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