Armed Services Editions

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Armed Services Editions (ASEs) were small, compact, paperback books printed by the Council on Books in Wartime for distribution within the American military during World War II. This program was in effect from 1943 to 1947. The ASEs were designed to provide entertainment to soldiers serving overseas, while also educating them about political, historical, and military issues. The slogan of the Council on Books in Wartime was, "Books are weapons in the war of ideas."

US Serviceman Nunzio Antonio "Jim" Giambalvo reading an Armed Services Edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

ASE Titles[edit]

The ASE program featured an array of fiction and non-fiction titles, including classics, contemporary bestsellers, biographies, drama, poetry, and genre fiction (mysteries, sports, fantasy, action/adventure, westerns). Non-fiction books included biographies, religious/self-help titles, and science titles. Most of these books were printed in unabridged versions. Authors included[1] Hervey Allen, Robert Benchley, Stephen Vincent Benét, Max Brand, Joseph Conrad, A. J. Cronin, Carl Crow, Eugene Cunningham, Clyde Brion Davis, Walter D. Edmonds, Edward Ellsberg, William Faulkner, Peter Field, C. S. Forester, Erle Stanley Gardner, Edmund Gilligan, Arthur Henry Gooden, Zane Grey, Ernest Haycox, MacKinlay Kantor, Frances and Richard Lockridge, Jack London, William Colt MacDonald, John P. Marquand, Ngaio Marsh, W. Somerset Maugham, Clarence E. Mulford, John O'Hara, George Sessions Perry, William MacLeod Raine, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Craig Rice, Charles Alden Seltzer, Luke Short, Thorne Smith, John Steinbeck, George R. Stewart, Grace Zaring Stone, James Thurber, W. C. Tuttle, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and Philip Wylie.

The distinctive covers bore the description, "Armed Services Edition: This is the Complete Book—Not a Digest." Seventy-nine (79) of the titles printed were abridged, usually for length rather than content. These bore the slogan, "Condensed for wartime reading," or slight variations such as "Slightly condensed for rapid reading."

Over the life of the program, over 122 million copies of 1,324 books were printed. This makes the ASE program one of the largest wide-scale distributions of free books in history.[citation needed] Of the 1,324 books, 1,225 were unique titles and 99 were reprints of titles issued earlier in the series.[2] Sixty-three (63) of the titles were "made books"; they were collections of short stories, poems, plays, essays, or radio plays, usually by the same author, that were assembled and published together for the first time.

A complete, extant collection of all 1,324 ASE books is held at the Library of Congress.[2][3]


The small books were convenient for soldiers because they fit easily into a cargo pocket. Finished size varied slightly, from 5½" to 6½" long and from 3⅞" to 4½" high. Unlike traditional paperbacks, most of the ASEs were bound on the short side of the text block rather than the long side, due to the printing presses used. A few titles near the end of the series were published in traditional paperback format with the spine on the long side.

Armed Services Editions were printed in pairs, one atop the other, to make most efficient use of the digest magazine presses. This rare "two-up" of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Country Lawyer by Bellamy Partridge was never cut apart by the printer, and its edges remain untrimmed.

Armed Services Editions were printed on digest and pulp magazine presses, usually in two columns per page for easier reading. Some ASEs were stapled along the binding, in addition to being glued, to make them sturdier. Because the Council on Books in Wartime made use of magazine presses to print ASEs when the presses were not in use, printing costs were low. The cost for printing was around 6 cents per copy, and royalties of one cent per copy were split between authors and publishers. This early experiment with mass paperback printing helped to prove the viability of paperback publishing in the United States.


ASEs were very popular amongst the armed forces.[4] Copies were shared, re-read, and ripped into sections so they could accommodate two or more readers at once. A contemporary newspaper article recounted, "The hunger for these books, evidenced by the way they are read to tatters, is astounding even to the Army and Navy officers and the book-trade officials who conceived Editions for the Armed Services" (Wittels, 11). ASEs were the first books some readers had picked up since high school.

Armed Services Editions Today[edit]

Today, many Armed Services Editions are still readily available from used booksellers. However, the rarer titles from the series are difficult to find and very valuable.[citation needed] The scarcest tend to be the titles produced at the beginning and the ending of the series. Other titles, such as Superman and A Rose for Emily, are more common but valuable because they appeal to a wider array of collectors.

A complete set of ASEs is owned by the Library of Congress. Near-complete sets are in the libraries of the University of Alabama, the University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia. The University of Notre Dame hosts 1064 titles.[citation needed] Many other libraries have special Armed Services Edition collections including the University of Texas, the University of Rochester, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Harvard University.[citation needed]

There is one known complete set and another near-complete set (missing 2 books) which are held by private collectors.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Cole 1984, p.33+
  2. ^ a b "Armed Services Editions Collection". Library of Congress. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  3. ^ Cole, John Y. (September 30, 2015). "Books in Action: The Armed Services Editions". Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  4. ^ Yoni Appelbaum (September 10, 2014). "Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II". The Atlantic.

Further reading[edit]

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