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When Books Went to War: The Stories that…

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II (2014)

by Molly Guptill Manning

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5053328,735 (4)1 / 99



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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Did I read the same book as other reviewers? I have to say, I'm really confused by the high praise this book is getting. It's a really interesting topic: the role books played for US soldiers in WWII. I don't think I've ever encountered this particular topic (there's propaganda, but that's more for people at home, rather than the soldiers themselves). I thought, a book about books? During a very dark time at home and for soldiers abroad? Sounds interesting!
Instead, it's an incredibly dry retelling of the role books played for the men (unfortunately it was decided that women didn't need this service) who fought on the beaches, in the trenches, and at sea. What began as a book drive evolved into what we now know as mass market paperbacks: books that could easily fit into a soldier's pocket and could be read while they waited, before they went to sleep, when on a break, when traveling, during recuperation from injury, etc.
Some stories were incredibly touching: men who were gravely wounded passed waiting time for medics by reading, soldiers recuperating or homesick wrote to authors saying they had given the men a little piece of home and to thank them for writing these books, etc. It was really interesting to see how some soldiers actually established a rapport with some (post-war, one author saw an uptick of soldiers enrolling in his university class, another dedicated his PhD dissertation to another author, thanking her for inspiring him to read).
Unfortunately these really fascinating parts are stuck between extremely dry retelling of war history (and also making it very US-centric, which is part of the book's purpose, but also perhaps glosses over the uglier parts). The author's style just doesn't flow well for me, and even the book-focused sections sometimes needed me to really sit through it.
While I'm glad I read it, I'm also really glad I didn't buy it. Definitely library or borrow elsewhere. I think only WWII historians would really want it (I don't think hardcore book lovers or librarians would want it for their own personal collection unless they are also historians). ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
I picked up When Books Went to War as a gift for my mother (sorry Mom, now you know…) and thought I’d have no interest in reading it. Mom reads more history than I do, especially WWII which she experienced as a young girl on the home front.

Still thinking it wouldn’t appeal, I dipped into it one evening. Before I knew it, I was several chapters in, fascinated by the idea, creation, distribution and importance of Armed Services Editions (ASEs) paperback books.

The idea was conceived by a wartime government entity- delightfully named The Council on Books in Wartime. Their slogan was “Books are weapons in the war of ideas”. Prior to this, private citizens were asked to donate books for the troops, but the effort proved disastrous as citizens unloaded books they didn’t want. Additionally, this was before paperbacks had been fully embraced by either the publishers or the reading public. The many donated hard backs proved unwieldy for use other than in military hospital libraries or training facilities. No one had figured out how to print small, lightweight books that could be carried by infantry soldiers into the battle trenches.

When Books Went to War tells the fascinating story of how a few publishers employed the Reader Digest magazine printers to produce these small and invaluable volumes. I learned how they used the two-up method — where two books were printed on one page. Because of this, printers staff had the tedious job of counting pages, words and characters in order to match similarly sized books. Given paper rationing, every page was used and an initial run had the typeface so small, they were impossible to read. But after these few initial failures – the ASE were born.

The book is interspersed with letters from the soldiers at the front – there’s a brilliant description of the daily rigors of an infantryman to letters of thanks from soldiers who eagerly awaited the ASE’s.

The best chapter in the book is called "Grab a Book Joe and Keep Goin’". The chapter title refers to the rule that when the books arrived, and the soldiers lined up the pick out a book, they had to just pick one and quickly move one. They would trade them around later. This was to facilitate the very long ASE lines — much longer than the line for cigarettes. These books filled many long lonely hours for soldiers.

There are many delightful tidbits – who would guess that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was the most popular ASE? And that hundreds soldiers wrote thank you letters to author Betty Smith (she answered every one). Like me, you may choke up to learn that when men had to jettison items from their packs to save weight, they never discarded their books?

Towards the end of the war and after, the US continued to distribute these books to both to servicemen and, later, to European civilians who were starved for reading material. The appendix lists just a fraction of the banned authors who books were banned and burned in German and German occupied countries during the war.

The other appendix of this book is so fascinating I may have to keep this book (only kidding, Mom) as it lists every ASE published in date order, by series (A-B-C etc.) and issued number. Classics, short stories, humor, essays, now-forgotten popular authors, many sports books and even a few science and mathematics books show up. Nothing condensed or dumbed-down. To read through this listing of titles is a wonderful glimpse into the reading and publishing tastes of the time. Not to mention, some of the ASE authors are the same as those on the banned book list.

When Books Went to War is an important cultural history; but it is also vastly readable, interesting, meticulously researched and well-written.

If you love books, are interested in World War II and want to remember a time when Americans (and government) worked together for a common goal, read this book.
See all my reviews at Bookbarmy.com ( )
  BookBarmy | Apr 13, 2017 |
While Nazis were burning books in Europe, Americans were trying to get more books distributed to the men fighting in the war. Their first efforts were a massive book drive, collecting about 10 million books to send to various training camps and overseas bases to support military libraries. But the hardcover books that were donated were too heavy for soldiers to carry into combat. So an unprecedented collaboration was born, including publishers, librarians and the military, and the Armed Service Edition (ASE) was launched.

The ASEs were printed on thinner paper with smaller type, and small enough to fit in a pocket. Soldiers and sailors were eager for this reading material and many wrote letters of thanks to authors, publishers and the council who ran the program.

Manning does a wonderful job of including the history of the times and the challenges faced by the Council, including efforts to censor the books that would be included. I was completely fascinated and engaged from beginning to end. This was an episode of our history about which I had never heard. How I wish I had read this book when my father was still alive, so I could ask him about it; he spent 33 months in the Pacific, making landings from New Guinea to the Philippines and eventually helping with the clean-up in Hiroshima. He hardly ever talked about his experiences, and I know so little about what he went through. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 8, 2017 |
When Hitler and the Nazis came to power they didn't just overrun their enemies - they burned their books. Millions of books were burned in Berlin and other countries - books and authors that were seen as subversive to the Nazi ideals. Hitler even wrote his own book, and foisted it upon the population. In fact, it wasn't just a war for the land and people, it was a war for their minds as well.

Many in America took this as a challenge, and it was seen as a matter of pride that American service men would be able to read. Book drives were begun to collect books that could be sent to the military, but many of those were heavy hardbound books and more than a few were so old and outdated as to be useless. In an unprecedented move, publishers came together under the Council on Books in Wartime and produced the Armed Services Edition (ASE) - small, lightweight, and portable copies of bestsellers, classics, biographies, histories, compilations of poetry, and discussions of current events. The books, which could fit easily in pockets and packs, turned out to be extremely popular, and over 123 million (!) were printed and distributed over the course of the war. Authors received fan mail from grateful soldiers who had read their books.

This is a wonderful and mostly forgotten story of WWII. I loved reading some of the letters and comments the men sent, and it makes me want to read books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Chicken Every Sunday. Even The Great Gatsby was saved from obscurity by the ASE program. And the impact was felt far beyond the war, as men came home readers and re-entered society and universities. The book also includes a list of many of the authors banned by the Nazis, as well as a complete list of the books published as ASEs. ( )
  J.Green | Nov 22, 2016 |
As a book lover, I found the story of supplying the WWII troops with books interesting; and also detailing the story of Hitler's destruction of millions of books that he considered subversive. I was expecting the book to have more of the soldier's feelings about what being able to read the books meant to them. I didn't expect to see so much about how the concept began and grew. But I learned something I didn't know so that's a good thing. ( )
  bogopea | Oct 2, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Molly Guptill Manningprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dunne, BernadetteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, MichaelaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my husband, Christopher Manning
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"Were you ever so upset emotionally that you had to tell someone about it, to sit down and write it out?" a Marine asked in a letter to the author Betty Smith.
“Books are weapons in the war of ideas” - the slogan of the Council on Books in Wartime.
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Book description
Covers the Victory Book Campaign, 1942–1943, a civilian program for supplying reading material to the armed services men. Second section tells the story of The Council of Books in Wartime, which created the Armed Services Editions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0544535022, Hardcover)

When America entered World War II in 1941, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war.
Comprising 1,200 different titles of every imaginable type, these paperbacks were beloved by the troops and are still fondly remembered today. Soldiers read them while waiting to land at Normandy; in hellish trenches in the midst of battles in the Pacific; in field hospitals; and on long bombing flights. They wrote to the authors, many of whom responded to every letter. They helped rescue The Great Gatsby from obscurity. They made Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, into a national icon. When Books Went to War is an inspiring story for history buffs and book lovers alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:46 -0400)

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"When America entered World War II in 1941, [it] faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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