The Armed Services Editions of The Council on Books in Wartime



Armed Services Editions were designed to be cheap, portable and expendable.

The Council on Books in Wartime was an ad-hoc group of publishers, librarians and booksellers whose purpose was promoting the use of books in the war effort. Headed by W. Warder Norton of W.W. Norton and Company, this team would organize one of the largest book give-aways in history. Rather than go through the cost of procuring already existing books, the C.B.W. decided it would be cheaper in the long run to print their own titles. After securing the rights from publishers and making arrangements with printers, The Council organized the printing of a staggering 123 million copies of 1,322 titles. To keep costs down, the small, horizontal books –which were roughly the size of index cards- were printed two at a time on presses used for magazines. The books ranged from the classics (Twain, Poe) to the then-contemporary (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a novelization of the Adventures of Superman), along with plenty of nonfiction.  Armed Services Editions, or “Council Books” as they were sometimes called, didn’t need to be returned. Rather, they were distributed to the men like so many cigarettes and K rations.

The impact of the ASE’s can’t be overstated. Millions of soldiers in the most elusive bracket for booksellers, men from 18 to 35, were turned onto reading as the only form of entertainment. Upon returning home, many if not most continued to make reading a part of their daily lives, leading to a post-war explosion of paperbacks. From that decade on, reading books in this cheaper format became increasingly common.


A wounded soldier relaxes with an A.S.E. Photograph original property of the Army Pictorial Center.

“Books in Action; The Armed Services Editions.” Coyle, John Y. ed. Center for the Book, Library of Congress. Washington D.C., 1984.

Books as Weapons; Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War Two.” Hench, John B. Cornell University Press, Ithaca. 2010

This entry was posted in 1940s. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Armed Services Editions of The Council on Books in Wartime

  1. Andy Morris says:

    Hi there — I’m working on an exhibit on the Armed Services Editions, and would love to use the photo of the recuperating soldier. Did you get it directly from the Army Pictorial Center? I’ve emailed them but haven’t heard back. I’m assuming it originally was a public domain picture generated by the military, but I’d like to check with the source if you could give me a lead. Thanks!

    • orty8 says:

      Sorry I was slow to reply. I do not know for sure if it’s public domain. It is my understanding that any created by tje US Army pictorial service is public domain because it’s government property, but do not quote me on that. I have seen that photo in other books about ASEs, if it’s any consoloation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s