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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

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  443 ratings  ·  94 reviews
What does literature - particularly the literature of war - mean to a student who is likely to encounter its reality? What is the best way to stir uninhibited classroom discussions in a setting that is designed to train students to follow orders, respect authority, and survive grueling physical and mental experiences? This is the terrain Samet traverses each semester, a ch ...more
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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3.73  · 
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 ·  443 ratings  ·  94 reviews

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Dee Arr
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
What we now call PTSD was originally treated as a heart malady during the Civil War, when physicians interpreted the symptoms to be linked to cardiovascular disease. The psychosomatic cause would not be identified until many years later, and the soldiers were diagnosed as suffering from “disorderly action of the heart,” referred to during World War I as “soldier’s heart.” Elizabeth D. Samet discusses this and other subjects with West Point as the backdrop. At the time of publication, Ms. Samet h ...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
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a thought-provoking book, by an English professor at West Point.

My only complaint is that the author never shared if any of her former students were killed in action. I can't believe she taught for over a decade and never lost a former student. I mean, it's great if she didn't but...the odds are not that good.

Recommended for curious readers, and people who care what (and if) soldiers think.
Kim Miller-Davis
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is written by an English professor at West Point who relates her experiences teaching literature to cadets, who, despite their youth and relative inexperience, will likely find themselves leading troops into battle halfway across the world soon after they graduate.

I bought this book for my husband in 2007 thinking that since he's a reader who attended the Air Force Academy, he would see himself in the stories of the cadets. However, the only thing he did with it was put it on the shel
Jul 29, 2008 rated it liked it
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 T.
Nov 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Katrina Gonsalves
As I was reading other reviews it struck me that I did not see any comments from parents of West Point cadets or candidates. I read this book after hearing Samet interviewed on NPR and a desire to understand what my son will experience when he enters CBT (Cadet Basic Training) and West Point in three short weeks.

I was deeply moved, scared, and comforted. I should mention that I had to take a break from reading TWICE in the first 15 pages as my eyes welled with tears. What these young men and wo
Dec 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Richard Owen
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across Elizabeth Samet's book at a time when one of my son's was thinking about leaving college to join the military. I was hoping to find something that would inspire him to continue his studies. As it turned out, he made up his own mind to stay before I could get very far into the book. And, as is often the case with me, the book sat for another five or six months without me turning a single page. But when I did take a closer look, this time more interested for my own sake, I stuck with ...more
Miroku Nemeth
May 22, 2012 rated it it was ok

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
Carol Bakker
A memoir about a (civilian) literature professor at West Point. Her job is to prepare cadets to be soldiers, to deal with the deep stuff of life and death, using classic (and modern) prose and poetry.

I had to push myself to finish this, but found morsels worthy of thought in every chapter. My to-read list expanded. I especially want to jump into Grant's memoirs (neglected on my shelf these last twenty years) after reading this.

The war has also placed me in a new relation to Homer's ambivalent ep
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mark Luongo
Jul 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I must admit I don't know if I got out of this book what I was expecting. Now that I've finished it I don't know what I was expecting. In it she discusses the "subculture" that is West Point from a civilian point of view. But by no means does she use that to criticize the military or current policies but instead focuses on the charge that she has been given. That is the education of future Army officers by using the experience of literature to allow them to think. I hope I explained that clearly ...more
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mary Stephanos
Jun 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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

Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Mark L.
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008-reads
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
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
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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.