When Books Went to War The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II Cover

The Nazis were book burners. In May 1933, thousands of books that did not conform to Hitler’s demons were burned in Berlin. Molly Guptill Manning tells the story of a quiet battle for civilization that followed:

Germany had weaponized books, as evidenced by the publication of Mein Kampf and the shameful book burnings. But Americans could use books to their benefit by reading whatever they desired and spreading the ideas found between two covers.  p. 34

In the early 40s the Victory Book Campaign called on librarians to help the war effort by collecting books and donating them to the military. When the limits of that effort were reached, publishers developed light volumes that could be carried on the battlefield.

Even the most stubborn proponents of hardcover books had to admit that paperbacks were well suited to overcome wartime restrictions. What emerged was a revolution in the American book industry…between the budding paperback trade and off-the-charts book sales, 1943 was the most remarkable  in the 150-year old history of U. S. publishing.  p. 63

A generation of men became readers.

Authors whose books were selected as Armed Service Editions were rewarded with a loyal readership of millions of men. Word spread quickly about the titles that were perennial favorites, even reaching the home front. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was written in 1925, was considered a failure during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. When the book was printed as an ASE in October 1925, it won the hearts of an army of men. p. 81

When the soldiers came back from war they were engaged students.

Wallace Stegner recalled the “flood of GI students” who enrolled in his classes at Stanford. “I found a lot of them had read N-32 (the Armed Service Edition of Big Rock Candy Mountain) in the South Pacific or the European theater…The book gave us a bond. It gave them a certain confidence in me, and me a lot of respect for them.”  p. 190

2 thoughts on “When Books Went to War The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II

  1. It’s wonderful how in the midst of destruction the march of civilization, intellect and heart carries on. Great story Jeff. So much was going on during those times we know nothing about. The war took centre stage hiding all these little stories of courage and beauty. Thank you.


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