November 7, 2002
ANNOYING SELF-REFERENTIAL TWADDLE:Pilot Project Is Sending Books to American Troops Abroad (MEL GUSSOW, November 7, 2002, NY Times)
During World War II soldiers carried Armed Services Editions of pocket-size books and read them avidly whenever they had time. These were literary classics, popular novels, plays and nonfiction issued free to troops around the world. The books, increasingly dog-eared, were a cultural oasis as well as entertainment. Some soldiers took them into battle. Copies were handed out as troops left England for the Normandy invasion.
More than 120 million copies of more than 1,300 titles were distributed from 1943 to 1947. These paperbacks included works by Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Tolstoy; classics like Plato's "Republic" and Homer's "Odyssey"; plays like Shaw's "Arms and the Man"; thrillers and westerns; and nonfiction like Joseph Dunninger's book on mind reading, "What's on Your Mind?"
Andrew Carroll, an author and archivist, described the program as "the biggest giveaway of books in our history" with the possible exception of Gideon Bibles. It is, he said, "a great forgotten story" of World War II. After the war the editions were at least partly responsible for the proliferation of paperbacks in the United States.
This month, in a pilot project created by Mr. Carroll, the Armed Services Editions are returning with 100,000 copies of new versions of four books being printed in the same wide, brightly colored "cargo pocket" format: Shakespeare's "Henry V," "The Art of War" (Sun Tzu's classic 500 B.C. study of military strategies) and two recent best sellers, "Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes From the Civil War to the Present" by Allen Mikaelian, with commentary by Mike Wallace, and "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence From American Wars," edited by Mr. Carroll.
Once again they are being distributed to American troops abroad. They are being published by Hyperion, Dover Publications and the Washington Square Press of Simon & Schuster.
For the publication and distribution of these first four titles, Mr. Carroll obtained $50,000 from a corporate source. Mr. Carroll hopes this project will eventually approximate the original one. As he said, "There's nothing I'd like more than to see this little effort transformed into what it was in the 1940's: a major collaboration between publishers and the military." During the war, more than 70 publishers participated.
It will interest no one to hear that this is how Brothers Judd started. When the Other Brother's reserve unit was sent to Bosnia he asked for books, to fill the very many empty hours. In each crate I included capsule reviews of each book to tell him why I thought he'd like it. When he got back and was at UNH finishing is doctorate he had access to a webserver, so he kindly posted some reviews and recommendations. The rest, as they say, is history. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 7, 2002 12:19 PM