BookBrowse Reviews Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth D. Samet

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 272 pages
    Sep 2008, 272 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

Buy This Book

About this Book



A reflection on the relationship between art and life from inside the US Military Academy at West Point

Samat explores the connection between literature and real-life for the students at West Point Military Academy, for whom "real-life" has changed drastically in the last few years. When Samet accepted her position as a civilian literature professor in 1997, the Army, to which the academy contributes about a thousand second lieutenants each spring, wasn't at war with anyone. But as she says, "Following Sept. 11, 2001, the stakes of American soldiering had suddenly been raised, as well as the stakes of teaching at West Point."

Teaching the literature of war to individuals who could imagine themselves fighting a war in progress against a specific identifiable enemy was a new experience. For example, in 2003, as the nation watched the news make a case for war in Iraq, Samet's class was reading Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Some of Samet's students doggedly but furtively search for the military lesson to be extracted from every piece of literature, while others became passionately invested in separating the activities of the classroom from the business of soldiering. C.S. Lewis's once said, "We read to know we are not alone," and that is perhaps one of the reasons author Samat feels her role in teaching literature at West Point is of value to the cadets. She says of her students, "One day,… in some remote outpost that none of us can anticipate…they too will perhaps read to know they are not alone."

This is a powerful and introspective book that will appeal to many people in many different ways:

If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the hallowed halls of a military academy, you'll like getting a glimpse into the lives of the cadets.

If you have a loved one serving in the military, you'll read this with personal interest and perhaps find yourself packing something extra in the boxes from home. Look out especially for the chapter titled "Books are Weapons".

If you're a teacher of English, or any subject for that matter, you'll appreciate the challenge Samat faces in making her content relevant.

If you're 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're 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."

And for those who wish to explore the literature of war in more depth, a lifetime course of study beckons in an appendix listing five pages of recommended books and films.

Soldier's Heart is inspirational, informative, patriotic and even humorous at times (mastering the acronyms and even the radio. Who says "out" and who says "over"?). But don't take my word for it - check out what our BookBrowse members have to say in their "First Impression" reviews - fourteen members posted reviews, averaging 4.5 stars out of 5. Read them here.

Reading List: An extensive list of books and films recommended by Elizabeth Samet can be found at BookBrowse, at the end of the excerpt.

Reviewed by Vy Armour

This review was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ensemble
    The Ensemble
    by Aja Gabel
    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital ...
  • Book Jacket: The Electric Woman
    The Electric Woman
    by Tessa Fontaine
    In 2010, author Tessa Fontaine's mother had a near-fatal hemorrhagic stroke, leaving her with a...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Comedown

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A blistering dark comedy that explores delineating lines of race, class, religion, and time.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.