Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point
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Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  327 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Elizabeth D. Samet and her students learned to romanticize the army "from the stories of their fathers and from the movies." For Samet, it was the old World War II movies she used to watch on TV, while her students grew up on "Braveheart "and "Saving Private Ryan." Unlike their teacher, however, these students, cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, ha...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Books are weapons. This book chronicles Samet’s decade as an English professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She proclaims that an exposure to literature and poetry provides soldiers with the mental flexibility to think deeply and critically about issues such as morality, duty, and ethics that are vital principles of a military professional.

She asks, "what does it mean to be a civilian teacher at a military institution? What is the value of a liberal education in a time of...more
When this book came up as a suggestion for my book group, I was really unsure how I felt about it. West Point? The military? Who teaches literature to soldiers? I think my reaction proved to myself that I had to at least start this book.

Well, I now suggest that more of us need to read this book. These folks work hard. As a former English major, I stand in awe of what is expected of these women and men. I had good professors and they wanted a lot from us. West Point is asking much more of their s...more
Jul 29, 2008 Anna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: AP Language Students
Elizabeth Samet, a civilian literature professor at West Point, recounts, "This is a story about my intellectual and emotional connections to military culture and to certain people in it, but the real drama lies in the way the cadets I teach and the officers with whom I work negotiate the multiple contradictions of their private and professional world....the courage with which they challenge accepted truths; the nuanced way they read literature and culture; and the ingenious methods they have fo...more
Alex Faxlanger
Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point looked perfectly normal on the NPR website. From the article about it to the accompanying excerpt, I came to expect a book full of humorous stories about the odyssey of a civilian literature professor navigating the military. Instead, Professor Samet messes with your mind. At least, she messed with mine. Over the course of the book, Samet leads the reader, as she leads her students, to question our personal and societal idea...more
Dec 11, 2007 Ed rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Kate, Evelyn, Anna
I really loved this book. Seems unlikely but reading about an English professor teaching poetry and literature to West Point military cadets who are going off to war, taught me a lot about literature, its importance, the ambiguity and subtlety of the military mind. It is also an important work politically because of its take on the war and on the failure to establish clear rules of war in the War on Terror. The characters who feature in this book are people you would really want to know, which i...more
This was a good read. I wasn't that interested when I started to read this, but it quickly turned into an engrossing read. Samet is an English Professor at West Point. Her book explores the importance of literature to the cadets that are soon probably going to head off to Iraq. One of the interesting aspects of the book is that it covers a period of time before and after 9/11 so you get a unique look at how things changed after the terrorist attacks. It is divided into chapters that deal with th...more
The subtitle explains the book: "Reading literature through peace and war at West Point," for Elizabeth Samet has been a (ery much) civilian English professor at the military academy since 1997. Her book is about what it's like to teach literature to young men and women embarked on a career as US Army officers, especially since the events ushered in by 9/11. It is a tremendous book, not least because of the stereotypes about the military that it critically examines and frequently demolishes. The...more
Elizabeth Samet's book explores the human side of her English literature students. But her students are subject to unique pressures not common amongst college students as her students are cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and will become the newest officers of the United States Army upon their graduation. Recounting her experiences meeting and teaching these cadets, Samet shows their real humanity and individuality as they are formed to join an organization tho...more
Miroku Nemeth

When I began reading “Soldier’s Heart,” this book interested me as the son of a veteran of Vietnam who was the son of a veteran of World War II, as the son of a father who came back from his time as a medic being wounded by bullets and shrapnel to join Vietnam Veterans Against the War. It interested me as an English teacher and adjunct professor who had both taught students thinking of going into the military at the high school and combat veterans at the college. I have been persecuted at the h...more
Okay. I have to be honest. I am politically and socially liberal, and fairly anti-military. So I give myself some credit for choosing to read this book. However, I am also a bibliophile and was fascinated to learn what role literature might play at an institution like West Point. This book was extremely interesting. The choice of literature both classic and contemporary was intriguing. It was such a pleasure to read of the author's attempts to reinforce that one can be ambivalent and committed a...more
Very well-written and thoughtful/thought-provoking. In spite of the density of the book, I found myself wanting to know more about various facets of West Point, Army life, and specific events to which Samet referred.

More than that though, I feel like I am coming away from reading this book with a better vision of soldiers as people. It's painfully easy to look at people who do things we don't understand and to assume things. This seems to have been made even easier in recent years due to the ext...more
This book held great interest for me. My husband is a West Point graduate and I am a voracious reader with an English degree. The concept of creative thinking among the military is counter to the imperative and reigning philosophy, particularly in combat situations. Yet, the understanding of the literature that Samet presented to her students expands their intellectual and emotional capacities, which in turn makes them more effective leaders.

Samet's choice of the literature they read is absolut...more
Jun 14, 2009 Theron rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Theron by: National Public Radio
It was either NPR's Weekend Edition or All Things Considered that introduced me to Elizabeth Samet, literature professor at West Point. Either way, I kept her book, Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, on my reading list a good long time before picking it up.

Samet does what I think she needed to accomplish in here book, describe why teaching literature to future soldiers is so important. I thought it was a given, but Samet describes the thinking of soldiers an...more
A while ago, my mom picked up Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, by Elizabeth D. Samet for me since I’ve been trying to book-educate myself on the military. It has been sitting on my bookshelf for months, but I finally decided to read it.

It wasn’t my favorite. It also proved to me that professors of English aren’t necessarily good writers. There wasn’t much of a thread to follow through the chapters, and at times it felt very disjointed and like a random jum...more
Mary Stephanos
The daughter of a military man, Elizabeth Samet had some idea what she was in for when she accepted a position as an English professor at West Point. Her interesting and inspiring account of teaching in the predominantly male military academy demonstrates just how vital literature is not only to the development of the individual student but also to the growth of the soul. Confronted with the all-too-real possibility of injury or death in their near future, her students--often incredulous at firs...more
The author has taught literature at West Point for ten years, and writes of the ways in which literature has shaped her students. The book provides a few glimpses at memoir, but mostly it’s a look at how 9/11 changed cadets’ attitudes toward academics, and a reflection on the connection between the analysis of literature and military life.

I was blown away by the passion of some of her students for classic literature, film, and poetry; the book certainly does much to destroy uninformed stereotype...more
Bookmarks Magazine

"What's the difference, ma'am? I'll be in Iraq within a year anyway," contends a cadet in Elizabeth Samet's English class. Soldier's Heart responds by making a graceful, compelling case that reading forces her students to slow down and reflect on such timeless themes as courage, honor, and sacrifice, which results in better, more thoughtful soldiers. Part memoir, the book also examines her teaching career and shares her opinions of religion in the military and the war in Iraq. It is her sketches

Fascinating look at a world few of us will ever see first-hand. As a former college professor (marketing - business schools), I must admit I wish I could have demanded perfect attendance from students.

Samet does not provide a linear narrative so we don't get a sense of how she changed. I would have liked to get more of a sense of a typical day, week and month. And I wish she had speculated more about her own role as a civilian who was beginning to think like a military person.

As a career consu...more
"The mythology of the citizen-soldier lies at the heart of the American military tradition," writes Elizabeth Samet, English professor at West Point. It's this mythology and the plethora of literature about war in the Western literary cannon Samet delineates in her memoir. Seduced by this mythology and the narrative constructed by the military, Samet teaches her students and, in turn, her reader, that literature permeates military life. "The Army is a giant found poem, its newness intriguing an...more
Mark L.
Soldier’s Heart provided a welcome insight on the activities of America’s military academy. However it was often difficult for me to connect with author’s academic style. Although I did enjoy the book I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for the average reader. There’s definitely a story here that needs to be told regarding the important role literature plays in the development of future officers. I just feel Samet wasn’t able to convey this message to the average reader. At times I felt as if sh...more
This is one of those poor books which will suffer from being just ever so slightly too academic (another reason in my secret why-I-dropped-out-of-grad-school saga: you just can't get rid of that icky dry style! It clings like eczema!) Samet has a lot of fine insights on a real, honest-to-God intersection of literature and reality: the reading habits of soldiers and their effect on how they think, act, and conduct war and peace (not to mention the ways in which literature helped her understand an...more
A fascinating account of an English teacher's classes at West Point academy. She uses a verbose, erudite style I can only admire as she describes the struggles her students ("plebes" is the nickname for freshmen) go through in the classroom and with the military culture overall, even as she compares the microcosm of the military society with the gamut of commentary within the annals of literature on subjects such as duty, obedience, unquestioning loyalty, and the like. She also records her colle...more
May 29, 2008 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: literature professors
This is a really good book, full of wise observations about literature, teaching, community, and warfare. But the book's central problematic feature can be summed up in this line from it:

Once again I have retreated--or advanced--to literature perhaps because I'm more comfortable analyzing it than I am my own relationship to war and to the people who wage it.

There's a lot of emotional attachment and...sadness?...under the surface in the book that's continually overtaken by scholarly ruminations....more
This is a really interesting idea for a book -- the author is a civilian English professor who teaches at West Point, and she writes about her experiences teaching literature to young men and women who are preparing to go to war. I think the idea is for a combination memoir/literary criticism like "Reading Lolita in Tehran." This book isn't really on that level, and a lot of parts feel unfocused, but there are some really interesting insights -- particularly when she talks about the experiences...more
I've read a few reviews that compare this book to "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and I rather resent those comparisons. The only similarities between the two books are that both authors are women and they teach literature - that's where it ends. In this book, the author explains her regular curriculum, which is authorized and sanctioned by the US Army. In "Lolita" the women must meet in a clandestine way and all the works of literature are banned in Iran.

Otherwise, I found it incredibly interesting...more
Deeply fascinating, thought-provoking, and moving. The author describes her experiences teaching literature and writing at West Point. Her accounts of a number of cadets she's taught, with some of whom she's stayed in close touch, are intriguing. It's inspiring to know that one of our military academies is doing such a good job of teaching officers to be critical thinkers who are exposed to all perspectives and deeply aware of history and their place in the world. Anyone who thinks that people i...more
Apr 23, 2008 Margaret rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Margaret by: NYT Book Review

As someone who toyed briefly with the idea of the Naval Academy and was separated by afew degrees from one of the first women at West Point, these institutions have held some fascination for me - no doubt, the "liturgical" quality of the military is a piece of this. But I had higher hopes for this book - it talked more about her than about her students, and was focused on ancient literature that I haven't read. Still, it was worth reading as a reminder of the value of a liberal arts education an...more
This was a delight in lots of ways. Samet has an open and engaged personality that allows her to interact with her unusual students in a direct and meaningful way, never hindered by emotion or political views, so her insights are very fresh and hopeful. The cadets provide new (to me) insights on familiar books, and the West Point experience presented here offers lots of new ways to look at college education. Though it wasn't particularly well written, and I sometimes had trouble following the or...more
jeff wong
It's about why reading English literature is helpful in the profession of arms.
This was a bookgroup selection. I thought it was a very interesting book, although I would probably have gotten a lot more out of it if my English Literature background was a bit stronger. The author often referenced books/poems/stories that she and her students were reading - she gave quotations and brief descriptions, but I think the discussions would have been more meaningful to someone with more background than I have. That said, it was a great insight into some aspects of cadet life at West...more
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Elizabeth D. Samet received her BA from Harvard and her PhD in English literature from Yale. She is the author of Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776–1898 and Soldier's Heart:Reading Literature through Peace and War at West Point. Samet has been an English professor at West Point for ten years.
More about Elizabeth D. Samet...
No Man's Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898

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