When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
They don't call them The Greatest Generation for nothing! I knew they were called that because of the sacrifices they made during World War II. What I didn't know was that part of their legacy was solidified after the war.
Soldiers in WWII LOVED to read. Some of them hadn't so much as picked up a book outside of mandatory school reading. However, when they got into the Army and Navy they realized they had a lot of boring down-time. Without video games and things like movies not being readily available or portable, soldiers turned to books.
In turn, books transformed themselves for the soldiers, who needed lightweight reading material. The publishing world's predilection for hardcovers didn't work mobility-wise. Thus paperbacks took off like gangbusters and millions were shipped around the globe to wherever the armed services were stationed. This was not an easy task and much of the book focuses on this undertaking.
I was fairly, though not 100%, sure what I was in for when I picked up When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II. I mean, I didn't expect to read about gun-toting novels marching off to war. On the other hand, could the title be referring to propaganda tracts printed and sent to the various fronts? Nope, it just refers to the dissemination of good old normal books, some of which became very popular amongst the ranks.
When Books Went to War describes how the reading generation of the war years created classics out of forgotten books -The Great Gatsby is one example- which now we take for granted as having always been consistently popular. That period also created a whole generation of educated youths who hungered for learning once they were done fighting. That was the big take-away of this book for me. The young men coming out of the war were disciplined machines with a drive and ability to consume knowledge. On the GI bill, they went to college and tore through more books, studying harder and getting better grades than the career students from rich families that prior-to constituted most campuses. The former soldiers then went into business administration and engineering on a scale never seen before. That, to me, is the lasting legacy of the Greatest Generation. It wasn't sitting on their laurels and patting themselves on the back for the brave and noble work they'd done during the war. It was what they were then able to accomplish after their tremendous sacrifice and struggle.
This is quite a good read. However, it's a book about books, so go into it with that in mind. It's not going to be a scorcher. When Molly Manning isn't writing about how books were transported and distributed, etc she's often giving a rather dry summary of the war. Having said that, you're here on Goodreads.com, so you're already a book nerd, ergo I have a feeling you'll get some level of enjoyment out of this. Now, I'm off to find a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to find out why it was arguably the most popular book amongst American soldiers!
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