Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

Search Collections
Spring 2002 Newsletter

The Armed Services Edition Collection

Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife, 1946. Armed Services Collection. Ransom Center.

Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Half-
Wakened Wife, 1946. Armed Services Collection.
Ransom Center.

James Thurber, Let Your Mind Alone, 1944. Armed Services Collection. Ransom Center.

James Thurber, Let Your Mind Alone, 1944.
Armed Services Collection. Ransom Center.

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1943. Armed Services Collection. Ransom Center.

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1943. Armed
Services Collection. Ransom Center.

The beginning of our current armed conflict happened simultaneously with the sixtieth anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War II. Soldiers serving in WWII needed recreation and entertainment to keep up their morale. Though less familiar than canteen girls and U.S.O. tours, the Armed Services Editions (ASE) of paperback books played their part in keeping American soldiers amused during the long stretches between battles. The Ransom Center owns over 1,000 of the ASE books, which had an important influence on what Tom Brokaw has called "the Greatest Generation."

The Armed Services Editions began in 1943 with the publication of Leo Rosten's Education of Hyman Kaplan and ended four years later with Ernie Pyle's Home Country, by which time some 123 million copies of 1,300 titles had been distributed to battlefields in Europe and the Far East. ASE was a cooperative effort of the Council on Books in Wartime, involving publishers, booksellers, and librarians, as well as the armed forces. Their objective was to provide soldiers with a wide variety of reading material, ranging from adventure and mystery tales to classics and excerpts from The New Yorker. The paperbacks were generally produced in a horizontal format with a picture of the original hardback's dust-jacket. To keep costs low, they were printed two at a time on poor quality paper and then were sliced in half horizontally. Publishers essentially sold the books to the armed services at cost, and a token royalty of one cent was divided between the author and the original publisher. Because they were designed to be read to tatters and thrown away, some ASE titles of works by major authors, such as Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Hemingway's short stories, are now (paradoxically) scarce and highly collectable.  

Richard Oram
Librarian


Table of Contents