Book Review Thursday: When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II

WhenBooksWentToWar This was author Molly Guptill Manning’s second book and it tells the story of one of the many tools, along with American bravery and ingenuity, which helped win World War II.  As it turned out, books were a very important part of winning the war, and specifically paperback books which were selected and printed in sizes that would fit in the back pocket of a soldier’s uniform.

They called them American Service Editions or ASEs and the idea became reality in part as a response to over one hundred million Nazi book bannings and burnings in Europe.  Efforts to counteract Hitler’s actions were initiated by American librarians who started collecting hardcover editions of books to send to American troops, some twenty million.

However, in 1943 the book publishing industry became involved and worked with the War Department to print one hundred and twenty million small, lightweight paperbacks.  By the time the program ended, they had printed over twelve hundred separate titles in this unique format.  These books were read in foxholes, trenches, hospitals, on board ship – anywhere soldiers found themselves with down time.

Soldiers clamored to get their hands on the best titles like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or The Great Gatsby, which by the way is how it became a classic.  Prior to the ASEs program F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book hadn’t received much attention.  He died in 1940, the book was included in the ASEs program and years later it was voted the best novel of the twentieth century.

As Manning points out, this program not only helped win the war by boosting morale and providing entertainment to war-weary soldiers, it also engendered in them, in some cases for the very first time in their lives, a love for books.  Many soldiers came back from the war having read books they’d never been interested in before and found themselves with a desire to learn more.

Many took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college, and as we now know, this “Greatest Generation” made a significant mark on the world.  I can’t help but believe that this innovative program played an important part in changing the course of history in the years following the war.  These were the men and women who helped build the interstate highway system, conceived and carried out the plans to send man into space and more.

I had never heard of this program and found the history behind it fascinating.  The book is a great read and obviously well-researched.   Book lovers and anyone interested in World War II history will find it well worth their time to read.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


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