When Books Went to War, by Molly Guptill Manning (book review) – readers in WWII trenches

book cover of When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning published by Houghton Mifflin HarcourtIn transports, tanks, and trenches,
packed into troopships and training camps,
ready to read while waiting to fight!

During World War II, librarians were determined to get books into soldiers’ hands. When publishers agreed to help, millions of pocket-sized Armed Services Editions of classics, plays, memoirs, and novels were eagerly shared by service people, sparking a reading culture that led to large participation in GI Bill higher education opportunities after the war’s end.

The ASE program also spurred the paperback publishing that we know today, you’ll learn from this fascinating book. The author provides a free excerpt here so you get a taste of her engaging prose style.

If you could only have a handful books with you during stressful times, as these fighters did, which titles would you choose?

Book info: When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II / Molly Guptill Manning. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]  [author video interview] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Fighting World War II with more than bullets and bombs, an armada of pocket-sized free books created a positive “war of ideas” and values as they were eagerly read and shared by American soldiers and sailors around the globe.

Librarians began collecting books for American troops in the war’s early days, but couldn’t gather and ship enough suitable volumes for the demand. Working with publishers and authors, a compact format reprinting of classics, popular novels, memoirs, plays and other reading material was developed, using very small print and less paper.

The program put Armed Services Editions of over 1300 separate titles into the hands of countless soldiers, sailors, and airmen during its 3-year existence, with these pocket-books being shared and shared again all over the world.

This fascinating book recounting the history of these little books of big ideas also highlights the Council on Books in Wartime’s efforts to prevent censorship of ASE titles and the impact that this program had in preparing America’s fighters to become higher education students when the war ended.


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