Museum

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In 1933, in towns across Germany, thousands of books were set aflame because they were considered “un-German.”  This was the beginning of the war of ideas.  For the next twelve years, the Nazis banned, bombed, and burned books and libraries across Europe to restrict the flow of ideas. Photo Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo.

In 1933, in towns across Germany, thousands of books were set aflame because they were considered “un-German.” This was the beginning of the war of ideas. For the next twelve years, the Nazis banned, bombed, and burned books and libraries across Europe to restrict the flow of ideas.
Photo Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo.

American librarians fought against Germany’s destruction of books.  They urged Americans to read to arm their minds against intolerance and hate.  Once conscription began, they organized the largest book drive in history to supply training camps with books for their libraries.   Photo Credit: Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

American librarians fought against Germany’s destruction of books. They urged Americans to read to arm their minds against intolerance and hate. Once conscription began, they organized the largest book drive in history to supply training camps with books for their libraries.
Photo Credit: Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

In 1942, the Victory Book Campaign was born.  Librarians across the United States publicized the need for Americans to donate books for the men in the armed services.

In 1942, the Victory Book Campaign was born. Librarians across the United States publicized the need for Americans to donate books for the men in the armed services.

World War II was not the first time that American public libraries stressed the importance of books.   During World War I, reading was considered an important patriotic activity.

World War II was not the first time that American public libraries stressed the importance of books. During World War I, reading was considered an important patriotic activity.

During World War I, the American Library Association publicized the importance of books in wartime.   It collected money to buy books for American soldiers, and also hosted a book drive, gathering books to send to training camps.  Over one million books were donated.

During World War I, the American Library Association publicized the importance of books in wartime. It collected money to buy books for American soldiers, and also hosted a book drive, gathering books to send to training camps. Over one million books were donated.

During the 1942 Victory Book Campaign, librarians set a goal of collecting ten million books for American troops.   Special events were held to promote the book campaign and secure donations.  Here, thousands of people gather on the steps of the New York Public Library to donate books. Photo Credit: Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

During the 1942 Victory Book Campaign, librarians set a goal of collecting ten million books for American troops. Special events were held to promote the book campaign and secure donations. Here, thousands of people gather on the steps of the New York Public Library to donate books.
Photo Credit: Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Everyone participated, including children.  Here, boy scouts collect books from women donating armfuls of reading material.

Everyone participated, including children. Here, boy scouts collect books from women donating armfuls of reading material.

Publicity for the book campaign took many forms.  Posters were hung in stores and train stations, and even bus tickets were redesigned to advertise the campaign.

Publicity for the book campaign took many forms. Posters were hung in stores and train stations, and even bus tickets were redesigned to advertise the campaign.

The Post Office helped advertise the campaign by designing a special Victory Book Campaign cancellation mark.

The Post Office helped advertise the campaign by designing a special Victory Book Campaign cancellation mark.

President Roosevelt personally donated books to the campaign and delivered a speech on the importance of books in wartime.  His statement was made into a poster, which commemorated the 1933 German book burnings.

President Roosevelt personally donated books to the campaign and delivered a speech on the importance of books in wartime. His statement was made into a poster, which commemorated the 1933 German book burnings.

After reaching its goal of collecting 10 million books in 1942, the Victory Book Campaign was renewed for another year and librarians worked to raise another 10 million books in 1943.

After reaching its goal of collecting 10 million books in 1942, the Victory Book Campaign was renewed for another year and librarians worked to raise another 10 million books in 1943.

Patriotic window displays advertising the Victory Book Campaign were common.  Many stores collected donations.  Shoppers could leave their books in drop boxes inside department stores, movie theaters, libraries, firehouses, beauty salons, and bus and train depots.

Patriotic window displays advertising the Victory Book Campaign were common. Many stores collected donations. Shoppers could leave their books in drop boxes inside department stores, movie theaters, libraries, firehouses, beauty salons, and bus and train depots.

To suit the needs of servicemen on the front lines, some American magazines printed special “overseas editions.”   Time produced a “Pony Edition” and Newsweek printed a “Battle Baby”—both were roughly 6 by 8 inches, they contained no advertisements, and were printed on paper similar to newsprint.  They were small, lightweight, and extremely popular.

To suit the needs of servicemen on the front lines, some American magazines printed special “overseas editions.” Time produced a “Pony Edition” and Newsweek printed a “Battle Baby”—both were roughly 6 by 8 inches, they contained no advertisements, and were printed on paper similar to newsprint. They were small, lightweight, and extremely popular.

The New Yorker also produced small-sized versions of its magazine for American troops.  They were approximately 6 by 8.5 inches, contained no advertisements, and were printed on lightweight paper.

The New Yorker also produced small-sized versions of its magazine for American troops. They were approximately 6 by 8.5 inches, contained no advertisements, and were printed on lightweight paper.

The smallest magazine of them all was the Saturday Evening Post’s Yarns.  Measuring approximately 3 by 4.5 inches, they were truly pocket sized.

The smallest magazine of them all was the Saturday Evening Post’s Yarns. Measuring approximately 3 by 4.5 inches, they were truly pocket sized.

Comparing a Post Yarn to a full-sized Saturday Evening Post, you can see how the Yarns were much more practical for men on the move near the fronts.  With such conveniently-sized reading material, men read everywhere.  The success of the overseas miniature magazines caused the Army and Navy to explore their options when it came to books.

Comparing a Post Yarn to a full-sized Saturday Evening Post, you can see how the Yarns were much more practical for men on the move near the fronts. With such conveniently-sized reading material, men read everywhere. The success of the overseas miniature magazines caused the Army and Navy to explore their options when it came to books.

In 1942, a group of publishers formed the Council on Books in Wartime, adopting the slogan “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas.”  They brainstormed on how books could be used to help win the war and ultimately decided to print special paperbacks for soldiers, sailors, and marines.  These paperbacks, like the miniature magazines, would be pocket-sized and lightweight so troops could carry their reading material anywhere.  The Council’s books were called Armed Services Editions.

In 1942, a group of publishers formed the Council on Books in Wartime, adopting the slogan “Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas.” They brainstormed on how books could be used to help win the war and ultimately decided to print special paperbacks for soldiers, sailors, and marines. These paperbacks, like the miniature magazines, would be pocket-sized and lightweight so troops could carry their reading material anywhere. The Council’s books were called Armed Services Editions.

The Armed Services Editions were unlike any other book.  They were printed in two small sizes, bound on their “short side,” and used paper slightly sturdier than newsprint.  The front cover of each Armed Services Edition had a thumbnail image of the hardcover dust jacket.  The back cover provided a brief synopsis of the book.  The inside back cover listed all of the books printed that month.  And the interior pages had two columns of text per page.  It was believed that it would be easier for soldiers to read shorter columns of text in bad lighting and when under stress.  This format also enabled publishers to squeeze more words onto each page.

The Armed Services Editions were unlike any other book. They were printed in two small sizes, bound on their “short side,” and used paper slightly sturdier than newsprint. The front cover of each Armed Services Edition had a thumbnail image of the hardcover dust jacket. The back cover provided a brief synopsis of the book. The inside back cover listed all of the books printed that month. And the interior pages had two columns of text per page. It was believed that it would be easier for soldiers to read shorter columns of text in bad lighting and when under stress. This format also enabled publishers to squeeze more words onto each page.

Here, you can compare the hardcover edition of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the smaller paperback Armed Services Edition.  The Armed Services Edition was smaller and much lighter.

Here, you can compare the hardcover edition of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the smaller paperback Armed Services Edition. The Armed Services Edition was smaller and much lighter.

Letter

As soon as the Armed Services Editions made their debut, everyone–from top brass to infantrymen–praised these miniature paperbacks. Here, George C. Marshall, the chief of staff of the War Department (who later became Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient), thanks a publisher for the great job.

Each Armed Services Edition had a thumbnail image of the hardcover edition.

Each Armed Services Edition had a thumbnail image of the hardcover edition.

The Armed Services Editions were considerably thinner than hardcover books.  Each Armed Services Edition weighed only a few ounces.  A hardcover easily weighed-in at a pound or more.

The Armed Services Editions were considerably thinner than hardcover books. Each Armed Services Edition weighed only a few ounces. A hardcover easily weighed-in at a pound or more.

The Armed Services Editions came in two sizes:  the larger were 6.5 by 4.5 inches, and the smaller were 5.5 by 3 and 3/8 inches.  A handful of books were condensed in order to be small enough to fit within a pocket.  As you can see (on the bottom front cover), David Copperfield was “condensed for wartime reading.”  Still, it was the longest Armed Services Edition, coming in at 512 pages.  The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, was “the complete book—not a digest.”  Some Armed Services Editions were so small that many people assumed they were condensed when they were not.

The Armed Services Editions came in two sizes: the larger were 6.5 by 4.5 inches, and the smaller were 5.5 by 3 and 3/8 inches. A handful of books were condensed in order to be small enough to fit within a pocket. As you can see (on the bottom front cover), David Copperfield was “condensed for wartime reading.” Still, it was the longest Armed Services Edition, coming in at 512 pages. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, was “the complete book—not a digest.” Some Armed Services Editions were so small that many people assumed they were condensed when they were not.

Celebrated books showed their wear.  Strange Fruit was in high demand among the servicemen (mainly because it was a best-seller back home and contained sex scenes), and it was rare to find a copy that did not show its popularity by the number of creases in the cover and pages that had come loose.  No book was thrown away unless it was truly unreadable—pages would have to be missing, or the text so smudged that the text was not decipherable.  For this copy, a battered cover and loose pages were nothing a little tape couldn’t fix.

Celebrated books showed their wear. Strange Fruit was in high demand among the servicemen (mainly because it was a best-seller back home and contained sex scenes), and it was rare to find a copy that did not show its popularity by the number of creases in the cover and pages that had come loose. No book was thrown away unless it was truly unreadable—pages would have to be missing, or the text so smudged that the text was not decipherable. For this copy, a battered cover and loose pages were nothing a little tape couldn’t fix.

Books provided a respite from the war and the miserable conditions men lived under.  Here, an American reads an Armed Services Edition in what remained of his “camp” in New Guinea.  Surrounded by water, he propped a stretcher up on stilts, used a wooden box for a pillow, and appears to genuinely relax while reading his book.  Books were cherished for their ability to transport minds elsewhere, away from the discomforts and horrors of war. Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial

Books provided a respite from the war and the miserable conditions men lived under. Here, an American reads an Armed Services Edition in what remained of his “camp” in New Guinea. Surrounded by water, he propped a stretcher up on stilts, used a wooden box for a pillow, and appears to genuinely relax while reading his book. Books were cherished for their ability to transport minds elsewhere, away from the discomforts and horrors of war.
Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial

General Dwight Eisenhower read westerns when he needed to unwind and relax during World War II.  American soldiers deserved no less.  Before the Normandy invasion, General Eisenhower and his staff earmarked approximately half a million Armed Services Editions for distribution to Americans in the marshaling areas in England.  The books were a godsend.  Providing a much needed distraction from the enemy awaiting their arrival across the English Channel, Americans read and traded books until they boarded troop transports.  As Americans waded ashore Utah and Omaha beaches, they brought with them—tucked into their helmets and pockets—titles that were banned in France by Germany.

General Dwight Eisenhower read westerns when he needed to unwind and relax during World War II. American soldiers deserved no less. Before the Normandy invasion, General Eisenhower and his staff earmarked approximately half a million Armed Services Editions for distribution to Americans in the marshaling areas in England. The books were a godsend. Providing a much needed distraction from the enemy awaiting their arrival across the English Channel, Americans read and traded books until they boarded troop transports. As Americans waded ashore Utah and Omaha beaches, they brought with them—tucked into their helmets and pockets—titles that were banned in France by Germany.

Armed Services Editions were sent to POW camps when possible.  Only certain titles were allowed.  Books about the war, geography, and a host of other topics were banned.  POW camps run by Germany did not allow books by Jewish authors.  With little to do, books were devoured by American POWs.   Some Armed Services Editions are stamped by the YMCA War Prisoner’s Aid division, which distributed Armed Services Editions in POW camps.

Armed Services Editions were sent to POW camps when possible. Only certain titles were allowed. Books about the war, geography, and a host of other topics were banned. POW camps run by Germany did not allow books by Jewish authors. With little to do, books were devoured by American POWs. Some Armed Services Editions are stamped by the YMCA War Prisoner’s Aid division, which distributed Armed Services Editions in POW camps.

For British troops, one of the greatest benefits of serving alongside Americans was gaining access to their Armed Services Editions.  So many British troops praised the Armed Services Edition format that British publishing companies took notice and copied it—from a thumbnail image of a book’s dust jacket on the cover, to the use of two columns of text on interior pages.  As you can see, the top and middle British books bear an uncanny resemblance to the Armed Services Edition of The Education of Hyman Kaplan.  The main difference was that the British pocket editions were sold to the public (and to some soldiers), whereas the Armed Services Editions were distributed to American servicemen overseas for free.

For British troops, one of the greatest benefits of serving alongside Americans was gaining access to their Armed Services Editions. So many British troops praised the Armed Services Edition format that British publishing companies took notice and copied it—from a thumbnail image of a book’s dust jacket on the cover, to the use of two columns of text on interior pages. As you can see, the top and middle British books bear an uncanny resemblance to the Armed Services Edition of The Education of Hyman Kaplan. The main difference was that the British pocket editions were sold to the public (and to some soldiers), whereas the Armed Services Editions were distributed to American servicemen overseas for free.

After the war ended, the Army and Navy discharged approximately ten million men from service; two million Americans continued to serve as occupation troops.  The War and Navy Departments still wanted to supply these men with books, but, naturally, their book orders grew smaller to match the reduction in their forces.  The most economical method to print smaller batches of Armed Services Editions was to use the vertical format that Pocket Books adopted for its commercial paperbacks.  Thus, the Armed Services Editions began to resemble the modern-day paperback.

After the war ended, the Army and Navy discharged approximately ten million men from service; two million Americans continued to serve as occupation troops. The War and Navy Departments still wanted to supply these men with books, but, naturally, their book orders grew smaller to match the reduction in their forces. The most economical method to print smaller batches of Armed Services Editions was to use the vertical format that Pocket Books adopted for its commercial paperbacks. Thus, the Armed Services Editions began to resemble the modern-day paperback.

In the end, approximately 1,200 different titles were printed as Armed Services Editions.  A total of 123,000,000 Armed Services Editions were distributed between 1943-1947.  It was the most important morale program of the war.

In the end, approximately 1,200 different titles were printed as Armed Services Editions. A total of 123,000,000 Armed Services Editions were distributed between 1943-1947. It was the most important morale program of the war.

For the complete story of how books helped win World War II, read When Books Went to War.

For the complete story of how books helped win World War II, read When Books Went to War.

All photos © Molly Manning Collection unless otherwise noted.