Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review - When Books Went to War

So, you could say that I'm a big fan of most things literary. Books are one of those things that have always been important to me, and asking me if I like reading is like asking if like breathing - I need it to live. But I've never felt able to put into words the importance of books as a whole, not just to me but to society at large.

When Books Went to War does a marvelous job of putting words around the idea that wars of ideas are just as powerful as the physical fighting. It describes how the US, in the form of a council of publishers and the War Department, took control of the war of ideas on the Allied front during World War II. The council published books specifically to be sent overseas to be given to the soldiers fighting, thus providing entertainment and new ideas to people who may not remember why they're fighting. It also helped publishers popularize the paperback book, a format that had been seen as the purview of pulps and dimestore novels.

One of the fascinating things is how the publishers worked together, forgoing their own profits in order to make these editions and sell them at cost to the military in order to send them overseas. In addition, it made a generation of readers out of men who may only have looked at the headlines of newspapers before. It gave the soldiers a safe way to vent their emotions in an era when men weren't meant to show any sign of weakness or emotion. The publishers even worked to publish books that would help the soon to be demobilized soldiers with their return to civilian life, offering ways to make the skills they had learned into something they could use at home.

The story may begin with one of the biggest book burnings in Germany, but it ends with the high note of how many books were published and disseminated over the course of the war. The stories from the soldiers are heartfelt and heart-breaking, and overall, it's an uplifting book that reminds us that while we may be afraid, we will have the ability to fight a war of ideas so long as we have the words to spread them.