What the Troops Were Reading During World War II

During World War II, the U.S. Army and Navy started a program to print and distribute inexpensive paperback books to American armed forces around the world. This was to help the troops get through long hours of boredom and to boost their morale.

This program, called the Armed Services Editions, distributed over 122 million books to soldiers and sailors between 1943 and 1947. More than 1,300 different titles were printed, including classics, bestsellers, westerns, mysteries, sports, and many other types of fiction and nonfiction.

A great book about this program is When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning.

But the troops wanted more than books: They also wanted magazines. Each month, sets of special overseas editions of 28 different magazines were shipped to wherever troops could be found: hospitals, headquarters or individual units. Some of these titles were Sporting News, Newsweek, Detective Story Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Outdoor Life and more.

These overseas edition magazines were a bit different from the editions back home. They were printed on lightweight paper, and they had no ads. They also didn't include serial stories (Imagine if the story ended with "To Be Continued!"), and they didn't include "exclusively feminine items," such as fashions and shopping.

In 1945, almost 70,000 sets of magazines were shipped each month, according to the February 15, 1945 edition of Library Journal. Because some magazines were weekly, and sometimes popular magazines got extra copies, that's about 6,850,000 magazines shipped out every month.

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