When Books Went to War (we won)

Books Went to WarI was recently the happy victim of good marketing.

While clicking through WSJ articles the other day, I came across one that was clearly calling, personally, to me: “How Paperbacks Helped Us Win WWII.” I read the article, realized it was something of a promotional piece for author Molly Guptill Manning’s just-released book on the same topic, and then naturally immediately ordered the book. I read it over last night and today (it’s a quick read at 194 pages).

The WSJ article provides a fuller summary, but the general idea is this: During WWII, while the Germans were burning books, Americans were figuring out how to get as many books as possible to US troops stationed around the world. The first attempt came through the Victory Book Campaign, where Americans donated millions of books through nationally publicized book drives. Because there were never enough books and hardcover books (which comprised the vast majority of books at that time) were not easily transportable by soldiers on the move, the U.S. War Department and a group of publishers got together and did something quite extraordinary: they created Armed Service Edition books – cheap, small, paperback books printed especially for the size of military pockets, and delivered them to our military all over the world.

The book explains how this happened (including a most interesting history on the deployment of books and ideas at home [ever heard of the Council on Books in Wartime and their Imperative book program?]), what the books meant to the soldiers (hint: a lot), and even how American book culture shifted from one limited to the wealthy to one enjoyed by the larger population.

Long story short: if you like books, history, and most of all the history of books, add this one to your list.

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