When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War

The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II

Book - 2014
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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. 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." -- Publisher's website.
Chronicles the joint effort of the U.S. government, the publishing industry, and the nation's librarians to boost troop morale during World War II by shipping more than one hundred million books to the front lines for soldiers to read during what little downtime they had.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
ISBN: 9780544535022
Branch Call Number: 028.9097 MANNING
Characteristics: xv, 267 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

The curiously compelling history behind the selection, design, and distribution of life-saving books to WWII soldiers. It is fascinating to learn which novels were chosen and uplifting to imagine homesick soldiers trading a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn like a rare treasure.

An immensely readable tale of a forgotten but vital wartime effort, one to get portable entertainment and comfort to soldiers on the front lines and eventually the rest of the world. “…men are reading where men have never read before.”

From the critics

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bibliosara Sep 25, 2020

Filled with intrigue and insight, Manning's When Books Went to War is an unexpected glimpse into the development of the Armed Services Editions, a series of unique paperbacks published during World War II for soldiers serving oversees. Largely unknown by the general public, ASEs made a huge impact on the troops who received them. Organized by the War Department with the assistance of librarians from around the country, the distribution of ASEs changed the lives of many a soldier. Books were a way for them to escape the horrors of war and the bittersweet anxiety of returning home; they were a way to make connections between armies and between unexpected friends (as in the case of authors becoming pen pals to lonely soldiers); they were a way to prepare troops for a peacetime career. In short, they brought hope to soldiers enduring unspeakable conditions and experiences. From the Bible to the Great Gatsby, more than one thousand titles were distributed to lonely and hopeless troops. Manning's book describes this campaign engagingly in a captivating narrative style, with plenty of pictures and quotes to keep readers immersed.

RandomLibrarian Feb 03, 2020

This book is a fascinating look at the role of books and libraries in WWII. Cheap ASEs (Armed Service Editions) made literature accessible and a way to pass the time for soldiers and sailors alike. It also helped save books like "The Great Gatsby", which was in very real danger of being forgotten in its own time, and promoted a great love for classics like Jane Austen's works, "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn", and more. Books also gave troops the chance to start learning something new and preparing for a post-war life, whether that meant going to college on the newly-created G.I. Bill or something else.

Briskly paced and expertly told, "When Books Went to War" is one for bibliophiles and history buffs alike.

Nov 02, 2019

What a moving book! I knew that books had been considered instruments to win WWII, but I had no idea to what extent. The image of soldiers or sailors holding on to their ASEs is so powerful! This book describes the story behind the Armed Services Editions, how they came to be created, their physical appearance and the tremendous impact they had on the soldiers' morale. Even if you don't particularly like reading, this book is a must. It's a testament to the power of words and ideas and a reminder that we cannot never read enough. It also describes how a whole nation came together to give support and encouragement to men who had left everything behind to go and fight for freedom. Really, this is a book that nobody should miss.

Aug 29, 2019

Manning writes about a group of specially published books, Armed Services Editions—known as ASEs—that were light weight and sized right for servicemen in the field. Appendix lists all 1200 published; publishing that renewed interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 'The Great Gatsby,' making it and titles like Betty Smith’s 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' and Katherine Anne Porter’s 'Selected Short Stories' enduring American classics. Book lovers will find this fascinating. Who knew!

Oct 13, 2018

Reading played a needed role for American servicemen during WWII, and it plays a vital role today. There is just nothing that can replace holding a book, turning a page, or reaching "The End." The Armed Services Editions helped countless soldiers get through the war, and made lifelong readers out of many who otherwise would've kept to the comics and sports pages of their local newspaper.

VaughanPLDavidB Feb 13, 2017

I obtained an uncorrected proof of this book a couple of years ago, and I've just gotten around to reading it. What an eye-opener! I am a librarian and I was totally unaware that such a massive undertaking had taken place. We are all at least vaguely aware of the massive mobilization of men and materiel for the war. What most people I think are not aware of is the essential contribution of the provision of immense quantities of books to the morale of those in the armed services. Not only did the Armed Services Editions program improve morale, but it flew in the face of the Nazi's concerted efforts to restrict ideas, down to the outright burning of books. This program literally created an army of readers and played no small part in making America the economic juggernaut it became when all those men returned from overseas.

Dec 01, 2016

What a wonderfully surprising little book. It was full of interesting information that I had never heard about before. Well written and engrossing.

Sep 09, 2016

Service men get to read banned books in certain cities back home thanks to committee was so ironic.
It made sense for committee to distribute wide selection of paperback to the jittery & bored troops given hardcover too bulky.
Not surprised their British counterparts wanted to read them too given UK book publishers got bombed in battle of Britain.
Not surprised librarians helped returning GI in peacetime on GI bill benefits.
It had huge economic spinoff in paperback industry as servicemen wanted to read more.

Jul 06, 2016

This is an exhaustive report on how different groups teamed with the government to provide U.S. soldiers and sailors books to read during and after World War II. The cooperative efforts helped boost morale for the armed services at a time when trials were typical.

Jul 02, 2016

This book introduced me to a part of WWII history that I had only heard about in passing. As a book lover, Manning's story of the ASE books that were published for the soldiers reminded me that reading could indeed open up new vistas to the reader and fight the monotony of a soldier's life. I had never thought about the long hours that our soldier's endured waiting for action - these simple paperback books diverted them from anxiety and fear as they became involved in the stories. There were so many books published and many of the combatants had never been readers before their induction into the services. Manning emphasizes that the reading experience introduced them to all kinds of literature and nonfiction and that many of these soldiers became life-long readers because of this. I especially enjoyed her quoting the many letters received by the authors and publishers - this made the experiences of the soldiers more real. While reading the book, I thought how the armed services in today's world had a plethora of entertainment options that weren't available to the "greatest generation" and imagine that books do not have the same impact as they did in the 1940s.

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