Elizabeth D. Samet and her students learned to romanticize the army "from the
stories of their fathers and from the movies." For Samet, it was the old World
War II movies she used to watch on TV, while her students grew up on Braveheart
and Saving Private Ryan. Unlike their teacher, however, these students, cadets
at the United States Military Academy at West Point, have decided to turn
make-believe into real life.
West Point is a world away from Yale, where Samet attended graduate school and
where nothing sufficiently prepared her for teaching literature to young men and
women who were training to fight a war. Intimate and poignant, Soldier's Heart
chronicles the various tensions inherent in that life as well as the ways in
which war has transformed Samet's relationship to literature. Fighting in Iraq,
Samet's former students share what books and movies mean to themthe poetry of
Wallace Stevens, the fiction of Virginia Woolf and J. M. Coetzee, the epics of
Homer, or the films of James Cagney. Their letters in turn prompt Samet to
wonder exactly what she owes to cadets in the classroom.
Samet arrived at West Point before September 11, 2001, and has seen the academy
change dramatically. In Soldier's Heart, she reads this transformation
through her own experiences and those of her students. Forcefully examining what
it means to be a civilian teaching literature at a military academy, Samet also
considers the role of women in the army, the dangerous tides of religious and
political zeal roiling the country, the uses of the call to patriotism, and the
cult of sacrifice she believes is currently paralyzing national debate.
Ultimately, Samet offers an honest and original reflection on the relationship
between art and life.
This is a powerful and introspective book that will appeal to many people in many different ways.
If you've always wondered what goes on behind the hallowed halls of a military academy, you'll like getting a glimpse into what the life of a cadet is.
If you have a loved one serving in the military, you'll read this with renewed interest and perhaps find yourself packing something extra in the boxes from home. You'll like the chapter "Books are Weapons".
If you are a teacher of English, or any subject for that matter, you'll appreciate the challenge Samat faces in making her content relevant.
If you are a history buff, you'll enjoy the references to our country's leaders in connection with West Point—Adams, Jefferson, George Washington, Sherman and Grant, to name a few.
If you are philosophical, you'll be given much to ponder with specific references to the works of Shakespeare, Aristotle, William Golding and Plutarch. As did one cadet, who was skeptical of the value of literature for a soldier until he came across the words "hope springs eternal" in Pope's "Essay on Man". From these three words he deduced that "perhaps hoping for the best even in the face of eternity is what sets humanity apart." (Reviewed by Vy Armour).
Boston Globe - Barbara Fisher
I finished the book with gratitude, because here was an original, unique and humane point of view I had seldom encountered.
Strong, deeply articulate . . . Samet has been an English professor at the officers' academy for a decade, and her worldview is steeped in literature, a single paragraph touching on the works of Sigmund Freud, Heinrich von Kleist, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Wilfred Owen -- and filmmaker Michael Cimino. But here she also acts as an anthropologist, doing field work in the heart of an exotic society largely unknown to so many of us . . . I hope her work finds its way to more than a few Capitol Hill nightstands.
The New York Times - Robert Pinsky
To her great credit, Samet does not draw easy conclusions in Soldier's Heart. By writing a thoughtful, attentive, stereotype-breaking book about her 10 years as a civilian teacher of literature at the Military Academy, she offers a significant perspective on the crucial social and political force of honor: a principle of behavior at the intersection of duty and imagination.
The Washington Post - John Beckman Soldier's Heart is an exhilarating read. It seats you in the classroom of a feisty professor who commands several fronts with easy expertise: classic film, ancient Greece, Shakespearean tragedy, modern poetry. And it seats you elbow-to-elbow with an elite crop of students whose intelligence and imagination match their courage.
Samet is prone to digressions that break the flow of great stories, like an account of her West Point job interview. But this meditation on war, teaching and literature is sympathetic, shrewd and sometimes profound.
Library Journal - Shedrick Pittman-Hassett
In a time when words like patriotism and sacrifice are tossed about with alarming casualness, Samet offers an illuminating exploration of what these terms mean to the modern soldier.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Nona Elizabeth Samet, Soldier's Heart When Elizabeth Samet’s mother tells friends that her daughter teaches English at West Point, it is not unusual for them to reply, “You mean they read?” Though not as naïve or cynical as that about education at West Point, I found that I knew... Read More
Rated of 5
by Neil A Worthwhile Book This book gives insight into the education of cadets at West Point, as well as their feelings about war and peace. Professor Samet teaches literature and related subjects, which provide her students with intellectual and emotional insights. These,... Read More
Rated of 5
by Wendy Soldier's Heart tugs at the heart In this time of unjust war, it is heart wrenching to read the stories of men and women preparing for war. Their education is often secondary but in this book we see how their feelings may change due to their experience or how their perceptions... Read More
Rated of 5
by Joe Well Written and Thoughtful. I'm not sure what I expected when I started reading this book but was pleasantly surprised at what I found. This is not just a book about teaching poetry but about how the study of literature helps young military officers to become thoughtful,... Read More
Rated of 5
by Beverly My heart goes out I did not know what to expect from this book as I do not know much about military culture. But I was curious on how literature is taught to student soldiers who may one day need to go to war. I did learn more about military culture and the hearts... Read More
Rated of 5
by Carol Literature, soldiers and war As a retired Army officer, who did not attend West Point, this book made me proud to be an Army officer. Dr. Samet allows the reader a glimpse into the rigors and variety of academic life at West Point. I wish I had had the opportunity to... Read More
Many great leaders have found solace in literature. Alexander the Great
kept the Iliad under his pillow. James Wolfe, commander of British
troops in the French and Indian War, carried Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard" with him to Quebec.
The two men who authorized the founding of the United States Military
Academy, Adams and Jefferson, were keen on instilling a sense of civic
responsibility as well a technical precision in its graduates. Jefferson saw
an avenue to liberty and virtue through the study of science while Adams
tended to look to history.
The American Civil War was the first in which literacy was widespread
throughout the force. During World War I, Everyman's Library and Oxford
World Classics were supplied to British soldiers of all ranks in the
trenches. By WWII, paperbacks were supplied to soldiers and sailors around
the world. Many books were in the form of Armed Services Editions (ASE's):
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...