When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II, by Molly Guptill Manning

I enjoyed this book so much!  I hadn't heard of it, but luckily Maphead reviewed it a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be at my library.  I promptly devoured it, but I didn't get around to reviewing it right away.

Manning starts off by describing Nazi Germany's hatred of books that didn't espouse the proper ideas.  I had known that there were book burnings, but I had not realized that they were quite as popular as all that.  Anti-Nazi German writers even collected the disapproved books to save them, sending them to a library in France.

Meanwhile, the American government was preparing for the expected eventual entrance into the war.   They needed recreational materials for the soldiers, who universally found books to be an uplifting and relaxing escape and reminder of normal life, and so the military asked for book donations.  The American Library Association got involved, and massive book drives helped to get reading material to soldiers in training camps.  As hard as the volunteers worked, it was nowhere near enough, and the books were mostly heavy hardcovers and often not suitable in subject.

The military soon contracted with publishers to produce special editions of books for soldiers.  These were compact, light, durable paperbacks (stapled instead of glued, since tropical insects liked the glue).  Every month, a new set of books was published: novels, history and culture, practical subjects, and classics.  They were distributed and traded around as more precious than candy.  The soldiers couldn't get enough; far from home, living rough, and frequently stuck for long periods of time with nothing much to do, books gave them solace, education, and often healing. Men who had never read much before became avid readers, which helped them take advantage of GI Bill education after the war.

The entire story is fascinating!  There are all these different sides to it and Manning gives some time to them all.  It was just so great.  Thanks, Maphead!

The most popular title of them all


  1. I'm reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn right now. Is that one the soldiers were reading? I wouldn't think that would be a popular book a young male soldier would want to read.

  2. Me either, but it was the most popular title. They had to reprint it. Soldiers wrote to Betty Smith, telling her about how it reminded them of their own homes or helped them heal from the awful things they had seen. They loved it.

  3. This is the second time this book has come onto my radar. I need to remember it when I don't already have half a dozen library books at home!

  4. Hurrah for books! They can truly save lives and souls.


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