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How Paperbacks Helped the U.S. Win World War II

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WSJ

Armed Services Editions created a new audience of readers back home

Jennifer Maloney
Updated Nov. 20, 2014

 

A decade after the Nazis’ 1933 book burnings, the U.S. War Department and the publishing industry did the opposite, printing 120 million miniature, lightweight paperbacks for U.S. troops to carry in their pockets across Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

 

The books were Armed Services Editions, printed by a coalition of publishers with funding from the government and shipped by the Army and Navy. The largest of them were only three-quarters of an inch thick—thin enough to fit in the pocket of a soldier’s pants. Soldiers read them on transport ships, in camps and in foxholes. Wounded and waiting for medics, men turned to them on Omaha Beach, propped against the base of the cliffs. Others were buried with a book tucked in a pocket.

 

“When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II” by Molly Guptill Manning tells the story of the Armed Services Editions. To be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Dec. 2, the book reveals how the special editions sparked correspondence between soldiers and authors, lifted “The Great Gatsby” from obscurity, and created a new audience of readers back home.

 

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