Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Audiobook Review: When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

From Goodreads:
When America entered World War II in 1941, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. Outraged librarians launched a campaign to send free books to American troops and gathered 20 million hardcover donations. In 1943, the War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war.

Comprising 1,200 different titles of every imaginable type, these paperbacks were beloved by the troops and are still fondly remembered today. Soldiers read them while waiting to land at Normandy; in hellish trenches in the midst of battles in the Pacific; in field hospitals; and on long bombing flights. They wrote to the authors, many of whom responded to every letter. They helped rescue The Great Gatsby from obscurity. They made Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, into a national icon. When Books Went to War is an inspiring story for history buffs and book lovers alike.
Based on the cover alone, I probably wouldn't have picked this one up, even though I'm a fan of books about books and books about WWII.  I can't really even say why, but it just doesn't look like something I'd enjoy.  Thankfully, Jackie from We Still Read convinced me to give it a try anyway.

Well done.  I love how Manning has taken an aspect of WWII that I never knew existed (the creation and dissemination of special editions of paperbacks for soldiers) and explored it in vivid detail.  She's done her research flawlessly and you can tell she knows everything there is to know about the subject.  There's aren't a lot of personal narratives included, but there are plenty of quotes and a larger-scale focus than could be examined if those personal narratives were included.

Entertainment Value
I think this is intended for a fairly niche audience.  It's perfect for those who love books and are interested in WWII history.  Those who are wanting an overview of the war will be disappointed, as will those who are looking for personal stories.  That said, readers who find themselves intrigued by the intersection of books, the publishing industry, and world history will devour it.  I loved learning so much about something that I never even knew existed - the Armed Services Editions of popular books - and how it impacted troops during the war.  It also provided me with a new obsession in terms of collecting books - I MUST own an ASE.
No problems with the narrator.  I like non-fiction on audio and this was no exception.  It's something that captured and kept my attention during my commute.  Not wanting to stop listening is always the mark of a good book and this one fit that bill.

Definitely recommended to fans of publishing history, books about books, or those with a special interest in WWII.  If you're not super into books about books or a more intense look at a single aspect of the war, this may not be the right choice.  I loved it and have had the occasion to recommend it to several like-minded reader friends.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this was a fascinating book. We read it with my book group- a bunch of history and book nerds and it went over really well.