished while they languished in crowded jails for months until the trials were brought to an end. ...
Apartheid (11/09)
Apartheid (meaning separateness in Afrikaans*) was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1990.

The new system was a way for the white Afrikaner National Party to ensure their control over both South Africa's economy and social structure. The key was white ...
The Stanley Internment Camp (11/09)
Although Elizabeth does not talk about her experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II except to mention that her parents died there, its memory definitely colors her feelings about Hong Kong. While we do not know for sure, it seems likely that the camp she was interned in was the Stanley Civilian Camp - a non-segregated ...
World Expositions (10/09)
Although the first world exposition officially occurred in 1851 in London, enormous get-togethers were nothing new. Expositions originate from markets in medieval times, where masses of people would converge at major commercial route city centers. Lyons, Frankfurt, and Leipzig were particularly noted for their early markets. ...
Afghanistan 1979 - 1994 (10/09)
At the beginning of the novel, Lara, a character reminiscent, in her painful past and gracefulness, of Lara in Dr. Zhivago, arrives on Marcus's doorstep to uncover the fate of her brother Benedikt, who came to Afghanistan with the 1979 Soviet invasion...

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan at the request of the largely unpopular, pro-Soviet...
The Great Molasses Flood (10/09)
Prohibition was about to become the law of the land in 1919, and the Purity Distilling Company wanted to make a last batch before their product became illegal. They had a huge tank situated in the North End of Boston, which was densely populated with Italian immigrants.

The company poured warm molasses into the tank on top of a ...
Real-life Spies (09/09)
The character of Colonel Forbes-James is based in part on the spymaster Charles Maxwell Knight (1900-1968). After rising through the ranks of the British Fascisti organization, Knight was recruited by M15 in the mid-1920's, and later headed up B5b, the division responsible for monitoring political subversion. As M15's chief agent runner, ...
The Frank Landslide (07/09)
Most of The Outlander is fictional, but the slide at Frank, which catastrophically plagues the closing third of the story, is based on the factual landslide at Frank, Alberta in 1903.

Frank, Alberta was a small Canadian mining outpost that was inaugurated as a town in 1901. On April 29, 1903, 74 million tons of limestone slid ...
The Victorian Era (05/09)
Each of Margot Livesey's four key characters relates to a specific author: John Keats, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) and Charles Dickens were both prominent Victorians, the term used to describe people, things and events during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). A great source ...
The Metis & Louis Riel (05/09)
Louis Riel
Many of the characters featured in The Plague of Doves are Metis.  The Metis (historically known as the Bois Brule) emerged in Canada in the mid-17th Century as New World fur traders intermarried with Cree, Ojibwe, Salteaux and Menominee natives. While mostly French, some of ...
The 1972 Democratic Nomination (05/09)
Senator Henry Bonwiller, the presidential candidate to whom Liam Metarey acts as closest advisor, is fictional, but the rest of the details of the 1972 Democratic nomination battle are true.

The field was crowded with men—and two women—vying to challenge President Nixon's re-election effort. Nixon was seen as ...
Aleksandar Hemon (05/09)
Aleksandar Hemon's extraordinary life story is more than simply fodder for book publicists. It informs everything he has written, for his work is restlessly autobiographical, infused with the urgency of thinking through his life on paper.

In 1992, Hemon was a young Bosnian writer, just two years out of the University of ...
The Second Sino-Japanese War (05/09)
Joseph Needham's travels in China took place during the latter half of the conflict known as the Second Sino-Japanese War - the largest war to take place in Asia during the 20th century (map of Asia).

The seeds of the conflict were sown during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), at the end of which China ceded Taiwan and ...
Little Known Facts About Robert Frost (04/09)
By the end of his long life, Robert Frost was the éminence grise of American letters, a man whose legend preceded him and who often collaborated in promulgating that legend. Yet Brian Hall depicts a Robert Frost who is distinctly more complex than the one most of us encountered in high school, that 'simple rustic,' that plain-spoken ...
Bosnia and the Siege of Sarajevo (04/09)
The 20th century was an intensely bloody time for the Balkan region (20th century timeline & maps) as it emerged from centuries of control by the Ottoman Empire, and briefer control by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, that triggered World War I, took place on the Latin Bridge (also known as the Princip...
The Chacapoyas (04/09)
Jackson's search for La Joya (pronounced la hoi-ya) is a search any of us could embark on, but we might find it more expedient to visit one of the easier to locate Chachapoya sites. The Chachapoyas, the Warriors of the Clouds, lived in the Andes in what  is now Northern Peru - and La Joya, one of many ruined Chachapoyan cities, can ...
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