The Book at War: How Reading Shaped Conflict and Conflict Shaped Reading

Basic. Dec. 2023. 480p. ISBN 9781541604346. $35. HIST
The two world wars of the 20th century put stress on publishers, booksellers, and libraries, but they also opened opportunities and accelerated changes in book production (see the ubiquity of paperback books among the armed forces) both during and after World Wars I and II. Pettegree (modern history, Univ. of St. Andrews; The Library: A Fragile History) draws on a vast, sprawling literature—books about and generated by war, plus letters and memos—from all the major participants. He discusses the use of books as weapons in war (patriotic literature; propaganda), mobilization of knowledge (science; cartography), the destruction and plunder of libraries, and the complicated history of postwar book-censorship. He shows how books changed reading patterns at home, in the army, and in POW camps. For example, POWs became confirmed, instead of desultory, readers who favored long books over short because reading them could be stretched out. This book could have been dry as dust but isn’t: Pettegree humanizes his narrative with lively anecdotes and facts that change the way the subject is approached.
VERDICT The writing is brisk, the scholarship formidable. This is an eminently approachable study that opens a new way of making sense of World Wars I and II.
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