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December 30, 2014 / Leslie

When Books Went to War

The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II

When Books Went To Warby Molly Guptill Manning
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne

Genre: Nonfiction/History
Publisher: Blackstone Audio | December 2014
Format: Audio Download: 7 hours
Audio Listening Level: Easy
Rating: 4 of 5

From the Publisher

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 extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war.


During World War II millions of books were distributed to soldiers during a little known part of history that is brought to life in When Books Went to War.

Initially libraries, publishers, and the public banded together to collect books in a nationwide Victory Book Campaign, but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t working as well as they would like. Most of the books were hardcover and many were inappropriate cast-offs, such as knitting or children’s books, which needed to be sorted and disposed of. But many books did make it to the soldiers who enjoyed the reading material and wanted even more titles.

The book program was so popular that the Army created the Council on Books in Wartime to take over the task of getting appropriate books to soldiers. The Army, along with publishers, devised a lightweight, portable book specific for shipment overseas – the Armed Services Edition, or ASE.

I knew there was a book program during WWII, but I had no idea of its extent and influence. The paperbacks we have today owe their existence to the need to reduce the bulk and weight of the books. Previously books were mostly hardcovers with Penguin and Pocket Books being the only paperback labels. The Great Gatsby was rescued from obscurity to become the classic it is today thanks to ASEs.

Mixed in with the story of the books is an account of America’s involvement in the war and the challenges facing soldiers sent far from home, away from their family and friends. Not only do we learn how the army was able to get millions of books to the soldiers, but also what the books meant to them, and how many became lifelong readers because of these books. Towards the end of the war more non-fiction was included, and this often inspired them to choose a career and attend college on the GI bill.

I learned a lot from this book – not because I don’t read history, but because I had not previously come across this information. It’s all here in an interesting and very readable style. A short but thoroughly researched book, this is the perfect read for history buffs, or anyone who loves books.

Audio production

This is an easy listen and a good choice for new listeners. Bernadette Dunne narrates with a pleasant voice, adding just the right amount of emotion and emphasis. At times serious and at other times light, she keeps the listener engaged.

Source: Review copy provided by Blackstone Audio through Audiobook Jukebox.
© 2014 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.
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Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Dec 30 2014 7:08 am

    I know books mean a lot to people who are deployed. Vance had a friend who’s a non-reader who was sent to Afghanistan. The first time I sent him a care package, I threw a humorous book in at the last minute. That was the one thing that made the biggest impression on him – he asked for more books after that. This book sounds good to me!


  2. readerbuzz / Dec 30 2014 8:21 am

    Fascinating. Who knew?!

    Here’s my latest post: A Little Nonsense.


  3. Beth F / Dec 30 2014 10:30 am

    I wonder if I’d like this better in print so I could make note of the books mentioned? Anyway, this is new to me and I’m adding it to my list.


  4. Suko / Dec 31 2014 3:00 pm

    This sounds so interesting, Leslie! Terrific review!


  5. Sheila (Book Journey) / Dec 31 2014 4:00 pm

    This sounds wonderful. Just the type I like to listen to.


  6. sagustocox / Jan 5 2015 8:50 am

    I think this is fantastic.


  7. Anna / Jan 17 2015 1:04 pm

    Wow, this sounds fascinating. Will have to look for it.


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