Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II

Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II

by John B. Hench


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, September 23


Only weeks after the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, a surprising cargo—crates of books—joined the flood of troop reinforcements, weapons and ammunition, food, and medicine onto Normandy beaches. The books were destined for French bookshops, to be followed by millions more American books (in translation but also in English) ultimately distributed throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The British were doing similar work, which was uneasily coordinated with that of the Americans within the Psychological Warfare Division of General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, under General Eisenhower's command.

Books As Weapons tells the little-known story of the vital partnership between American book publishers and the U.S. government to put carefully selected recent books highlighting American history and values into the hands of civilians liberated from Axis forces. The government desired to use books to help "disintoxicate" the minds of these people from the Nazi and Japanese propaganda and censorship machines and to win their friendship. This objective dovetailed perfectly with U.S. publishers' ambitions to find new profits in international markets, which had been dominated by Britain, France, and Germany before their book trades were devastated by the war. Key figures on both the trade and government sides of the program considered books "the most enduring propaganda of all" and thus effective "weapons in the war of ideas," both during the war and afterward, when the Soviet Union flexed its military might and demonstrated its propaganda savvy. Seldom have books been charged with greater responsibility or imbued with more significance.

John B. Hench leavens this fully international account of the programs with fascinating vignettes set in the war rooms of Washington and London, publishers' offices throughout the world, and the jeeps in which information officers drove over bomb-rutted roads to bring the books to people who were hungering for them. Books as Weapons provides context for continuing debates about the relationship between government and private enterprise and the image of the United States abroad.

To see an interview with John Hench conducted by C-SPAN at the 2010 annual conference of the Organization of American Historians, visit:

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501705656
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 10/15/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John B. Hench has retired from the post of Vice President for Collections and Programs at the American Antiquarian Society. He is coeditor of The Press and the American Revolution and Printing and Society in Early America.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
Introduction: Books on the Normandy BeachesPart I: Cultivating New Markets
1. Modernizing U.S. Book Publishing
2. War Changes Everything—Even BooksPart II: Books as "Weapons in the War of Ideas"
3. Publishers Organize for War and Plan for Peace
4. "Books Are the Most Enduring Propaganda of All"
5. Seeking "an Inside Track to the World's Bookshelves"
6. "Everyone but the Janitor" Selected the Books
7. Books to Pacify and Reeducate the Enemy
8. Making the "Nice Little Books"Part III: U.S. Cultural Power Abroad
9. Liberating Europe with Books
10. The Rise and Fall of the United States International Book Association
11. The Empire Strikes Back
12. Books for Occupied Germany and JapanEpilogue: American Books Abroad after 1948Appendix A. Overseas and Transatlantic Editions
Appendix B. Titles in the Bücherreihe Neue Welt SeriesNotes

What People are Saying About This

Juliet Gardiner

"John B. Hench's invaluable book helps to fill in another piece in the jigsaw of war. It brilliantly essays the high ambitions governments, publishers, and organizations had for the book as a repository and an arrowhead of civilization and education in World War II—and how these were realized."

Ezra Greenspan

"Hard on the heels of GIs at Normandy Beach arrived crates filled with American books, published expressly for them and for the people they came to liberate. Thus begins this riveting analysis of the overseas expansion of the once-provincial American publishing industry during and following World War II, aided and abetted at all turns by the federal government. Meticulously researched, adroitly conceived, briskly told, Books As Weapons provides an authoritative account of the dissemination of American ideas and values through print as part of its fast-growing, postwar hegemony."

Robert A. Gross

"'In the four quarters of the globe,' sneered Edinburgh Revieweditor Sydney Smith in 1820, 'who reads an American book?' A century and a quarter later, on the eve of their American-led liberation from Nazi occupation and fascist tyranny, millions of Europeans and Asians hungered to do so. That, at least, was the expectation of U.S. planners and publishers, and to meet the anticipated demand, they joined together to produce books for the immediate postwar market that would inform about American life, detail U.S. contributions to ending the war, and spread democratic values. The product of that collaboration were two now little-known book series—Overseas Editions and Transatlantic Editions—whose story John Hench reconstructs for the first time in this thoughtful inquiry into a unique public-private partnership. Books As Weapons shows us an American book trade just beginning to glimpse a world of shrinking borders and expanding sales, as the United States was ascending to superpower status. At that crucial moment of transition, publishing encountered both opportunities and challenges abroad still facing us today: openness to American ideas and goods and resistance to U.S. economic dominance and cultural imperialism. Hench’s deeply researched account is at once a balanced assessment of public efforts to export American culture and a significant step forward in creating a truly international history of the book."

Wilson Quarterly

"Books and propaganda, for many Americans, don't mesh. Books educate. Propaganda lies. But there was a time when the United States had no qualms about using books as 'weapons in the war of ideas'—in the phrase made famous by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In Books as Weapons, John B. Hench recounts this chapter in America's efforts to defeat the enemies of democracy during World War II.... Hench's meticulously researched monograph is a gem."

From the Publisher

"In a breathtaking history of wartime editions, this book presents a rich history of a relatively brief period in American publishing.... This is a book about war but it is also a book about the diplomacy of books. As an international and comparative history of wartime publishing, it presents deeply contextualized accounts, offering multiple contemporary perspectives, a true mark of scholarship that constructs the book trade as an international phenomenon. It will for sure make its mark in many fields, but it is deeply embedded in our own."

Trysh Travis

"Making excellent use of a wide range of archives, John B. Hench argues that World War II was a turning point for American publishers, forcing them to undertake more strategic and cooperative planning across the industry than had been their wont and prompting them to see the world beyond their own borders as a viable and valuable marketplace. The war heightened publishers' sense that they dealt in ideas even as it raised their awareness of the value of the commodity in which they traded. Hench maps the results in a nuanced treatment of the trade's approach to wartime and postwar publishing. His exploration of the industry's distinctive mixture of mid-twentieth-century patriotism and entrepreneurial zeal marks a bygone era—one whose effects nevertheless continue to ramify today."

Susan A. Brewer

"In Books As Weapons, John B. Hench tells of the U.S. effort during World War II to deploy books against an enemy known for burning them. Hench explores the public-private collaboration between officials and publishers who sought to 'disintoxicate' occupied Europe by replacing Axis ideology with American values while at the same time paving the way for postwar markets overseas. It contributes to our understanding of the political, diplomatic, legal, and logistical challenges involved when using 'soft power' for purposes of pacification and reeducation. To counter the Nazi portrayal of Americans as crude and cocky gangsters determined to rule the world, these 'books as weapons' aimed to free minds, win friends, and show the United States in 'the best possible light' even if it did intend to rule the world."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews