Summary and book reviews of Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth Samet

Soldier's Heart

Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point

By Elizabeth D. Samet

Soldier's Heart
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2007,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2008,
    272 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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 them—the 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.

An extensive list of books and films recommended by Elizabeth Samet can be found at the end of this excerpt.

Chapter One


I had forgotten all about the radio in my hand. I was so startled when it crackled to life I nearly dropped it:


I have said "out" when I should have said "over." I have taken far too long to figure out that "SITREP" means situation report. Somewhere this might be fatal. Here the amused voice on the other end, that of my colleague Dan, grumbles that I'm not allowed to end a transmission I didn't start:


I had volunteered for this mission: standing guard at the doors of the United States Military Academy's Department of...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Soldier's Heart. We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore Elizabeth D. Samet's inspiring reflections on literature and the education of America's future warriors.

About This Book

A decade ago, Elizabeth D. Samet began teaching English at the United States Military Academy at West Point after completing her doctorate at Yale University.  She encountered stark contrasts and surprising similarities between the two campuses, but nothing fully prepared her for the experience of watching her students and colleagues deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other turbulent corners of the ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!



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).

Full Review Members Only (956 words).

Media Reviews
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.

Chicago Tribune

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Reader Reviews

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


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


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


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

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Taking Books Into Battle

  • 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, ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Soldier's Heart, try these:

  • Beaufort jacket


    by Ron Leshem

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A searing coming-of-age story and a novel for our times—one of the most powerful, visceral portraits of the horror, camaraderie, and absurdity of war in modern fiction.

  • Reading Lolita In Tehran jacket

    Reading Lolita In Tehran

    by Azar Nafisi

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member

Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"

    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.