Armed Services Editions
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 1946. 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."
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 Hervey Allen, Robert Benchley, Stephen Vincent Benét, Max Brand, Joseph Conrad, A. J. Cronin, Eugene Cunningham, Clyde Brion Davis, Walter D. Edmonds, Edward Ellsberg, 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 123 million copies of 1,322 books were printed. This makes the ASE program one of the largest wide-scale distributions of free books in history. Of the 1,322 books, 1,227 were unique titles and 95 were reprints of titles issued earlier in the series. 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 1,322 ASE books is held at the Library of Congress.
For a list of titles in the series, and to see how the books were numbered, see .
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 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. 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
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. 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 boasts 1064 titles, and the University of Texas, the University of Rochester, Princeton University, Dartmouth College and the University of Wisconsin–Madison have special Armed Services Edition collections, as do many other libraries.
In addition to the sets belonging to institutions, as listed above, there is one known complete set and another near-complete set (missing 2 books) which are held by private collectors.
- Cole 1984, p.33+
- Yoni Appelbaum (September 10, 2014). ""Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II". The Atlantic.
- Cole, John Young, ed. (1984), Books In Action: The Armed Services Editions – via Library of Congress Center for the Book
- Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. : a history : together with the complete list of 1324 books published for American armed forces overseas. 1948 – via Hathi Trust.
- Jamieson, John. Books for the Army. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950.
- "Literature Re-enlists In the Military; Pilot Project Is Sending Books to American Ships And Troops Abroad", New York Times, November 2002
- Manning, Molly Guptill. When Books Went To War. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
- Miller, Daniel [Curator]. Books Go To War. Online exhibition at the University of Virginia Library. 
- Wittels, David. "What the G. I. Reads." Saturday Evening Post, June 23, 1945. P. 11, 91-92.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Armed Services Editions.|
- The Armed Services Editions
- Books Go To War: The Armed Services Editions of World War Two virtual exhibit at the University of Virginia
- Armed Services Editions Collection at the Library of Congress