Carol (Isle MN)
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 experience a professor like Dr. Samet in my undergraduate days. The discussions that take place in her classes and seminars are enviable. Her list of books and movies could keep one busy for a long time.
Dr. Samet's writing style made me feel like we were enjoying a cup of coffee together. The flight of ideas that one has when conversing about a wide range of subjects. This would be a very interesting book for a book club discussion; with it's topics of war, literature, women in the military, a civilian's relationship to the military and the effects of our current Long War.
An interesting book for any young person approaching or in college, especially if there is any thought of a military career. Highly recommended, most of us are too removed from the military.
Nona (Evanston IL)
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 relatively little about this institution and what I learned about it from Samet’s memoir of her ten year experience there was fascinating.
“This is a story of my intellectual and emotional connections to military culture and to certain people in it, but the real drama lies in the way the cadets I teach and the officers with whom I work negotiate the multiple contradictions of their private and professional world, “she writes, and her analysis of these topics and individuals is as penetrating as the many analyzes of literary works on war which she draws on through her text. Though welcomed by her colleagues and the immediate West Point community, she remains a civilian, a woman, and a teacher of humanities who thus is able to maintain a certain critical distance for her (largely affectionate/sympathetic) observations.
As one who has had the opportunity of teaching English literature to undergraduates at a large Midwestern state university and to medical students (by the way, there is a surprising correlation between cadets and medical students, both of whom are at the very bottom of a strict hierarchy), I envied Samet’s classes (would I ever had had the opportunity to teach a course on the idea of London in literature?) and came to admire her and her students. At a time of life when most of their contemporaries are cutting loose on college campuses, these students willingly subject themselves to the most rigorous and iron-bound traditions and strictures, and commit their lives—literally in this time of war—to public service. Upon finishing Samet’s well-written book, I knew that West Point cadets and their faculty—both civilian and military-- not only read but they also think.
Carole (Burlington WI)
High school students considering a military academy education and career will quickly find that they will be expected to tackle challenging literature - a good reading list for any academy-bound student. Military historians will find this book's concepts of actual combat and service emotions captured eloquently in centuries of literature - no matter which historical period or army they are interested in reading. For me, the personal level, where Ms. Samet gives us a peek at her experiences and those of her cadets, kept me spellbound. I wanted more! Maybe another book?
Joe (Port Orange FL)
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, ethical and well rounded leaders. As a military retiree, I enjoyed reading about Doctor Samet's introduction to military life, her description of the military community and how she realized the she herself had become a member. I am certain that readers who are not familiar with the military will be quite surprised. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Emily (Portand OR)
Elizabeth Samet's account of her ten years of teaching literature to cadets at West Point is both pleasurable and informative. Her thought-provoking book provides the
reader with descriptions of this part of the cadets' education and gives fascinating glimpses of their reactions to the classics and the insights they gain as to what their life might hold for them.
Carol (Oceanside CA)
Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth Samet
For those unacquainted with the military life, the idea that our future military leaders are spending their time on poetry and the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway and the like may seem absurd. One would expect technical subjects such as engineering and computer science or military tactics and combat arms practice to fill the minds of young men and women who are but a year or two away from leading troops in combat.
Surprisingly, Samet, a Yale graduate who has spent a decade teaching literature at the United Sates Military Academy, shows that it is the human condition at the heart of literature that resonates with these young minds. In this personal memoir, she describes teaching the poetry of World War I to young cadets most of whom face a future deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. It is through the examination of this grim poetry that she shows the preciousness of life and the tragic consequences of rushing to one’s death in a fit of military fervor. These lessons are not meant to preach anti-war themes to those preparing for a military life but to help these future leaders to be reflective of the cost of war.
A lesson on Homer can show the effect of one person’s Hubris on an entire country. A Shakespeare sonnet can help a student clarify what relationship art has to life. Samet’s musings reflect not only on the personal but also on public policy, as she must find ways to re-evaluate concepts of valor, patriotism and heroism in a military that now integrates women into its corp. It is an accepted fact that literature can nurture life; it is wonderful that those whose very careers will most likely put them in positions that will test the mettle of their character are taking it to heart. This book is thoughtful and uplifting.
Sarah (Livermore CA)
An Intersection of Interests
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, since it combines two particular interests of mine: military culture and the love of books. Soldier's Heart is replete with accounts of the marriage of both themes, and Samet witnesses the birth of their children with eloquent prose and relevant tangents on the themes' frequent appearances and influences in American history. I can't imagine being in her shoes, but I'm happy that she is stimulating her students, through literature, to look through the vivid canvas of war to its psychological, emotional and artistic effects on their careers as Army officers. In my opinion, that is how a military officer's well-rounded education should be cultivated.