Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Soldier's Heart

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Soldier's Heart

Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point

by Elizabeth D. Samet

Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth D. Samet X
Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth D. Samet
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour
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About this Book

Beyond the Book

This article relates to Soldier's Heart

Print Review

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, 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): oblong, cargo-pocket size paperbacks printed in pairs on rotary presses normally used for producing magazines. Today, some of rarer ASE titles are quite valuable. The only complete set of ASEs is owned by the Library of Congress; some other libraries boast near complete sets, such as the University of Notre Dame with 1064 titles.

  • The creed, Leave No Man Behind, popularized by Hollywood and embraced by the media, dates back to ancient Greece, specifically to the literary models in Homer.

About the Author

Elizabeth Samet received her B.A. from Harvard and her Ph.D. in English literature from Yale. She is the author of Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898. She has been an English professor at West Point for ten years.

One reason she wanted to write this book was to help bridge the gap between the civilian world she came from and the military culture she's become part of. She also tries to balance the romance of war with its horror. "I think it's necessary for soldiers to realize both the rewards and the costs of their profession."

Samet hears from her former students regularly by email from Iraq and Afghanistan. They share their fears and hopes, as well as the titles of books and poetry they are reading there. She has come to realize it is a very unusual, but very satisfying teacher-student relationship.

Interesting Link: PBS goes inside Elizabeth Samet's West Point classroom.

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Article by Vy Armour

This "beyond the book article" relates to Soldier's Heart. It originally ran in February 2008 and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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