Back in April when I reviewed Gerard Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East I mentioned how over the years NPR has introduced me to a ton of excellent books. I’m please to report I can add yet another book to that wonderful list. About two years ago Morning Edition interviewed Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II . Listening to her amazing story of America sending books to its soldiers and sailors fighting in WWII entertained and intrigued me. Even though I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to the Second World War, I had no idea such a literary program existed. After listing to the program I vowed to read When Books Went to War. But instead of running out to read it right away it took me a couple of years and a bit of positive word of mouth from a co-worker before I made an effort to do so. My goodness I’m glad I finally read it. When Books Went to War is a wonderful book.
According to Guptill Manning, America saw the need to get books in the hands of its soldiers even before the nation entered the war. In the year or so preceding Pearl Harbor, America’s leaders saw the handwriting on the wall that war was imminent. As the ranks of the Armed Forces began to swell, these newly drafted men in uniform had few, if any avenues for rest and recreation. Books were soon seen as a solution, but supplies of them on Army, Navy and Marine Corps bases were woefully inadequate. Public book drives ensued but even those weren’t enough to supply the demand. Books needed to be both desirable to read and lightweight, since service men were shipping out to fight around the world. Eventually, America’s sailors and soldiers were supplied with light, cheap and durable (staples were substituted for glue, since glue got eaten by tropical insects) paperbacks. As far as desirable reading material, the gamut ran from ancient classics to popular fiction to history. And then men couldn’t get enough of them.
Our efforts to supply our troops with books, especially light, portable editions had a lasting impact far beyond the War. It helped fuel America’s love of inexpensive, mass-produced paperbacks. It would also instill a desire to read among the nation’s returning soldiers. Years later, as these men entered colleges across the country thanks to the GI Bill, younger students would complain when these disciplined, studious and in many cases better read classmates excelled academically and as a result drove up the grading curve!
Entertaining, enlightening and a joy to read, this a great book. If you like American history or just books in general this book is for you. Consider When Books Went to War highly recommend.