When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

“The stories that helped us win World War II”

Ever wonder why Mass Market Paperbacks became a thing? Why books that were some enough to fit in a pocket or be easily toss in a bag become so popular?  If you are like me it probably never crossed your mind, you just read the books. What lead to production of mass market paperbacks? Or the event that turned The Great Gatsby into an American classic? Those questions and more are answered in When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. 

I’m a bit of a WWII history nerd but I didn’t know about the push to get books to the troops. Nor did I know about the Armed Services Editions that would eventually become our modern day mass market paperbacks. Who would have thought that a World War would change how the average person consumed books? After reading this it should have been obvious that soldiers, sailors, and Marines would have been desperate for a mental break, and what better way to escape than in the pages of a book. Isn’t that why most readers read?  I should have known from my dad’s own experience in Beirut in the early 80s as part of the peace-keeping force where he said books made the time more bearable when letters from home were few and far between. Books let him escape for a while, because they were the only option for downtime he had. He still has his dog-eared and taped up copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that got him through it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a foxhole in WWII or in a tent in the desert, books are precious and are a welcome escape from the world. Reading about servicemen and their earnest desire for books made a war one only reads about in the pages of a history book made it more real. It allowed me to walk in their shoes if only for a moment.  

I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the role that libraries and librarians played in the efforts of collecting books.  Even if, thanks mostly to the general public, the books weren’t useful to the military. Because even today people see donating books to the library as getting rid of books they themselves don’t want,  not realizing that it might not be able to used, much like what was happening during WWII. When what the boys overseas wanted was books to escape they wanted novels. And that’s where the publishers and magazine houses came into play to get easy to transport books to the troops. 

Thanks to the Armed Services Editions making readers were that hadn’t been before. That plus the GI Bill helped to create a literate postwar middle class.  

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library