When I was in Berlin a few years ago, I made it a point to visit the Bebelplatz -- site of the infamous Nazi book-burning of May 1933. This understated memorial consists of a glass plate set into cobblestones; peering into the glass, you see empty bookshelves below -- enough to hold the 20,000 or so volumes that were incinerated on that terrible night.
Fast forward 10 years and the world was embroiled in the most savage and destructive war in history. The movement that sought to quash freedom of thought in 1933 was now working to impose its will on the rest of the world. But those fighting against the oppressors were fighting not only with the personnel and material of war, but also with books.
American citizens suddenly found themselves transformed into military personnel and were stationed thousand of miles from their homes and loved ones. The Council on Books in Wartime was formed to provide America's military personnel with literature to enrich their lives, make them laugh, and to remind them of home -- and so the Armed Services Edition was born. These little books were produced in the millions and were specifically engineered to be light and to fit neatly into the pockets of government issue uniforms. These little books could be found virtually everywhere from ships to foxholes and in both the European and Pacific theaters.
In her new book, When Books Went to War, Molly Guptill Manning relates the fascinating history of these little books which did so much not only to support the country's men and women in uniform, but to combat the philosophy they were fighting so hard to defeat as well.