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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  5,924 ratings  ·  1,316 reviews
When America entered World War II in 1941, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraord ...more
Hardcover, 267 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Jamie I think we're already well on our way to villainizing entire subjects and genres. Unfortunately, I also associate the attacks on freedom of speech and…moreI think we're already well on our way to villainizing entire subjects and genres. Unfortunately, I also associate the attacks on freedom of speech and attempts to police accessible content with liberals. I don't even know if I'm more upset or angry over that development.

It is definitely disappointing because I consider myself a 'liberal' and I used to (mistakingly) believe that most liberals felt the same way I did regarding censorship. I think censorship is extremely dangerous and impossible to implement without causing immense harm.

Now, people lose their careers and become pariahs if the wrong person sees an 'offensive' Tweet or FB post and drums up an online mob. That is horrifying, yet I see and hear liberals cheering almost every time it happens. That isn't surprising considering it is usually liberals that decide who should be targeted.

I don't believe that most participants in such efforts to destroy another person's life (for the crime of expressing a dissenting opinion) actually feel 'outrage.' They love the power it gives them and bask in the digital pats on the head they get from social media. (less)
Molly Guptill Manning Here are a few questions to get a discussion started:

1) The Americans who fought (on the home front and abroad) during WWII have been called "the grea…more
Here are a few questions to get a discussion started:

1) The Americans who fought (on the home front and abroad) during WWII have been called "the greatest generation." Does WBWTW confirm this idea?

2) Newspapers called the Victory Book Campaign a failure. Was it? Why or why not?

3) Do you think publishers printed ASEs based on a patriotic duty or do you think they were expecting to ultimately profit from their efforts?

4) Are you surprised by any of the titles the servicemen requested or especially enjoyed?

5) Are there any titles that you think should/shouldn't have been printed as ASEs? (The appendix lists all the ASEs that were printed)

6) What are your thoughts on how the publishers addressed Congress's censorship attempt through Title V?

7) Has reading this book changed the way you look at reading? Does it make you value books more? Feel the same about them?

8) Does anyone have a parent, grandparent, other relative, or acquaintance who fought in WWII? Did they ever mention the ASEs or reading while at war? (less)

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Jason Koivu
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, war, non-fiction
They don't call them The Greatest Generation for nothing! I knew they were called that because of the sacrifices they made during World War II. What I didn't know was that part of their legacy was solidified after the war.

Soldiers in WWII LOVED to read. Some of them hadn't so much as picked up a book outside of mandatory school reading. However, when they got into the Army and Navy they realized they had a lot of boring down-time. Without video games and things like movies not being readily ava
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In a slice of history that's hard to imagine could be repeated today, When Books Went to War tells the story of a program that delivered millions of books to Americans in the military overseas during World War II. For some reason, this story has been all over place recently, in an article in Atlantic magazine, in a book about The Great Gatsby by Maureen Corrigan (So We Read On), and now here. It was no secret, but I never heard of the program until a few months ago.

It's a fascinating history and
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excerpt from a letter written to Betty Smith, the author of 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' from a 20 year old Marine in sick bay during World War II…..

"Ever since the first time I struggled through knee deep mud… carrying a stretcher from which my buddie's life dripped away in precious blood and I was powerless to help him, I have felt hard and cynical against the world and have felt sure that I was no longer capable of loving anything or anybody… I can't explain the emotional reaction that took pl
Diane Barnes
Dec 15, 2014 rated it liked it
"More books were given to the American armed services than Hitler destroyed.". That just about sums up the goals of the American government in creating and publishing the ASE, Armed Services Editions, for distribution to American servicemen in WWII. Remembered fondly by veterans, it provided free, small, easily transportable paperback books for servicemen to fit in their pockets to be read whenever they needed the escape books provided. For book lovers, this is an informative account of how read ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I vividly remember the American Service Edition of W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions that was among my parents' books, with its distinctive shape--the width about double in size from the height, its double columns of type, and its floppy cover. I suspect that my father brought this book back from his Army service in World War II. A draftee from the Chicago slums, he exemplified the person for whom these books were distributed by the U.S. Army and Navy. Thrown together with draftees from places as r ...more
Connie G
American librarians worked together in a campaign to collect books for the troops in World War II. The hardcover books were very appreciated in training camps and on transport ships. But the hardcover books were too heavy and awkward for the troops to carry in their packs. In 1943, the War Department and publishers joined together to make lightweight books that were small enough to fit into the soldiers' pockets. 1,200 different titles were published. They served as a distraction from the pain o ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is just a fascinating topic to me. I had no idea the ASE Program existed during WWII. Certainly none of the manly men (think John Wayne) portraying servicemen in all the war movies I ever saw would ever be caught dead reading a book. And yet, we learn from this book that reading was ubiquitous in all theaters of war. Who knew?

The introduction to this book was wonderful, and had me in tears, thinking I needed to re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The rest of the book I found to be, for the m
Steven Z.
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a professed bibliophile I was intrigued when I learned of the publication of When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning. The concept of the book was fascinating and it seemed to me that the topic, the impact of reading on American military personnel during World War II has never been given much attention. Now, with Manning’s monograph we have a short history of the role of books during the Second World War ranging from Nazi book burnings, the ideological war between Nazism and Democracy, ...more
Lee Anne
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
A classic example of a book that would have made a great magazine article.

I didn't know about the ASE editions of books printed for soldiers in WWII, and I would have been riveted if it had been short form reading. But Molly Guptill Manning gets so bogged down in recounting political maneuverings and brave librarians and censorship battles and so on that she sucks all the readability out of the story. Even the best part of the book, where she prints excerpts of the fan letters the soldiers wrot
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Dear Sirs: I want to say thanks a million for one of the best deals in the Army- your Armed Services Editions. When we get them they are as welcome as a letter from home. They are as popular as pin-up girls - especially over here where we just couldn't get books so easily, if it weren't for your editions. - Private W.R.W. and the Gang" (75)

"One commanding colonel felt a duty to share how A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helped him and a group of his men keep their mental bearings while under attack...H
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was the most bookish book I've ever seen on World War II.

And because of its extreme bookishness, it also managed to be the most heartwarming nonfiction book about that war I've read. (There just aren't a lot of heartwarming books about Nazis. Not sure why...)

Anyway, the author set out to chronicle how books helped American soldiers serving overseas. Librarians organized massive donations of books to send to soldiers, but eventually the Armed Services started printing their own editions of
Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War traces the various campaigns led by citizen groups, librarians, and the publishing industry during World War II to provide American service members with books for entertainment and education. In an effort to ease anxiety and loneliness/homesickness for service members, the facilitators of the Victory Book Campaign, and later the Council on Books in Wartime brought millions of books in the form of Armed Service Edition (ASEs). Over 1200 titles were publish ...more
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and delightful.

Manning gives a history of how American servicemen acquired, transported, consumed, and interacted with books during World War 2. She covers the failure of the national book drive (book drives never work because people always use them to clean out their houses of garbage - I know, I've been a part of them before), and the rise of the ASE - American Service Editions of popular books that were printed in a way that soldiers in two disparate theaters of war could easily t
Book Concierge
While Nazis were burning books in Europe, Americans were trying to get more books distributed to the men fighting in the war. Their first efforts were a massive book drive, collecting about 10 million books to send to various training camps and overseas bases to support military libraries. But the hardcover books that were donated were too heavy for soldiers to carry into combat. So an unprecedented collaboration was born, including publishers, librarians and the military, and the Armed Service ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely inspirational and incredibly informative. I am delighted at how much I learned and enjoyed my experience. I came away with so many more books to read. I also have a renewed appreciation for books, and for our librarians who helped campaign for books for our service members. I was impressed with the difference it made for the individual soldiers and their lives following combat. (Also thanks to the G.I. Bill) Books gave the service members the courage and confidence to go ...more
This book is a minor gem in portraying and describing a little-known but very important aspect of the Second World War. Most people are aware of the physical and psychological damage inflicted on the world by the Axis powers, but many probably are not aware of the cultural, literary and intellectual damage perpetrated by those barbaric and inhuman thugs.
While the Nazis closed and sealed libraries in France, Holland and other Western European countries--they treated Eastern Europe far worse. The
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Did I read the same book as other reviewers? I have to say, I'm really confused by the high praise this book is getting. It's a really interesting topic: the role books played for US soldiers in WWII. I don't think I've ever encountered this particular topic (there's propaganda, but that's more for people at home, rather than the soldiers themselves). I thought, a book about books? During a very dark time at home and for soldiers abroad? Sounds interesting!
Instead, it's an incredibly dry retell
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tree-books
I bought this book because I was curious about the premise... Instead, my worldview has changed because of reading this book. My undergrad degree is in English Literature. I think after reading this book, that if I was teaching an English class, the first two weeks would be devoted to the history and life of books. Yes, this book was that fascinating of a read. I'm utterly enchanted by how books were such an integral part of fighting Hitler. I learned a lot of things I didn't know about WWII. Re ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book made me laugh and cry, and really made me feel like I was living during WWII. It was that good. I had no idea that books played such an important role in the war, and this book did an excellent job of telling the story. Not all non-fiction books keep my attention, but this one did. It begins with the Berlin book burning and then shows how America's librarians and publishers fought back against this destruction of books by sending millions upon millions of popular books to the Americans ...more
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very readable, well researched book on a facet of World War II I knew little about. It made me think about the role of Hitler's propaganda in priming Germany, as well as Europe, for conflict. It covers the horrendous book burning of 1933 in Germany and the reaction of the press in America and other countries. It tells the story of how American servicemen treasured any reading material they could get their hands on and how the dissemination of Armed Services Edition books provided diversion, co ...more
Jan 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, war, history
Frankly, Molly Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II can be a little dry at times. At the same time, I teared up over and over again. It's hard for a librarian to resist a book that's about, "The inspiring story of an army of librarians, 120 million special paperbacks, and the authors and books that lifted the spirits of our troops."

According to Manning, when American "citizen soldiers" went to war, the war took a physical and psychological toll. T
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a book lover I found this book very interesting. Plus I'm fascinated with anything to do with World War II. It's a good audiobook, the narrator does a good job. ...more
Dec 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you love books like I do, then this is a book to make you love them even more. During WWII, training base services were nonexistent for drafted men. Services of any kind were nonexistent for men in the European or Pacific theatres. The solution - give them books as a way to escape the horrors of war for a little while, aid in improving their education to move up in rank, and to simply provide entertainment for what could be hours of boredom waiting for the next fight. Propaganda was also a fa ...more
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: purchased
What an interesting book! Full review to come.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-ww2
I think the author accomplished everything she intended writing this book. It is a thorough look at the books that were sent to WWII soldiers overseas. It is an excellent book for anyone interested in the topic and also for high school students who want to learn about the war from another perspective.

Hitler's policies in the late twenties paved the way for a climate where violence against Jews could exist. Hitler used psychological warfare against France and Britain before they ever entered the
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Holidays are always a great time for a feel-good book and this one is the story about "how the men of words shared the responsibility with the makers of guns and the users of them" to win World War II. Over the course of the war 1200 titles were printed for the service men in the US armed forces. Intended to help build morale and win the war of ideas, the program was universally popular. I was immediately fascinated when I came across this program while reading Maureen Corrigan's So We Read On: ...more
Cathy Cole
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you love books, you are going to love When Books Went to War. I knew absolutely nothing about Armed Services Editions before I picked up this book, and once I finished it, I knew that one day I would have to have one of these extraordinary books in my personal library-- and not just because my grandfather fought in the Pacific during World War II.

I was not prepared for the emotional power this book held for me. As I read about a government that tried to plan for all eventualities, I was inspi
Heather L
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
During World War II, Germany destroyed more than one hundred million books between May 1933 through the end of the war through public book burnings and bombings. By contrast, the United States, through their Armed Services Editions, printed and distributed 120 million books to our service members, and also arranged to have bundles of popular magazines distributed to the troops in order to boost morale. This was a fascinating read about how the United States used books to combat Germany's "total ...more
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book!

As soon as I finished it I bought a copy for my Dad who devoured it and bought copies for his friends. I love to read and was just mesmerized by this history of books and war. There were moments in this book that brought tears to my eyes and moments that filled me with joy and awe. Reading this was a beautiful experience. All through reading this I kept thinking of my grandfathers, both of whom served in WWII. I wished I'd gotten the chance to ask them about their favorite ASE
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I'm not a fan of non-fiction as a general rule, the ones I do read, I tend to love. This is one of those books. When Books Went to War is about how the US came together to deliver paperback books to the military during World War II. It was fascinating to learn about the book productions and the joy they brought to the troops. This is a subject matter that not many people actually know about, and I found it very informative. ASEs paved the way to veteran education programs and changed the w ...more
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“In one memorable episode, Warren received a trusting note from a woman in the bookkeeping department via the library’s pneumatic-tube system, which ran between the library and store. “It’s very slow here on this rainy day,” the bookkeeper complained. “Please send me one of those novels you have had to withdraw from circulation as unfit for a lady to read.” Warren fulfilled the request and was surprised the next day to receive the book back, discreetly wrapped, with the message: “Blessings upon you! You’re quite right. This is not fit for anybody to read. Please send another just like it.” 12 likes
“One of the loudest voices to address this issue belonged to the American Library Association (ALA). Librarians felt duty-bound to try to stop Hitler from succeeding in his war of ideas against the United States. They had no intention of purging their shelves or watching their books burn, and they were not going to wait until war was declared to take action.” 10 likes
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