Council on Books in Wartime

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The Council on Books in Wartime (1942–1946) was an American non-profit organization founded by booksellers, publishers, librarians, authors, and others, in the spring of 1942 to channel the use of books as "weapons in the war of ideas" (the Council's motto). Its primary aim was the promotion of books to influence the thinking of the American people regarding World War II, to build and maintain the will to win, to expose the true nature of the enemy, to disseminate technical information, to provide relaxation and inspiration, and to clarify war aims and problems of peace. The Council co-operated with the Office of War Information (OWI) and other government agencies, but was itself a voluntary, unpaid, non-governmental organization.[1]

The Council attempted to achieve its goals by acting as a clearinghouse for book-related ideas, by being an intermediary between the book-trade industry and government agencies, by offering advice to publishers, and by handling all forms of public relations including distribution of reading lists and pamphlets, lectures, radio programs,[2] newsreels, and book promotion and publication.[citation needed]

In 1942, the Council created a War Book Panel to choose titles officially recommended by the Council. These titles were republished by Council member publishers with a seal of approval, a large "I" on the front cover meaning an "Imperative" book.[3] Six "Imperative" books were published between 1942 and 1945 (see War Book Panel).

In the spring of 1943, the Council launched the effort for which it would become best known, the Armed Services Editions. By the time the program ended in 1947, it had printed 122,951,031 books, selling them to the government at an average cost of just over six cents a volume. The Armed Services Editions brought high-end books to a mass audience, and helped popularize the emerging paperback format.[4] One of the most popular ASE books was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith, and the ASE's distribution of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby helped revive interest in the book.[5] In 1944, the Council launched Oversees Editions, Inc, a subsidiary aimed at distributing American books to civilian populations abroad, to promote a positive view of American culture.

With the end of World War II, the Council on Books in Wartime ceased active operations on Jan 31, 1946 but maintained its corporate entities to deal with the dispersal of remaining funds and the safekeeping of records.[citation needed]

Some of those involved on the Council include: W. W. Norton of W. W. Norton & Company, Bennett Cerf of Random House, George A. Hecht of Doubleday & Co., and Mark Van Doren.[citation needed]


  1. ^ AP (May 12, 1943). "Army To Buy 50,000 Books For Soldiers". The Milwaukee Journal.
  2. ^ Words at War at the Internet Archive
  3. ^ Molly Guptill Manning (2014). "Chapter 4: New Weapons in the War of Ideas". When Books Went to War. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. ISBN 9780544535022.
  4. ^ Yoni Appelbaum (September 10, 2014). "Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II". The Atlantic.
  5. ^ Terry Gross (September 8, 2014). "How 'Gatsby' Went From A Moldering Flop To A Great American Novel (Interview with Maureen Corrigan, author of In So We Read On)". Fresh Air.

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